No matter how big or how small your organization is, create a culture where you invest in your people. I’m not talking about all the normal stuff, like training them and treating them with respect, because those are a given. I’m talking about taking an active interest in their personal and business dreams and goals. You will be amazed at the loyalty and goodwill it creates when you really care about your people.
Asa part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Gosnell.
Denise Gosnell owns 3 companies: a coaching/training company, a law firm, and a real estate company. Through her company, The Vacation Effect, Inc., Denise helps busy entrepreneurs and executives learn how to use some unconventional scheduling and growth strategies to grow their business by working up to 40% less and having a lot more fun.
In fact, those same strategies are what allow Denise to work an average of just 3 days per week running her 3 companies in 3 different industries, while having 2 business days per week for any creative or other pursuits she desires. But life wasn’t always like this for Denise, who used to be a workaholic spending 80 hours per week running her companies.
Denise has been featured in dozens of media outlets over the years, from television, radio, newspaper, magazines, blogs, and more. She also has a new book and podcast coming out in late 2019 called “The Vacation Effect”.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started out my career by climbing the ladder in Corporate America as a software developer and an Information Technology (IT) Manager. I wanted to have the ability to earn 7 figures, so I realized that I wasn’t likely get there in the IT world. So, I went to law school and began working as an attorney for a big law firm in Indianapolis.
I quickly realized that I was meant to lead my own companies instead, so that I could have complete control of my own schedule plus have unlimited earning potential. So, I left the big law firm on maternity leave and never looked back. I’m now the CEO of my own law firm and my separate coaching/training company, and the CLO and CTO of a real estate company I own with my husband. There have certainly been a lot of interesting twists and turns along the way that made me realize what really matters in life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Back in 2011, I had a house fire that totally changed the trajectory of my life. That event made me realize that I wasn’t living my life in alignment with my true priorities. I had been working 80 hours per week running my 3 companies. But as I stood there watching my dream house be destroyed by fire and water, I realized that I cared about people and memories far more than the “stuff” that was burning inside.
I vowed that day that I would figure how to have plenty of free time, while still being able to provide a nice life for my family. It took me several years to figure out the seeming contradiction. It always seemed like you had to choose between time or money but couldn’t have both.
I went to a meditation retreat one day with the sole purpose of figuring out how to have the reduced work schedule I had always dreamed of. The answer that I received during the meditation was: “All you have to do is decide and make today what you want tomorrow to be.” It was like someone whispered it into my ear. I decided to do a 30-day experiment with my time to put what I heard into action. Since I had been a workaholic for 20 years, it felt safer to start with an experiment.
Long story short, what happened as a result of my experiment totally shocked me. I worked 40% less than I had ever done so in my life while also making the most money I had ever made in my life.
I learned that you can actually get more done in less time if you limit the amount of time you’re willing to work in your business or job. It forces you to become super-productive, like you are when you are about to go on vacation. After I made those and some other principles a way of life, I was able to transform my whole way of life for the better.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I left the large law firm on maternity leave and started my own firm, I had to be on bedrest with my feet propped up for a few weeks before my daughter was born. The part that I find both funny and sad looking back is that I was working from the couch for those two weeks on client projects instead of preparing for the arrival of my daughter and resting. In hindsight looking back after my house fire, I realize how deep my addiction to work really was, and how far I’ve come in unwinding from all of that. I now take far better care of myself, my health, and my happiness than I ever did before.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I formed The Vacation Effect, Inc. to take a stand against the deep-rooted brainwashing in the American business culture that you must work all the time in order to be successful. We have been taught that one’s identity and level of success is somehow tied to how “much” you work, versus the end result of “what” you get done in the time you do work.
I believe that whether anyone wants to admit it or not, we’ve become addicted to the grind in our society. Our greatest leaders today keep propagating this idea. I used to be addicted to the grind of working 80 hours per week to succeed and get to the next level and felt guilty when I wasn’t working all the time.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest lesson I learned by accident after my house fire and that little scheduling experiment is that working smarter is WAY better than working harder in almost every scenario. I learned that you can grow by subtracting from — not adding to — your to-do list and be a lot happier too.
Those “grow by subtraction” principles allow me to run my 3 companies in 3 different industries by working an average of 3 days per week in the trenches of those companies. It is amazing how the most creative solutions often come to me when I’m not working in the trenches of my companies. And I certainly do love having 2 business days per week in my schedule to wake up and say: “What do I want to do today that will bring me the most joy?”
In fact, I founded The Vacation Effect on those two core principles:
- You can become so productive on a regular basis like when you’re about to go on vacation.
- Your life should have so much joy in it that every week feels like a vacation.
I’m excited to take a stand against workaholism and show business entrepreneurs and executives a better and more fulfilling way to live their lives. And yes, there is still a time and a place for hard work, but it doesn’t have to be all the time.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I recently finished a successful beta of my new coaching and training program called The Vacation Effect with 12 CEO’s/entrepreneurs and am rolling it out on a larger scale now. I also have a new book and a new podcast coming out soon, both of which will also be called The Vacation Effect.
The principles that I teach are designed to help busy entrepreneurs and executives learn how to become so productive that they can free up 4–8 business days per month for living life, creativity, family time, or whatever brings them joy. I literally have reverse engineered what I did in my own life to go from workaholic entrepreneur and executive to now having a lot more free time and joy, without having to sacrifice my income. I’m now on a mission to share what I’ve learned with others.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I used to be afraid to talk about my failures, because I thought my team would look down upon me and see that I wasn’t perfect. What I’ve learned in building teams over the years and in working with people is that it is so important that leaders be open about their failures as much as their successes.
I’ve made some stupid mistakes in my life, and I now share them with my team so they can learn from them, which in turn helps the company overall and them as individuals. Transparency lets your team members see that you are a human being and takes away a lot of their fear in raising concerns or sharing their failures with you. Plus, when you are open and honest with your people, you build a closer bond and loyalty with them.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
For starters, I have learned that you don’t need a huge team to get a lot of work done. I am a 7-figure entrepreneur and executive with just few team members. No matter how large your team may be, I have learned that it is a great idea to incentivize your team to get more done with less effort and reward them when they do.
For example, if your team members can show you better ways to get their work done in 4 days per week than they used to do in 5, reward them with extra days off for personal time, or for creative time at the office. Nearly every human being craves more freedom of time for personal joy, and when you can create an environment that rewards them with something they value, you will be amazed at the levels of business growth and team happiness that you can achieve.
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 about that?
I’m eternally grateful to my mom, Mary Ward, for everything she did for me and my 4 brothers to pave the way for us to each be successful in our own way. She managed to care for 5 kids at home at the same time she was handling the books and finances for the scrap company she owned with my dad. And she did it during times that were not always easy. My mom always had a good attitude and provided us with a safe and loving environment, no matter how much money was in her bank account or how crazy the world around us may have been at the time. She still has that same positive attitude to this day. She also gave me the confidence to know that I can do anything I set my mind to.
I also learned the importance of compassion from my mom. She and my dad were always very generous in sharing what they have with others, even when it wasn’t a lot. I have carried on that tradition and work hard to share what I have with others. My mom spends her time in retirement running a local charity in Indiana called The Summitville Hope Center, where they provide food items to those in need, and provide a safe place for children to attend after school.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have used my success to help solve problems for my family in friends in various ways, such as through financial support, helping them solve housing issues, and helping them with legal issues. I’m one of the few people in my family who has a diverse background in business, legal, real estate, technology, and problem solving, plus a powerful rolodex of contacts for about anything they could ever need.
If someone I know and care about is having a problem that I know how to solve or could figure out easily, I feel obligated and grateful for the opportunity to step up and help them solve it.
On a larger scale, I also donate my time and money to different charities and sometimes attend relief trips to different countries. I have a soft spot in my heart for the homeless and am regularly on the look-out for homeless people to talk to and donate to so I can uplift their day and let them know that their life matters.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish that I knew that throwing more money or resources at a challenge or opportunity isn’t always the best way to succeed and grow. Sometimes it is better to force yourself to think more creatively and to limit what you are willing to invest in an idea, so you find faster or better solutions. Don’t get me wrong — there are times when it is worth putting a lot of money into developing an idea or solving a problem. But just because you have a lot of money to spend on an idea doesn’t mean that you “should”. You never know when you might need that money in the future as you go through the ups and downs — the ebbs and flows — of business. My new standard is to be frugal as a first reaction, and then to be deliberate in analyzing if the big spend is worth it.
- I mentioned before how our American business culture expects you to work all the time or you will be considered lazy. But take the bold leap into the scary unknown and set limits on how much you will work. Some of your best ideas and results will come from what I call: “forced hyper-efficiency”. It will be scary, and you will probably feel guilty at first, but do it anyway.
- No matter how big or how small your organization is, create a culture where you invest in your people. I’m not talking about all the normal stuff, like training them and treating them with respect, because those are a given. I’m talking about taking an active interest in their personal and business dreams and goals. You will be amazed at the loyalty and goodwill it creates when you really care about your people.
- Don’t sacrifice your own quality of life even though it will seem like you are expected to. At the end of your life, you will probably wish you spent more time with your friends, family, and hobbies, but you will never wish you spent more time at the office.
- It can be lonely at the top because no one else in the company understands what you’re dealing with. It is important to find ways to be around other like-minded executives or entrepreneurs who understand your problems and opportunities. I participate in 3 CEO/Entrepreneur Mastermind groups (Genius Network, War Room, and Maverick 1000) and they have been priceless.
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. 🙂
We all have those things that we have said to ourselves, “Someday, when I have more time, or I have more money, maybe I’ll do this or that.” Those are what I call “Someday Maybe’s”.
I would like to inspire a movement to help people start bringing their Someday Maybe’s into today. If something is worthy of being on your Someday Maybe list, why wait until you are too old or too tired to enjoy the activity? Even if you need to start doing the activity on a smaller scale first, it’s time to bring those Someday Maybe’s into today, or simply cross them off the list and stop kidding yourself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This correlates perfectly to what I was just mentioning about the “Someday Maybe” movement that I would like to start. One of my favorite life lesson quotes is:
“Someday is not a day of the week. If not now, when?” — Unknown
I used to be guilty of having a lot of Someday Maybe’s that I kept saying to myself but never got around to. After my fire, I finally realized that there is no time like the present to do the things that bring us joy. I now schedule those activities on my calendar just like any other meeting. I recommend that everyone else do the same.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Arianna Huffington. I’ve already met her and spoken to her a few times in some small group settings through Genius Network (one of the CEO mastermind groups that I’m a member of) but would love to continue the conversation in a one on one setting. Ms. Huffington is someone I admire and have a lot of alignment with regarding her life experiences in finding balance, and in building her Thrive Global publishing empire that is focused on quality of life.