I’ve long believed in the power of memorable mantras to remind each of us of our focus in times of uncertainty or stress. In Krav Maga, the number one rule is “use whatever works;” it is easy to remember in an overwhelming situation and frees the mind to use all resources available to react, overcome, and prevail. Outside of self defense situations, that rule can sometimes feel like you are bordering on the unethical. It works well for emergency situations, sparking innovative and open-minded thoughts, but for the day-to-day, a more tempered mantra is needed.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Connie Chesner.
Connie Chesner, co-founder of the Armored family of brands, has spent over 25 years on a mission to change the world through her passion for the diverse fields of market research, communication, and strategic thinking. She’s been an international media expert, keynote speaker at conferences such as Loyalty 360, a professor, has run projects to launch and reform multi-national brands, and today she weaves that deep understanding into guiding people to stronger leadership and fulfillment. She has successfully founded three businesses and worked within corporations and agencies, allowing a diverse understanding of how individuals and organizations motivate, build trust, maintain, and grow. Her latest proprietary market research work, “America on Pause,” focuses on how markets have changed due to the impact of the 2020 Pandemic and transforms that original research into strategic planning training that is leading organizations forward to post-pandemic success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
As you asked this question, the late 1960s pop hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother,” by the Hollies sprung to mind. The lyrics not only reflect my career path, but the backstory of how I got here. For those not familiar, the song starts out with a line that says, “The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where, who knows where; But I’m strong…”
My life has been spent leading with a helping heart, looking for ways to lift the burden of others by empowering them in some manner, and standing back in awe at the power of sharing knowledge. As a young girl, my favorite fantasy game was to “play school,” setting my stuffed animals up in rows, teaching them new skills and lessons. I went on to teach at the collegiate level and then to lead the market research efforts which afforded me the honor of educating teams at some of the world’s largest brands on insights, impact, and innovation through newfound knowledge. My passion for sharing my knowledge and ever-unique perspective on the world continues with my current companies at the Armored family of brands. Together with my business partner, we lean on our unexpected blend of skills and advance lives at every opportunity.
The most common question we get tends to revolve around the idea of: why would a world champion martial artist and a professional market researcher/trainer start a business together? And the answer lies in a common passion for sharing knowledge that lifts others and leaves them better than before. We are on a mission to change the world, one person at a time.
From the moment of conception, our companies have had a foundational vision to help people. We bring new knowledge to market with our proprietary market research in “America on Pause,” our report and strategic training designed to help businesses move forward past the pandemic. We even offer fully interactive and immersive corporate training sessions, in-person or virtually, that interlace the core principles of Krav Maga with expert soft skills development to improve teams and leaders. No matter how we interface with others, my goal is always to lift their burden just a little and to leave them better than when we first met.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Anyone who has been in an organization that values professional development knows that it’s tough to find engaging options for true training in soft skills sessions. My mission is to change that landscape, through offering innovative and engaging programs that don’t feel like work, but have a lasting impact on the mindset and soft skills tools available to teams.
But to understand that disruption, and the power it has, first I have to ask a few (rhetorical) questions…
- Did you know that a large number of highly successful executives train in a martial art?
- That martial arts trains the mind even more than it does the body in core skills such as confidence, discipline, and perseverance?
- Or that most soft skills training programs lack fresh, proprietary research backing?
- That improving communication skills, our ability to trust, and goal achievement are vital to individual AND team achievement?
Our work at Armored fills those gaps, offering programs infused with fresh research, approaches, and expert level martial arts elements. We bring the best of what top executives (who train martial arts) have already realized to company-sponsored training sessions: increased confidence, enhanced self-image, renewed trust in others and teams, boosted focus and more.
We take the adventurous and hesitant alike through a safe and enthralling flow experience that weaves together expert-level professional soft skills development tools, such as enhancing trust, increasing goal execution, and strategic thinking enhancement, with real-world, Israeli Krav Maga (self-defense) drills designed for every skill level in the room. It’s an unexpected disruption, but one that instantly excites those looking for fresh ways to impact their teams in positive manners. There is an enjoyment that emerges as we dance the line of an expansive mindset with enough grounding in familiarity for comfort, pushing people to the edge of thrills, but within a safe and controlled environment. The result is an energetic room, even when training lasts an entire day, where people easily lose track of time, are eager for more, and shift from a work to a play mentality that is sadly missing in teams.
Our innovative approach not only gets people moving and interacting in fresh ways, it speaks directly to the base human needs to feel safe, secure, and more in control of the world around us. And therein lies the magic, because as we shore up those base needs through easy and fun drills, the neural pathways to higher learning open further, allowing our bridges to life skills to have more meaning, relevance, and ‘stickiness’ than most have ever experienced before. No other provider is priming the neural pathways in such a uniquely powerful manner and that catches people off guard, in all the right ways.
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 know that many great storytellers like to build-up to the lesson behind a story, but I think that sometimes setting the stage can make a story a bit more powerful. So, the lesson nested in this mistake is that:
perspective matters more than you know and when you disrupt, you must still find a way to connect your new world vision to that of the rest of the market or you’ll keep hitting speed bumps. How do I know this? Ah, now THERE’S the story…
One of the cardinal rules of marketing is to highlight your points of differentiation. You have to stand out from the competition to gain attention in the overcrowded marketplace. And so, when I was designing the branding for our companies I looked to two things: my source of faith and inspiration and what made us markedly different. From those roots, our first branding emerged: Armored Self Defense. Our logo infused a single Spartan helmet with deep bold colors of black and orange. Only a few knew the faith-based dual meaning of the word Armored, and as a strong word it lent itself to many analogies. Professional, different, and ready to take on the world.
But the world wasn’t quite ready for us, at least not with that framing. You see, after many months of networking and conversations, I had a bit of an epiphany moment when I realized that some of our closest advisors and supporters…were still unclear what we actually delivered. We’d also noticed that well-meaning contacts would refer us to their Security teams or to one-off groups looking for fitness or Health and Wellness events. These were not the departments or conversations where our insane level of skill and programs were needed, but we were being framed as “just another self defense/martial arts provider” in many circles. It was killing our ability to make the kind of difference we craved. Talk about eye opening.
In short order, we did the hard work and adjusted our branding: slightly softer colors and a fresh name too: Armored Team Building came to life! Looking back, we met loads of fun folks under our original branding, and now engage that for our regional traditional self defense business targeting consumers, but the Armored Team Building brand has served us well by allowing our brand to resonate with the right markets, open the right doors, and prime people for the unexpected fun mixed with learning that lies ahead.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
When you are a natural-born leader and disruptor, mentors can be tough to find because you think in unexpected ways and connect ideas that have never been looked at in quite the same way before. And so, in my fields, I have struggled to find true mentors to take me under their wing and shepherd me forward, yet I have had mentors in areas that cut across industries and to the heart of that which makes a disruptor powerful. Watching those with incredible work ethics, perseverance, an enduring passion for creation, and expertise has been a theme throughout my life. Engaging them in conversations, getting to know them, knowing their struggles and stories have allowed me to seed the traits that serve me across any field of work I enter.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
The systems that professionals and organizations have come to know as a part of the “training and development’ industry are, to be frank, tired and over used. Too many trainers lean into the “old standards” and rely upon assessments and similar exercises to try and advance soft skills training. The results are sometimes evident, but many times if you chat with someone a few weeks or months later, they can barely recall what was covered or show evidence of progress based on their learning. So, although these systems have “withstood the test of time,” I would argue that it’s because the systems haven’t had true innovative thinkers inject them with fresh ideas in a long time.
Many practitioners have the capacity and drive to be creative and innovative, but are stuck in organizations that dictate or restrict their ability to innovate. Innovation breaks barriers. It requires more thinking, more planning, and a touch more risk than some organizations are willing to take on internally.
Negative disruption imitates change, but leaves building blocks out. For example, recent years have seen a rise in “pseudo-team building” markets and the meaning of the phrase “team building” has been watered down and distorted by these negative disruptors. What does that look like? Well, it looks like paint-ball based team building or escape rooms where the promise is team building, but the experience is more team bonding. Without vital layers and pieces of true content mixed in, these experiences often leave teams feeling pumped in the moment, but still lacking the tools and skills advancement to work together back at the office. These are different and flashy, just to be different and flashy. They latch onto the phrase “team building” as a marketing gimmick, without the expertise to back up the promises. In the process, they do more damage to the industry than good.
Positive disruption, such as what we do in the fields of training and development, shatter expectations in many ways, but still give credence and attention to the foundations which allow them to exist. At our Armored family of brands, we blend together the thrill of learning a new and exciting skill (Krav Maga/self-defense) with the grounding of expert-level traditional professional development, simultaneously speaking to the base human needs for safety and security, and our needs to engage and work together with others through integrated soft skills tools and lessons. That balance of honoring the past, yet jumping into the future is a recipe for positive disruption.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I’ve long believed in the power of memorable mantras to remind each of us of our focus in times of uncertainty or stress. In Krav Maga, the number one rule is “use whatever works;” it is easy to remember in an overwhelming situation and frees the mind to use all resources available to react, overcome, and prevail. Outside of self-defense situations, that rule can sometimes feel like you are bordering on the unethical. It works well for emergency situations, sparking innovative and open-minded thoughts, but for the day-to-day, a more tempered mantra is needed.
My entire life has been a journey of incremental growth and change. And that is best embodied in the mantra: “Keep moving forward.” Simple. Memorable. Easy to repeat to yourself over and over again in times of stress, especially when you are tired and want to give up. It comes into play in my regular workouts at the gym, where it pushes me to try one more rep or to hold a plank for just a few seconds longer, knowing that little changes add up over time.
And in the business world, it makes things like a pandemic just another reason to find ways to move forward. Life is a series of shifts and adjustments, it is never-ending in its challenge to our desire for routine and tradition. There is comfort in traditions and systems, but the best insights and impacts are often experienced when we step out of these and move forward into new territory.
Being an entrepreneur and a disruptor is never easy. The flashy images and fancy toys are what people see on the outside. They see the veneer of confidence and the public-facing elements of the business. But what they don’t readily see is the drive, dedication, passion, and mindset that allowed you to achieve those other things. And when they decide to stop or quit, to take a break or kill a few hours in the middle of a week, they don’t realize that behind the scenes, I’m still pushing, repeating time and again the mantra to “keep moving forward.”
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
One of the greatest thrills in life lies in never settling and always striving to grow, so you are right, shaking things up is a way of life! Next up is the evolution of our custom research looking at the ways the world has forever changed due to the pandemic of 2020 and how businesses can harness those changes to make fresh traction in their markets. “America on Pause,” the research project and report was just the start. We’ve transformed the learning into practical and adaptable strategic planning workshops and programs that are making a massive impact in how companies can come back stronger than ever.
To date, we’ve had over 500 people go through our post-Covid strategic sessions, giving them renewed focus and plans to forge forward in powerful ways and that number will continue to grow. A good fit for businesses of all sizes, the workshops can be conducted in person or via our highly engaging and passion-driven virtual offerings. Everything we do is designed to bring true and enduring impact from custom expert perspectives that aren’t available anywhere else in market.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Being female, showing my intelligence, curiosity, and sense of self often directly intimidates others. Whereas, a man would be seen as desirable and driven, my same actions are sometimes seen as more brazen and risky. Being a female disruptor means I have to think more about what I wear, how I phrase things, and how I come across.
Males have role models like Gary V., Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Joe Rogan, Bill Gates, Eric Thomas, and more: men who can dress casually and still be taken seriously. Men who are lauded and admired for embracing who they are, but where are the female counterparts? Perhaps that’s why I had a bit of trouble answering your earlier question about my mentors.
This is further complicated by the tendency for many females to hold each other back by withholding support in key manners, whereas males have discovered how to navigate together to find mutual success.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
When you don’t imitate, but you innovate, your influences are scattered because you are always pulling from tiny bits and making them your own, leaving your mark. Which is to say that I honor what others have built before me, but that I work actively to enhance it farther.
The key thread lies in having an ever-curious mind. It’s always being open to and looking for opportunities to learn. And that means that my playlists and nightstands are full of a variety of topics and resources. And with an ever-curious mind, influence often comes from the most unexpected places. Such as driving down the road and seeing a truck with a unique brand of glass which claims to have been around since before the Civil War and working with those you are with to explore who that brand is and what they do, not because you work in glass, but because learning is everywhere. The company had survived the Civil War, endured the Great Depression, was still family-owned and stayed true to core values and tradition. And that was why they were successful and THAT is inspirational. But it didn’t come from a podcast or book. It came from being present and curious in the everyday. Books, podcasts, and talks are fantastic, but the world itself is a curious and engaging place, you just need to take a fresh look around.
And that is the same approach we use in our work with the Armored family of brands. We lead with ever-curious minds and a desire to understand, improve, and make the world a better and richer place in which to live.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As someone who appreciates nature, I love hiking. And if hiking teaches you anything, it’s that the climb is worth the view. Perhaps that is why I resonate so strongly with this quote from Vince Lombardi: “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.”
It’s great to have goals, but so many times people get hyper-focused on the goal over the journey — and the journey is where the most valuable learning often happens. The journey teaches you to stumble and recover, to know when to rest, to appreciate each step, and to really value the reward of the view and experience of reaching the summit.
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. 🙂
One of the themes that we focus on in the Armored family of brands is the power of mindset and we are on a mission to repair the fabric of relationships across the world, so I’d love to spark a Mindset Movement.
The infection of having a negative mindset and always looking for the downside or criticism seems to have taken hold of the world. Sarcasm, bickering, hypercriticism, inability to allow others to grow/change, cancel culture and more are drastically impacting the day-to-day prevailing mindset of millions. As we have run our workshops, we have seen groups that were struggling to work together across divisions, roles, and other challenges transform within just a few hours of our mindset training.
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to encourage people to shift their mindset, leading each interaction with a search for the positive. This does not mean to ignore true dangers or wrongs or to be all-accepting, all of the time, but it does mean that more people would enter interactions with the framework of positivity, opportunity, and cooperation.
How can our readers follow you online?
America on Pause (report preview & corporate training):
Email address and phone: (feel free to reach out directly anytime)
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!