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Q&A with Megan Turner-Chernia

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Megan Turner-Chernia, Director of Strategic Partnerships @Eretz-Ir NGO

How could you describe your career path in a few words?

I always knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession. My dream from when I was 5 years old was to be a clinical psychologist, big aspirations for such a little girl. I earned my BA in psychology in the United States and began working with at-risk children and youth as a paraprofessional. Life then brought me to Israel, and I thought - new country, new language, why not a new profession, as well? I started my Master's in Social Work one year after arriving, and upon graduating, worked as a community social worker for almost 5 years. Social work and psychology are demanding professions, and after more than a decade of studying and working in the field, I knew that I needed to change course for my own wellbeing. But again - I still wanted to help. I began working for an incredible non-profit organization that supports the rural and periphery areas of Israel and the populations which call these places home (including me!) called Eretz-Ir. I jumped head-first into the world of resource development, learning the ins and outs of representing an organization with such a complex agenda (intentional community building, social entrepreneurship, economic development - and how they all connect together!). I found a way to combine my professional skills, my cross-cultural fluency, and my passion into a profession that keeps me excited to come into work every day. 

What was your most challenging experience and it has changed your mindset?

It's no secret that the personal and the professional often blend together, whether we like it or not. Recently, a former student of mine was tragically killed in a military training accident. His death shook me to my core and work became almost impossible the first week after he died. I received incredible support from colleagues and friends, but as much as I could try, this tragedy really seeped into so many places in my professional day-to-day, let alone my personal life. Why am I choosing this as a challenge that so greatly changed my mindset professionally? Aside from putting everything into proportion, it also caused me to stop and reevaluate where I was and where I would be going professionally. Was this role really utilizing my wide set of skills? Was I learning enough? Was I being challenged and respected enough? This evaluation process took months, and always in the back of my head was my student - how proud he was of me and all that I accomplished and the endless amount of hope and expectations that I had had for him that were expunged all too soon. I realized that I didn't have the privilege to be "stuck" in a role or in an organization that didn't fulfill my needs and expectations. This opened the door to some of the deepest and most fruitful conversations with my managers, and I learned how to advocate for myself and to also listen and take in the big picture of my organization, with my interests and needs firmly in the middle. I'm happier in my job and in my work place than I think I've ever been before, and I think it's so much because of this terrible tragedy causing me to get out of autopilot mode where I was trudging through my days and counting the minutes until I could go home, and taking an active part in making my workplace a better and healthier place for me and my colleagues. 

When you get surprised by an unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?

Bring it on! I've learned over the years that almost nothing is going to go as planned and that it's much better to expect the unusual and the uncertain. Honestly, the unexpected can bring about so many creative and innovative ways of thinking and problem solving, that I welcome it on the same level that it makes me tear my hair out. Flexibility is such an important skill for any profession, and it helps you to be able to take these types of challenges on with a lot less stress. It also helps you to see the incredible amount of opportunity that exists in the uncertain or the unusual. I approach this issue with this mindset: it keeps me sharp, constantly considering new and different ways to tackle a problem, it keeps things interesting, and it helps me become more of an expert in what I do. Because if you can deal with the unexpected in a smooth and controlled way, you have added to your professional tool box and you've leveled up in your ability to lead and manage.  

Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?

This is a complex question with a multi-faceted answer that definitely isn't a one-size-fits-all solution. Throughout my career, I have been accused of being emotional or stepping "out of bounds" or not totally understanding a situation - because I'm a woman. This may sound kitschy, but my best advice for being a successful female leader is to be true to yourself. And to always treat others how you'd want to be treated. Now, hear me out. Being true to yourself is more obvious, I think. When we are true to ourselves and our beliefs, we are just naturally better leaders - this goes for men and for women. And I think so often, as women, we try to fit the mold or to be as others expect us to be, and when that happens, our colleagues miss out on the true potential and power of our leadership abilities. As for treating others as you'd want to be treated - I feel like women (me included) become overly competitive in our careers because we're always fighting for legitimacy, for others to take us seriously. And sometimes, we forget ourselves in the cutthroat competitiveness, and we run over those around us. Perhaps not intentionally, but it happens. The women leaders I have always looked up to the most are those who are able to see the human sitting across the table from them, who show empathy, who lead calmly and steadfastly, and who, you got it, treat others as they'd want to be treated. These qualities are not signs of weakness, but rather, they showcase fortitude, stability, and trustworthiness. 

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