I had the pleasure of interviewing Elsa Elbert, who is the founder and President of LA-based professional organizing company Composed Living. After earning a Masters degree in Organizational Leadership, Elsa served as VP of Customer Service for several years across various industries including healthcare, telecom, and fintech. Elsa recently transitioned her passion for optimizing productivity and employee development into a thriving professional organizing company, focused on providing sustainable solutions for maintaining an organized home. She has enjoyed every step of the journey from organizing multi-billion dollar companies to organizing client’s homes, and continues to use her leadership skills to improve the lives of those around her.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?
Born and raised in Southern California, Elsa moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington where she earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Elsa entered graduate school as a single mother and full-time clinic administrator for a private practice, earning a master of arts in organizational leadership from Gonzaga University. After working several years in healthcare, Elsa returned to Los Angeles to build a customer service team for a large telecom firm. Her leadership skills and operational expertise led her to become Vice President of a multi-billion dollar corporation by the age of 32. She has since founded Composed Living, a professional organization and productivity company, and currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband and three sons. Elsa devotes countless hours to advocating for foster youth through her volunteer work both as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and as an active member of Alliance of Moms.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How did this quality help you overcome obstacles on the path of becoming an influential and inspiring leader?
I am an introvert, for sure. I do a lot of public speaking, whether hosting all-team meetings or moderating panels, and am typically the person in the office seen chatting with everyone. I do have a very outgoing personality, which is often mistaken for being an extrovert. After years of self-reflection and near-burnouts, I know that at the end of a solid day of interaction I need space and time to recharge. I have become very vocal about my self-care routines as an introvert, sharing my concerns with my team (and my family), and encouraging them to have awareness of their own personal needs and to practice self-care in whatever form balances them.
What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?
You must prioritize your own mental health and happiness, and encourage your employees to do the same. I love the example of the oxygen mask on the plane – you cannot take care of someone else if you don’t take care of yourself! The only thing that differentiates businesses are their people. Products and ideas can be copied, but your employees are unique and special. For businesses to thrive, they must take care of their people – and when they do, they’ll find that their employees are more productive, engaged, and loyal. I like to remind my team that nobody will care more about their health, or their success, than they do…so they need to be comfortable asking for what they want, accepting help, and really advocating for themselves.
A lot of people in the business would feel as if talking about mental health makes them appear weak. How do you feel about showing mental strength and setting an example of what it takes to have strong mental stamina to succeed?
I believe that open, honest conversations with your colleagues is the best way to foster trust. I also believe that organizations must put their people first in order to truly be successful. I speak directly with my team about the importance of knowing yourself, knowing your strengths and limitations, and putting your health and happiness above all else. It is as important to acknowledge weakness as it is to display strength. During employee one-on-ones, we discuss their goals not only professionally, but also personally; I talk a lot about blurring the line between work and home because they both make up who we are, and we should strive for the same level of happiness and fulfillment in each part of our lives. There shouldn’t be this huge divide between being happy on the weekends and miserable at work. I share my personal struggles and aspirations with my team. By being honest about my needs, taking time for myself, and encouraging them to do the same, I am able to set a positive example for them to prioritize their own wellbeing.
Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?
Absolutely. During graduate school, I had the pleasure of studying with Dr. Michael Carey. Dr. Carey is a kind and generous leader, always displaying a calm demeanor and making each person in the room feel valued. He taught me the importance of introspection as a tool to becoming a great leader, and continues to lead by example as he dedicates time each year to his own learning and development. Dr. Carey’s openness in sharing his personal path to mental stamina inspired my own leadership style. My husband and I regularly attend an annual retreat hosted by Dr. Carey, where we dedicate time to discussing the importance of stability, reflection, and constant growth for leaders to be truly successful.
Can you give us 5 tips on maintaining strong mental health stamina to succeed in the modern business world? Tell us a little about why each point matters.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Women often try to balance too many things, and then feel like failures when we can’t do everything perfectly. As a mom of three boys, a wife, a business owner, and an active advocate for foster youth, I can tell you that it is not possible to be perfect in every category 100% of the time, and that’s okay. There have been days where I’ve come home shaking because I’m so exhausted, and there have been days where I’ve packed some questionable school lunches for my kids. The moment I stopped focusing on everything I wasn’t doing right, and focused on doing what will make me the happiest, everything changed. I was able to let go of the things that weren’t important so that I could focus on being a truly present mom, wife, and leader. I am passionate about helping people on their path to living their best life, and am humbled by my colleagues and clients who allow me to take part in their journey.
If the readers of this interview series would like to read more about you, how can they reach out?