The Thrive Questionnaire with Elena Donio

The Axiom Law CEO shares what gives her energy, a book that changed her life, and the last time she felt burned out.

Photo Courtesy of Elena Donio

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?            Elena Donio: I wake up to the alarm on my phone, so it’s natural for me to take a scan of messages to see if there’s anything urgent that needs my attention. Invariably, I also glance at the news, but I try not to get sucked in. I find that I’m most comfortable when I feel on top of what’s going on.

TG: What gives you energy?                                                                                  ED: Interacting with people; they give me energy. Waking up alone in a hotel on a business trip is the most draining thing in the world for me – I have to get up, get out and talk (and laugh) with someone to really wake up.

TG: What daily habit or practice helps you thrive?                                                  ED: Sleep! I’m religious about it.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.                                                      ED: Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. It’s my dyslexic and dysgraphic sons that really changed me. But, the book opened my eyes to the inherent diversity in how people think. In it, she explains how differing physical brain structures make people problem solve, communicate, associate and, just generally, create, in wholly different ways.

I’ve applied what I’ve learned as a mom here, to what I want as a CEO: Now, I look for that type of ‘thinking diversity’ when hiring, when forming my teams, and even when convening meetings.

I also have a little more patience for typos…

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?  ED: Honestly, I love my phone – how did we live without these things? It’s important to me to be available for my people, and it’s the best tool for that.

But, it sleeps next to me in “do not disturb” mode; observance of my sleep rule comes first!

TG: How do you deal with email?                                                                              ED: I also love email. I read everything and try to respond to anything that’s not truly spam. Confession time, though: I have one of those inboxes that make people stress out. Right now I have 28,471 emails in my inbox – but I won’t apologize for it! I don’t file or delete them – that’s what search is for. I’ve always worked like this and it works for me – I can find anything and know where it will be. I’m a believer in the five-sentence rule, using a phone or F2F for anything with nuance.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?    ED: Get outside for a walk, write in my journal, or walk the halls. I actually schedule walk the halls time too, but it’s never enough!

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?                                   ED: When my oldest son was 3.5 and my middle son was 1.5, I hit a wall. For me, it was an existential crisis. I took a year “off” which meant volunteering, consulting, practicing yoga and meditation and spending more time with my boys.

When I returned, I was different. It was all about change on the inside – learning how to operate in a way that honored all of who I am. I tested the theory by getting back into an executive role and having another baby!

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?           
ED: I hired someone based on IQ, thinking the EQ stuff would work itself. It didn’t (underscoring just how critical culture is in organizations and individuals).

Hiring is a batting average and there are so many factors at play. My strategy is to be fair, but move quickly when a new hire is just not seeing the ball clearly enough.

TG: What advice would you give your younger self?                                              ED: Take the overseas assignment.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.              ED: I have a signed Billie Jean King tennis ball on my desk. My dad used to quote her all the time when I was a kid and he recently gave me the ball. It reminds me of all of the support my parents have given me over the years and of my favorite quote of hers — “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” 

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