I set reasonable expectations for myself to ensure I am not setting myself up to fail. I start each day with 2–3 priorities that must be completed no matter what; if I accomplish anything else outside of these priorities, BONUS. If priorities change during the day, I go back to that original list, add what’s new, but also take something off the list.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sheena Oliver.
Sheena Oliver is Chief Marketing Officer for WS Audiology, where she oversees marketing and branding initiatives for the Signia, Widex, and Rexton hearing aid brands, while building and inspiring teams. Since beginning her career as a practicing audiologist, Oliver has held leadership positions in the hearing aid industry for the past 20 years. Leveraging her deep understanding of the unique needs of hearing care professionals and their patients, she focuses on driving awareness, delivering value, and increasing profitability for WS Audiology. Oliver holds a BA and MBA from Temple University, an MA from University of Pittsburgh, and a Doctor of Audiology degree from Salus University.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Absolutely, thanks for having me! I grew up in West Chester, Pennsylvania — a suburb of Philadelphia. I am the oldest of two; I have a brother four years younger than me. I was active in sports like basketball, track and softball, as well as school clubs, but always had a part-time job. My parents were college professors and always had businesses on the side. I learned early on that everyone had a position to play in the household, and if you didn’t play yours well, the team wasn’t successful.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I owe my entrepreneurial drive to my parents, especially my mother. Mom was quite industrious. She was the chairperson of the business department at Cheyney University for 13 years and was involved in side businesses all the time — and she was always successful. She had stints with Amway, Herbalife and a local printing company. My fondest memory is when my mom started a cultural center that offered dance and other arts instruction for young children in the community, who otherwise would not have access to these resources.
Both of my parents created a culture in our family that valued — and was defined by — a strong work ethic. This taught us early on that if you’re the boss, you don’t have to worry about someone else telling you what to do! My brother had a paper route at age 8!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Definitely. Catherine Palmer, who is currently the president of the American Academy of Audiology and Director, AuD Program and Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She was one of my main professors, while I was pursuing MA in Audiology there. I vividly remember getting my first professional job offer as an audiologist. I was in the school clinic and I was so excited that someone wanted to hire me that I was prepared to take the offer on the spot. She coached me, saying, “Tell them thank you for the offer, that you would like time to consider it and will get back to them later in the week.” After the call, she explained to me the power of negotiation and that you never accept the first offer. Sure enough, within a few days, they came back with a stronger offer…a big lesson to learn early on in my career.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Early in my career, I was a sales rep and covered many states in the mid-Atlantic/south region. On my first day in Kentucky, I had several customer meetings and all went as planned. The second day in Kentucky, in another city, I walked into an account with a group of audiologists and I began my typical sales meeting with them. I couldn’t figure out why the audiologists were disinterested and unengaged for the hour-long meeting. It was probably one of the worst sales calls I ever made. After the meeting, one of the audiologists was walking me out and I asked her what was wrong and what could I have done differently. Her response was, “Show up on time!” It turns out that I was not aware that the state of Kentucky has both Eastern and Central time zones. I was an hour late for the meeting! For me, that experience led to two big takeaways. Number one: I was not sufficiently prepared, and this was an important detail I’d missed. However, the bigger lesson was that I had wasted the hour appointment. Had I asked in the first 15 minutes what was wrong, we could have cleared up the confusion and I would have had 45 minutes to really sell. Lesson learned: If you sense something is off-track, there’s no need to continue being off-track. Address it and move on.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
This question reminds me of my favorite quote, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Be clear about what you want professionally, and create a plan for yourself to get there, knowing that you may need to make detours, and that’s ok. Then be prepared for the grind, so you can “out-prepare” and be ready to demonstrate your talent and skills when the opportunity arises. Lastly, be authentic to yourself…never let a position or person compromise your personal beliefs. Integrity is everything and people will always remember that in someone.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read Knowing Your Value by Mika Brzezinski when it was first released. It totally changed the way I think about myself and how I contribute to an organization. It taught me the importance of “self-promotion” and while it often doesn’t come easy, it’s something you must do professionally. If an organization doesn’t recognize your value, then it’s time to move on. It’s part of why I am where I am today…US CMO of WS Audiology.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
It’s the quote I mentioned earlier: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” This was credited to the Roman philosopher Seneca. I live by this and have instilled this in my children. There will almost always be someone smarter, more talented and have more connections, but no one can out-prepare you…this is where you win. So when that opportunity presents itself, you’re ready and will never question yourself on what you could have done better!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I work for a hearing care company that is focused on improving the lives of people with hearing loss. Over 30 million Americans are affected by hearing loss, and the solutions we create help such individuals regain access to sounds they have lost over the years. One of the most interesting and relevant innovations we’ve introduced is to help people with hearing loss address the new challenges created by COVID-19. These include telehealth services enabling a nearly contactless process for a patient to be fitted with hearing aids remotely, and the first-ever Face Mask Mode — a hearing aid setting to help those with hearing loss better understand other speakers who are wearing masks.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
First, I set reasonable expectations for myself to ensure I am not setting myself up to fail. I start each day with 2–3 priorities that must be completed no matter what; if I accomplish anything else outside of these priorities, BONUS. If priorities change during the day, I go back to that original list, add what’s new, but also take something off the list.
I’m a believer in practicing self-care. In the last few months I’ve started doing yoga. While there are many physical benefits, I have embraced the “quieting of my mind” that is generally hard to do for me. For those 30 minutes, I am totally grounded with my mind and body. Pre-COVID, I treated myself to monthly massages. I tend to build up stress in my neck and shoulders and this a great way to relieve tension. I also enjoy manicure and pedicures and frequent visits to hair salon. When you look good, you feel good.
One of the biggest things, however, is that I’ve also stopped caring about what others think of me. A lot of our stress is self-imposed because we place too much emphasis on how others perceive us and if we are accepted. Having self-awareness is important, but not to the point where it consumes and controls how we see ourselves.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
The practices I just mentioned are applicable here as well.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
I practice visualization and role-playing with myself. I was never formally taught visualization, but prior to a big meeting or presentation, I think about the outcome I want and then visualize how that event should unfold. With role-playing, I think about the potential objections or what could actually go wrong and then build in contingency plans, within my visualization. For example, what happens if the technology stops working during my presentation or if the audience is flat, what’s my recovery plan to get the presentation back on track?
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
For many years, I have had a “no Friday meeting” rule with my team. It gives everyone the opportunity to close out their week strong with uninterrupted time, prepare for the upcoming week and go into their weekend not stressed about work and what’s waiting on their desk. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, especially when dealing with other teams outside of marketing, but it has significantly increased team morale.
I also believe in Calendar Blocking for projects that require a significant amount of time, I estimate how much time is needed to complete the project, and then I work backwards on my calendar from the due date and block off time. This is the easy part. The hard part is ensuring that you commit to this time and not reallocate it to something else. I have found that when I do this, the quality and creativity of my work increases.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Good habits are extremely important to me because they contribute to maintaining not only my own personal well-being, but also to create a better balance for my family. One habit that I constantly have to work really hard to maintain is what I refer to as “separation of church and state.” This means ensuring that I keep my personal and professional lives as separate as possible. People often ask why I have two cell phones. For me, it’s the only way I can successfully create boundaries and ensure there is respect for my time. Another example is respecting others’ personal time off, as well as my own. Unless the building is burning down, there’s really no need to disturb anyone on their vacation, and similarly, I expect the same courtesy in return.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Let others know what you want to achieve so they can help you stay accountable. I learned this important lesson from my husband. Every day he would post a video of himself doing push-ups or running on social media. I told him no cares and wants to see that. His response was “they really don’t, but the one time you don’t post it, they notice!” He is right. No one wants to fail and most people don’t want to see others fail. Socialize your goals and ask for support!
In terms of stopping bad habits, I look to identify the bad habit and why it’s bad, write down what you want the new behavior to be and then hold yourself accountable. Within your trusted network, share what you are trying to do and ask for support. I also include this in my daily planner so visually I have a reminder of what I am aiming for.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I believe the best way to achieve Flow is when you are doing something that you are truly passionate about because that will almost always compensate for the daily pitfalls or roadblocks we encounter. For me, I know that when I wake up and go to work, the work that I am doing is life-changing… developing hearing solutions that improve the quality of life for people with hearing loss. The wake-up call for others should be what to do when you haven’t experienced this state or you don’t experience it frequently enough to compensate for those roadblocks…that’s when it’s time to find another opportunity.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
#SpeakUp! There is nothing special or unique about this ask. But rather if everyone took personal responsibility and held each other accountable to “speak up” when they are witness to unlawful, unethical, inhumane or unprofessional acts towards others, we would leave this world a much better place than it is today. It’s easier and more natural to speak up when it affects you, but it’s a movement when you do it for others.
We are very blessed that 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, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Michelle Obama. I admire her on so many levels — as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, professional — all of which I also am, except of course first lady! I would love to talk about her life experiences and how she has overcome so much in spite of the many challenges she has been confronted with, especially during her husband’s presidency.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
My pleasure! Thank you for this opportunity to connect and share.