Whitney A. White: “Leadership is being able to see needs”

Leadership is being able to see needs. It’s about connecting the dots between what exists now and where you want to go. It’s seeing where companies are and the potential in the people that you’re leading to get from where they are today to achieving real results. As a part of my series about the strategies […]

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Leadership is being able to see needs. It’s about connecting the dots between what exists now and where you want to go. It’s seeing where companies are and the potential in the people that you’re leading to get from where they are today to achieving real results.

As a part of my series about the strategies that extremely busy and successful leaders use to juggle, balance and integrate their personal lives and business lives, I had the pleasure of interviewing Whitney A. White. She is the founder of Afara Global, an organization that helps startups, corporate innovation teams, and nonprofits launch and scale new products and services. She is also the creator of “Take Back Your Time”, a transformational coaching program designed to help business leaders get on a clear path to achieving the goals that matter to them most.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share with us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this particular career?

I started my career in management consulting with Bain & Company. I really enjoyed the strategy work and advising clients in different industries. Several years later, I worked in e-commerce, which is when I was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I decided to start my own business and ran that business on the side for a couple of years.

In 2013, I jumped into entrepreneurship full-time working with startups, corporate teams, and nonprofits, helping them launch and scale new products and services. It was through that work I noticed a trend. While collaborating with people who had high potential and amazing goals, I noticed that they were the ones who were most likely to be pulled in so many different directions. Having so much on their plate, they really struggled to focus on the goals that matter to them the most.

For me, I’ve always been goal-oriented and focused on identifying problems and coming up with solutions. If I see a problem, I think: how can I fix it? That’s what led me to start interviewing a bunch of different people. My academic background is in anthropology so I’m very comfortable interviewing and gleaning insight. And so, I developed a curriculum for my coaching program, “Take Back Your Time.” Initially, it was a hobby. I saw a need and I created a program to help those people. And as the program really took form, I had that first cohort and had such incredible outcomes.

I thought that people would get more efficient with their time and move forward more effectively towards their goals. However, the feedback showed that the program was really transformational in terms of the clarity they received about what was really important to them. Their ability to work with me to develop the step-by-step plan to get from where they were to actually achieve those goals, made me realize this is something that has the potential for outsized impact. And I decided to do another cohort and that led to another. It was through referrals from my clients that the program grew.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?

The most interesting story is what happened after my first cohort. I looked around and they were all men, which was surprising since I interviewed so many women. The program wasn’t created for just men, so I thought it was strange. I thought maybe women don’t have these same issues, I wasn’t really sure. Then I took another step back and said to myself, ‘Whitney you have to live your values.’ So often in diversity and inclusion conversations, you’ll see certain groups are less likely to apply whether it’s women, people of color, whatever the case may be.

The question becomes: ‘Did I do everything possible to make sure that women knew about the opportunity and that they could benefit from it? Had I really done the level of outreach to make this fully available to women?’ And so, I committed myself to do an all-ladies cohort of the program as my next cohort. It was more work than recruiting the men, and I learned a lot through the process.

There were a few things that really stood out to me. First, women needed to see me be vulnerable to my own journey in order for them to feel comfortable and open about their challenges. This was different from the men who were upfront about asking for help. Initially, the women made it seem as though everything was fine and they didn’t need support. Part of that came from assuming I always had it all together, even though that was not the case. They didn’t feel comfortable being vulnerable despite the fact that they needed help.

The second thing I learned was that it was difficult for women to prioritize themselves. They had a hard time saying their goals were just as important as anything else in their lives, whereas the men didn’t have that problem. The men felt confident that their goals were important and they were willing to go after them. For women, there was this questioning of: ‘Do I deserve to focus on this? Should I prioritize myself in this way?’

Thirdly, women didn’t want to pull the trigger in terms of investing and spending the money on themselves, unlike the men. Many of the women felt that they needed to get permission from their partners to invest in their own development. Going into this work I hadn’t imagined that there would be these stark differences between how men and women process the need for help and support to reach their goals.

What does leadership mean to you? As a leader, how do you best inspire others?

Leadership is being able to see needs. It’s about connecting the dots between what exists now and where you want to go. It’s seeing where companies are and the potential in the people that you’re leading to get from where they are today to achieving real results.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in your needs and think about what you want, but as a leader, you have to be able to see the needs of those around you. For example, the needs of your organization, your customers, and your clients. It’s having your eyes wide open and seeing those needs as opportunities. It’s also creating a plan of action and knowing how to mobilize the right people and the right resources to make it happen.

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?

I’m so grateful for my mom. She has always supported my life as an entrepreneur and gave me confidence at a young age to start my first business — a tutoring service. When I was in elementary school, one of the moms asked my mom if I could tutor her daughter. She was my first client, and I was in third grade.

The following summer my mom put my sister and me in an entrepreneurship camp. I learned about creating business plans, marketing, and managing your finances. And so, I look back and see that as a very early awakening around entrepreneurship. I ran that business until I went off for college. It got to the point where I had dozens of clients and was making several thousand dollars a year as a high school student.

In those early days, my mom really facilitated that it was normal to run a business and I had the potential to be successful. It put me on a path of knowing that entrepreneurship was something I could do, and if I had a goal, I could make it happen.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main core of our discussion. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your life into your business and career? Can you articulate what the struggle was?

Once I went into entrepreneurship full-time, there wasn’t a real structure to the day. I went from working in corporate and having set hours to becoming an entrepreneur and making my own hours. In the beginning, I was trying to force myself to work and focus during normal work hours. However, that’s not when I work best. Even though I’m a hardcore business person and super data-oriented, I’m much more akin to working in a creative sense when my energy and ideas are flowing. Now, when it’s not flowing, I don’t force it. It’s highly inefficient to try to force myself to work when I’m not feeling it. This is why I don’t keep regular hours.

In order to give greater context to this discussion, can you share with our readers what your daily schedule looks like?

It’s more of a weekly schedule. On Mondays, I tend to have a mix of meetings, work on projects, and push things forward with my business. Tuesdays are more relaxed. After driving my daughter to school, I do private yoga at 8:45 and then ease into my day. Tuesdays are my “space day” where I block my calendar so that I don’t have meetings and can instead dig in on anything that requires deep thought. I have my best ideas on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, I have coaching sessions with my clients then workout with my trainer at 5:00. Thursdays are also big meeting days, but I’m also pushing forward on more operational types of projects. Fridays tend to be light days where I avoid meetings and wrap up what needs to be completed before the weekend. As far as the evenings, I pick my daughter up from school around 6:00. We do homework, dinner, watch a show, then bedtime. After she’s asleep, I’ll stream one of my favorite shows, catch up with friends on the phone, or if I’m really excited to push forward on something, I might do a little work.

Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life? Can you explain?

It ebbs and flows. In the same way that there are different seasons in a year, there are different seasons in life. There are seasons when I’m constantly on the go, managing my business, my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop, volunteering at her school, and doing lots of extracurricular activities. Then, there are seasons when she is more into reading, relaxing, and doing projects at home.

I’m divorced. There are times when I’ve been in long term relationships and at that time, I’m putting a lot of my energy and focus into those relationships. Then, there are times when I’m single and not investing in dating at all.

It’s similar to my business. Sometimes I’m in growth mode and sometimes I’m just letting things flow and unfold naturally. And that’s where I see myself happiest — when I’m really flowing with that energy as opposed to focusing on things I don’t have the energy for.

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal/family life?

For me, the tipping point was learning how to be in touch with my own energy and how I was feeling day to day. Instead of trying to force me to do things I didn’t want to do, I started to let myself flow.

There are days when I’m in action mode and working 12 or 13 hours and then there are days that I set aside in the week when I don’t schedule meetings. I want to have space to relax, do yoga in the morning, and work on projects that I’m excited about.

This also applies to the family if I want to take a break and pick my daughter up earlier from after school to spend time together. I enjoy having the freedom and flexibility. For me, it’s really about doing the things I want to do when I want to do them.

Ok, so here is the main question of our interview. Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal/family life? Please share a story or example for each.

The first piece of advice is to find out what drives you the most in life. I am driven towards freedom — it’s something that matters to me on a very deep level, having the freedom to choose the things that I want, and to live that way day to day. Everybody will have a different answer for what their driving force is.

Secondly, paint a picture of what your life looks like when you’re living out the value that’s driving you. For me, it’s running my own business. It gives me the flexibility to be a super involved mom who has the financial freedom to travel and take time off.

Thirdly, look at your life and identify where there are structures and systems that are either supporting your dream or hampering it. Make a realistic assessment of your day-to-day and week-to-week life. Think about what is getting you closer to that vision, and what is holding you back.

The fourth piece of advice is to start making changes based on that assessment. Make changes that help you align with that vision of where you want to go. This part is so critical because it’s all about getting out of our heads, not analyzing and overthinking but instead taking action.

Lastly, get some accountability. It’s so much harder to walk this road alone. Support and accountability are key because otherwise, we may let ourselves off the hook and won’t reach our goals.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Life is never long enough to postpone living it the way you want.” I hear so many people say they don’t have time to do the things they want to do and make excuses to put off going after what they really want. Freedom is what drives me and so in my life, I chose to align my career and life with doing the things I love and focusing on what matters most to me.

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. 🙂

I would start a movement for people to take back their time. In all the interviews I’ve done over the years, so many people complain about not having enough time. And beyond not having enough time, they aren’t clear about what they really want, don’t have a plan to get there or have the support and accountability to make it happen.

The problem with saying you don’t have enough time is that you’re basically saying your time is not your own. Taking back your time is about taking back your life. Our life is made up of time. And life is made up of seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years. And if we do not feel like we’re in control of our time, then we don’t feel like we’re in control of our lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

To follow me online, visit my website, https://whitneyawhite.com. There you will find information about my program, Take Back Your Time, and you can also join my mailing list to get tips and advice. I’m also on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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