Don’t expect things from people. — I assumed when I first started my business that so many of my friends and family would be as excited as I was and would want to help me. While some did, I was really surprised and disappointed by others. I felt hurt and insulted from their lack of interest. After a while, I realized they had careers and businesses of their own that I hadn’t really showed support of either. I do my best now to be supportive to everyone, those that reach out to me and to family and friends. I no longer expect things from people, but rather, I appreciate who ever shows up!
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Lallouz.
Lisa Lallouz is the author and creator of the Miss Bonita and Friends children’s series of books, web and musical live shows. Lisa has created a formula that guides children through the process of dealing with their challenges in a fun and safe environment. She earned her degree in Social Work from McGill University and lives in Toronto with her husband and children.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I created many of the characters in the Miss Bonita and Friends series years ago when I worked in day care and social work. Young children would openly mention serious issues they were experiencing such as divorce, death, grief and anger to name a few. At that time there was no real protocol or accepted outlet to address these topics. The teachers hoped the kids would simply forget and the issues were most often ignored unless it became a real problem. I created fantasy characters and stories that had similar challenges and shared the stories with my students. What transpired was amazing. The children were immediately engaged, most of the kids shared stories of their own, and the mood would become lifted and happy. Time passed, and I forgot all about these amazing characters I created that helped the children so long ago.
Fast forward about twenty years, the sudden ending of my marriage sent me and my family into crisis. In my grief, I turned to the characters I had created so long ago for help to rebuild my life, and the Miss Bonita and Friends series was born.
I didn’t start the project as a practitioner or expert. I created the series from my heart. The world of Miss Bonita and Friends can be used not only as a tool for healing, but it is also an artistic expression of grief and the will to persevere. I want to share these stories with the world not to preach or lecture, but to contribute to the evolution of compassion and the pursuit of finding effective healing and meaningful help.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I think the most interesting story is how we evolved from a local business in Toronto, to a global series, meeting and working with world leaders. We attended a media conference in Dubai not really knowing what to expect. Initially, our interest was to explore the possibilities of filming, producing, and manufacturing merchandise abroad. What transpired was not only interesting and unexpected but would shape the future of my company for years to come. Presidents of countries, Nobel peace prize winners, members of Royal families, and celebrities were not only interested in our work but excited to get involved. This unexpected turn of events led us on a world tour and the launch of our global edition book series featuring world leaders.
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?
There have been many funny mistakes that I have made and still make! One of the more memorable moments took place at a live show event we were booked to perform. I was honored to receive a request from a First Nations elder on behalf of his community to book our live show event. I wanted to answer the call personally. Unlike my administrative assistant, excited, I rushed through the call.
When my team arrived at the location, we set up the stage, the props, the lights, and the music. We saw many adults, it seemed refreshing that they wanted to have fun too. I assumed the kids were in another room. I looked everywhere even in another building and I couldn’t find any kids because there weren’t any there.
In my haste I neglected to ask for details. Perhaps The Miss Bonita and Friends live show was to be a presentation and discussion on mental health and a meet and greet with the author. I had no idea and after speaking with those in charge they had no idea either.
On the spot I decided this would be our first official adult show. We would perform it exactly as we would for the kids. This group of about fifty adults aged thirty to eighty years old would be our test audience, our experiment.
I didn’t say a word to the actors out of fear that they would refuse to go through with it. As the music blared and the curtain opened the look of shock and disbelief on everyone’s faces was priceless! In my nervousness I forgot to have it taped, but if you ask anyone who was there, they will agree it was one of our best shows. The audience was moved to tears, dancing, singing and participating. After that we received many requests to perform again for all ages!
I learned two very important lessons, the first, was to let my team do their jobs, especially the ones they do much better than me. The second, was that sometimes in making mistakes and the unexpected we can learn incredible things if we remain positive and open minded.
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?
It’s very hard to choose one person, as there are so many people who have contributed to my success and the success of our company. My daughter Michaela Lallouz and Suzanne Coy her teacher, are the two women who I am most grateful too. I had just moved to Toronto with my children alone to build a new life for us after the sudden ending of my marriage. I was afraid and wanted to give up constantly. At only fifteen years old, Michaela was my biggest ally and support. Pursuing her dream to be an actor and work in the film industry, Michaela introduced me to her film and television professor the extraordinarily talented Suzanne Coy. Upon hearing our story Suzanne took it upon herself to be Michaela’s personal mentor and soon became one of my closest friends. So, moved by our ambitions and the vision of the Miss Bonita and Friends project, Suzanne moved mountains to help make our dreams come true. Michaela and Suzanne have maintained their involvement in the company and have remained the most loyal and devoted members of the Miss Bonita and Friends team.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
There are many different things I do to try and manage my stress in general and before an important and potentially stress inducing event. I create an atmosphere of peace and calm in my office, and now in my home where I am working. I light candles, clear clutter, play calming music and practice deep breathing and meditation. A good example of a stress inducing events for me are live interviews, they make me extremely nervous. I try to take extra measures to make sure I am as relaxed as possible. I prepare myself very well in advance by rehearsing what I want to talk about, what I will wear and start setting up my interview space, imagining myself in the interview doing an amazing job! On the day of my interview, I practice deep breathing and drink some chamomile tea and I promise myself to do my best and have a good time doing it.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
While to many it may seem like common sense to have an inclusive workplace that reflects the diverse world in which we live, there are still many workplace environments that are lagging far behind. Studies show that companies who have diverse executive team members are more successful than those who do not. To be diverse in the workplace means having a team that possess various racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations to name a few.
These companies will be more informed about the world at large, the needs of their clients and more efficient and innovative.
A company that promotes inclusivity, diversity and provides equality will create an environment where employees will thrive.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
It is the responsibility of leaders, owners of companies and decision makers to be informed and take meaningful action to create an atmosphere of inclusion in the workplace and wherever they may have influence. Leaders must take the steps required to ensure the workplace is representative of the diversity of society. In doing this, the community of the company and their respective families will be an example for society. These efforts will help to create a more fair and equitable society. Our company has a very diversified and inclusive team. The decision making power and executive positions belong to women with racially diverse backgrounds. We have influenced not only our own company’s community but society at large.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. 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?
As the CEO of my company, I am manifesting my dream by creating the vision and purpose of my company. Like an artist who creates a work of art, or a mother having a baby the ultimate goal is to have and share joy that lasts. I ensure that we remain true to our mission. I am responsible for choosing which strategy we will use and the financial success of the business. I am deeply invested and personally committed to every aspect of the company. I think one of the main differences with other leadership positions is that we all will share the successes, but in the event of failure or bad decisions I am accountable for it all regardless if I made the error or not.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I have seen so many movies or heard stories of CEO’s jet setting all day and living a life of leisure, slacking off, being abusive to staff or other eccentric behaviors. I would find it hard to believe that a company could thrive or last with such a leader. I think the reality is that a good CEO has to wear many hats, be extremely devoted and involved in their company and especially with their team.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Although the landscape is changing dramatically, I have encountered some situations where my male counterparts had access to more resources than I did. On some occasions it was less challenging for my male counterparts to make the important connections that I needed.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
My passion is working directly with children, it is exhilarating and fun for me. The live shows we do and the author events are the favourite part of my work. I love every creative aspect of my work, from writing the book series and shows, to being on set filming. But the reality is, on a daily basis, I am mostly doing things I don’t like to do, such as administrative and managerial work and it can be very exhausting.
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? Can you explain what you mean?
My situation is interesting because I didn’t set out to be the CEO of a business. My children’s book series evolved in such a way that required me to learn new skills and take risks. The extent to which I was determined to achieve my goals and realize my dreams outweighed my fears and inexperience. I had to learn quickly, especially from my errors. I had to juggle being accountable for everything and delegating tasks and responsibilities.
Most importantly, I had to be both stoic and flexible, approachable, yet firm.
I think anyone can become a CEO if their desire is strong enough. Many current successful CEO’s have failed many times to get to where they are today.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
There are many leadership styles, and it is up to that individual to choose how they want to operate their company.
Some of the essential values of my company are respect, appreciation, humility and diligence. Practicing these values is the basis of our endurance and quality of happiness in the workplace. We have a devoted team committed to the success of the company. Although we all have different positions, each of us are diligent in our service and go above and beyond to achieve the goals of the company.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
It is the love children have for The Miss Bonita and Friends series that inspires me to constantly find ways to make their lives and their world a better place.
I try to use my leverage, experience and success to promote awareness of the urgent need for more mental health resources for children and families.
I have created live shows, zoom shows, and the Mission Bonita web series to facilitate easy and free access for kids to benefit from all that Miss Bonita and Friends has to offer.
We offer many of these events free of charge throughout the year.
Ensuring children have access to the Miss Bonita and Friends books is imperative. We offer free books to libraries, schools and organizations all over the world. Throughout the year we offer free Kindle downloads and book giveaways.
I am constantly looking for new ways and creating new initiatives such as the global book series, to reach as many children as possible.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1- Don’t expect things from people.
I assumed when I first started my business that so many of my friends and family would be as excited as I was and would want to help me. While some did, I was really surprised and disappointed by others. I felt hurt and insulted from their lack of interest. After a while, I realized they had careers and businesses of their own that I hadn’t really showed support of either. I do my best now to be supportive to everyone, those that reach out to me and to family and friends. I no longer expect things from people, but rather, I appreciate who ever shows up!
2- Don’t take things personally.
The numerous times I received criticism and doors slamming in my face left me broken hearted at first. Thankfully, I learned that these were not personal rejections, but part of the journey in creating and running a business.
3- Give, give, and give again.
I have worked with many successful people over the years and what has struck me is how generous they all are in different ways. I learned that putting yourself and your vision and product out there is essential. Enlisting and recruiting support from others by giving them your time, your trust, your product and confidence can really help propel you to achieving your goals.
4- Go out of your comfort zone.
In order to achieve your dreams, there are many things you may not like, want, or be afraid to do. Traveling alone and speaking in-front of audiences were some of the many challenges I had to overcome to achieve success and I’m glad I eventually did!
5- Ask for help.
I like to do things on my own and I was not in the habit of asking for help.
Fortunately, I learned early on that in order to evolve and grow into a successful business I would not be able to do it all on my own. Asking for guidance, advice and creating a team to work with was when my company began to grow. The more I reach out and ask for help the bigger our dream becomes!
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 love to see a global movement online for youth, created by youth, and run by youth. Children would connect to one another all over the world to share stories of fun and inspiration and learn about new cultures, religions and places.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Throughout my life, I have had many wonderful experiences and some that have been very difficult. Whether it was dealing with a broken heart, not having the confidence or resources I needed, or not knowing what to do or how to do it. These three quotes have been part of my daily experience.
1- “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Mark Twain
No matter what situation I may find myself in, or who I may be dealing with, I always want to speak the language of kindness. Kindness is the supernatural force that can break barriers, bring unity and heal.
2- “Act as if” Alfred Adler
Sometimes I don’t have a lot of self-confidence and I suffer from anxiety, but I dream big. I have had to take many leaps of faith over the years and go out of my comfort zone in a big way. Sometimes, I used role play when I was unsure of myself and soon enough, I made it!
3- “Keep it simple”
Often times we create our own complications and stumbling blocks. We tell ourselves that things have to be done a certain way, or we are worried what other people will say. I have created many projects and living by this quote has made every one of them a reality. You just need to start and starting simple is the best way!
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 with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have lunch with Oprah Winfrey. I think she is a pioneer in her field and brought mental health and awareness to the mainstream in her show. Her interviews normalized the discussion surrounding emotional well-being, vulnerability and the benefit of sharing stories. Oprah Winfrey was able to relate to every person and made all who watched and participated a part of the experience. Feeling lonely and isolated as a 15 year old, this left a huge impression on me because her show connected me to millions of people. I have gained tremendous benefit from the work Oprah Winfrey has done and believe that she has influenced the work I do today.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.