Dr. Pamela Larde: “People will try to steal your ideas”

An executive needs to be agile. They need to be able to adapt to various situations, people, and they need to be in tune with what is going on in society. All of these elements impact the work of the organization. An executive needs to be a master of relationships. People are not cogs in […]

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An executive needs to be agile. They need to be able to adapt to various situations, people, and they need to be in tune with what is going on in society. All of these elements impact the work of the organization. An executive needs to be a master of relationships. People are not cogs in a machine, and I believe the most productive companies stay in tune with their people.

A person who is rigid, who has unchecked biases, and is afraid of people should not aspire to be an executive. A person who has not addressed these issues will steer an organization into the ground. They will have high turnover, no loyalty, and people are not passionate about the work.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Pamela Larde Dr. Larde is an associate professor of qualitative research and higher education at Mercer University, a fellow and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion council member for Harvard’s Institute of Coaching, and the founder/president of the Academy of Creative Coaching. Her research focuses on interpersonal relationships, self-motivation, inspiration, resilience, and post-traumatic growth. Additionally, she has written three books, has contributed chapters to scholarly publications, and presents her research extensively for national and international audiences.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

It’s interesting because I have always had a whole lot of different things I wanted to “be”, even as a young adult. I never doubted that I could do them all, but what I did not count on were the things I would become that were outside of the plan — like the founder of an international coach training school and a publishing company. I was going to be a CNN reporter, a sports reporter, a magazine editor, an author, a college professor, a researcher — but never a business owner, and especially never a college professor. As I look at my journey, I realize that I didn’t choose my path. They chose me. What I have realized about myself that because I recognized my purpose early on in life (which is to help people find their voice and their purpose), I have become really in tune with following opportunities that fall in line with my purpose — and this has resulted in a very interesting career path. I started out in public relations, then moved to student affairs developing leadership and intercultural programs and events. After beginning my Ph.D., I realized that I had a strength in speaking, teaching, and conducting research, so I became a college professor. And after I became a college professor, the entrepreneurial bug bit me and I started creating businesses to solve problems as they were presented to me. Today, I am a college professor, researcher, author, and founder of two organizations — the Academy of Creative Coaching, a school that trains and certifies professional coaches, and Tandem Light Press, a publishing company.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

What is interesting is that when you’ve done the work and end up creating something great, there are always people who look at you and say, “if she did it, I can do it.” Now, that can be a great thing because part of this work is about inspiring people. It isn’t a great thing when those people infiltrate your business, take what they can, don’t do the homework, and try to emulate what you’re doing because they think they are going to make a quick dollar. I have seen this happen at least four times since I’ve started both companies — and each time, the emulators have crashed and burned, primarily because this wasn’t their calling. In one case, in particular, the woman told me that because what I created was highly successful and because the name wasn’t copyrighted at the time, she was going to steal it and there was nothing I could do about it. But here’s the thing… There is only one I and my brand worked because the people who followed my brand knew and respected me. There are endless companies and initiatives and books out there that share the same name. Their success depends on the relationships you build and the authenticity of the company. A company cannot be authentic if the leader doesn’t truly understand the industry they’ve stepped into. You can’t photocopy a company. You have to build it on solid rock. Of course, the lesson I learned was to legally protect your intellectual and branded property. But I was fortunate in that none of the people who have tried to steal my name or my clients or my content have found the success that I have. Because at the end of the day, it just comes back to me — the originator. Leaders have to create what stems from who they are. This is integrity. This is what attracts true success.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh, I can think of many, many mistakes… but funny? Hmmm… Okay, I have one. When I was about 3 years into my job as a professor, I had begun to start two businesses. I was out of my mind busy! At the time, I needed to drive 2 hours to our other campus to teach late nights, so sometimes I would get a hotel and stay the night. On this one particular evening, I was on the verge of being late for class. In a rush, I threw what I could in my bag, threw on my clothes, slid on my black shoes, and dashed out of the door. I made it to campus just minutes before class started. I was relieved because I did it! I managed to juggle the two businesses and class successfully that day. It wasn’t until I was in the middle of my lecture that I looked down at my feet and realized that I was wearing two very different black shoes. Because I had packed so quickly, I didn’t have any backup pairs. I was stuck with those. So I busted out laughing in front of the class and asked, “WHY didn’t you guys tell me?!” They said, “Dr. Larde, you were on a roll. We didn’t have the heart to stop you.” I don’t think I have ever done that again.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

It’s interesting because I didn’t seek it out. I came to this work really because of a need that I saw and realized that I had exactly the experience and skills needed to create a solution. As a professor of research in a doctoral program, it became profoundly evident to me that I could use some life coach training. I often had students in my office who intended to meet with me about their dissertations who would somehow find themselves in tears as they shared all of the personal and professional challenges that made it difficult to get the work done. It was rarely just about the research, but most often about how to help them strategize around their lives resolve their challenges. After one student spent a substantial amount of time in my office devastated over her unengaged husband, I asked our department chair if I could use my professional development budget that year to pursue life coach training. She agreed and I attended the training. As a college professor who has a background in positive psychology and who writes curriculum for a living, I was a bit jaded by my training process and realized that I had what it took to create a life-changing school of my own, so within a year, I did. Over the past six years, we have built a solid team. I was attracted to the CEO because the CEO called me. I answered the call because I am a problem solver and this was a key opportunity to address and create a solution to a problem. How can we create a coach certification program that changes the lives of the aspiring coaches who get certified? How can we create an imprint in the world through the people we train? We are now doing that through organizations like the Marines, a maximum-security prison in Nigeria, various branches of the U.S. federal government, social services organizations, and a whole host of individuals who come to us with a heart to make a powerful difference in the part of this world they are able to touch. This is why I became a CEO. I want to be a catalyst for this kind of impact.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

A CEO has the power and influence to take the lead in creating the culture of the organization. It is a huge responsibility to have because the tone that we set can make the difference between a safe and personally empowering work environment or one that is toxic and demeaning. It is my top priority to create a company that values the whole person and integrates the practice of human dignity into all aspects of the work we do. The CEO has the ability to nip issues that undermine a culture of human dignity at the bud by modeling the way and by having zero tolerance for microaggressive, condescending behavior at all levels, whether it is by the executive team or by entry-level professionals. This, I believe, is the absolute most important job of a CEO. When this tone is set, it lays the foundation for all branches of the organization. A CEO is the protector of the company’s mission, vision, and purpose. She ensures that the team has what they need to live out that mission, vision, and purpose.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I enjoy the ability to create world solutions. Every day, I am looking for ways to grow and enhance the work that we do in ways that meet the needs of humanity. When we discuss these ideas in team meetings, there is no greater sense of fulfillment than what I experience when I hear our team members chime in on ways that they envision changing the world. The vision for this company has always been to be a part of positive change in the world. As CEO, I get to play around with all of the different possibilities and make them happen. There is no chain of command above me. If the team wants to move forward with an initiative, I am in the position to create the opportunity to make it happen. What an amazing position to have!

What are the downsides of being an executive?

There are not very many from my vantage point. And this is likely because I am an executive within my own company. I imagine my answer would be very different if I was an executive of a company whose values didn’t match my own. But one downside is knowing that the very financial livelihood of my team rests on my follow-through. If I drop the ball, it could mean someone doesn’t get paid, so I can’t drop the ball when it comes to taking care of my team members. That is a lot of pressure when you have several balls in the air at once. So, if you don’t handle stress and pressure well, this could definitely be a downside because employees will take it all the way up to you if one of those balls get dropped — and you have to own it and fix it.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

I think a lot of people see the prestige of being a CEO, an executive, a boss. In my opinion, the best CEOs are those who are there because they are called and not for the prestige. By being called, I mean that they are passionate about the work, that they believe in the values of the company. There was a time when I was in student affairs that I was trying to climb their corporate ladder. I had my eyes on the VP office, not necessarily because I was excited about the work, but because I wanted more money and I wanted to be able to say that I was a VP. The reality was that I had begun to loathe the work and the work environment was too toxic for anyone to really thrive in that position. I was motivated by the myth of prestige, and because of this, I would have been an awful executive operating out of fear in a toxic environment and out of obligation to match the pay increase. No calling, no passion. Just duty.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

In my experience, the biggest challenge is being valued for what we bring to the table, rather than being seen as an attractive woman who might be willing to use her sexuality to advance her career. I have been in business negotiations in which I come fully prepared with top quality documents and my male counterparts have agreed to move forward only if I agree to their sexual advances. I have learned that “losing out” on those deals are truly not losses at all because never once has walked away from these propositions hurt my growth as a professional. I grow anyway and they miss out, but each time something like this happens, it does do something to my spirit. I have to do a little extra work to keep my spirits up and to remember exactly what I bring to the table. Anytime any of our identities are undermined, as black women, black men, LGBTQ, Muslim, whatever that is, it’s jarring. The greatest tactic we can learn is what it takes to address it, pick ourselves up, and keep moving forward. And I don’t stop there. I work on ways to dismantle whatever the environment was that even made the transgression possible That has been my biggest challenge as a woman — the disrespect and undermining of me because I am a woman.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The most striking difference is how much easier it would be than it is. I genuinely love the work. I love my team, and when I am engaging in this work, the days fly by.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

An executive needs to be agile. They need to be able to adapt to various situations, people, and they need to be in tune with what is going on in society. All of these elements impact the work of the organization. An executive needs to be a master of relationships. People are not cogs in a machine, and I believe the most productive companies stay in tune with their people.

A person who is rigid, who has unchecked biases, and is afraid of people should not aspire to be an executive. A person who has not addressed these issues will steer an organization into the ground. They will have high turnover, no loyalty, and people are not passionate about the work.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be a master of relationships. Take some time to personally meet with the members of your team at all levels.

Remember the human element of their lives with emotional intelligence skills. Our team members are whole people with whole lives. Remember this when they experience hardships when time-off policies are being created when a need arises to address poor performance.

Take care of yourself. I have put a lot of emphasis on caring for your team members, but it is even more important to take care of yourself because only you can do that. When you are healthy, refreshed, and clear-minded, you are better equipped to set the example and create the conditions for your team to be the same.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

The original team that started with the Academy of Creative Coaching and Tandem Light Press (the publishing company) have been vital reasons for our success. There were countless days in the beginning when I wanted to quit and they refused to let me. They believed in the dream and often picked up the slack (even without pay) when I could not. I could not have arrived here without them.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

That is absolutely what we are here to do. So yes! Based on the reviews of our clients and on the initiatives we are a part of, such as my recent appointment to Harvard’s Institute of Coaching Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council, our partnership with the women’s wing of Kirikiri maximum security prison, our Creative Coaching Initiative, which offered pro bono coaching to those who struggled with various aspects of COVID’s impact, and our work with the U.S. military, we are committed to using our success to make the world a better place.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. People will try to steal your ideas. Don’t let that shake you. It just means that they are great ideas.
  2. Build self-care into your task calendar. Don’t let anything become more important than that time you carve out for yourself.
  3. There will be lulls in revenue. Don’t panic. Just keep doing the work and constantly look for ways to stay innovative and relevant. During one of our first more profitable years, we got a bit comfortable with the amount of revenue coming in. We weren’t really paying as close attention to the trends as we should have, so when August and September hit and revenue dropped drastically, we were really taken aback. Thankfully, we had funds to cover what was needed, but we learned to pay better attention to the trends. When we looked at August and September in previous years, it was abundantly clear that we experienced this lull every year. We hadn’t noticed because our previous years weren’t as profitable and the change during those months wasn’t so drastic. In subsequent years, we have learned to be prepared and to use those months differently — for training and development and to generate revenue from our programs that produce more passive income. We also set aside a percentage of our revenue every month for an account specifically created as a buffer for August and September. So, we are now ready for those months.
  4. People will leave the company. That is okay! Prepare yourself with a transition plan while you have the people in place. Recently, the woman who helped me build Tandem Light Press, the publishing company left the position to pursue another amazing opportunity. I honestly wasn’t prepared for her to ever, ever leave. ☺ But when she did, it forced me to create a transition plan and to have it ready for the person we would hire next. Though I hated to see her go, I am grateful for the push because it only made us better as a company.
  5. Keep your eye on the pulse of the industry and be ready to pivot before it’s time to pivot. Our school offers both online and in-person training in various locations around the world. Our most popular program by far is the weekend intensive face-to-face training. They are quick, deep dives into some really powerful material. Enter the pandemic. We had to quickly figure out how to still offer this popular program in light of the pandemic. Because we already had an existing 6-month online program, we made all of our weekend intensive training virtual. Because many other schools struggled to make the transition so quickly, our enrollment actually shot through the roof. We saw what was coming and made the adjustment BEFORE quarantines in different states began. We benefited from that ability to pivot greatly.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would create a movement that encourages people to practice engaging in conversation, perhaps in a speed dating format. One of the greatest challenges we have nowadays is the ability to effectively communicate with one another, to ask and answer tough questions, to trust one another, to connect with one another. I would bring groups together that need to better understand each other like law enforcement and members of their communities, like doctors and patients that come from marginalized communities, and formerly incarcerated citizens with employers. One on one conversations would be my movement. We need it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite life lesson quotes is from Marianne Williamson. Here are some of my favorite snippets of the quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure… You playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you… as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This is powerful for me because at every juncture of this journey has been someone determined to tell me that I’m doing too much. When I pursued my Ph.D., I was told that I need to just focus on being a mom. This quote was on my wall at work during that time and I read it out loud often to remind myself of the larger vision and that the pursuit of my own dreams does indeed liberate others. I live by these words.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

From a business standpoint, I would love to have a private lunch with Oprah. This may sound very cliché because I have always loved her — since the age of 10 watching her show with my mom. In college, I declared to my friends and family that I was majoring in “Oprah”, and as a businesswoman and scholar whose research very much aligns with the topics she champions, I continue to follow her journey. At this stage of my life, my interests are now more than just about the awe of her celebrity. Now it is practical and strategic. I am a woman with a growing enterprise and I eagerly want to learn more about how she leads so many different initiatives at once. She has an entire enterprise, not to mention the altruistic endeavors she leads, like the girls’ school in South Africa. I feel headed in a similar direction and I would love to hear how she lives from day today. I admire her commitment to life change and see the interconnectedness of this vision with each component of her larger brand.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.


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