Dr Maja Zelihic is an Interim Dean, Fulbright Specialist, Full Professor, and a Department Chair of the Advanced Management Studies at the Forbes School of Business and Technology, University of Arizona Global Campus. She is currently serving her Fulbright tenure, having completed one project as a primary investigator, and another as a co-investigator. Dr Zelihic is also a GLOBE research project Country-Co-Investigator, contributing to the unique large-scale study of cultural practices, leadership ideals, and interpersonal trust GLOBE conducted in 160 countries. She was also named one of the top 200 leaders to follow in 2021 by PeopleHum.
Dr Maja Zelihic was born and raised in former Yugoslavia (which was later split into Bosnia and Herzegovina). She is the only child and had the privilege of growing up with her parents and beloved grandparents in a loving and nurturing home.
Her grandfather had a significant impact on transforming her into the brilliant, independent woman she is today. She recalled discussing different topics with her grandfather every day, ranging from geography to politics to international affairs to history; they went through it all. Dr Zelihic recalled, “He always sought my opinion. I remember my grandfather used to present me with various political situations taking place across the world and asked me if I have any suggestions on how to solve these problems.”
She continued, “And it may not seem like much, but asking a five-year-old how to solve a political global criss greatly developed my decision-making and critical thinking skills. In a patriarchal society he taught me how to be independent and strong.”
But soon, a devastating war broke out in Bosnia that forced Dr Zelihic and her family to flee the country. Overnight she found herself as a refugee living out of a refugee camp in Austria for nearly three and a half years. Enduring innumerable struggles, Dr Zelihic eventually immigrated to the United States and started working in a warehouse doing manual work with gruelling hours. Despite the physical strain she experienced while performing her job, she decided to continue her education and went to school simultaneously.
Once she completed her education, she started working at Merrill Lynch, the Investment and Credit Management giant. She worked there for thirteen years, wherein she performed several roles as a loan processor, corporate trainer and more.
Simultaneously, while working, she also completed her Master’s, followed by her PhD. It was while imparting corporate training that she discovered her passion for teaching which led her to quit the finance world and pursue a role in academia with the intent to help students find their mission in life.
Dr Zelihic says, “Lecturing is very fulfilling for me. In addition to fulfilling other people’s dreams, I also get to do the job I’m passionate about every day. It is also very calming for me, I don’t feel any stress, and this has to do with a few factors, mainly if you love what you do then it doesn’t feel like a job.”
When she first started working in the academic sector, she stuck to working within the United States. However, she soon had the opportunity to deliver her first global lectures, and from there, she found her real purpose in life.
In her mission to give back and enhance the world within her expertise, Dr Zelihic also researched worldwide from the Southern African region in Zambia to the Middle East, and every single venture was different. She explained, “I like to do research where I spend time within a particular place by getting to know the culture and the country.”
For instance, when she was in Haiti, she spent innumerable hours with the people, studying two enterprises in particular. Her research study involved small entrepreneurs in the developing world who could thrive despite the obstacle variables. These studies greatly help her in her leadership training to guide leaders on the right path.
Deep diving into the subject of leadership, Dr Zelihic also co-authored the Power of Perception with her colleague, Dr Diane Hamilton, released in December 2020. Dr Zelihic worked with Dr Hamilton that soon turned into a long-lasting friendship. After working together for a while, they realized that they reacted to different situations at work differently. Dr Zelihic said, “At first, it was just like an ongoing joke. Dr Hamilton appeared to be more of an optimist, while I leaned more towards a pessimist. However, our inside joke soon turned into this idea, Why do we process things differently? Why are we reacting differently when we are within the same setting and in the same situation?”
And soon The Power of Perception was born; the book studies different factors and variables, such as cultural upbringing, gender, emotions, amongst others, that impact perception. It is an excellent tool for leaders to eliminate boundaries and acquire more success on their journey.
Conclusively, her advice to budding entrepreneurs is, “You have to listen and be mindful to everyone. Every person in this world has something to teach you. I’ve met so many incredible people in all walks of life, different careers, different jobs, and every single one of them has something to teach me or a story to share that made me better.”