Ela Staniak Leaupepe of ‘Feminine Leaders’: “Be that captain who never leaves his ship”

Be that captain who never leaves his ship. There is truly influential aspect of leadership & performance which I have seen time after time again to be playing a significant role in people’s personal and professional success: Commitment & Resilience. We love being around people who are committed and resilient because we know we can […]

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Be that captain who never leaves his ship. There is truly influential aspect of leadership & performance which I have seen time after time again to be playing a significant role in people’s personal and professional success: Commitment & Resilience. We love being around people who are committed and resilient because we know we can rely on them in difficult times, we can lean on them when we need to catch our breath and those people NEVER ever give up in our moments of weakness. These are the people who lovingly give you a little nudge when you slack off. It seems like they always have plenty of fuel in the tank. Leaders, commit to yourself first before you commit to anything else.

As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ela Staniak Leaupepe Founder of Feminine Leaders.

Ela helps female CEOs, Executives & Business owners to create High-Calibre Performance & Confidence Through The 7-Step Self-Leadership System. Feminine Leaders ranked top 8 Women’s Leadership businesses in NSW & ACT in Australia.

Ela is leading the way globally in developing people vertically (consciousness) and horizontally (skills and capabilities) combining over a decade of coaching experience and studies in behavioural science, motivation, physiology, intuition and business growth.

Ela inspires Self-Leadership — the highest form of valuing and honouring self through taking responsibility, having discipline and emotional intelligence — all to achieve unprecedented results professionally and personally.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

My humble beginning began in Poland, where I was born. Growing up in a Polish industrial suburb had its challenges. Losing my father to alcohol addiction and my mother to heart problems and obesity before turning 15 set out to be a huge lesson in life for me. I learned that long term disempowerment has tremendous effect on our health, career and relationships, and unfortunately some of us pay the highest price for undervaluing ourselves. I also learned that disempowerment is a state of mind, and not a final destination.

I moved to Australia at the age of 21. I studied Fitness, Sports Coaching, Wellness Coaching, Neurolinguistics Programming, Hypnotherapy, Intuitive coaching and more. I explored various areas of motivation and behavioral psychology. I have worked with high-end business mentors and accomplished countless professional development programs. I worked first in hospitality, then fitness & wellness industry, I ran a few coaching businesses before diving into Leadership & Performance.

After experiencing poor leadership and discrimination in various workplaces in three different countries I worked in, Poland, Ireland and Australia I know how much damage lack of empathetic leadership, lack of inclusion and lack of equality can create in any business and that affects the most important asset of any organization — its people.

After my last employment ended I decided to create my own business, now called Feminine Leaders — a modern Leadership & Performance enterprise. We emphasize inspiring women to take responsibility for the trajectory of their life, in business and personally. We believe in educating people, men and women, on the importance of consciousness and personality development across our society to achieve self-mastery.

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?

Throughout my life I have been privileged to meet the most incredible people not only in business scene. Success for me has always been collaborative, it’s always been a shared experience.

At the beginning of my career I made a mistake of rejecting a lot of help as I felt I meant to be able to handle everything myself as an independent woman. I never used to ask for help. Eventually this became daunting and hugely limiting. I had a distorted definition of resourcefulness.

Later on, I learned that vulnerability, open conversations and connection allow us to step into the element of collaboration and that was a game changer for me.

I would love to acknowledge my dear friends, family and my husband for supporting my dreams, as well as providing me with unconditional love in the new journey through motherhood in 2020.

I am fully aware that I was only able to achieve great milestones in my career thanks to extraordinary business & mindset mentors, spiritual leaders and incredible alternative medicine experts. Body, Mind, Career as I like to say.

I must acknowledge my great friend and now a business partner Pjero Mardesic from Adictd2Grow. Pjero partners with senior executives to achieve exceptional leadership results personally and professionally. He is an example of determination, drive and high level execution. I am privileged to be inspired by our conversations a few times a week.

We both run independent businesses however prompted by Covid 19 in March 2020 and seeing the need in the industry we partnered up in launching a mentoring program called Business Matrix Group. We help business owners create, redesign and restructure their businesses in times of adversity. We also put our team members in close proximity with the best global experts in branding, marketing, sales, social media and more to help accelerate their 12 & 24 months visions. Our combined network, knowledge and mentoring approaches have proven to be a modern formula for success.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

I fully agree with this statement. Purpose is a crucial building block of any business, big and small.

For over a decade now I have had the same clear vision to create a world full of empowered women who take charge of their results professionally and personally.

Our purpose is to be a world leading educational leadership & performance company providing resources, connection, belonging and inspiration for every woman on a globe through achieving Self-Leadership.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Great question! I believe that adversity is present in any business on regular basis at various levels of intensity simply because there is a huge number of variables which can change rapidly any time.

Years ago, in my mid-twenties, I took on a role as one of the three managers at a medium size health club in Sydney. Most of uncertainty and difficulty was created by troubled and absent business owners, who handed us (the management team) most of responsibility of the business with limited resources. We also had very little experience in leadership and management which added up to uncertainty.

It was extremely difficult to drive business growth, keeping the team morale up, providing high level of customer service while it was obvious that the business was heading for a disaster.

What we focused on was keeping open and honest communication with our contractors and employees to reduce the level of uncertainty. Our intention was to be inclusive and empathetic to people’s common fears. We would conduct weekly staff meetings and offer one on one casual style catch up/support meetings. We would keep our team up to date with any developments in the business.

Answering questions from our customers and suppliers presented challenges too. We decided to be intentional and certain in communications while remaining aligned with our personal integrity and our own values and staying loyal to the business at the same time.

We also made big things out of little things in a positive light. We would welcome every new day with a fresh outlook. Practicing positivism in the mornings when greeting people, gifting team members with a coffee or a snack, having an occasional joke or simply being inquisitive about people helped to overcome extensive challenges, even when the outcomes weren’t fully in our control. We celebrated birthdays and festivities too!

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

Are you kidding?! Yes, many times! I had my first business when I was 21 years old. With tons of enthusiasm, zero business awareness and underestimated sense of what it takes to run a business I managed to grow the business in the first 6 months to then kill it within 18 months. Oopps! I learned incredible lessons of how important emotional intelligence and emotional regulation is.

It took years of failures and successes, studies, personal and professional development and a few “Go’s” at entrepreneurship to develop certainty, self-belief, skills and capabilities — all leadership & performance elements required by any long term operating business which aims for success.

What drives me forward? My Vision and my Purpose. Entities which are much greater than any of my fears, failures or Ego. My vision and purpose are much greater than any benefit I can ever create for myself.

When your vision becomes much more influential than your own little bubble, a “can” becomes a “must”. You no longer question “if you can”, you question “What are you prepared to do to get there”

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

The most important role of being a leader is being a leader, anytime, anywhere, despite any circumstance. Many leaders who don’t have great skills in emotional regulation, self-awareness or an ability to take responsibility, those leaders resort to default stress resolving mechanisms in times of adversity. Some of those behavioral mechanisms can manifest poor leadership for they are unconscious.

Leaders who create culture of loyalty through togetherness, respect and empathy are often supported greatly in challenging times by their employees.

People want to know they are seen, understood and that they belong. Apply this to your personal and professional environment and see greatness unfolding right in the front of your eyes.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

I am glad you asked.

First of all, we must remember that everyone has a story, everyone is going through something and everyone has their own unique set of perceptions of reality. What this means is that most of the times when difficult news is delivered to a person, they can take it personally, create their own meaning of what the news means for them, what it says about them and will have their own specific reaction to it, even though the news is probably not personal at all.

When conducting a difficult conversation 3 things need to happen beforehand :

  1. Prepare the delivery and try predicting possible outcomes
  2. Stand in empathy and offer support or suggest possible solutions
  3. Communicate from a place of higher self — verbally and non-verbally

Difficult conversations may trigger an emotional reaction: sense of isolation, betrayal, embarrassment, disappointment, fear.

Please do not practice the ‘Sandwich Approach’ when having difficult conversations (positive feedback, negative feedback, positive feedback). It undermines your feedback and the quality of the conversation. Research shows that people, especially on a senior level, prefer to be give the “raw truth”.

I suggest the following structure of the conversation:

  1. Set up respectful tone for the conversation/ give a short background for a conversation ie. “In respect of our relationship I want to talk to you about…” or “I want to give you the respect of honesty and discuss the topic of (..) due to recent circumstance of ..”
  2. Present the bad news in a kind manner/ explain the background of decision/ give constructive feedback ie. “I have analyzed our data from the period of (month to month or year to year) and noticed there has been (describe the issue).” or “I am wanting to talk to you about (issue) and gain more understanding from you about how we got here”?
  3. Listen attentively, be aware of your body language
  4. Present a solution/ options of resolution/ provide support
  5. Express the willingness to maintain the relationship despite current decision/ circumstances.

Good luck!

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Let’s establish something first. Future is ALWAYS unpredictable, unless you have a crystal ball and a set of tarot cards (jokes!)

A leader must make plans especially when going through challenges and uncertainty and there are a few reasons for it:

  1. One must have clarity of direction. Sometimes the process of achieving outcomes needs to be adjusted countless of times due to changing conditions. What is important is knowing of destination. Create a plan of action A, B, C, D and E if you must and use your skills of adaptation when necessary.
  2. Vision & Purpose are the glue holding people together in any business. A leader must revisit, remind and entertain the desired outcome which drives the business forward. Vision and Purpose can truly be top motivators for people in times of adversity.
  3. Let’s spin our mindset a little. What if I told you that adversity carries opportunities? Some of the biggest companies were launched during or right before Global Financial Crisis: Air BnB, Uber, Mailchimp, Groupon, Square, What’s Up. What this tells us is that businesses can grow even through the most uncertain times.
  4. The number one focus of any leader should be placed on continuous growth and personal and professional development. It’s never a lack of resources which contributes to most failures, but it’s lack of resourcefulness.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

YES! “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome”. This is a Marine slogan which is taught to Marines to overcome any obstacle in combat. This mindset helps them deal with any physical, mental or spiritual hardship.

I am sure we can borrow it from Marines and apply it to business.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Top common Leadership & Performance mistakes are:

  1. Blaming staff members/ employees for business failures. Unfortunately, still today, many leaders do not TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for everything in their businesses which creates an awful culture of separation, it breaks trust and ultimately can lead to great human resources leaving the business or business shutting down. It is easy to be praised for great achievements, but what happens when results don’t match the expectations? 
    To avoid this as a leader Take Responsibility and ask the right questions: Is our hiring process right for us? What training & development do we have in place to help people expand their capabilities? What have I done to help support my management teams and employees? What mistakes have we made which contributed to our failure? What have I learned? What can we do to resolve this?
    Honest, vulnerable and ongoing communication with employees builds togetherness and willingness to participate in changes. It is much easier to overcome challenges in the culture of “We are all in this together” rather than “Everyone is replaceable”
  2. Taking fear-based actions and making fear-based decisions. As mentioned earlier, leaders who haven’t yet gained awareness of their behavioral drivers or emotional regulation may resort to basic stress resolving behaviors and focus on themselves rather than thinking inclusively of others and acting empathetically. By the way, we all do our best with the resources that we have. Poor leadership is 99% non-intentional and unconscious. Poor leadership is caused by lack of education in consciousness growth.
    People can sense fear, and fear is a very contagious emotion. Imagine sitting on a plane which goes through terrible turbulences. Oxygen masks drop down. The plane captain storms in with a parachute on his back and says “This is too hard, I am jumping off the plane to save myself”. Would you feel frightened, betrayed, unsupported and full of disbelief of how selfishly the captain acted?
    This is exactly how employees feel when they notice the leadership team or the business owner being dictatorial, overwhelmed or too pushy in times of hardship.
    To avoid this as a leader have a strong daily morning routine which allows you to nourish your emotional, physical and mental health. Lead by example by showing how to honor self to then honor others. Show people how to manage stress at a high level of integrity, emotional capacity and sustainability of high performance.
  3. Lacking adaptation. The real root cause of this issue is focusing on a problem and its negative effects on the business rather than expanding thought processes and searching for solutions.
    To avoid this as a leader adopt a belief of limitless possibilities. “Where there’s a will there’s a way”
    Leaders in the modern era of business need to be agile, adaptive and question the usual ways of doing things in pursuit of brand new ideas. Being a modern leader requires bravery and exploring new, undiscovered territories regularly especially today, when technological advancement rapidly develops and it is inseparable part of any business.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Stand in honesty, vulnerability and transparency. The most successful leaders are relatable, trusted and show their real human side without worrying about losing their status. Why? Because one of basic human needs is ‘connection & belonging’. Provide people with it and you will create loyal and genuine teams.
  2. Turn up your Emotional Intelligence to the next level. When going through turbulent times what people often want to do is work more, do longer hours at work and minimize interactions with others just to increase load of accomplished tasks! WRONG!
    When a business goes through huge changes what needs to be exercised is a larger level of empathy, increased volume of meaningful conversations and togetherness so as soon as one link of the chain becomes weaker others step in to assist. This allows for ongoing assessment and progress. This allows for small problems to be caught before they grow into big problems.
  3. Make decisions confidently but inclusively of others. We established a moment ago that emotions are contagious. Certainty is too! When a leader manifests strong decision making skills based on an accumulative input from others and a thorough assessment of an issue, everyone around feels a sense of safety and direction. People want to be led towards attractive outcomes and have a sense of contribution at the same time especially in times of adversity.
  4. Master skills of communication. This topic is hugely underestimated. In usual we have a subjective opinion about whether we are good or bad communicators. What is required in order to be an extraordinary communicator is not only active listening, it is also knowledge of unconscious behaviors, unconscious language and limiting beliefs. Why? Because great communicators can hear, see and feel way beyond the words, way beyond what is obvious. If you want to be able to influence others, you want to be able to truly SEE what is going on in their default states (ie. Empowered and Disempowered; Ego and Higher Self;)
  5. Be that captain who never leaves his ship. There is truly influential aspect of leadership & performance which I have seen time after time again to be playing a significant role in people’s personal and professional success: Commitment & Resilience. We love being around people who are committed and resilient because we know we can rely on them in difficult times, we can lean on them when we need to catch our breath and those people NEVER ever give up in our moments of weakness. These are the people who lovingly give you a little nudge when you slack off. It seems like they always have plenty of fuel in the tank. Leaders, commit to yourself first before you commit to anything else.

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


“The question isn’t who is going to let me, but who is going to stop me?” by Ayn Rand

Throughout my life, I have faced countless challenges in my career and personal life. From difficulties in my childhood, health troubles, having my heart broken in relationships, financial problems, failing in business to huge personal and professional growth.

There were times when I felt powerless, defeated and lost. It wasn’t until I understood that by taking a complete responsibility for everything in my life, becoming committed and disciplined I am able to overcome anything. I can achieve anything! I was then able to transform my business, my health and my relationships.

It wasn’t until I realized that it’s thanks to those challenges and people who challenged my character I was able to find my true potential, I was able to find myself. Today I am grateful for all the experiences. Every experience allowed me to learn something about myself. What I now have is relentless resilience and limitless self-love.

I have Self-Leadership.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can connect with me on Linked In https://www.linkedin.com/in/ElaFeminineLeaders/

And Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ela_leaupepe/

My website is https://feminineleaders.co/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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