Building a resilient business mindset
The business landscape is constantly changing, people are being hired, fired and using their skills to transfer into new and exciting sectors and starting businesses of their own. With this comes additional pressure to be at peak performance at all times. But with the rise of the self-care movement, being at 110% is not sustainable.
Business leaders need to focus on building a resilient mindset to make sure they not only survive in this high pressure environment, but thrive.
AZK Media founder and managing partner, Azadeh Williams, spoke with Mindset Coach Michele Gennoe on her show, Mindset Michele, about her career, how to be resilient, invest in your own skills and evolve as a business leader.
Watch the episode here. Transcript is below.
Michele: What's the thread between journalism and Martech, and all the other amazing skills you have?
Azadeh: I still remember dedicating so much of my time to print work, it was an amazing opportunity. We were generating a lot of content, fast, we learned about the whole landscape, and how technology was starting to impact business decisions, AI and its role within the legal sector in finance, there were so many exciting things happening, and my passion for the media was my happy space.
I remember getting an interview for one of Australia's largest newspapers, which I will not name. I went in, and I had hopes and dreams to work for this publication. But I was the only non-white person in that room, everyone else had normal Anglo Saxon-sounding names. They ridiculed me - and I came in with a thick portfolio. They ridiculed my name, my maiden name is a lot longer than my married name, then they said, "how are we going to fit your name in the byline?". At that time, there was not one single non-Anglo Saxon-sounding name at the publication.
I was in my 20s and was devastated, it really knocked my confidence as a journalist for a little while. But I thought: I'm not gonna let this get to me, I know in my heart what my passions are, and where my talent is.
I could see the GFC coming, and said: okay, where is the news going to be? Where is the epicentre of this news? Where can I really be in the midst of this? I decided to pack my bags and go to London. I'd never been to the UK before, I didn't know anybody in the UK, so I went there and I networked like crazy. Within three months, I had a full-page feature about private equity in The Times.
It was one of the biggest publications in the world, and they didn't care about my name. They didn't care how it sounded or how long it was. All they cared about was I had a legal background, I understood business, and how to articulate very complex challenges and technical issues happening in the world. I could deliver a great piece of communication, which could be understood on a mass scale.
This kick-started me on a whole new global journey. I was working as a journalist, publisher, and publishing incredible reports for The Times, and Raconteur, which is a business supplement, interviewing incredible global heads. I was also headhunted by a technology PR firm in the UK to do a lot of PR content and activity. That's where I really got an inroad into the whole comms landscape and how it all worked. It was an incredible, incredible moment in my life. That was one of the most exciting times in my career.
I met my husband in the UK, and we wanted to start a family. I've always wanted a beach lifestyle, so we decided to come back to Australia to start a family. In Australia, I was lecturing at Macleay College in business news journalism and professional news practice, as well as media law. It was really rewarding to be able to share knowledge, I felt like my passion for knowledge sharing really thrived in that environment. I had finished my Masters in journalism in the UK, and I just felt like I really needed to use it to be able to share all my experiences and knowledge with the next generation of journalists. It was an amazing opportunity.
At the same time, I was writing for CMO magazine, Computer World, and PC World and some of the other technology magazines across IDG Australia. I was interviewing a lot of marketers, a lot of CMOS, CIOs, CTOs, and I started to understand the data, marketing and technology, landscapes, as well as AI, programmatic, all these really new and emerging ecosystem issues. I was also getting pitched to 200 times a day by PR firms, and I could see these PR firms didn't understand technology, they didn't understand the ecosystem.
They were pitching things which didn't make sense, their press releases were impossible to understand. I was also doing some freelance work for King Content at the time, and I could see the content marketing landscape also needed a lot of transformation. It got to a point when I thought: you know what, I think it's time I actually started my own agency, to address this gap in the market, and be able to provide services to clients to better articulate their media and marketing messages through different formats - not just through written, but through video, creative, data, storytelling, and podcasts - and to be able to scale this through the right media marketing channels.
I really feel this is where I'm supposed to be with my skills, experience and industry contacts. My instincts were right, because our business has been going for almost four years, we've really grown quickly and we've got a wonderful team. We have clients all over the world from Australia, Canada, the US, UK, Singapore, Israel, and India. We have evolved, and we've managed to be resilient during COVID.
Michele: I keep hearing a theme of communication coming out. The medium and the way you were doing different roles or different work has in some way shape or form been about communication, albeit in different markets and countries. Do you want to share a little bit about what success means to you, in terms of communication and in terms of your mindset around communication?
Azadeh: We are a global ecosystem, as a business landscape we need to communicate effectively to the US, to the UK, to EMEA and to the APAC region. If we want to actually articulate our business messages, our personal messages, and our clients’ messages at scale, we need to be able to understand how to communicate effectively across borders - and be nuanced in those regions to deliver our message effectively to make the changes we want to make.
Michele: Do you think your background is part of what's helped you to be successful? I mean, moving to different countries, living in different cultures, as you were saying about being here in Australia, being a young woman trying to have a career when the system didn't necessarily work for you. It was actually quite derogatory to you.
I loved when you talked about going to London and then getting your confidence back. I myself have lots of different stories, and I know every woman I have talked to has similar kinds of stories where, especially in Australia, we don't really name how much of a patriarchal society we live in. But it means throughout your career as a woman, you're struggling to get the same opportunities as your male counterparts would. But I really think there's a wonderful theme here throughout that you got all of these amazing skills which have really helped you, not only with your husband and children but in your business as well.
Azadeh: It's important to realise building your confidence in one career case is one thing, but then transitioning from being a journalist to a business owner, you need to learn a whole lot of other skills and build confidence pretty much from scratch. When I started the business, I was still very pigeon-holed as 'you are just a journalist', or 'just a writer', 'you're not a marketer', or 'you don't know anything about PR', or 'you don't know anything about business decision-making'.
On top of this, going into a boardroom full of white middle-aged men and being the only woman with dark hair, a 'funny-sounding' name, and a different look is very overwhelming. Being pigeonholed as 'just this or just that', and then having to really prove your worth and prove your value is difficult. I feel it took a long time to build actual credibility. I felt like I had to work super hard, super-fast, to build that credibility.
Michele: I love this because what we want to talk about on the show today is a lot of things around mindset and tips for what's been a successful mindset for you. I've already heard you share wonderful stuff about confidence and about listening. And how you had the courage to go into those settings and those environments where they're making fun of your name, or you're the only woman there.
Not long ago, I was in a meeting room, my client was a large bank, and they're actually talking a different language to me. We're here in Sydney, but they were talking in a different language to me. How do I value add, so that I don't just get seen as the wallflower in the corner? Would there be other mindset tips you can share?
Azadeh: First of all, I do want to reiterate how important those points are, Michele, having confidence, being agile, being able to adapt, and being able to evolve. I think those things are really, really important. Especially now in a pandemic, where things are changing, and things are happening really quickly.
From my own mindset, I do feel running a business and growing it, really the whole concept of a successful mindset and the way we've been programmed to think what success looks like from a business leadership perspective needs to change. There's a really great pie chart out at the moment which shows how we're taught to measure success as business leaders, and it's 50%, salary, 50% job title. Then it presents a new way, which is your mental health, your physical health, your job title, your salary, free time, and liking what you do, and a nice balance of all of those aspects which bring about a feeling of success within you. At the end of the day, it's all about balance.
Michele: I've spoken a few times already this year about legacy; what is the legacy you're going to leave? This ties in nicely to what you were talking about in terms of some of the very big social influencers who have a bit of a cult following, and I'm quite horrified because a lot of what they're proposing is actually contrary to having good mental health and speaking up if you need help and all of those things. As you said with Mark Bouris, and a number of quite influential social influencers who are still very much in that old, aggressive male mindset of do or die, it's a bit like the marines, if you're not going to do it 100%, then go home.
This mindset, just like we see with Trump and a number of different examples like Brexit around the world, there's kind of this phenomenon they're talking about around the death of the Western, or the white Anglo culture, as other cultures become stronger and larger in population around the world. Seeing those 'angry men' is partly why I dislike a lot of those social influencers, they just come across to me as bullies and angry.
But I appreciate there's a large following of that type of leadership style. But what's so wonderful now is technology means you and I can have these kinds of conversations.
Women typically previously would have been quite hidden and we would have had a lot of trouble getting access to this kind of technology because they live in certain groups. For women, it's not about becoming like the men to get to the top. We don't need to become like Margaret Thatcher or somebody who was much more male in personality traits, you can actually be much more yourself, whether you’re male or female.
But there's also all of those different types of options now, so not all men need to yell at people and be quite bullying in the way they say things. Some of their stuff is great, but the way they're saying it is actually really aggressive. As a leader, it's not very effective leadership, it's not very kind, it's not very respectful. It's basically just army-style.
There's always different horses for different courses. I love those points you're making around finding a balance and finding your tribe, I talk about that a lot on the show about finding your tribe and finding the people who resonate. There are people who will resonate with a Matt Bouris kind of hardcore, 1950s style of talking.
Azadeh: It doesn't work, it's leading to 75% of CEOs suffering from burnout, it's not sustainable. It might have worked in the 1950s, before technology, before this 24/7 global working culture, it's actually completely unsustainable now. It's causing CEOs, CIOs, CFOs and CMOs to land in hospitals, have heart attacks, and get cancer at a young age. Around 99% of all illnesses are stress-related, it actually is not working. The pandemic is demonstrating just how much this old mindset isn't working and we need to find better ways and healthier ways to approach leadership and business.
Michele: I think the gig economy is changing things because everybody now needs to know how to become a self leader and people are going to have a number of different jobs. Even in our careers, we've had different countries, different lifestyles, reinvented and built our lives in different places doing different jobs. There's going to be a lot more of this as younger people and everybody move into the gig economies with the digitisation of everything.
If you were to talk to your younger self, are there questions you would ask your younger self or what might be some advice you would give to your younger self?
Azadeh: First, have confidence really, build confidence as a skill, because you're not born with it. It's a skill you can build, so build confidence and self-belief. Secondly, if you feel like an opportunity is closed, don't worry, because another one will always open up, you'll always find another opportunity out there.
Michele: I really like that because I think we've such dramatic career shifts, having gone through different countries, different careers, and then really watched everything change. The other key thing for people to take away from today is that you were really smart about the transferability of your skills. You watched what was happening in the marketplace and then transferred your skills into new growth areas.
That is something for people to really take away as a mindset success tool from today. If you are a journalist today, then well, what else can you do? There are so many other things, you're not going to lose your job and lose everything if the newspaper shuts down.
Azadeh: I think it's also important not to attach too much of your personal identity to one career. I feel like our talent skillset is almost like investing; when you invest in shares, you sort of look at the stock market, see what's going up, what's going down, and you invest in the right things and watch it grow. You can look at the career market and the job market, you can see which industries are on the rise, where there are gaps, and where's a decline. You can then invest in your own learning and education to adapt your career to those new areas of job growth.
It goes back to the adaptability and agility you mentioned. You're going to have to keep on learning and keep on evolving, you're not going to be studying law and expect you're going to be a lawyer for the rest of your life, because that might not happen, it might not even happen to the lawyers who are actually employed right now, or the doctors, or those in accounting; in about 20 years time, those jobs are going to look very different.
Watch the episode here.