“5 things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO” with Dr. Linda F. Williams, CEO of Whose Apple Dynamic Coaching and Consulting Services

An Interview with Phil La Duke

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First Figure Out Who You Are. I changed focus several times during this journey. Each change required massive across the board changes to my social media platforms. It took building new followers with each change of focus. It resulted in wasted time and financial resources. I should have doubled down on my core values and core purpose before starting to build the brand.

As a part of our series about strong Women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Linda F. Williams, Founder and CEO of Whose Apple Dynamic Coaching and Consulting Services. As a management consultant, executive coach, and mentor, Dr. Williams shows executives how to live the “suite life.” She talks about overcoming the chaos that upended her life, trapped her in a cycle of toxic relationships, and eventually stifled her career. She talks about why leaders must beware of what she calls the “Joshua Complex.”

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?

Oh. The honor and pleasure are all mine, my friend. Look. I was a powerhouse in the boardroom while my personal life crumbled on every conceivable level. It was during an emotional breakdown that I was forced to face how I used my career to avoid facing the dysfunction that ruled my personal life and relationships. Everything I ever accomplished occurred amid personal chaos.

I am a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence, and childhood molestation. Add divorce, cyclical toxic relationships, and a 16-year marriage to a man later convicted as a sexual predator, and you have the makings of a Tony Award-Winning play. The problem was that I was stuck on that stage replaying the same sorry script while the scenery and players were changing around me.

Anger, bitterness, trauma, and unresolved pain were sidetracking my life, stifling career growth, and keeping me stuck in toxic relationships. Something had to change. I had no clue that it would take 7-years and 6-days of writing a book manuscript to shed layers of trauma. By the end of the project, I knew what I had to do.

I decided to take revenge on a past I couldn’t change. The epiphany was the realization that a happy life, a rocking career, and fulfilling relationships are not mutually exclusive concepts. Now I show others how they can have it all because our professional lives should never outshine our personal lives.

What is it about the position of CEO that most attracted you to it?

Destiny seldom looks the way we think it will. Being a CEO was never on the old bucket list. That came as a natural progression from my academic and professional backgrounds. I started the business while still working a full-time federal job. When it began to grow and as I clarified my direction, I retired from an over 36-year career in public administration. Along with founding the business came all the responsibilities of growing and operating the company. BOOM! Instant CEO!

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

CEOs must play offense (internal dynamics) and defense (against external disruptors). They need to know when to switch roles. On the offensive side, a CEO must be the consummate maestro where team building is concerned. They must see beyond weaknesses to leverage individual strengths (bench depth).

They are sometimes the coach, strategically calling the plays from the sidelines. They are sometimes the quarterbacks, passing the ball downfield. They may have to play the running back by advancing the ball themselves. As fullbacks, they run interference to allow the teams to function unhindered. CEOs must skillfully juggle all these roles. They must navigate internal politics, arbitrate conflict resolution, and do it all while keeping an eye on the end game.

Other leaders are positioned as directed by the CEO. In that respect, they are like wide receivers who catch and advance the ball. There are usually more than one of these on the teams. Leaders are also like tight ends who line up beside the CEO who must be coaches, mentors, and visionaries.

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

I like addressing the internal challenges of being an executive. I must hold myself to the standards I espouse to my clients. If they don’t get away with procrastination, failure to act or implement, or self-defeating mindsets, then neither do I!

I don’t get to stay stuck-on-stupid. I don’t get to deflect fault. I don’t get to play the blame-game. I must own the organizational outcomes. When the outcomes are good, the team shares the credit. When they are not good, it’s time for a deep dive into core causes.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

I’m currently writing a book about what I call the Joshua Complex. The Joshua Complex is rooted in the human condition and when unaware of this dynamic, no leader is immune. It’s the things we don’t see that sideline our personal and professional success.

Most of what is written about Joshua holds him up as the ultimate example of good leadership. As good a leader as Joshua was, he blew it. In the face of clear instruction, a stellar track record, and a clearly defined mission, he missed it so badly that his decisions negatively impacted generations. He had blind spots that resulted in ill-advised decisions for which many others paid a dear price.

As leaders, we must surround ourselves with a tribe of truthful-trusted others who have our best interests at heart and can withstand the blow-back that comes with calling us out and holding us accountable. As leaders, our management styles, our authenticity or lack thereof, our blind spots and tunnel vision, have generational repercussions in many lives — including our own.

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

One misperception is that CEOs excel in all things. This is no truer of a CEO than it is of any individual. A CEO may have specific characteristics, skills, and talents. But they are not good at everything. What makes an individual powerful in this role is the ability to recognize, acknowledge and delegate those tasks at which they do not excel. It is all about the team with which they surround themselves.

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

One of the most profound challenges for women executives has been messaging that demands that we must act as a man in order to excel in a man’s world. We are moving away from that message in many ways. But, our internal disequilibrium with respect to owning our personal power remains a challenge.

There is nothing wrong with our feminine characteristics. They should not be ignored. They should be skillfully embraced and leveraged. We, as women, should each embrace the truth of who we are and stop trying to wear someone else’s pants. They don’t fit. They will never fit. They are not meant to fit us.

This is my take on it, from one of my blog posts:

“All the emotional intelligence training this side of the sun is no good absent overcoming the lie that being someone else, of any gender, is the key to our success. Your greatest power is realized in the truth of who you are.” Know that truth.

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

Here you go. Not everybody is interested in your help, Linda! I don’t know how “interesting” this is, but it has been a tough lesson for me to learn. I want to help. So, when I notice someone’s challenge, especially those new to leveraging social media or new entrepreneurs, my inclination is to offer suggestions. Well, I learned the hard way not to offer advice or suggestions unless or until I am asked! It is frustrating as heck.

From my perspective, the focus should be getting help to as many folks as possible. I see mistakes like using personal Facebook pages as business pages, oversharing personal challenges in social media, or failure to choose the right platform for your messaging. It’s too bad because there are a lot of folks willing to take your money for advice. I was willing to “gift” it in the interest of the greater good. Oh well.

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?

I woke up one morning to what sounded like the smoke alarm. I checked all three floors. Despite the haziness in the air, no alarms were triggered. I checked outside to see if I was seeing smoke from another fire. It was as thick outside as inside. I asked the lady two doors down if she saw the smoke. With a very strange look, she denied seeing any smoke. Not believing she couldn’t see it, I asked again, which elicited the same response. Irritated I went back to the house, got my cat, threw him the backseat of my car, and called the fire department.

Several firemen searched all three floors of the house but they didn’t see the smoke either. Apparently, the beeping I heard was a malfunctioning carbon monoxide detector in the living room. After they left, I was still wondering why nobody else saw smoke; by now I’m convinced I smell it.

While walking around talking out loud about not understanding why everybody else can’t see this smoke, I rubbed my eyes and discovered I’d slept in cheap contacts I bought at the beauty supply store. They always clouded up if I left them in overnight. Once I removed them my vision began to clear up and I realized I must have looked 14-carat-crazy, eyes as big as saucers, talking about non-existent smoke. I’m irritated with folks who were seeing clearly. But in my own little world smoke was infiltrating the world!

The lesson was that, just because I see something a certain way, it doesn’t mean I am right. The whole world looked wrong to me. The Joshua Complex! Front and center!

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

The biggest difference between what I do and my pre-CEO expectations is the amount of work it takes to keep track of all aspects of the business. I find myself doing a lot of research. I must know enough about each aspect of the business to be able to properly delegate and facilitate matters.

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

Traits that increase the likelihood of executive success include the ability to receive constructive criticism. A successful leader will have no problem with accountability. They would also be self-aware and authentic. Finally, they must adhere to a concrete set of personal and professional values.

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

  1. Listen closely to hear between the lines. Hear what individuals are not saying when they tell their stories. Look beyond the surface because what looks as if it would motivate an individual may not be the core inspiration. Understand that motivations change over time and what was meaningful as little as 6-months ago may have moved down on the priority list.
  2. Mentor and Coach as many women as you can. In fact, consider encouraging the entire leadership team to mentor and coach. Assign mentors according to the desired goals of the mentees. These should be life and/or career goals. Not just what the mentee can do for the organization.

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?

Thanks to a Presidential Executive Order, I was appointed to the National Partnership Council, which was created to make the agency a higher-performing organization. On this council were agency leaders from across the nation, along with labor leaders representing every union chapter. The directive required an interest-based methodology that required a boatload of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and compromise.

We operated by consensus.

I used to be a black-and-white thinker. That should have served me well in a regulation- and policy-intensive government organization. But there was no grey area with me. There was no room for plausible alternative explanations. That was how I lived my entire life and it wasn’t working for me in either arena. I was unapproachable and unreasonable.

The council was a boot-camp that dragged me into new mindsets and stretched my mentality until I now see all sides of an argument instead of entrenching myself into a position straight out of the gate.

Professionally, Tim English, the administrator at my regional office, was a great support during this time because he and I grew together as he led by example. On a personal level, Susan A. Williams, my sister, supported me with what one of my clients described as a “Shaq-sized boot to the gluts” whenever I needed it.

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

Every opportunity I see to facilitate the missions of others, I take it. I live by the fact that many lives are affected by a single life changed. It’s exponential. When I am done a kindness, I pass it on with no ulterior motivations.

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

  1. First Figure Out Who You Are. I changed focus several times during this journey. Each change required massive across the board changes to my social media platforms. It took building new followers with each change of focus. It resulted in wasted time and financial resources. I should have doubled down on my core values and core purpose before starting to build the brand.
  2. Asking for Help is not Weakness. Most of my life I felt that I had to go it alone and that I deserved all the negative fallout from suffered wrongs. As I wallowed in a false sense of responsibility for how others wrongfully treated me, I developed a made-your-bed-so-lie-in-it mentality. I didn’t ask for help because I viewed it as a sign of weakness. As I have healed, I have leaned into who I truly am. With that comes the acknowledgment that nothing worthwhile is achieved by a team of one.
  3. Acknowledge What You Don’t Know. The sooner we determine what we don’t know, the sooner we can build powerful alliances and a like-minded tribe. You must know what you don’t know and be alright with that. It’s a key aspect of authentic leadership that I have developed over time.
  4. Stay in your Lane. After experiencing the overwhelm of starting a business with a destiny-on-a-dime budget, I got used to having to do it all. I designed and built the website, all the social media graphics, all the copy-writing, all the marketing, all the…you name it. What I have accepted is that I cannot focus on my mission and purpose without outsourcing these things.
  5. Never Chase Someone Else’s Dream. The social media landscape is cluttered with marketing messages. “I’m so rich. You can be rich, too!” and “Look at all my cars and my yacht. Take this webinar so this can be you!” Everybody is saying how rich they got, distilling years of climbing uphill into empty promises. After wasting money on this stuff, I am up to my neck with it.
  6. You can’t boilerplate anybody else’s journey into your own. You can’t keep chasing other people’s dreams by trying to replicate their success journey into your life. You were not called to walk their path. Lean into your own journey because nobody else can walk that path but you.

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 start the “Greatest Power” movement to encourage others to lean into the power of who they are and leverage it to help others living the same challenges.

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

I often say that “A lifetime of change is empowered by a single act of courage.” It took gut-level courage to stop running from my past. We can’t change what we can’t face. Once I did, I began to heal. That is the power of my platform — transparency and authenticity. 
Healing powers the purpose behind the mission of showing others how to go from pain to power by uprooting the mindsets that keep them stuck on the wrong side of Destiny’s Door. As I tell my clients, “Many lives are affected by a single life changed.”

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 have two people I’d like to meet. I’d like to sit down with National Football League Hall of Fame legend, Curtis Martin. Curtis’ life epitomizes focus and purpose out of crippling pain. The other is Johnny Jett from Barnyard Builders, just because I like that guy!

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

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About the author:

Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 350 works in print. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke

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