As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Athena Oanessian.
Athena is a young, purpose-driven entrepreneur. After discovering her purpose last year, she started her motivational goal planner business. Her biggest goal in life is to inspire more than 1 million people to reach their greatest potential!
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Yes! I’ve always been obsessed with self-growth and pushing myself to my full potential. For the past couple years, I set that as my biggest goal for the year, and that’s driven my plans, goals, and actions. I would always force me to think and do big, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t honor the goal I set for the year. In a way, it essentially kept me grounded. After I graduated with Magna Cum Laude honors last year, I kept self-reflecting and trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. The pandemic caused me to slow down, be way less stressed, and truly realize what’s most important to me. It gave me a great opportunity to reach deep within myself, and ultimately pivot. That’s when I decided I had to find my life’s purpose, then do everything I could to make it a reality!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I still can’t get past how unfunny this is, but I suppose looking back it’s somewhat laughable. I learned that just because you have a great product or service doesn’t mean that you need to sink in thousands of dollars on marketing agencies when starting out. After an almost $20,000 mistake, I realized that I can’t count on a marketing company to bring in x amount of ROI, no matter what they say is projected.
I also learned that most marketing companies aren’t good and aren’t geared towards product launches. Product launches require completely different marketing strategies than already established businesses. I wish I knew that when starting out.
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 wouldn’t be where I am without myself. I know it’s crazy but without really striving to get to know myself, and being obsessed with self growth, I would’ve never taken the initiative to live out my dreams, goals and purpose. I’m also a huge self starter and don’t rely on others to push or guide me. I also only need to have the end goal, then I can easily figure out strategy on my own and create something from start to finish. So to that I say, I’m grateful for myself!
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Definitely! When I started my purpose-driven business, I sought to make the purpose and vision clear. My purpose is to inspire at least 1 million people to reach their greatest potential. My vision is to create extraordinary planners and products to empower individuals!
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
A principle I firmly hold on to is to not be afraid of the unknown. Too many people and companies let fear stop them. Some of the greatest companies have been born during times of crisis, such as my own. When big companies started pulling back, the little companies started pushing forward and have gained sizable market share. I say, embrace the unknown!
I maintain constant communication with my team and make sure to continue to inspire them and genuinely show I care. I make sure the WHY behind what we do isn’t forgotten, and I put forward how important it is to serve and help people realize their dreams and reach their goals. My team is so deeply connected to our purpose, they’re inspired with the work that they do, and they’re very supportive!
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
No, simply giving up has never been an option. Having a clear and well defined purpose is what motivates me to persevere and grow through the challenges. I know how many people I have to impact, and how many people would be let down if they didn’t use my products. I want people to truly be happy and live fulfilling lives, instead of letting life pass by then being filled with regret later in life. We have one life and it’s a shame to let it go unlived. As Socrates said, “It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” Though he refers to “physical training”, I take this quote as mental and emotional training too. And if we’re going to be philosophical, I suppose we could also count the physical act of taking action to pursue ones goals and dreams as physical training as well.
People’s happiness and fulfillment with their lives and impacting their lives sustains my drive!
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is to never let go of the why. Why did you start? If your why is big enough, it’ll help you navigate the most challenging times.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way to boost morale is to embrace the unknown rather than fear it. This simple mindset shift can make a huge difference in leaders, and also what they instill in team members. With strong and inspirational leadership, constant communication, team member encouragement, and continuously moving with the purpose aligned with the vision, it shows team members they’re valued and that you won’t stop because of fear. It shows them that it’s important to pivot and it’s not okay to give up when things get hard.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Perhaps the best way is to communicate genuinely and honestly. At the end of the day, everyone’s human so they understand struggles and difficulties and can empathize with that. This also helps build trust with one’s team and customers, and they respect the company and leaders even more.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
By not fearing change, pivoting, and strategically laying out plans and backup plans.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Never forget your why. A strong purpose can help you navigate turbulent times if the purpose is greater than yourself. I can’t stress the importance of purpose enough!
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Getting lost. These businesses stray from their why because of fear. They become guided by fear rather than purpose.
- Being afraid of change. These businesses have leadership that is too hard headed and stuck on their old ways. If they don’t change, it’ll make room for new companies to lead.
- Inaction. These businesses “lay low” and don’t have a plan of action to guide them during these times. They think they’ll lay low and just see what happens. It’s important to have a plan. Even if you don’t use it, you know you’re prepared.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I create products that add value into people’s lives.
My company differentiates itself. The brand, products, and procedures are all geared towards adding value and empowering customers. Everything I do is different than my competition, and that sets me apart. I also lead with purpose, and a genuine brand voice.
I also genuinely care about the transformation that occurs within people when they use my products.
If you do something that adds value to customers, and you show that you really care about them, whether they buy form you or not, that’ll set you apart from all the other businesses that are solely driven by their pocket.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have a purpose. The purpose will carry you far if your purpose is bigger than yourself.
- Be resilient. As human beings, we can endure so much. Life is hard in all aspects but knowing you have a company to run and that your team relies on you means you need to be a strong and inspiring leader for them.
- Set an example. Want the best from your team? Inspire them by setting an example they can learn from and become like.
- Check in with your team. These turbulent times affect people’s personal lives too. Genuinely let them know you care and are there for them.
- Don’t hold useless meetings without substance. Everyone is exhausted by continuous and long meetings that they don’t even need to be present for. Only invite those you absolutely need, get straight to the point, and communicate other ways when possible.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is from one of Robert Frost’s poems: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference”.
Everything I’ve always done has been going against the grain personally and professionally. I like to challenge the norms and do the unconventional. In a society full of mediocrity, I’ve always striven to do something extraordinary.
How can our readers further follow your work?
To further follow my work, visit my website, yousquared.co!