As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Look-Arimoto. Dana is an author, coach, speaker, and founder of the leadership and executive coaching company Phoenix5 and settlesmart.com. She is also behind the mindset, method, and movement of Stop Settling®, which aims to end the myth of work-life balance by focusing on the integration of the various facets of life and conscious prioritization. With over 20 years of experience leading teams and corporations, Dana has accrued a wealth of knowledge and experience in understanding how people best work together and how teams that work well together make corporations successful. She is the author of Stop Settling, Settle Smart: Rethinking Work-life Balance, Redesign Your Busy Life and is currently working on her second book.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Dana! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Aperfect storm. This time, the best kind. 20+ years in staffing and talent management gave me a front-row seat to hiring, training, developing, and sometimes firing, thousands of people. Sprinkle in four years in nonprofit, my heart job, along with endless curiosity surrounding the impact supporting and uplifting individuals and teams and I realized, I needed to resign as President of my final corporate role and start my own business as a coach, speaker, and now, author.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Yes. Sometimes you need to fire a client and it’s hard! Often we, especially women, have fear around taking the leap to start our own company. Our lack of confidence and feelings of “imposter syndrome” coax us into taking on early clients that bridge the gap financially, however, become detrimental emotionally. It’s never easy but it is extremely important.
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?
Yes! I was finally done writing my book that was years in the making. It was about to be published with full-court press. I signed off on the final manuscript. And then, I had an epiphany. I needed to change my name. You have to understand, I was a single mom for 11 and I still wanted my kids to keep their names as they were. I made a mistake by burying my head in the sand and lying to myself that I wanted to keep that name. I was doing it for the kids and the kids only, not myself. But, truthfully, I was happily remarried and my old last name no longer felt right to me. At the last minute, I pulled it all back and changed my last name to my maiden name and newly married name, and Look-Arimoto was born!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The work I do with clients helps them not only grow their companies and themselves, but it’s also my own method to accelerate their own transformations. One incredible and brilliant client, a top Astrophysicist, heard me keynote at a women in tech event. After listening to me speak, she realized that she wanted to take the leap and lead a team for the first time. She was terrified. Today, merely 9 months later, she is one of the best people leaders I have ever worked with or trained.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes. I am working on pushing work-life integration vs work-life balance. Work-life balance is a myth. Instead, I am teaching leaders to run their companies authentically. This includes leading by example when it comes to their own personal life choices on how and where they spend their time, unapologetically. This type of leadership inspires others to follow as it shows them that there is an alternative to the hamster-in-the-wheel mentality that work-life balance permeates. There are many companies that bring me in to teach them how to do this. Settling Smart is a new way to get into people’s minds and hearts while living your own best life at work and at home.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Women tend to either build each other up or tear one another down. Let’s be proactive about the former and do away with the latter. If you are not building each other up, make the shift right now. It’s so rewarding and accelerating when we do. Yet, when we tear each other down, we take womankind back hundreds of years. Whichever we do, both have long-lasting effects. Let’s work on making them positive.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
One size never fits all. Let me say that again. One size NEVER fits all. Get to know your team as an unharnessed powerful force that starts with the individual. Find the core and work with that in mind to build a team that has trust, is encouraged to be authentic, and embraces experimentation and little f’s in failure along the way. Focus and clarity coupled with radical candor are key components of great leadership.
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?
Normally, I talk about my daughters and or incredible hubby who is the “Free Space” on my bingo card. Or, as in my book, I highlight my only true mentor in my career, who is an amazing husband, father, and serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. Today, I’d love to highlight the two goddesses who have supported me, been my right and left hands over the past 25 years consecutively, and without whom, I would be a hot mess and mostly in my head! They will be embarrassed and hate the limelight, but they have earned it! Kim and Sonia! Executive assistants, brilliant women, and the yin to my yang. First, there was Kim. We went to many companies together and crusaded. Next, and now, there is Sonia. She defected from the corporate model after I resigned from my final exec post. The only two humans on the planet who can read my handwriting, even when I’m unable, and “get me!” They simply make me better.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
For the longest time, it was one person at a time. And over time, they would pass on the goodness. That, while important, became too slow for me. I wanted to make a dent in the universe. So today, I contribute my time, energy, resources, and mind-share on a one to many basis as much as my Settling Spectrum desires. There is fluidity here as priorities and the time/joy/value equation shift situationally and relatively.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Thing 1: The glass ceiling is real. I hit my head against it hard when I agreed to leave a very successful field role in Milwaukee, WI where I was born. Making the leap in career to take a promotion into a corporate job moved me to my beloved Northern California. I didn’t want to believe that I couldn’t breakthrough. I was wrong. So, I left that company. That was hard. This would be the first of many moving out to move up choices I would make.
Thing 2: Women don’t always lift each other up. Earlier in my career, I was on an all-female senior leadership team. My dream job, or so I thought. Can you say cat house? There’s so much more on this to unpack, but for brevity-sake, I left. Moved out to move up again. This wasn’t as hard as the first time, as I was building confidence to go for what I wanted more bravely.
Thing 3: Rescuing people may work for Mother Teresa, Mandela, or Ghandi, however, that’s not the best way to handle every relationship. I spent years and years of my life trying to rescue friends, my first husband, my daughters, hell, even a community at one point. This led to many toxic relationships and a series of co-dependent behaviors that would deplete me. Today, mostly, I surround myself with people who are my tribe. We are additive to one another, and truly and totally ourselves. We help ourselves first and then others with tons of energy and resources to do so.
Thing 4: Stop the “shoulds.” I don’t believe guilt is an emotion. Doing anything because you think that you should, is a trap. And we need to stop “shoulding” others, including our kids.
Thing 5: Hope is not a strategy. A great friend of mine, my former boss and a retired colonel from the military, hit me between the eyes with this one day on our work travels through Europe. He said, “you have two eyes, two ears, and only one mouth. Listen and observe more than you speak or act.” Now, I ask lots of Socratic questions and teach this in my program. Active listening is the antidote to hope. When we truly hear ourselves and others, we don’t need hope. The answers are clear when you go deep enough.
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’m in it now. It’s still a work in progress and experimentation continues to reveal new ways of accomplishing the movement of the message I was put on this earth to deliver. We must Stop Settling unconsciously and involuntarily in order to Settle Smart. When people truly know what they want and make the mindset shift to go after it while telling others that this is their most desired path, no magic or endless buckets of money are needed. Companies will become a reflection of their most precious asset, their people. Work-life balance is bull! It’s unrealistic and unsustainable and is making us sick by saying it’s okay to work yourself to death as long as you also go to every one of your kid’s soccer games. We need a workplace indicator that the best places to work are Settle Smart organizations, or starting your own! The gig economy is here, and today, more than ever in the history of working for others whom we call employers, people have the choice to work for themselves wherein companies become the benefactor of their expertise and contribution.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much — Helen Keller.
My older and only sibling/sister growing up was blind and the first “mainstreamed” kid in our community. Because of her, I was exposed from birth to the beauty that is being differently-abled. I have spent my entire life, and will do so until my last breath, advocating for others and betting on humanity. 1+1=3 when the individual parts collaborate on behalf of the greater good.
We are 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 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 have 3! Is that allowed?