It’s okay to say I’m sorry or I don’t know. Give yourself permission to be human and let yourself be vulnerable in front of your staff. People around you don’t want you to be a robot.
Asa part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chelle Neff. Chelle has been a leader in the U.S. salon industry since founding Urban Betty in 2005 and has more than 20 years of experience creating innovative practices in the salon and beauty worlds. Neff has successfully grown Urban Betty’s revenue year after year and today has a space that houses more than 60 employees. The first location was so successful that she opened the second Urban Betty Salon in 2019.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?
Ibegan my journey as an entrepreneur first as an employee in the salon industry. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do hair. At the age of sixteen, I enrolled in Cosmetology school at my high school. During my junior and senior years of high school (1993–1995), I attended half days of regular classes and half days of Cosmetology school.
When I received my license in 1995, I started working behind the chair at Supercuts. I slowly worked my way up the ladder to high-end salons. Five years later, I got a small suite at the Gallery of Salons and was an independent contractor. That was my first stepping stone to running my own business.
I was all by myself for the first week when I opened Urban Betty Salon and had only one hairstylist/contractor for the first three months. I didn’t hire my first employee until six months after opening. At that point, everything that I did behind the chair paid for the entire salon and my household. It was a very stressful situation. After having one employee, I learned that it was much more profitable to have employees rather than booth rental/contracted hairstylists. After about six years, I slowly phased out all of my hairstylists that were contractors and transitioned to a 100% commission-based salon.
What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?
My father was a minister’s son. He grew up in a Christian household and attended church every Sunday. He was, as the stereotype goes, a bit rebellious growing up and didn’t expect the same set of rules for his children. He let us go to church if and when we wanted and listened to rock ’n’ roll music with us! He wanted to give his kids all the fun things that were taboo for him growing up. He even let us start watching R rated/scary movies at a very young age. So spirituality wasn’t a big deal for me growing up. I prayed occasionally but didn’t have a very firm grasp on what religion was. It’s funny to me how each generation tends to do the opposite of what their parents do. I was partially raised by a minister’s son who played in a rock ’n’ roll band and let his kids choose their own path. I think that’s part of what makes me fun and why I have such a love of music. My spirituality is based more on my life experiences.
How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?
I am a big proponent of combining spirituality and business in the workplace. Without one, you can’t have the other. I have also been working with a spiritual mentor on a personal/business level for over ten years, and it has changed my life. I have learned that the only person in your way is YOU. That’s a hard pill to swallow, I know. The minute you change your way of thinking spiritually is the minute your life will take a shift. Another lesson is that we all have our own pie. When my pie is building up, it’s never taking away from yours, and vice versa. In fact, the opposite is true. The more you surround yourself with people that are building up their own “pie,” the more abundance will follow you.
Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices? Can you share an example or story about that with us?
I am 1000x more successful because of my integration of spiritual/mindful practices. One example is we have two yearly retreats at our salon company led by Rebecca Hamm, an intuitive healer who is the Founder of the One Center in Austin, Texas. We focus on being mindful of one another, learning that we are mirrors of each other, and how to expand and get into alignment with our higher selves. It has shifted the entire culture of our company. We practice being happy for others when they do well and excel! When you put negative energy towards others who you perceive as having the things that you want, you block those very things from coming to you. Your life and your abundance will always be a reflection of your attitude, energy, and desires.
In 2019, during our first retreat, I had every member of my salon collectively create a Code of Honor for the company as a set of 10 simple and powerful rules that govern the internal behavior of our salon company. These rules determine how we treat one another. They are what people are willing to stand for, defend, and be held accountable for. They are what will motivate the team and keep them moving when the pressure is on, and also help us work towards our vision. We printed, framed, and hung the Code of Honor in our office, break room, and color room. It changed our conversations with each other and has also helped us resolve conflicts, as we now treat our salon as a collective whole.
What would you say is the foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”? Can you share a story that illustrates that?
You can’t control the conditions of another human, and you never will. I say this to myself several times a day. It’s a principle that takes a massive amount of weight off of your shoulders. And this can be proved easily. Can you control my thoughts, can I control yours? The answer is no. And for that reason, we can’t control each other’s conditions. Only I can choose what mindset I want to have or what I’m going to let trigger me. If you eliminate the need to make everyone else’s life better so that you can feel good and focus only on yourself, your life will shift dramatically.
One story I can share is that I let a family member who was an addict live with me for four months. I thought for sure this would be the “rehab” that would save them. I was very wrong. In the end, I took away their power and didn’t give them the chance to make that decision on their own. It was a lose/lose situation. I constantly battle with being an enabler and trying to save those around me. It’s very uncomfortable for me to see others suffering. My life’s work is now to let others have the chance to hit rock bottom and lift themselves back up and beyond. That’s pure grace.
Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual/mindful life?
Yes, I can. Trusting signs from the universe is a large part of spirituality for me. One of the most impactful moments was the day I decided to walk away from my first marriage. It was November 8, 2008. So, after one of our arguments, I picked up my crying self and continued to get ready for work. It’s incredible how we can sometimes numb ourselves and keep moving. I don’t know how to stop. “Give up” isn’t in my vocabulary. That’s probably why my first marriage continued for as long as it did. I went to take a shower and cried my heart out. I pleaded for God to show me a sign that I had done the right thing. And at precisely that moment, a bird landed on the windowsill of the shower. I had lived in that house for almost two years and had taken many showers. Never had I seen a bird land on that windowsill before. The bird made itself very apparent to me. Once I noticed it, a powerful revelation overcame me, and then the bird flew away. But it was that simple for me, and to this day that experience and the feeling it brought upon me has never left.
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?
Yes! I’m going to give credit to my spiritual mentor, Rebecca Hamm. I met with her once a week for the first five years after I opened my business. I am down to every other week now. When you are an entrepreneur, you always need someone in your corner who can call you on your B.S. in a gentle way. She does that for me. She has helped me to overcome my ego and become a boss in every sense of the word.
Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?
- Create a Code of Honor
- Each time you land in a place of happiness and want others to succeed, you will draw that same energy back to you. Give someone a high five today and tell them that they are fantastic. Show appreciation regularly.
- Lead with love and empathy. 99.9% of what triggers us is actually about us. If you are feeling frustrated with your staff, look inward first and try to see it from a different perspective.
- It’s okay to say I’m sorry or I don’t know. Give yourself permission to be human and let yourself be vulnerable in front of your staff. People around you don’t want you to be a robot.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I go back to the idea of supporting other people’s successes. The world is not one big pie for everyone. We each have our own pie! When one person is successful they are never taking away from you. Your worth and all that you have is based on your emotional well-being and your beliefs surrounding that. Whenever you celebrate another person’s success, you draw that same energy onto yourself. I would love for everyone out there to want others to succeed and be happy for them!
How can people follow you and find out more about you?