There is nothing worse than feeling like you are alone and your problems are too big to handle. So reading biographies of resilient people and learn from them, allows a leader to see that they are a part of a collective. They are human and they have all the grit they need when it is called upon.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Diana Lowe.
Diana Lowe is the CEO of Blue Light Leadership, a leadership development company focused on educating, training, and coaching emotional intelligence for remote leaders. Diana works with Directors to C-Suite Executives in Fortune 500 companies to transform their communication, resulting in turning low-performing teams turning into highly productive and engaged teams. Her practice focuses on using evidence-based research from Positive Psychology to combat the rising stress and anxiety leaders face today.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Yes, I started my career out of university in Finance. I had an internship with Mellon Financial in Pittsburgh, during my last year of university, and they wanted to keep me on after I graduated, but my dream was to work in Finance abroad, so I did some internal networking and found out I could be eligible for a position in their London office. My boss at the time told me if I could get to London on my own he could get me a position. So I found a visa that allowed me to work in the UK and he got me a position! I worked in Finance in London, England and Dublin, Ireland. After that, I took time off and traveled around the world. When I returned to England I stayed in Finance. As I developed myself, I discovered my love of Public Speaking. I won local and European public speaking contests and realized that my passion was in communications skills. I quit my job and started my first company in the UK that helped Tech Professionals develop their soft skills.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Yes. During my time in Finance, I had several very abusive bosses. The environment was toxic and I wasn’t handling it well. My mental health went into severe decline. One day I woke up uncontrollably crying and I couldn’t stop for 3 days. I had to call in sick but couldn’t explain why. I was in such a low place in my life, I couldn’t even get out of bed. My GP at that time told me I was suffering from serious clinical depression. I went to a facility to recover right away. During my time there I had time to think and reflect on what I really wanted to do with my life, and if Finance was right for me. I realized I suffered so badly because my bosses (I had a few) exhibited toxic behavior that was unbridled with a culture of no accountability from company’s leadership. So at that moment while recovering I decided I would be a solution to this problem and I decided my mission was to create strong heartful business leaders with lifted emotional intelligence. At that time I didn’t know it was called emotional intelligence but I do know now, and this is to what I am dedicating my life’s work.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
This is not my first rodeo owning a company. I believe what makes Blue Light Leadership stand out, aside from the remote and hybrid leaders we serve, is our philosophy. As a practicing Buddhist, it is my life’s mission to bring happiness to others, to help them discover what happiness means, and to never give up no matter what difficulties we are facing. It is important that this philosophy of humanism is weaved into the fabric of everything we do at Blue Light Leadership because we are an emotional intelligence company. I believe in our global interconnectedness and can see it when I work with my clients. At Blue Light Leadership our first value is global citizenship. We see ‘global citizenship’ as encompassing the values of how we work together, how we work with others, and the impact we want to make in the world (this is all emotional intelligence). It’s about having the courage to respect and strive to understand people of different cultures (empathy and resilience), as well as the compassion to find empathy for those suffering, not only in your close circles but also in distant places. We are more connected than ever because of technology. Having this as one of our foundational values helps clients identify with the future we are trying to create and connect with us in this mission. It reminds us we are all in this together. And that our behaviors in our leadership matters.
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?
There are so many people I am thankful for. Friends, colleagues, coaches, clients, encouragers, and mentors. But two people I am the most grateful for is 1. My dad 2. Abusive boss #2 (let’s call him). My dad was a believer in people. He was a believer in doing good in the world, and his philosophy of being a good person in the world, giving appropriate and pointed praise to people to keep their spirits high is still with me today. I strive to lift those I am around. And weirdly abusive boss number 2. His toxic management style and lack of leadership, his irresponsibility, lack of training, and cowardice gave me purpose. It gave me time to think and reflect on what power I had in my work situation and in this world and how to create value from the toxic environment he had created. During that terrible time that I never thought would pass, I found a reason in my life, and why I was here. I would do my utmost to never have that behavior be ok towards anyone. I think when we can be grateful for the pain we endure as a way to help us grow we can find meaning, purpose, and happiness.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I would say resilience is perseverance in the face of setbacks. It is the attitude of determination and the choice of hope. Resilience is a big part of leadership and overcoming adverse environments and situations. Productive behaviors we see in resilient people including, the ability to bounce back from adversity and disappointments quickly, finding a path forward and coping in spite of setbacks, overcoming barriers or limited resources they may have, being flexible, and seeing failures as temporary situations. Resilient people are resilient typically because they have lived through and survived difficult life situations.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage in my opinion is very different from resilience. Resilience is the quality, the outcome if you will, of courageous actions. Many times what we think of as being courageous, as we observe it in other people, they do not. For example, when I was 20 years old I bought a plane ticket to move to London by myself. I didn’t know anyone, I barely had any money but I wanted to live there. Everyone told me I was so courageous (and crazy) but I didn’t see it like that. Personally, I couldn’t figure out why buying a plane ticket seemed so courageous to people. That is also not something I could interchange with resilience. I can tell you my first year in England, by myself definitely made me more resilient because I had no cushion or fallback plan, no trust fund, and my parents weren’t there to help or save me. My only option was to figure it out. It took a lot of courage for me to cold call businesses to try to get a job, while I was waiting for my position in Finance to get approved. Every day was a new and scary challenge I had to face, but I did it. The result was that I felt more resilient, able to overcome any hardships that came my way and trust myself.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
My grandmother was one of the most resilient women I have ever known. When she was a child, she grew up in a privileged household in Haiti in a wealthy French family. Although she excelled at academics with a private tutor, she wasn’t allowed to go to school, or do anything of importance in terms of work or business. The only thing she could do was marry. So she married and her first husband, who didn’t treat her right, and she felt unsafe, even though she lived in privilege. Overnight that changed for her. In the middle of the night, she took her son and moved to Puerto Rico to start a life for herself. She started a business that became quite successful. When she met another man and got married he wanted her to quit her business because at the time it was improper to have a working wife. A few years later, she took her two sons, and moved to Cuba until she could figure out how to live her life on her own terms. She spoke 2 languages (Spanish and French) and in her 50s moved to New York City and learned English with her youngest son. She cleaned hotel rooms for 1 dollar a day. She worked in the day and at night went to Harlem to sell makeup and did this for decades. She worked so hard so her sons could have a better life, like the one she knew as a child. I think she could have easily stayed in privilege with abusive marriages or unsafe circumstances but in the end, her desire to live her way, drove her to take the hard road less traveled. To me, that is ultimate resilience, when “they” try to knock you down but you keep getting up.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
Yes, I have had many, many impossibles. As I shared previously moving to London from university. I asked everyone I knew and their mother how to do it. This was before the internet. Every single person I asked told me it was impossible, and that I was crazy, and brave if I could figure it out. I went to the library and tried to find alternative resources and I couldn’t find anything. In my heart of hearts, I knew I had to get there so every time someone told me I couldn’t do it, I replied, “Maybe you can’t do it, but I can do it.” Eventually, I found out that as a new university graduate I was eligible for a special visa for college students to work abroad. When I found out I qualified for the visa, I applied and the rest is history!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
One of my greatest setbacks actually relates to my own career. When we moved back to The States I was undecided if I should start up my company in The States or go work for an existing company. There was one company that caught my eye, and after much navigating, I got a role! I spent night and day working at the company. Winning awards, going to training, teaching, and training watching incredible and life-changing personal development right in front of my eyes. I spent so much time at work it almost destroyed my marriage. I loved what I did so much I would spend every waking hour helping leaders develop. I work 6 days a week 12 to 14 hours. I was just transforming lives which is what I wanted to spend my life doing. One day I found out I was pregnant. When I told the owner of the company he fired me. I was in shock and devastated. My only friends were in the company, my identity was work, I lost my friends, my mentor, my job, and my life overnight. The darkness of that betrayal was more painful than I could have imagined. It destroyed my self-esteem, it soured any and every good thing that might have existed in my life. Especially being pregnant I was in such a dark place I couldn’t even be happy for the new life I was preparing to bring into the world. Because I loved doing professional and personal development work I couldn’t understand how I could bounce back from this burn. I witnessed once true “friends,” write untrue stories about me to support the company’s claims against me. I had doors slam in my face that were once opening and welcoming. I had “friends” never speak to me again. This took me a long time to try to understand and unpack. The hurt was unbearable. In fact, it caused a potential miscarriage of the baby I was carrying and I was prescribed bed rest for the whole pregnancy. It took a lot of healing and probing to see what things I did wrong in this whole disaster. Crucially I learned some big lessons. Lessons I plan on never repeating. It made me stronger because there were a lot of warning signs I didn’t take action on, there were a lot of things I turned a blind eye to, and a lot of lying to myself about situations I have witnessed that weren’t right. I made many mistakes leading up to that time and I had to own up to them for myself. I told myself it was ok when they missed paychecks or paid the wrong amount, because I liked them, and they cared about me. This is the process of creating resilience is painful and messy at times, especially emotionally. Owning the situation, 100% and examining it to say how can I do better. No blame, all understanding. I did this work for many years to heal from this situation. To this day the people who have betrayed me, I still chant for their happiness (as a Buddhist), because at the end of the day when people are happy, I believe they do the right thing.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I was picked on a lot as a child. I was teased a lot because of my curly unruly hair, my buck teeth, big think glasses, a head gear and I was wildly unusually optimism. It is true I spent 1 whole year of my childhood crying, when I was 9. I encountered so many bullies at school. I spent most of my teens and twenties just scared. But I just moved through things anyways. I believe when a person has a baseline mindset that things will be better in the future, even dark days will end. What I have learned with each chapter of my life is that emotions are important, they help us make decisions and changes in our lives for the better. And all of my hardships as a child helps me have more empathy and compassion as an adult and as a parent.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each. (I will offer 3 exercises, is that cool?)
According to research based evidence from Emotional intelligence here are 3 simple exercises I encourage clients to do to increase their resilience;
1. Foundational work is to make sure they have healthy sleep hygiene and habits, that they are exercising and eating well. Food, sleep, and exercise contribute considerably to our ability to handle stress. Would you rather handle a crisis on a full night of sleep or 2 Red Bulls and 3 hours of sleep?
2. With the help of a counselor, therapist, or coach challenge negative “self-talk”. Engage in critical thinking about your beliefs in the problem. Actively asking questions to debunk your initial beliefs or to give them a more balanced view can help a leader feel more empowered.
3. There is nothing worse than feeling like you are alone and your problems are too big to handle. So reading biographies of resilient people and learn from them, allows a leader to see that they are a part of a collective. They are human and they have all the grit they need when it is called upon.
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 think the greatest movement we can do collectively is do the hard work, which is ‘heart work’. Examining our own hearts and see what greed, anger, prejudices, and foolishness we hold and transforming that to creating value in society. This is how I see my work with leaders in lifting their emotional intelligence. In Buddhism we call it human revolution, it is the act of changing our hearts. This is the most meaningful work I think we can do as humans.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
My mentor in life is Daisaku Ikeda. He is a Nichiren Buddhist leader who has dedicated his life to world peace through practical actions. He is a leader of the people, and his life’s work on creating peace is awe inspiring. He is a leader that demonstrates true resilience in his causes for world peace. I would love to spend time in his presence.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I mostly post on LinkedIn and Medium. On LinkedIn I post daily. My goal is to inspire, and ask questions or post thoughtful information, research, or actionable tips on how we can all work on engaging our emotional intelligence.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!