Mental Stamina of a Great Business Mind — an Interview With Kristi Porter for Thrive Global About Using Effective Communication and Business Strategies to Build Strong Leadership Skills

"I help small nonprofits and for-profits with a social mission get noticed and grow through effective marketing and communications. I also teach solopreneurs and small businesses how to incorporate cause marketing, philanthropy, and giving strategies so they can leverage their existing resources and influence to make a positive impact. Essentially, I make cause-focused organizations look and sound more professional so they can build a larger audience, increase sales or donations, and do more good." -- Kristi Porter

I had the pleasure of interviewing Kristi Porter, Chief Do-Gooder at Signify, a champion of social impact organizations and causes. With over 15 years of business communications experience, she has dedicated herself to helping the little guys become one of the big guys. As someone who has spent her career in small businesses, both for- and non-profit, Kristi thrives on building systems, processes, and communications plans that tell important stories in simple and effective ways—often on a budget. With her assistance, events have sold out, donations and sales have increased, tribes have grown, and more good has been done.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you get to be where you are right now?

Kristi has always been a writer, and throughout her education and work experiences, she developed skills such as marketing and public relations. And due to her volunteer history and proximity to charities, she would often get asked marketing and communications-related questions by those who had little training in these areas. This led to a number of side gigs and volunteer opportunities, but when she was leaving her last job, she saw this need as a gap that she could fill. It was many of these friends who Kristi had helped at no cost over the years that became her first clients.

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?

According to Myers-Briggs, as an INFJ, Kristi is the “extroverted introvert.” And she would agree that this is a pretty accurate assessment. When it’s time to sit down and get work done, she can focus for long periods to complete the task at hand. But when at events, networking, or meeting with clients, she’s able to be social and outgoing.

Kristi considers herself a life-long student, and therefore, has spent a lot of time on personal growth. She believes that it’s this exploration, experimentation, and introspection that has helped her identify both strengths and weaknesses in order to become a better leader.

What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the hyper-competitive world of running a business or an organization?

As an entrepreneur, Kristi says that one the most important things you can do is admit what you don’t know. It takes a strong person to acknowledge their short-comings. She believes that the greatest leaders and entrepreneurs ask for help when they need it, whether personally or professionally. For this reason, she seeks out mentors, peers, resources, and even interns who can help her business succeed. Surrounding herself with a supportive community and clients that she believes in give Kristi the mental drive to keep moving forward.

A lot of people in the business world 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 the strong mental stamina to succeed?

Kristi has sought professional counseling on several occasions, starting in her early 20s. At first, like many people, she felt embarrassed that she had to ask for help, especially as a “fiercely independent person,” as she describes herself. However, there came a time shortly after she started counseling that she opened up to her faith community about it, and was overwhelmed by the positive response. It was at that moment that she felt free in talking about her experience, and hasn’t looked back. In fact, more people relate to her story and are encouraged by her example as a result.

Is there a particular person, a book, or place of wisdom that has inspired you to become a successful and mentally-strong leader?

First, Kristi always looks to her faith, friends, family, and faith community. These people and experiences have had a tremendous effect on her as a person and leader. But she’s also always quick to tell you about books she’s reading, podcasts she’s listening to, or other places that have inspired her on her journey. A few favorites that she’s listening to right now are Christine Caine, Donald Miller, Andy Stanley, Todd Herman, Christy Wright, and Brene Brown, though Kristi will be the first to confess that she’s the product and culmination of many influences, many of whom will never speak on a big stage.

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.

  1. Discover what makes you happy, and make time for it. If you are only ever executing tasks, taking part in activities, and around people that take away from your energy, you’ll never have the mental stamina to find and fulfill your purpose. That doesn’t do you, or the world, any good.
  2. Prioritize your health. Kristi has chronic health issues, which are a result of a lack of prioritizing her health. So, she’s very outspoken about others learning from her mistakes. It’s amazing how health issues can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including mentally, so make your health matter.
  3. Draw boundaries. Along the lines of the above, she says that whether you are the founder of the company or part of a team, no one will ever tell you to do less. However, they may expect more of you over time, or you may place that burden on yourself. But it’s called self-care for a reason. It’s up to you to protect your time and energy. Do your job really well, but don’t let it define you.
  4. Find a community. Kristi has already stated how important her community is to her as a person and business owner. Her advice is to find a community of mentors and peers that want to see you succeed. Whether you have to pay for it through a program or find it for free, these relationships will provide insight, feedback, and support to make both the good and bad days better.
  5. Celebrate the wins and learn from the losses. Kristi is quick to say that she knows how vital this point is, but still struggles with it. As someone with a drive to achieve, she admits to not taking enough time to celebrate the wins, especially small ones, and focuses too much on what can be improved. But both are an important part of business. She believes that the only time wasted from a loss, failure, or mistake is the time you didn’t take to learn from it. Getting better only comes through perspective and evaluation.

What does it mean to be mentally-strong in the age of information and technology?

In a time where everything we ever wanted to know is at our fingertips, I still very much believe in flexing your curiosity muscle, but also knowing when to say, “enough.” I always joke that I’d read the phone book if it was well-designed. I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and am interested in so many subjects. Learn to ask “why” over and over again, to get to the root and truth. That skill has been a real asset to me in life.

However, for the most part, social media is largely draining and I am someone who frequently compares myself to others. So, I don’t spend an enormous amount time on there outside of my business because it’s not good for me. I jump on there, do what I need to do, and move on to something that will be more productive for me.

Can an imbalance in private life cause a mentally-strong leader to deviate away from the path of success? Why? How to alleviate this problem?

I think few people are able to truly able to compartmentalize. And, even then, I’m not sure it’s healthy. We are whole individuals who have both personal and professional lives. They blend, whether we want them to or not.

As I mentioned, I have chronic health issues. That is a personal issue, but it effects my work in more ways than I would’ve ever imagined. In the beginning, I tried to resist that as much as possible, plowing through my work and then crashing when I got home. That only lasted so long. I had to find a rhythm that allowed for both.

Health issues or not, I think it’s similar for most everyone. We can’t just shut an office door and lock the personal side of things out. I think the best and most effective leaders have practices, habits, and routines that incorporate a healthy home and work life. Cultivate and develop ways for you to be the best version of yourself no matter where you are.

What works best to maintain the strong mental stamina as a leader? Yoga? Meditation? Listening to music? Something else?

There are a few, different practices I utilize when it comes to mental stamina in business. The first is my faith. I pray regularly, and that keeps me centered. Additionally, I have a business mentor and am part of a mastermind group. This not only gives me accountability, but as a solopreneur, it provides me with a caring community who can listen, understand, and encourage me. Next, I take quarterly retreats to refocus my work, which also gives me time away. Finally, I constantly lean back into my “why.” When I’m asked what I do and explain my mission, I realize how excited I am about my work. These things all give me the drive to keep going, and keep me renewed and refreshed.

Building the strong leadership position requires intense interaction with other people. These professional interactions can be both positive and negative, depending on the kinds of people we interact with to achieve our goals. What is the better choice to make to achieve greatness: learn to interact with toxic acquaintances to ‘get to the top,’ or choose to be a loner and do all the grunt work individually without dealing with the toxicity of others?

I am a person who is very affected by the work environment I’m in. And even though I am someone who always wants to succeed, I’ve never been a “game player” at work. I value authenticity too much.

So, if I have an issue with the culture, I’ll do everything I can to change it for the better. If that doesn’t work, I know that the best thing is for me to leave. It’s never an easy decision, though. I will perform my job to the best of my ability, and never burn a bridge, but in the end, we spend so much of our time working, and I can’t stay in a place that makes me miserable.

Some of these decisions may have cost me money or rungs in the business ladder, but they’re decisions I can live with. And being able to live with our decisions on a daily basis is what matters in my book.

In 2019, what will be the best way to recharge energy?

I think that no matter the year, it’ll always be up to the individual. Time alone, travel, meals with friends, advocating for justice, and going to the movie theater are a few of the ways I recharge. That may be someone else’s cup of tea, or not. Find the people and activities that make your heart skip a beat, and put them on your calendar. That’s the key to making time for them.

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