Encourage team connection — and this can even be done virtually! You can hold team fitness classes, cooking classes, meditations, and even fundraisers over video conferencing platforms.
As a part of my series about leaders who integrate mindfulness and spiritual practices into their work culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kerry Wekelo.
Kerry Wekelo, MBA, is the Chief Operating Officer at Actualize Consulting, a financial services firm. Her book and program, Culture Infusion: 9 Principles for Creating and Maintaining a Thriving Organizational Culture and latest book Gratitude Infusion, are the impetus behind Actualize Consulting being named Top Company Culture by Entrepreneur Magazine, a Top Workplace by The Washington Post, and Great Place to Work-Certified. In her leadership, Kerry blends her experiences as a consultant, executive coach, award-winning author, mindfulness expert, and entrepreneur. Kerry has been featured on ABC, NBC, NPR, The New York Times, Thrive Global, SHRM, Inc., and Forbes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in a family business, so I’ve been immersed in a business setting for as long as I can remember. It was my grandfather’s company. Once he passed away, his kids, including my mom, stepped in to save the firm. During that transitional period, I have seen first-hand how stressful things can get in times of crisis and learned just how sensitive certain matters can become. From that, I learned not only how to pivot out of challenging situations, but also how resiliency can get you anywhere in life. The things you choose to focus on have an impact on how you handle the life’s inevitable challenges. I have since leaned on wellness principles like breathing and self-care to not only act as a band-aid fix, but also as a standard practice that changes how I show up each day for the better. I personally feel stronger and have more capacity than ever since focusing on wellness, and it keeps me well equipped as I help lead Actualize.
What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?
At the time I did not realize this practice aligns with positivity and mindfulness, but since I’ve gotten older, I understand the power of this mindset shift. When I was little, whenever I was having conflict with someone, I would try to get the person to smile or shift their focus. For example, my maternal grandmother was very strict about our family being on time for gatherings. If a family member was late and she was becoming upset, I would distract her by asking her all the ingredients in one of the dishes or ask her about an upcoming trip. I realize now that the practice I used at such a young age is similar to the 3P Method of Pausing to Pivot to a Positive that I teach in seminars and classes.
How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?
When I was starting out in my career, I strove to compartmentalize both my work and home life. I thought that balance was achieved through a clear line of separation between the two. However, I quickly realized that true balance is never possible, and striving to be rigid in your commitments will only lead to burnout faster. The truth is, no matter how much we try, our work life affects our home life and vice versa. When I understood this, I was better equipped to handle challenges because I grasped the importance of bringing my “full self” to work — not just my “work personality.” Now, I show up the same in all aspects of my life. Each day is an opportunity to be our best version of ourselves whether that’s through our time at home or in the workplace. I infuse the same mindfulness principles in my personal life as I do for work, and now I can better navigate tasks and stay positive.
Additionally, incorporate movement and a mindfulness meditation to start my day to help me stay grounded. I even find that adding the mindfulness to the end of a movement routine makes it easier to remember to stay mindful throughout the day.
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 feel I am more successful because of my integration of spiritual and mindful practices. Before I started having a mindfulness practice, I would be stumped on how to move the business forward. Now, if I do not know the answer or need to come up with an innovative idea, the best strategy is to go for a walk or do one of my mindful activities. One of my favorites is to play an uplifting song and then have quiet time to focus on what I am trying to solve for. I find that taking time to be quiet and think is when the answers come. When I was in yoga teacher training and we had to sit in silence for 30 minutes to an hour — that is when I realized that stillness is golden. I started having ideas to streamline and enhance our business. The founding partner even asked how I was coming up with the all of the new ideas. After I told him, he suggested I use my training budget for the types of classes that quiet my mind.
What would you say is the foundational principle for one to “lead a good life”? Can you share a story that illustrates that?
Personally, I think the foundational principle to leading a good life is employing gratitude. No matter what is going on in our lives, we can find something to be grateful for. Brené Brown has inspired me personally with her unique ability to research data and reveal it via riveting storytelling. In an article written for the Global Leadership Network, Brown states, “In my 12 years of research on 11,000 pieces of data, I did not interview one person who had described themselves as joyful, who also did not actively practice gratitude.” I can attest that the surefire way to be joyful is to focus on the good… what you look for, you will find. I really had to put this into practice in the middle of the pandemic. It’s a stressful time for everyone and we aren’t able to get the same social interaction we once were able to. I had to focus on daily gratitude to refocus throughout the chaos. By staying positive, I could move forward to support our employees at Actualize, my family, and myself.
Can you share a story about one of the most impactful moments in your spiritual/mindful life?
At one point, I wanted to leave Actualize Consulting because we had high turnover and I had not taken proper maternity leave. After the first five years of working for the firm, I was burnt out. Through mindfulness, I realized I had the power to change the situation and leaving wasn’t the best option. As I became more mindful and took time to care for myself, it became even more clear for me how I could make sure our team at Actualize felt supported. I realized everything I was doing for myself to improve my personal life also translated to the workplace. In my book, Culture Infusion, I outline these nine principles, including prioritizing personal wellness, striving to lead intentionally, and encouraging connection.
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?
John Harvey was one of the members of the board of advisors here at Actualize. We no longer have this board, but he continued to be a mentor to me personally and has always seen potential in me since I started working with him 15 years ago. He has guided me through each challenge and helped me become the leader I am today. He has even helped out with our family business. John helps me to see my blind spots and asks leading questions to guide me. When I was on a project in which I needed expertise and assistance, John was kind enough to provide not only his support, but the support of his mentor as well so we had many ideas to move the project along.
Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?
- Practice gratitude daily to share appreciation.
- Insist on a healthy work/Life balance to keep stress to a minimum.
- Encourage team connection — and this can even be done virtually! You can hold team fitness classes, cooking classes, meditations, and even fundraisers over video conferencing platforms.
- Practice effective communication and handle challenges directly, openly, and immediately.
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. 🙂
Be vocal with your gratitude for others. If you appreciate someone or something they have done, share and be specific. Try to tell at least one person why you are grateful for them each day.
How can people follow you and find out more about you?
I send out regular tips, stories, and ideas on my email list. If you’d like to be placed on it, you can shoot me an email at [email protected]. You can also use that email to contact me with any questions or comments! Otherwise, you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter @kerrywekelo or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kerryelam/
You can check out my wellness company, Zendoway, here: http://www.zendoway.com/