Daina Middleton of Britelite Immersive: “Schedule regular meetings with them”

Create a group of other women executives that you can count on as confidants and sounding boards. Schedule regular meetings with them. Be sounding boards for one another. Being at the top can be lonely and women can perceive situations differently and may even believe they are the only one. Creating this group can allow […]

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Create a group of other women executives that you can count on as confidants and sounding boards. Schedule regular meetings with them. Be sounding boards for one another. Being at the top can be lonely and women can perceive situations differently and may even believe they are the only one. Creating this group can allow you to connect with others and understand you are not the only one facing a specific challenge.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Daina Middleton.

Daina is the Chief Executive Officer of Britelite Immersive. She is also a director and advisor, marketer, and growth architect with expertise in positioning technology and services organizations for rapid growth. She has a proven track record of creating market categories, driving thought leadership through partnerships and experiences, cultivating company culture, and executing operational excellence.

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 grew up in the rural American West and still enjoy the outdoors today. The foundation of my career was the 16 years I spent at Hewlett-Packard. I wore nearly every marketing and communications hat there. It was also a great foundation for my career in so many ways: marketing management, leadership, functional expertise, International experience. From there I went on to the marketing agency world, first at Moxie as a senior leader and then as the CEO of Performics. I never planned to be a CEO, but I find the role very satisfying because it leverages some key strengths such as seeing big picture trends and patterns, and connecting individuals who should be working together. I also enjoy the unpredictability that each day brings.

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

I only recently joined Britelite Immersive formally even though I have been working with the team as an advisor for over a year now. The most interesting story is that of our company leaders meeting in person in NYC last March as the reality of the virus was converging upon us. We had worked together remotely, and have done so ever since, but the connection we made during that brief in-person encounter is a shared experience we all have. There’s nothing more personal than living a shared experience where everyone perceives their lives to potentially be in danger.

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?

The funniest story that I recall is getting locked in the stairwell of a building traveling between floors because I wrongly chose the fire escape stairwell instead of the one where there was a badge reader entrance. I had to call my assistant to find someone to let me in the fire door on the other floor. Sometimes asking stupid questions is really important.

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?

There are so many individuals who have contributed to my success along the way. There are honestly too many people to list here. I believe it’s important as a leader to ensure everyone — regardless of their role or level — feels comfortable providing me with honest feedback any time or in any situation. I am really thankful for all of those individuals who provided me with important feedback small or large over the years even as insignificant but as important as warning me I had something stuck in my teeth before I got up to speak in front of a crowded room.

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?

I think this is such important advice and not something I fully embraced or practiced myself until recently. As a very busy global CEO, I spent years giving every single hour away and not keeping any time or resources to restore myself. Several years ago, I took the only break that I have had during my 30+ year career and recognized that I had lost my emotional connection to work. This is likely a result of burnout, but also due to a popular broader trend of only rewarding rational thinking in the workplace. As a result of this insight, I created a webinar called Awakened at Work to help raise awareness about this for leaders. I also now dedicate time to working out every day, getting sufficient sleep, and to reserving time in my schedule for creative thinking. All of these things enable me to be my best and retain my emotional connection to others.

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?

There’s no question that diverse teams deliver the best results. This has been proven repeatedly by numerous research studies. However, it can be easy to forget because we all have biases that get in the way. Research also shows that we tend to hire people like ourselves because it’s the least path of resistance. I’m not just speaking about race or gender, but even work style. We often do things unconsciously because they are easier, or we are just blind. Specifically related to the awareness we are currently facing within our country, I spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about this. So much of our country’s values rest within America’s strong system of governance, freely elected leadership, rule of law, and our stated ideals that are all about welcoming individuals no matter where they come from, which language they speak, who they love or how they worship. Though imperfect, these ideals are based on the belief that we are all stronger together and in support of one another. This is true for our country, our families, our companies. At the end of the day, embracing our differences is about belonging. Diversity makes the Britelite team stronger. It makes every team stronger. One of the strengths at Britelite is the depth of our culture and our empathy and support for one another. We all deserve to feel as though we belong in our workplaces. My role as a leader is to keep this in sharp, continuous focus as a top priority and continually work to ensure inclusion is deeply embedded within leadership, culture, governance and even our brand.

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.

This list can be a long one. Let’s start at the beginning — treating each other as humans. I know this sounds silly, but first with the Industrial Age and then with the rise of technology we have largely lost the importance of human connection in the workplace. How often do we teach employees how to use a new technology product but overlook teaching them how to treat one another? How often do we build emotional values into our company values alongside the rational ones? I work as a collaborator with an organization called PrismWork that helps companies to build sustainable, inclusive cultures. At the heart of our philosophy is teaching the HEARTI leadership competencies: Humility, Empathy, Accountability, Transparency, and Inclusivity. I believe these leadership competencies should be foundational for any individual and every organization.

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?

One of the many summer jobs I had growing up was working as a fire lookout. My job was to spot the lightning storms coming in which had the potential to ignite fires, map and report fires just as they broke out, and guide fire crews to them so they could suppress them. There are some analogies as a lookout to my role as CEO. It’s my job to see what’s coming and guide the team there. But it’s also my job paint a compelling picture that inspires employees and customers — sometimes even analysts — to come along on the journey. In addition to looking forward, I also have to look down and behind. Sometimes the journey is difficult because of operational challenges, and so it’s my job to solve problems and clear paths along the way. Finally, I must continually transform the organization taking cues from what didn’t go well by learning from mistakes without dwelling there and adapting the path forward accordingly. One could say that any of the responsibilities I just listed could be important for any leader in the organization. While this is true, the biggest difference for the CEO is that I am ultimately accountable. Sounds a bit trite, but the buck stops with me — good and bad.

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

There are lots of myths that likely fall into this bucket. There are a couple I will highlight: First, there’s a myth that says introverts can’t be effective executives. Totally false. I would say they can be very effective, assuming they understand that building rapport is an important part of the role and introverts might not be naturals at rapport building but it can be learned. Second, one of the most important skills is being authentic. I have seen CEOs believe they have to change to be like another successful executive in order to become a CEO. The truth is, we can all learn (good and bad) from other successful executives, but we contribute our best if we act true to our authentic selves.

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

I wrote an entire book about this called Grace Meets Grit. In a nutshell, the biggest challenges are that the leadership behaviors we are all accustomed to are largely based on male behaviors. This is because men are still largely hold the majority of leadership positions. As a result, we unconsciously attribute effective leadership qualities to male behaviors. For example, decision-making behaviors are the most biased. It is largely assumed that effective decisions are made quickly and autonomously. This is because men tend to make decisions independently and as fast as possible. Conversely, women leaders actually believe it’s their obligation to include others in the decision-making process — even if that means prolonging the timing of the decision. If a woman’s performance is measured by the male standard, she would be viewed as unsuccessful based purely on her approach to making the decision, not on the outcome.

I will give you a personal example. I was recently provided feedback by a board member who said that I didn’t push back like other CEOs. He even attempted to use my own language from my book to provide me with this feedback telling me I needed more “grit.” Bear in mind that I was the only female CEO the board was working with at the time. When I listed out the number of items I had pushed back on with the board he seemed confused. I believe this is because I didn’t push back on the items in the same way that other male CEOs did. Therefore, the board did not recognize them as pushbacks because my behaviors were not familiar. And, although we didn’t talk about it, if I HAD pushed back in the way consistent with the male CEOs, that would not have been received well either.

We don’t have active discussions about these leadership differences in the workplace, and so no one comes up to a woman leader and articulates “you make decisions differently and I’m uncomfortable with that,” or “I don’t recognize these behaviors.” This is why it’s the biggest challenge facing women: it’s subtle, difficult to diagnose or understand, not cut and dried in every situation, and, when it’s working against her, a woman may feel as though she’s failing by a thousand invisible cuts. The purpose of writing Grace Meets Grit was to shed light on these subtle differences and encourage healthy dialogue between men and women about the topic. There is largely no right or wrong as it relates to leadership behaviors. In fact, there are times when autonomous, immediate decisions are critical. If the building is burning down someone needs to make an immediate decision and zero consultation with others is required. Conversely, there are also times when more inclusive, considered decisions are important. What if we talked about these behaviors, instead of just assuming that one way is better? It could help us all to be more successful.

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

I don’t think I had any specific expectations. I learned a long time ago not to do that, so I’m not sure there really was a difference between expectations and reality.

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?

I believe the HEARTI attributes discussed previously are so often overlooked and yet so foundational to leadership success.

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

Create a group of other women executives that you can count on as confidants and sounding boards. Schedule regular meetings with them. Be sounding boards for one another. Being at the top can be lonely and women can perceive situations differently and may even believe they are the only one. Creating this group can allow you to connect with others and understand you are not the only one facing a specific challenge.

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

Advising and giving back to others has always been foundational to my fundamental belief that paying it forward is core to what makes me tick. I have gifts and experience that can benefit others and find great satisfaction in providing it to other deserving individuals and organizations.

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

  1. Trust your instincts. I can’t tell you how many times I have second guessed my thoughts or feelings believing that I lacked the experience or expertise. Over the years I have learned my instincts are usually right. This is a super power that doesn’t substitute expertise or experience by any means but certainly can be added to the quiver of talents I can leverage to be successful.
  2. Invest in you. For all the reasons we discussed earlier about rebuilding and restoring self, there’s no shame in putting yourself first.
  3. Be proud to be you. I never really fit in anywhere my entire life, and while I thought I was generally ok with that, I also believe it caused me to have some deep insecurities at times. I have done a lot of work to personally overcome this. Now, I simply say with pride — I don’t fit and quite frankly I don’t care. I am who I am and that is enough.
  4. There are people who operate with bad intentions. I was naïve about this and believed there was good in everyone. While there might be good in everyone, there are those who operate with ill intent to benefit themselves. Through experience I have found there are more of them than I originally believed.
  5. Failure is part of success. “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived” — I think that’s how the saying goes. I used to fear failure and take is personal. The truth is everyone fails. I have failed many times and will fail again. It’s part of the road to success.

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.

Currently, it’s about harnessing emotions in the workplace in order to capture the hearts AND minds of our people. We need to be “Awakened at Work” and as leaders should do what we can to capture the true potential within our organizations.

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

“To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anything be more fun?” Katharine Graham

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

Gloria Steinem. She inspired me to go undercover for Playboy tryouts in order to write a story for my college newspaper. I have admired the tireless work she has done during her lifetime championing women’s rights. She is constantly the voice in my head telling me what I can do and what I can be.

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

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