How Their Diverse Leadership Styles Created a Novel Company
As part of a blog series focused on new perspectives on women’s leadership, I share real women’s stories about their leadership experiences. Each interview is structured around a similar set of questions to allow for the emergence of some comparisons and commonalities. However, each woman’s perspective, struggles, and lessons learned will be different, as I will focus on emerging or underserved/ underrepresented female leaders, mid-to-senior level female leaders, and thought leaders and researchers in this field.
Emma Browning, Robin Kegerise, and Angelita Becom previously held positions at a large national consulting firm, non-profit organizations, and pharmaceutical companies and came together at the beginning of 2018 to form Paradox Consulting Partners, LLC. They now apply their combined decades of national consulting experience, with their passion to help their community through their management consulting company located in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. While still a relatively young company, their success has rapidly accelerated as they have become known for their work in their community and beyond. Emma Browning and Angelita Becom hold MBAs and Robin Kegerise holds a Master’s in HR and Labor Relations.
The themes they share in their interview with me about the intentionality of their work, what drives their focus, and their leadership and management styles reflect the larger societal trends about the impact women leaders have in business. As you will learn, these are also very different women who come from different backgrounds and experiences. Their focus and styles complement each other to help the company succeed, which demonstrates how having a diverse leadership team can help a company be more successful.
What is your definition of leadership?
Angelita: I like the Servant Leadership model: the focus is on serving others (e.g., employees, team members and colleagues) and enabling them to be their best selves or removing barriers that get in the way of them being their best selves. You will get, a much more empowered and committed team, by showing with your actions and your words that you care about them as people first. This foundation creates a team that shows when the going gets tough, they will go with you and not against you.
Persistence and empathy are also important. Empathy is so critical – putting yourself in others’ shoes to know what someone else is going through to get to the core of what motivates them. It goes back to that Servant Leadership model and helping people be their best selves. Also, setting high standards of self and others.
Emma: Humility is also important, but don’t ever think you can’t be humble and confident at the same time. Humility means valuing the ideas of others. You might not always agree with those opinions, but seeking out and trying to understand others’ perspectives leads to new ideas and better decisions. It also shows you are confident enough to be open to feedback. All of this promotes trust, which is critical for leaders to be effective.
Humility also involves the ability to ask the right questions. A leader won’t have all the answers but they should have the ability to know what they don’t know and to ask the right questions to get to this. This has to do with being wise. This, in turn, takes humility and confidence to hear difficult feedback and welcome it.
Robin: I believe a leader is a visionary. It requires not only creating and seeing the vision but also articulating that vision and getting others on board to work towards that vision. This vision also has to be big enough and beyond oneself, which requires an ability to remove yourself from the vision and put ego aside to see and achieve a greater purpose.
An important aspect of being a visionary is the ability to focus and prioritize. As a leader, it is very easy to get pulled many different directions. It’s important to be able to identify what the most critical goals and activities are, and then to stay focused on those. The team can make much more progress when lasering in on one key goal versus dividing attention amongst many less important tasks. You can only reach your vision with persistent focus and prioritizing.
How did you decide to open up a company of your own, and with the three of you taking a collaborative leadership role?
Emma: I formed the company in late 2016 after being at a national consulting company because I wanted to make an impact in the community where I live. As consultants that help companies create productive working environments and positive cultures, we know how important a sense of ownership is to employees. Not every company has the ability to provide ownership, but we do. We are all completely invested in building this company together.
How did you come to the focus of your company and why?
The name “Paradox” is very intentional. We believe that seemingly contradictory ideas can be held in mutual existence, and one of our core beliefs is that heart and business can and should co-exist.
We seek out solutions that incorporate the “and,” solutions that are good for employees, business and the community. It often seems like such solutions aren’t possible, but we challenge how things have always been done to push for new ideas.
What things in your cultural backgrounds help you and what things get in your way in how you see leadership?
Robin: I was raised by two parents and I have never seen two people work together as a team so well. There has always been a true partnership between them which has shaped my view of leadership as being collaborative. There is a phrase my parents used to say, which has stayed with me. “Who do you want with you in the foxhole?” In other words, who do you want with you when the hard times come? I have thought about this in terms of leaders being stronger as a team and also relying on one another.
Emma: I grew up in a family of scientists and academics, where knowledge and intellectual rigor was valued. My parents are British and shared different, global perspectives with me. Being different was more valued than fitting in, and confidence must be earned. I think this made me curious and questioning, which can be a strength, but leaders also need to be comfortable not having all the answers themselves and enabling their team and colleagues to figure things out.
Angelita: My family and I are immigrants from Mexico so for me it’s been about the sacrifices they made to bring us to the United States, leaving our extended family behind is an incredible sacrifice. From this, it has instilled the importance of hard work, and to take advantage of opportunities here. Growing up, I was focused on not wanting to blow the chance they’ve given me for success and for change. My responsibility was to make the best of what’s been given to me. This has also led to a strong work ethic and maximizing the opportunities that have been given. My parents also had very high expectations. Setting high expectations for women is so important. If you expect women can reach the highest levels, you need to give them those opportunities. They never treated me differently because I was the girl in the family – he had the same high expectations of all my siblings and I’d like to think I’ve met those.
All: Leadership, contribution, and value can take many different forms. Being open to seeing different possibilities for what your talent could look like is what’s needed to increase diversity and equity. There are so many ways to be successful.
What do you think holds women back from seeking leadership opportunities at work or in their communities?
There continue to be more leadership opportunities for women; however, we believe both organizations and individuals can take actions to improve this landscape even further.
Recognize that success and leadership can take different forms.
Challenge the definition of a leader and what success looks like. Focus on measuring the outcomes.
Apply an equity lens to talent decisions (e.g. hiring, promotions, stretch assignments).
Offer tactical solutions, such as flexible arrangements, childcare benefits.
Make it work: decide what you want then go after it
Ask: Ask for the position, promotion, flexibility, etc.
Find your village: Build your support network, and share the home responsibilities (caring for an aging parent, taking care of children, etc.)
How can organizations, companies, and communities make sure more emerging women leaders build those skills, experiences, and knowledge?
Putting women in situations that are new – offering stretch assignments, but making sure we also have the guidance (mentor, training, partnering) to ensure women have the right tools and resources to be successful.
In terms of recruitment, seek and encourage different types of talent. Going out into the community instead of just receiving applications from those who are actively seeking leadership experiences would be one way to do this. And not being complacent about how it’s always been done (i.e., how traditional jobs have been previously configured). For example, challenging the model of the “full-time” requirement for all leadership positions. Not all leadership positions need to be full-time.
This can start earlier before women even get to the company. We’re doing better as a society and we need to continue. For example, finding schools and communities to partner with and being intentional and putting girls and women in leadership positions before they say they are ready and letting them make mistakes. You don’t get to learn unless you are in those positions.
In terms of retention, make your company include a business model makes it easy for individual employees to feel relevant even if they manage family or other personal obligations. This pertains to men as well. This can include parental leave, flexibility, opportunity. This is better for all employees, not just women. So, changing what workplace model looks like helps all employees, which helps you retain the best talent, which ultimate can help companies develop their best leaders.
What has been most important to you in being successful as leaders of your consulting company and the impact you are making to help companies be successful today?
I wish I had been given the opportunity in past company jobs to learn the financial aspect of business management. Running a business requires knowing the numbers. If you know the numbers, you will always have a seat at the table. I started my own business partly so I could do that and learn that skill.
We think of businesses as becoming leaders in society.
We help companies connect individual success, business success, and the greater good. These can all occur together. We are excited to be a part of this movement!
This post was initially published by Mira Brancu at Psychology Today online on May 19, 2019. Copyright by Mira Brancu / Brancu & Associates, all rights reserved.