Story of the Month Archive

Each month we highlight the story of one woman who is making a difference in the world.  We invite you to celebrate these women, learn from and be inspired by their stories. We also invite you to share your stories of women leading the way, so that we might share it here.

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September 2018: Leading “Where You Are”

Ljiljana and Gordana

Ljiljana Čubra and Gordana Sklepić
demonstrating the heart-shaped soaps they make to sell


Our focus this month is on Leading Where You Are.

So often – still – many cling to out-dated descriptions of leadership – insisting that “leadership” is defined by having followers. Perhaps, but who are those followers and why do they follow you?  Are they individuals or groups that you personally supervise?  Are they persons who work in an organization, like a corporation, a city, or a church, synagogue or mosque in which you have a designated position?

At this web site we believe that leadership is NOT defined by a position or a formal role that you hold.  Instead,  we believe that leadership is defined by the influence you exhibit.  We invite you to learn from the stories of women who are demonstrating – in many ways – the power of their leadership, through the way they live their life or the vision they pursue.  These are women living their lives with intention, making conscious choices about their attitudes and their actions.

On a recent trip, I encountered two women, Gordana Sklepić and Ljiljana Čubra of Karanac Croatia who exhibit this power of “everyday leadership.”  Through their daily actions they reflect both the adjustment to dramatic changes in their world, and the value of generating around themselves an environment of fun, equilibrium, creativity, caring, and cooperation. They weave an energy of joy and stability that comes not from the predictability of knowing precisely what will happen from one moment to the next, but rather which comes from knowing that they can deal with what emerges.

RoadWe visited Gordana and her husband, Dennis, recently as part of a larger visit to Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Slovenia.

Within the first 15 minutes of the arrival of our group, Gordana had served us home-made doughnuts was walking us down a wide walkway between their home and other farm buildings.  Picking ripe cherries from the trees for us to eat – on the spot – and picking 3 large cucumbers which would show up a bit later in snacks, she described the variety of fruit and nut trees they have, introduced us to the chlckens and to the two family dogs.

We could also see woodworking tools, hand-made bags, and a pottery shop, all part of their working farm.

Then Gordana introduced us to Lili.


And soon everyone in our small group was donning an apron! Because Lili was about to teach us to make cheese.  What fun!



When the cheese was ready to “set,” we were shown to our rooms.

After a restful night’s sleep, and being awakened by the crowing of a rooster, we were able to enjoy the cheese we’d made the day before – along with Gordana’s fry bread and a variety of  homemade fruit jams.

Gordana and Lili never imagined when they were growing up that they would be hosting travelers and generating family income through products they made.  Their ability to adjust to the dramatic changes they were experiencing reveals a powerful leadership skill.

quoteThey are role models for all of us.  As the pace of our daily lives increases and conflict rocks our globe in many locations – Gordana and Lili, as well as many other women around the globe, reveal new skills and new beliefs about what is possible.  As the world around them shatters, they create their own community and their own future.

The area around Karanac, Croatia is pastoral. Fields of potatoes, corn, barley and wheat flourish in the rich soil along the river.  Dense green forests cover the mountains behind, and along with the bright orange of the roof tiles, create a colorful background for daily life in this small village. However, it was not always so.

While wars of the 1990’s break-up of Yugoslavia were not as intense in this area as they were in other parts of Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, their effects ware nevertheless disastrous – fields were destroyed, factories were closed and homes were sometimes reduced to rubble.

Life was completely turned upside down.  While many were unable to imagine how they could “start over” as their homes and their careers were destroyed, Gordana and Dennis, took advantage of what was available to them and acted on their own values.  Living in the city when the war broke out, they realized how much they treasured nature, outdoors, peace, and tradition, and accepted an invitation from Dennis’ grandparents to come live with them on their farm.

A few years later, Grand Circle, a global travel company, contacted them about hosting a lunch for their travel groups.  This worked so well for everyone, that Gordana and Dennis were encouraged to create rooms for overnights guests – which led to the delightful experience we had with them.

Gordana explains that several family members assist in the day-to-day working of the farm and acknowledges that she is drawn to the creative activities.  Her contributions surround us – from the patterns on the wallpaper and bags made on site, to her baked goods and jam, to the soaps she and Lili make.

The friendship between Lili and Gordana grew strong, especially after the birth of Lili’s children.  She is responsible on her farm for making cheese and selling it in local markets.  “There is a lot of work on the farm,” she comments, “decision-making,and quick thinking and reacting are key for us”.  Gordana invited her friend, Lili, to be a part of the involvement activities they provide for guests.

While Gordana and Lili may not identify themselves as leaders, they demonstrate leadership in many ways. Gordana comments:  “In our village of 1000 we are about 1/3 Croatian, 1/3 Serbian, and 1/3 Slavic – – and in every group there is the good and the not good, but all of these groups are my neighbors. Our children all go to school together and we help each other,” she explains.

So it is, when we all recognize that each one of us is a member of the global community, we can find ways to live together and work together. We can learn to shift our thinking, from identifying only with our small group or tribe, to identifying with the global community. We are not victims. We can co-create the kind of community in which we want to live.

People, especially women, and especially women like Gordana and Lili are teaching us to shift our thinking by the way they live and work together with their neighbors, as they welcome those of us from other places on the globe, into their kitchens – and into their lives!  As Gordana expresses it, “Every day I welcome new experiences and new ideas as I welcome guests from many different cultures.”

Gordana and Lili have this message for young women today:

Do not give up on your dreams,
because dreams can come true.