010 – Kindness as Your Competitive Advantage: Executive Coach Jennifer Howell
Jennifer Spaulding is an executive coach, international speaker and advisor who engages leaders and teams across the globe to reach their greatest potential. Through personalized coaching, workshops, and consulting, Jennifer equips her clients with strategies to accelerate success, develop high performing teams, and build cultures where employees are inspired to work their best.
Her passion for serving leaders was ignited over 20 years ago as she began to navigate the corporate ladder. Jennifer honed her leadership and relationship-building skills working for industry-leading institutions including, Accenture, State Street Corporation, Bank of America, the American Heart Association and the Salvation Army. She also experienced the phenomenal growth of the Inc. 5000 recognized professional services firm, Credera.
Her expertise spans the fields of management & IT consulting, technology, sales & marketing, financial services and non-profit. Jennifer built masterminds for Fortune 500 executives, facilitated an award-winning mentor program for 180 professionals, raised millions for charitable causes and has mentored leaders for over a decade.
Forbes, Fortune’s Broadsheet, Redbook Magazine, The Huffington Post, Everyday Health, Elite Daily, numerous podcasts and two books for professional women have highlighted Jennifer’s expertise.
Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Trinity University and a graduate certificate from Southern Methodist University. She continues to expand her knowledge and training in addition to the coaching certifications she has earned. Her free time is spent exploring restaurants and hiking trails in Austin, TX where she lives with her music-loving husband, Evan, and her sweet fur-baby, Max.
Full Interview Transcript
Michelle: Hello Wonder Women! I’m so glad you are joining me today and I’m thrilled to introduce my guest and my friend Jennifer Spaulding. Jennifer is an executive coach, international speaker, and advisor who engages leaders and teams across the globe to reach their greatest potential. She does this by promoting kindness. It’s a bit unexpected in today’s culture and intensely competitive corporate environments, but it works and she’s the real deal. Jennifer has been in Forbes, Redbook, The Huffington Post, among many many others. But today, she’s here with you. So let’s learn from her how promoting kindness can help you as an entrepreneur. Hi Jennifer!
Jennifer: Hi there. How are you?
M: I’m great. How are you doing?
J: Good. Thank you for having me.
M: Thank you so much for being with us today. So Jennifer – I think of you as a Wonder Woman. We’ve known each other for a couple of years. You’re somebody that I like to go to with questions, with ideas to bounce thoughts off of. You always have great things to say and I always get an exceptional nugget to take back and implement. It’s why I asked you to be here. What do you see as your superpower?
J: First of all, thank you. I would say the same for you. So you’re my go-to person as well. As far as the superpower – actually empathy. I think being able to put myself in someone else’s shoes. Whether it’s my client or prospect or just when marketing. Being able to think about what’s in it for the other person has been super helpful for me as I grew my business.
M: I would say for sure you are empathetic and you always are able to twist the experience or twist the situation and show it in a new light, which is something that I’ve always appreciated. How exactly do you do that when you are coaching as well?
J: I ask a million questions. I’m so it’s always trying to understand someone’s motivations. You know, what their goals are, what are their Hang-Ups, whether I’m working with Executives or group of people and a workshop. It’s just really important to make it more about the other person and to listen and to ask questions that make it kind of thought provoking for them to come up with their own answers. Then I get to share best practices so it’s been really fun – super fun.
M: I love what you said about making it about the other person because I think when you’re working with anybody whether you’re in a corporate situation or whether you’re in really a personal situation, it helps drive the conversation forward. It helps people find mutual footing to move forward and to help solve any kind of challenge that they’re facing together. If they think about it in terms of what the other person is going through.
J: Yeah, and frankly, I think all businesses whether it’s a tech company or financial services – is all personal at the end of the day. What I’ve learned is that you can have the right product, the pricing, the service – but if we don’t have the people relationships correct then things don’t go as planned. Either you don’t get prospects or you’re not as innovative. We don’t have great collaboration. It’s really the people dynamics that are the key to everything. Beyond just having the foundation of the core product and service.
M: Absolutely! I can see that in my job as a communicator in engineering and in coaching. I see it in just daily interactions. It’s a great skill to continue building and I think that is a skill that needs constant practice and needs constant care and can truly benefit from having an outside person shine a light on that situation.
J: Yeah, and as a coach, often times my clients either want to make more money, have bigger impact, get their teams to perform better, make more money themselves, or get a promotion and all of that is tied to how we work with people.
M: So can you describe executive coaching a little bit and why you chose that field to focus your business on?
J: Sure! So executive coaching. I work with executives but I also work with emerging leaders in primarily the tech space and financial services. I have some clients that are lawyers, retail owners, and it’s all about determining what their goals are, what matters to them, the impact that they want to have professionally, and then helping them reach their goals.
It’s been a great opportunity to use over 20 years of my experience. I started out in IT consulting. I navigated into financial services and marketing and business development – all trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had a lot of great success professionally, but I wasn’t as passionate except when I was mentoring other people and I’ve been mentoring women especially for over a decade. I ran a program for the American Marketing Association for several years and it just really sparked my desire to want to serve and help other people. It’s just a great mix of all the different skills and watching people succeed.
M: That’s something that drives me too – mentoring and helping others and pulling them up and giving them tools and things to think about. I love that too. Maybe that’s why we connect so well.
J: Yes! I don’t know a person on the planet who can’t take advantage of more help, you know, whether it’s from a person I paid for coaching or just from a friend. We all need counseling of some sort.
M: Even if you don’t have to be in their situation. Like you said at the very beginning right? It’s being empathetic which leads us a little bit to using kindness as foundation in your coaching and consulting. When did you decide to lean into that?
J: Yeah, so having empathy for others, you know, when you respond I’ve just found that kindness is the best approach. First of all kindness is always been a value that I’ve had throughout my entire life. I was fortunate to have great parents. My dad grew up from nothing. He was born in Mississippi extremely poor. They were sharecroppers which meant that they didn’t own the land and his family farmed and he made its way all the way up to being executive of a big Oil Company. He did all that by maintaining his values and virtues – kindness being one of them. He’s the kindest person that I know and so throughout my career I have just been fascinated by people that are super successful that did it the right way and when I entered the workforce back in the mid-90s, a long time ago, I was in financial services. Kindness was not a thing that people promoted. You often heard, “It’s competition,” or, “Crush the competitor.”
I remember I had interviewed to work alongside the CEO of a division of a global and financial services firm. I was not a CEO, but I was working with him and I was 27 years old and I made it to the final round and at the end he said, “Jennifer, your interview went well, but I’m not going to hire you for that promotion.” I asked him why and he said because you’re too nice. I asked what do you mean by that? He said well, I think our division will take you, crush you, take advantage of you, and I think I will too.
I remember I replied back in my nice 27-year-old voice – I’m not too nice. As if nice is a bad thing. But I’m sure that just proved it even more that I wasn’t the right fit. What he knew that I didn’t know was how to be fierce and kind at the Same time and it took me a while to figure out the way through your fears is by having really strong boundaries. I’m not putting up with a lot of you know, any bad behavior, rude behavior. And what’s wonderful over the years is seeing that with Millennials, the fact that we have so many opportunities today, people are craving kindness and appreciation in the workplace.
A lot of people may have heard about the five dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni. A foundation is trust your other relationships. Google has done a huge initiative on trying to determine what makes the best teams in psychological safety. All those things are tied to kindness and it’s so great to see it at all but it’s still an unusual thing to be talking about in the workplace. Except for the companies that get it, you know. They get that being kind and appreciative and having great collaboration with teams helps them make more money and be more innovative and people want to stay. It’s easier to recruit.
M: That’s fantastic. So is there a market out there for you? Is it hard for you to to encourage companies to invest in this kind of professional development for their teams?
J: Yes. To lead with the ‘let’s just all be kind sometimes’ scares people and I wrote an article for Forbes and it kind of surprised me that it went viral. Although my gut intuition told me to write it. Science proves kindness is your competitive advantage. It’s actually a simple article and what I decided to do was to do a little bit of Storytelling but also tie it to a lot of data and research because I know people are have been burned by being kind, you know, people thought they were too weak.
I mentioned that CEO told me I was too nice and when I wrote that it went viral and the fact that you know, where it was published in Forbes was the back end of the website. Typically the other articles on that section, maybe had 500 views and this one’s been shared over 18,000 times and continues to be. I was so nervous about publishing it. First of all, no one knew who I was number one. So it was easier to do but I had to promote it.
So I put it on LinkedIn and because I’d been in the tech space for so long, most of my contacts are men and I was so nervous that they would say, Oh that’s cute, or they wouldn’t comment but I had a ton of men CEOs, directors, comment on it and I started to see a lot of Millennials were sharing it. I talk about influence strategies and in my workshops kindness is part of it, with relationship building and I’ve had so many people come up to me later, saying, Thank you for sharing that with my company. Thank you so much. We need to hear this. It’s a little touchy-feely but I’m so glad. Then when I start to tie these billionaires who have done it the right way to kindness I think that helps people get on the bandwagon.
So for example, one of my favorite people is Sara Blakely the CEO of Spanx. She was interviewed recently on another podcast and said that one of the things she’s so proud of is she’s a billionaire and that she did it the right way, the kind way, you know. Richard Branson, I think he’s worth five billion, owns the Virgin group, he talks about how we need more kind leadership. You know, the CEO, ex-ceo of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, when he was running it full time, he talked about kindness and to the customers and one other billionaire. So I’m beginning to see that more and more companies are getting on the bandwagon.
M: It sounds like a growing trend and I think it sounds like the more the news gets out there the more companies are going to need this kind of training. So let’s get into your business a little bit. Owning a business, being an entrepreneur can be challenging. So what would you say is your greatest obstacle and how do you actively work to overcome it? Because I know you’re constantly working, you’re constantly growing and learning, and can you fill us in what’s the behind the scenes a little bit.
J: You’re so right about it always being a challenge. So I’ll mention two because they feed into one another. One – the biggest challenge is gaining Clarity over time. The more clarity we have the easier it is to take the next step and build your plan and work the plan, but the other part was taking big actions, you know, putting myself out there – being brave. Yes, you know failing publicly, you know, making mistakes and what’s funny about that is – as you probably know – the more actions we take the more clarity we get but we’ve got to take actions to get clarity and the circle continues.
M: Everything is a circle. So, how do you work to overcome those challenges?
J: Baby steps. You know every time I do something and the world doesn’t fall apart and I’m still here and people still want to engage with me. Then I’ll take another big step when I fail publicly and the world didn’t die, I do it again and again. As long as I’m learning and having good people like yourself and others around that still cheer me on you know, they might see things bigger than I do. So that gives me more confidence.
M: A strong support system is key isn’t it?
J: Absolutely and it took me a little while to find the right people because it’s easy, you know, when you’re starting out and you’re scared. We kind of attract like-minded people and so at first and I had connected with so many great people but a lot of people that were also really negative and it wasn’t helpful for me. So to really start to find the right folks that were more positive and taking big leaps as well.
M: Yeah, I go back to that quote that you are the product of the five people that you spend the most time with. It’s something that I know my parents ingrained in me as a teenager growing up – it was for different purposes then to stick around a crowd making good choices but it’s something that stuck with me for my whole life. Having a good support system just does wonders for your mentality and it does wonders for your professional development as well. So what’s been the most rewarding? What keeps you going?
J: I love connecting with people, having that one-on-one interaction or if I’m in a workshop getting to see people’s faces when they get the AHA moments or seeing people get great success with a little bit of help for me. I can’t take much credit because people are amazing as they are but it’s the most rewarding celebrating other people and seeing them succeed and having a very small part of that.
M: I love that too. It’s completely the same. I just had a conversation earlier today about the people I work with. It’s just so energizing and positive.
J: Absolutely and I think the more you can do whatever that is energizing and motivating, the easier it is to stomach the late-night website changes or you know, writing whatever we have to do. It just keeps me motivated. I’m here on this planet to use my gifts to serve other people. I have worked more than I have ever worked in my job than anywhere else and I thought I worked a lot but it’s the you know, that’s what keeps me motivated.
M: What was the time in your life that you have felt most like a Wonder Woman?
J: I know I mentioned that article on Forbes that I wrote about kindness and there were a couple lessons from it that have made me feel like it was more Wonder Woman-like. One was that my intuition was speaking to me and telling me I have to write this even though another part of me was saying, oh people don’t want to hear about this. It seems too frou-frou. And normally when I take action it can take me a long time to write a blog or an article. I mean like a couple of days. But this one wrote itself in less than 15 minutes. It was super fast and then when I submitted it it wasn’t getting published. So I had to reach out to the contact person three times because I knew that this was something worthwhile. I’m so glad that I was brave enough to do that because that really built the confidence to continue and kind of hone in my platform because there are a million of coaches out there. There are tons of people doing great things but for me, I took a leap through faith and listened to intuition and went for it. That might seem small for somebody else but to me it was kind of a big deal – being brave.
M: I think that’s so amazing. And what I am most drawn to is you knew it like it was just something you had to do. It was something you were being led to do through your skills and your training and your history. Your intuition was leading to that moment for you to shine. And to help other people. I want to connect that back to the first thing that you were saying too – it’s about the other people because you’re doing that all to promote kindness and show people that it can bring them success in their companies.
J: Yeah and thank you. Yeah, just being brave right? Whatever brave for someone is. I think that’s a definition of a Wonder Woman who is serving others, even when it’s scary to do.
M: Yeah. I love that. I love that. So what kind of professional development work do you do that helps you continue pushing the envelope?
J: You mentioned about your quote and I think it’s like the average of five people you spend the most time with – you become the average, so that’s part of it. But also I’ve learned my brain, as I get older, is the Ultimate machine that I need and that requires me to take care of it. So whether that’s working out, sleeping – that helps my mental and emotional health. I do a ton of exercises that might seem super silly about nurturing positivity and confidence but they really work. Every night I have all these little timers that go off on my phone that pop up and you can edit the timer word or alarm word on your phone. And so I have one that goes off every night at eight o’clock and it says name three amazing things that happened today. So I state my three and I think a lot of entrepreneurs are high Achievers, right and we don’t often celebrate and all the things that we do and so it makes me the reason why I picked three is because one sometimes easy to come up with but three, I really have to think about. Sometimes the day is like I showered, I left my home, I got to watch Bravo tonight. And other times – It’s like I had a really great call. So it just makes me celebrate and there’s a Harvard research study that talks about that we are so great at celebrating the big wins, you know, we got that big sale. We’ve got the new clients. The initiative went off as expected. But it’s those incremental celebrations that keep people motivated and confident and I think especially when you’re a new entrepreneur or kind of newer and the life cycle to celebrate every little thing to keep her confidence up.
M: That Is amazing and I would say if you take anything away from this episode, take that right? I mean that is something that we hear about all the time – gratitude, celebrate accomplishments, but it is hard as you have suggested to implement it into your day. And what a great thing. That’s similar to what we do but this is more as a family it’s going around and talking about our sweet and sour. The sweet is what’s your favorite thing that happened today? Something positive, rewarding, something that you’d like to savor? And what is your sour, which is something that was a challenge, didn’t make you feel the best. The purpose of that is to get the children talking about their good things and the not so good things. I think adding some gratitude into our little practice can be fun to do. So thank you.
J: Yeah. You made me think about the sour when you mentioned that so I also stole this from Sara Blakely, the CEO Spanx. I love her and she said that growing up around the table her dad would ask her and her brother to celebrate a failure each day. And so a friend of mine who’s also a fellow coach – we wanted to take bigger steps. We decided that we would text each other every time we failed.
I mean I’m a recovering perfectionist and so to fail is not a good thing, at least in the past. So she would start to text me when things wouldn’t go as planned and I started to get envious that she was having more conversations with people to get more no’s, which means you also get more yeses and it really got me over the sense of failing. So I love that you guys do that.
M: That leads me to another thing. So we’ve got a little train going here, but someone also recently talked about on my podcast about turning anything into a diamond. So, you know what in when you’re giving a piece of coal, it turns into a piece of diamond, you know diamonds are created from pressure and from coal and from something that may not initially be appealing but I love those are all great things about how to practice gratitude and think more in a positive way and I think entrepreneurs definitely grow from greater positivity.
J: Absolutely and we need it. We need it when it’s quiet. We need it when we’re in a slump and we need it when we work alone at first.
M: Can you tell me a little bit about your support? Wonder Women need help. Do you have support in your business?
J: When I first started off I had a coach and then I had a mentor so that was super helpful. I think having people at different phases of the life cycle is really key. As I’m growing my business, being an extrovert, I talk things out and I remember I was like who am I going to talk to in my office by myself? So I hired this woman who I love and I asked if I could spew for like 20 minutes. Give me feedback. Poke some holes Because I know ideas are better when they’re with other people than in my own head. So definitely having support and good people. I know there’s a lot of systems you can buy and things but for me, it’s been the people in my life.
M: That makes sense. You’re a people person. Describe a time when you were younger when you thought of a Wonder Woman. Who was she and why?
J: Okay, so I grew up in the era of Oprah. Oprah has been in my life for probably half of my life. She’s you know, big and famous and super successful but watching her over the years long time ago, she had decided to change her TV show, the Oprah show, to be more about spirituality, positive psychology to kind of use it to her advantage to spread goodness. And I remember when she did that. It was very shocking. This was not talked about on TV, you know. She got a lot of flak from people and different religious groups not knowing what she meant by spirituality and I remember thinking – goodness how brave of a woman to use this platform where she could have easily failed, could have lost all her ratings, and she wouldn’t be the person that she is today. So watching her, and I watched a ton of interviews about her career, using her intuition trusting and believing that everything will be okay. What I started to notice is that she started to celebrate all these people and lift other people up. You know, now we have Dr. Oz, we have – I’m forgetting all the people that she’s highlighted and helped launch their careers. I just thought, you know, all those elements were so so good to see as a person watching.
M: But now you’re an adult woman. How do you feel you live up to that? How do you practice similar things of that nature?
J: Well, one of my core things I mentioned about kindness and I really like the phrase and so I’ll be using it more in my business is ‘kind ambition’ and I am a very ambitious person and how I defined ambition is always trying to grow and be better and to do more and give more have a bigger impact, but I truly believe in tying the kind to ambition. So doing it the right way, the kind way, celebrating other people. All that requires, just like I mentioned with Oprah’s being brave, is putting myself out there to get negative feedback and people, you know, there are a lot of people that don’t like her I’m sure, and the more I put myself out there, a lot of people disagree with me or don’t like me and so really trying to live that way and to strive and to do more and it’s really scary especially when it comes because I am a personal brand marketing myself and it’s like the thing I hate the most. What I love about her model was celebrating other people and letting other people be the guide and get the glory and that’s what I hope to do more.
M: Fantastic. Well, how can people connect with you? What are you promoting right now or how can they connect? What would you like? What would you like my audience to do with you?
J: Oh, well, thank you. I am, you know, we had another conversation about being a connector and it’s one of my favorite things in life is to meet as many people as possible to genuinely get to know them and then if I can help you whether it’s me personally if I know someone that can help you- I’m happy to share those names and so I guess connecting through my website or through email and my website is just my name JenniferSpaulding.com and on social media. I send out a monthly newsletter. I only do it once a month because I don’t want to bombard people but it’s all about tips to help you in your career. And with those people, those tricky situations whether it’s conflict or influence, and I’d love to have a one-on-one conversation.
M: Jennifer, thank you so much for talking with me. You give us all Greater Hope for the future and I will end by saying – answer the call Wonder Woman! Embrace your powers, step up, and change the world.