Train your team accordingly then get out of the way. Autonomy gives a person a sense of ownership and accountability for whatever it is they are taking ownership of. It also promotes innovation because different people create things in different ways. One can not create at their full capacity if they do not feel they have the freedom to do so, and that’s an immeasurable loss.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laverne Delgado, a passionate activist, speaker, artist, and Executive Director of Freedom and Fashion. She is an alumnus of The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and has spent many years working in the fashion & beauty industry, with her experience encompassing everything from mass production to couture for the runway. Beyond fashion, Laverne has a love for young people overcoming human trafficking and other injustices and has built her life around serving them with her talents and resources. With her vast experience in working with survivors of abuse, single mothers, conquerors of injustice, and the LGBTQIA+ Community, Laverne’s track record upholds her connection to the human spirit and empowering one’s greatness. Throughout the years, Laverne has led many teams and activated generosity in thousands of people, which has led to providing resources to people in need around the world. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
Since I was a little girl, I’ve looked up to 2 women; Mary Magdalene and Tomb Raider. Both women are intelligent, strong, independent, adventurous, and loyal. To this day, I try to embody their power and spirit. Growing up, this showed itself as volunteering on the weekends, during the week it was school and 2 jobs, and when I had free time I was out in the mountains or trying out for the wrestling team. Some have said that I have a grit about me.
This helps me in my day to day life and has gotten me through my own hardships. In my youth, I was sexually abused and later in life, I was in a domestic violence marriage. I identify with the survivors we serve at Freedom and Fashion and know that once we learn how to put purpose to our pain, we begin to cultivate the healing our world so desperately needs.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
In the beginning of my leadership journey, I constantly felt like I was the only one like me in the room. Oftentimes, on the surface, I wasn’t wrong. I grew up in the inner city and went to one of the worst high schools in America (at the time). When at events, I remember people using vocabulary and phrases I had never heard before. When they did, I would write it down in my phone and then sneak away to google it in the restroom. I would then use it in the next conversation at that same event. The term “fake it til you make it” definitely applied to me.
The gap in knowledge was tough in and of itself but what made it even more challenging was my frustration with it. I remember wishing I was dealt a different hand; a hand with better schooling, a network, or at least a stronger vocabulary. Looking back now, I feel proud of how I strived to fill the gap and not let any egoic “restrictions” keep me from the life I desire. I’m committed to being that example for our survivors and that is what motivates me to continue to break through barriers like this when they present themselves.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Now, I see the story I just mentioned as a funny mistake. To weigh my abilities on my knowledge of a certain word or phrase is silly. Brilliant thinkers like Albert Einstein, Winston Churchhill, and Leonardo Di Vinci were poor spellers and even a bit dyslexic like me. I’m glad I’ve built confidence that helps me to quickly move past narratives like this that do not serve me.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are many organizations that use the trade of fashion and beauty to teach. Few use it to heal, but Freedom and Fashion is the only organization that utilizes this language for all the above while enabling transformation in the mind, and raising awareness of social justice issues.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Burnout is all about vision and accountability. Most of the time, no one is breathing down our back about rest. This makes taking breaks tough, especially for leaders and innovators. I highly recommend every leader have an executive coach. This changed the game for me. My coach is not necessarily my accountability but they help me stay committed to my vision and by effect, that increases my accountability to myself to rest so I have the energy to move toward my vision and avoid burnout.
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?
A couple of recent inspirations are Jonathan David and Aila Rose: The Love Gurus. We met and quickly bonded over our common love for humanity and passion for helping people heal. In conversation, they opened me up to a deeper healing I was yet to experience. They later took me through my own bridging™ session, which connects subconscious emotional and physical trauma with the conscious mind to create new neural pathways. My session was unlike any other experience I’ve had. It was hard, loving, sobering, and healing. This means everything to me as an individual but as leader, the results are priceless. I immediately implemented the knowledge into my work with Freedom and Fashion and can say with full confidence that I have holistically evolved since meeting Jonathan and Aila.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A “good” company points culture in a specific direction.
A “great” company creates cultures.
A “good” company supports a cause.
A “great” company is a cause.
A “good” company strives for profit.
A “great” company strives for legacy.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Leaders, let people see you ask for help. It builds trust, credibility, and is a sign of a secure leader. Neurologically, research has found that this triggers oxytocin production of others, building trust and cooperation.
- Be intentional about creating opportunities for social connectedness. There are lots to say about this but generally, the need to socialize is deeply embedded in our nature. It’s easy for companies to fall into a task-driven culture, eliminating the chance for people to form bonds. When we build social relationships at work, it improves overall employee performance.
- Train your team accordingly then get out of the way. Autonomy gives a person a sense of ownership and accountability for whatever it is they are taking ownership of. It also promotes innovation because different people create things in different ways. One can not create at their full capacity if they do not feel they have the freedom to do so, and that’s an immeasurable loss.
- Celebrate progress out loud. Leaders, check in with your teams frequently to identify their wins and recognize them publicly. Beyond being a great sense of encouragement, it also inspires others to strive for excellence. Research shows that public recognition has huge effects when building trust.
- Fully embrace conflict and create an environment for passionate debates. If you appear to be in harmonious meetings all the time, there’s an issue. Healthy relationships require conflict and far too often, leaders sacrifice their vision because they are afraid of the interpersonal discomfort conflict can cause. However, high performing teams invite and even create grit. They have emotional intelligence that enables them to discuss and resolve issues quickly, often in heated debates. They can do this with no lingering feelings or drama. They’re results focus and do not take things personally.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
The risks associated with a lack of purpose and cause are too high not to.
Humans are tribal by nature. When there is a lack of global cause in an organization, people start seeking out tribal connections based on what one can see, i.e race, politics, etc. which can lead to racism, sexism, descrimination, etc.
When an organization has a clear sense of cause, we are connected by our values, understanding, and vision. The things that have been used to break so many companies (conflict, differences, etc.) are the very things that drive them forward. Purpose-driven companies also report an increase in productivity, employee retention, engagement, and trust.
Individually, studies show that those who live a purpose-driven life tend to live longer, have healthier hearts, and are more psychologically resilient. Our teams are made up of individuals.
Purpose promotes prosperity.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
So many leaders are going through this during COVID-19. My solution has been to keep a service-driven mindset and all else follows. Sometimes that means focusing on the best way to authentically love and serve yourself. This can be tough to discover on our own because most of the time, the solution is hidden in our blind spots. Hire a coach and be radically transparent about where you’re at. Boldly increase your vulnerability with the right people.
Standstills, declines, and crises have their way of being mirrors. If we pay attention, they can be the catalyst to our evolution, but again, it requires radical transparency. Any less and you might as well make friends with the standstill. Buy it dinner. Move it in. You’ll be together for a while.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I’ll speak to the times on this one too. There are things I can mention about business strategy like the power of storytelling during times of crisis or the importance of protecting your cash flow, however, this goes much deeper than that.
The reality is everyone who is going through this pandemic is suffering a trauma. There’s no question there. The question is “Are we going to address it?” and “How will we use it?” This can not be done alone and it’s not the time for hubris leadership. Embrace vulnerability and the strength of others. I previously mentioned the benefits of leaders being seen asking for help. This is an opportunity to practice and lead by example.
Some of the best inventions, art, and movements have its birthplace in adversity. Limitations and constraints promote innovation. There really is so much opportunity right now! However, the first step is to acknowledge and accept what is. We’ve all been hit and we all need support. Vulnerably seek it and let your team see you do it.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
The power of public recognition. I’m convinced this is underestimated because many of us tend to see flaws before wins and even if we do identify our victories, rarely do we share them. (That’s tied to our view of self and is a longer conversation)
From a young age, human beings crave praise and have a strong desire for positive affirmation. This continues to hold true to employees in the workplace. Giving public recognition displays a deeper level of awareness from leadership, expresses appreciation for those being recognized, encourages others to strive for excellence, and builds trust. Neuroscience shows that oxytocin is produced in the brain immediately after a goal has been met and recognized publicly. The benefits go far beyond the moment of praise and can have a lasting impact on a company at large.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
No pitch is the same. Sounds simple enough, however until you learn the different decision-making styles, chances are you’re probably pitching the same way (or too similarly) to very different thinkers.
This isn’t simply about strategy, it’s about genuine care for the client. Take the time to get to know all you can about the way they think and make decisions, then talk to them in a way that will best serve them. The goal is to inspire and connect the human being in front of you to your vision. Your delivery will be a determining factor of your desire for an authentic connection and there is no real connection without care.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Get curious about values, action, communication, consistency, and emotion.
Here are some questions to consider:
- VALUES: What do you stand for? What are your core values?
- ACTION: What actions are you taking to live out those values?
- COMMUNICATION: Are you communicating your values and actions to your clients? How?
- CONSISTENCY: How often do you communicate your values and results?
- EMOTION: How are you making your clients feel? How do you know?
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
- Become emotionally intelligent. Things are rarely just transactional. We are human beings and when there’s a partnership, emotions are present. If a customer is having a poor experience, do not obsess over the minute details, especially with the customer. Don’t get me wrong, find out what you need to in order to improve, however, the focus should be on the experience they are having and the emotions that come with it. Care about the people involved above the situation. Ask the customer the right questions to ensure their experience of you reflects that care.
- Express gratitude, it builds relationship capital. Most companies have a way of doing this, usually around major holidays. If that’s the case, there’s definitely room to get creative, intentional, and curious! Train your team to ask the right questions that can inform them of new opportunities to make the customer feel seen and appreciated. This should be done with zero sales involved. Don’t invite them back in (unless you’re comping or gifting their experience). Don’t give a discount. Don’t advertise.
This is solely about expressing gratitude because your customer deserves it and your team benefits from practicing it.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Beyond a health concern, this is an opportunity to get to know ourselves and our brands in a deeper way. Social media has led me to more intentionally consider my values, my brand’s positioning, and what the potential risks and payoffs are when using the tool.
I definitely don’t think anyone should shy away from social platforms due to fear. Once we start asking the right questions like, “What are our values and are they coming across in our posts? What are our weaknesses and can they be exploited on social media? How do we strengthen the weakness and lessen the chance of exposure in the meantime?” etc., we can become empowered to maximize social media and have fun with it!
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
In my experience, many do not know their “why”, or if they do, it’s superficial. I’m in the nonprofit sector and often times when someone is asked why they do what they do, you’ll hear an answer like, “I want to make the world a better place” or “I want to live in a world where human trafficking doesn’t exist”. All of those things are fine and good but I’m not convinced anyone’s “why” is completely altruistic.
Why are YOU so invested in YOUR vision? What are the personal, even selfish ambitions tied to your cause? Let’s not pretend like they aren’t there for some false sense of humility. You need them. Figure out what they are, evaluate their health, and prioritize them accordingly.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 want to empower people to create purpose from their pain. Every tear we’ve cried can water the revolutions that live within us all. The wisdom that is hidden in our traumas can be one of our greatest assets when healing ourselves and the world.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Instagram: @loveverne , @freedomandfashion
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!