As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Arianne Weiner.
Dr. Arianne Weiner is a leadership coach who has been helping clients reach their business goals for over 25 years. Understanding the complex relationship entrepreneurs have with their businesses and the people who help them operate, she builds customized roadmaps for lasting organizational change. Through her business, Implementing Change, Dr. Weiner has worked with public agencies and private corporations, but is most passionate about helping small business owners thrive. As CEO of the Eastern Sierra Development and Training Institute, she teaches sustainable change management practices to businesses in gateway, resort, and mountain communities.
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?
Growing up in a family-owned business does two things to a person: Sets them up on a career path from the time they can walk, or offers early training in what they don’t want to be when they grow up.
For me, it was both. I didn’t want the family business, but I couldn’t escape it either.
Armed with a doctoral degree in business psychology, and first-hand experience with the ups and downs of business, I set out to make Corporate America a better place for employees.
I knew people were the most valuable asset on any company’s balance sheet, and yet corporate culture acted otherwise. In my effort to make Corporate America a healthier, happier place, I sacrificed my own health and wellbeing.
It was time to take what I knew to be true and use it to influence my own growth and success. It was time to follow the family tradition and go into business for myself.
You know how self-employment can be lonely, with no one around to share your vision or burdens? I help people in business get out of their own way by focusing on the right thing at the right time, so they can confidently accomplish their goals. And I do it without suggesting 80-hour workweeks.
My gift is perspective. I can look at a business (or the people behind a business), diagnose the issues, and prescribe a solution.
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 am not so sure how funny it is, but it was enlightening… While I was in graduate school, I was hired as a Scholar in Residence, such a highfalutin title for an intern. They had hired all these people with years of experience in OD (organizational development) work before me. Then I came in as a recommended intern who was completing my PhD. I wasn’t looked at as quite the pro that all these other people with years of experience had, and I came in idealistic and very jazzed about applying the principles I was learning. I also wasn’t as polished; my style was bold, I said it the way it was, and for some, it was too much for people to accept. Today that is still to be accurate, but I have become more elegant when I get to the heart of the issue. I remember asking one of the executives, who always looked at his watch in meetings, “Why are you constantly looking at your watch?” He was clueless, and I told him plain and simple that it was rude. It makes me laugh to think about it now because the phone has taken over the watch, and the etiquette has been lost.
I made changes that were significantly above and beyond what these other people had done before me. I got buy-in from folks who were hard to reach, and I introduced concepts to people in a fresh way. I worked independently with them, not just through the organization but by changing people’s perceptions of one individual at a time.
I was technically trained with limited experience in the business world. Previously I had worked for a nonprofit as a special project coordinator and fund raiser, and I had worked in education. I had helped with the family business doing whatever administrative tasks they needed assistance with, but this internship gave me my start. I had a fantastic boss who gave me tremendous guidance and a long leash — not enough to hang myself, but just enough to accomplish the necessary things to elevate the organization, enhance relationships, and develop its leaders. It was like what I do today, only on a smaller level; I implement change. It’s a constant with me, because I readily accept change, and I help to initiate plans — sometimes multiple — whatever is necessary to fit the need. And so, the title for my business came from my entrée into this organization. From this internship, I moved into my first position as an OD consultant, executive coach, and leadership facilitator that triggered off a significant change that carried me through my career.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I am an avid reader; up to date on business bestsellers, and familiar with all the classics. The book that resonates with me, and permeates and infiltrates my life actions and my clients, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
In our home, this book was on display next to Webster’s Dictionary, Roger’s Thesaurus, and The World Book Encyclopedia.
I didn’t realize Mr. Carnegie’s impact on me until I struck out on my own. His words influenced my work, and I had the results to prove it. When I get asked for book recommendations by my clients, this is always at the top of my list, because it gives practical advice that is optimistic, advocates honest appreciation, and values the importance of connecting with people. It is as simple as smiling and listening to others, basic principles in human interaction. Take it one step further, the most important part of leadership, the main focus of my work, is relationships, and this book brings it home.
One of my favorite quotes in the book is, “Remember, happiness doesn’t depend upon who you are or what you have; it depends solely upon what you think.” To me, this speaks directly to gratitude, which is a significant part of my existence. It’s a core value for me, it’s part of my foundation, and I show it when I talk to my clients and they to me. For me, that word generates reciprocity, activity, and compassion.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I feel that my purpose and vision haven’t changed since I started my company. The number of words that I say is a lot less, more succinct, but my desired outcome has always been getting people where they want to go, and the meaningful success for them and their business. Yes, people are in business to make money and be productive; they too have meaning in the purpose of what they do or provide. If they make that happen, then guess what, they are happy. If I can implement changes for them to be those things, then I have succeeded. I believe in my clients, in their wanting to make things happen. Still, they don’t always know how. They may lack the insight or support necessary, lose focus, need to get their mojo back, and require that push to get through the hard stuff, and accountability to gain momentum. I mean, look, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and I can’t think of a more innovative and almost more exciting time than now.
My primary purpose lies in those fundamental principles I shared earlier, and my clients have to trust me. All I have ever wanted is to be there to inspire and help, whether it’s a person or an organization, to get to a different place, the find success. My academic training and practical experience have helped me every step of the way to get a little further along, to be in a better place, and to implement change.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
It is hard for me to name a “number one principle” that guides me through the ups and downs of running my business. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Four principles ingrained in me were honesty and fairness, never giving up, and being grateful.
I will focus in on gratitude, as it is part of my daily ritual to list what I am thankful for. I am appreciative and don’t take things for granted, despite having a certain comfort level and knowing that I can trust and depend on those close to me in times of need. I pass that principle to others with my mantra, “Have a grateful day.” I am honest in my communication and treatment of others, and I value fairness in my dealings with clients and friends. I often think, “What’s the right thing to do?” in guiding me to action, and working with clients and others, when struggling with a fair and equitable dilemma.
When I had a rough day, I always went back to The Little Engine That Could. If you ask for help, there will be someone who will be there to support you. You have to keep searching, and know that someone will eventually answer your call. You can’t give up, and if you think you can, you can. If I were to say it in a more modern and professional term, it’s like just like what Seth Godin says, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When the Coronavirus was declared a global health emergency on January 30, 2020, my mom had just been discharged after a seven-week stint in the hospital for a stroke, the majority of it spent in the ICU. I left my home, my dog, and my clients behind to be with my mom. I am an only child, and we have a tiny family, none who live nearby. In this difficult time I was reminded that adage friends are the family you choose, and we are so gratefully blessed for their support.
On March 1, when COVID-19 became a pandemic, and Governor Newsom declared restrictions in the state of California, my mom had just been discharged from another emergency stay in the hospital. Now, all of that hands-on support that carried me through for almost four months, a net of safety, was no longer available for either one of us.
I had to find caregivers that we could trust and bring joy to our household under great duress, and my mother lost all contact with the outside world as she knew it to be four months before her incident.
On March 12, 2020, my mother’s favorite nurse and his wife, who was retrieving my dog after four months from my home 400 miles from my Mom’s, lost one of his closest friends to COVID; he was 35 years old.
On March 13, as sheltering in place was being invoked, a very close friend passed due to Parkinson’s. There still has not been a funeral.
On March 29, one of my oldest friends lost his father to COVID. I couldn’t be there.
2020 has brought perhaps the most significant challenge to date in my life by becoming a caregiver for my mom, all the while wrestling with the impact COVID has had on her, me, and those I care about deeply. I am reconciling that the person who raised and taught me much of what I know now needs someone to take care of her. I was already learning new ways to navigate a new normal, but I had no idea how new my normal would become. There has been a tremendous transition for my Mom, her continued recovery, and her road towards independence during this pandemic.
I have made sure that my advanced health directive is up to date. If something were to happen to me, as I am also in the high-risk group for COVID, my mother would be taken care of and well-tended for all her needs. I maintain my mental and physical well-being by keeping up with daily practices that keep me grounded; these include daily writing of my gratitudes, walking the dogs, yoga, meditation, listening to music, eating healthy, working, and connecting with friends by phone. I take my mom on adventures when she is up to it, I share good programs, and we listen to music. We go through the attics of our lives together, sifting through old photos and letters, and share in a lot of laughter. I keep a list of things I want to do, the items” if I only had enough time,” and slowly move through them and enjoy the journey. The tough issues requiring my immediate attention months ago with my mom’s care and her life situation are now stable; we now have our new normal.
Sure, things change, other things become integrated into our lives; today’s issues are often tomorrow’s solutions. You have to know what battles to choose and where to expend your energy for the greatest good. I try to keep perspective and that the rough times in our history too shall pass. I remind myself that I am inconvenienced at the very worst but that the crucial things are intact: my family, friends, health, and work. I do my part, and see to it that others do as well, to wear a mask when the situation deems it necessary. My routine has pivoted. I have found pleasure in the simpler things in life, the things that really matter.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I was re-entering work after a long stint, due to my mom’s illness, and I wanted to get back to work just as the world was shutting down. I had already let go of some projects, and I only had a few clients that I continued to see during that time. I realized that my consulting and client work would be less to none. I saw this happen during the Great Recession. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do to reconnect, and I wanted to use this crisis to help other people. I recognized this worldwide crisis is completely altering everyone’s life, so what would be appropriate? I decided to reach out.
I wanted to be a beacon of hope for the people and the business community I cared about, and see what I could do to add value to them, per gratis. I made myself available by providing a sounding board, offering to help them set their priorities for the next 45–60 days. I helped them find their resiliency in this time of uncertainty by recognizing and sharing with them that I know it’s hard to plan while this is going on. I offered to help them find ways to keep them moving forward. It started with a simple phone call, “Hi, It’s Arianne reaching out and see how you are doing. I am offering pro bono sessions to think through stuff and support you during this time. I have time available. If this is of interest to you, I would love to help.” You can imagine what I listened to on the other line. It brings tears to my eyes right now, recalling some of those conversations.
I can hear their sighs of relief, their crackling voices as they held back their tears that someone cared and recognized their pain. I gave them the space to unload some of their burdens, the gratitude, and the sharing of how they were making changes. Their answers told me a lot about how they were handling their business in this time of uncertainty, and I would call back a few weeks later and be amazed by their progress. Helping them take action to improve their situation supported them in getting back control of their lives. I sat on calls while people filled out their PPPs (public-private partnership). I helped navigate the laws as they dealt with many employee issues, helping two clients prevent potential lawsuits. I read up on about half a dozen industries to guide my clients on how they could navigate their new normal. Anything I could do to meet them where they were at was my mission.
The second thing I did was more out of my frustration with what John Maxell would call the “thinking gap,” which essentially says that how a person thinks determines almost everything about their success. Like John, I, too, believe there is always an answer. My answer to this was starting a kindness campaign. I am not very sophisticated in social media, and I tend to move away from that landscape rather than towards it, but I recognize how it can be an advocacy tool and an easy method to reach out to people. I enlisted my friend Liz, a webmaster and graphic designer, to help me “spread kindness, not the virus”, in the spirit of what I call the positivity of covidity. She helped me design a pin that said, “Be Kind” based on a variation of my logo, and a callout for people to connect with me, and I would send them a pin. All I requested was for them to please wear, post, and share. I must have sent over 100 pins pretty quickly, but it slowed down as soon as it was released that possibly the virus could spread by droplets on our mail. I didn’t give up on my message, so for three months, almost every day we posted quotes on kindness, and it was my way to remove the counterproductive thinking I heard in the news, from my friends and clients, and replace that with gratitude for the abundance of what we do have.
Now, six months later, I continue to pivot along with my clients. I invested back into my business by enrolling myself in a course creator program and platform, as I knew I would have to level up my offerings. I started working with a new coach whose energy and ethics sparked me, and I hired a social media manager, which was the hardest thing for me to do. As I mentioned, social media is not an integrated part of my life, or business, until now. I had a humble list of followers with who I share my Insights, my newsletter, and having been absent from this forum since November of 2019, had some shame in being silent for all that time. I had Liz post for me on FB and LinkedIn from time to time, but I virtually had no online presence. I had tried to hire social media people in the past. For various reasons, they didn’t resonate with my work ethic or brand, I didn’t have the patience, and I didn’t understand enough about what it would take, so I let this avenue for business growth go. I knew I had to push through this block if I were to make it happen in this new normal. I reached out to a younger group of friends whose values were similar to mine, who upheld the very principles I believe in, and I found Abbey, my social media manager extraordinaire. I am broadening out, doing this interview with you is an example of that.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Yes, anxiety, fear, overwhelm, and worry are rampant. I can admit that during this time, I, too, have cycled through these emotions. Some emotions I experienced right away, others surfaced over time. Depending on the day, one could be notably stronger than another. Feelings under great stress are normal, and I know that I am ok even in the midst of them. There is no denying that COVID- 19 has brought an emotional, mental, and physical toll on us all.
When adversity strikes, we have a choice to either give in to our emotions or hit pause. At the same time, this does not mean we do not experience various emotions, but they do not have to control us. This was taught to me, and my grandparents modeled it; how we handle adversity defines who become. Take that moment to breathe, hit pause to reduce that primal response. By gripping at fear and worrying about whether or not something will work out, puts it in check, and enables us to reflect and respond from a place of peace within, to have self-compassion.
I am sure you are familiar with Brené Brown. I have referred many friends to her podcast, Unlocking Us, which she launched in March. Her ability to share with her listeners on vulnerability, especially during this time, often goes back to getting out of fears and shame. By showing empathy for ourselves, which I think is perhaps one of the greatest gifts, we can give ourselves. We must practice self-care.
Like I have done for my clients and community members, I reach out to my loved ones and see what I can do to help. They know I care. I try to role model and be a leader for them, provide resources when appropriate, and get them to move through. One of my greatest strengths is being an activator. I believe in action, and action will make things happen, so I try to keep things moving and meet my friends where they are at, with a gentle nudge. My most significant support to my family and loved ones who were feeling anxious, think, is to listen to them. To ask them, “what is one thing you can do to feel better today?” I would then follow-up, and their sense of accomplishing that one thing almost always got them through their upset.
We have much to be grateful for, we live in a world of abundance. I remind myself and others to focus on what we have, whatever that may be, and find a place in our hearts for gratitude. Several of my friends have lost their jobs over the past several months, many of my clients as well, and I work hard not to let them fall into the rabbit hole of despair, self-pity, and external anger for their circumstances. I know sometimes they get frustrated with my reframing, but I don’t stop. I always ask them, “What is one thing you can do to be thankful for or share appreciation with?” By focusing on good things in our lives instead of dwelling on the negative, we can move forward.
These things are also valid for my small business and solopreneurs. If anyone knows this all too well in how change is inevitable, it is them, and that perhaps more than ever, it is their time to shine! I have to remind them of their beginnings, how they built their success, and that they already know how to differentiate themselves and their business; they did it when they started. It’s my job to remind them they can do it again and build them back up so they can propel forward. I want them to remember they are resilient and get power from their experiences. Perhaps most importantly, everything that we see, hear, taste, and smell is energy. We can make energetic shifts in our thoughts and beliefs — the force is with you; you have the power to control what matters.
Wherever you are on this journey, it’s going to be ok. I tell everyone, including myself, that these times are unusual. They are unprecedented and give us time to adapt and be flexible in new ways. With a growth mindset, you have the tools and the skillset to make a difference.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
One of the greatest opportunities I have witnessed is expansion of digital presence. From local non-profits to national foundations, these institutions are now able to push their message and raise awareness on a global scale. By eliminating the ability to put on events, we can now subsequently capture an even larger audience.
Another, more personal level of opportunity, can be seen in what many refer to as “work/life balance”. The ability to work from home has exposed that perhaps allowing employees freedom to set their hours and schedules can create a more efficient workflow, and thus a happier human. In addition to this notion, the world has slowed down to a pace where we are actually paying attention to what we are doing, rather than simply going through the motions. There seems to be a collective shift toward mindfulness, and it is exposing itself in the desire to partake in healthier actions. We’re doing yoga in the park, we’re getting off the couch and going for a walk, and more than anything, we’re buying BIKES! One of the greatest industries in the US right now is bicycle manufacturing and sales — isn’t that incredible?!
Last but not least, the climate of human connection has shifted. Tools that were once used solely for business, email, zoom, etc, are now being utilized to stay in touch with our contacts, regardless of distance. There is no more excuse that we simply can’t find the time, as a phone call can happen almost literally, anywhere you are.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Due to the pandemic, we as a nation and as a world have had to adapt quickly to survive, whether it’s how we shop, educate, work, conduct business, or interact socially, nearly every thing has changed. So, as a society, we have had to evolve rapidly and in certain areas for the better. While it is too early to assess the total impact of COVID, some people see that some of the changes appear to be efficient, result in cost-savings, and beneficial in ways. During this crisis, which is temporary, as we expect a vaccine in the future, we have shown the ability to adjust and adapt to a different way of life. Whether the changes to survive in this new economy will be permanent or not is unknown, but given the effort that government, businesses, and society have taken to keep lives functioning, I would assume some changes will be permanent and that people will adapt, accept, and accordingly behave differently.
Changes that might be permanent could be in the acceptance of face coverings when people are ill as manufacturers are now producing stylish masks for any and all occasions. The stigma of being seen in public with a mask hopefully will be eliminated, as has been the case in the far east and parts of Europe for years. There is an increased awareness of personal and public hygiene conditions so that businesses and individuals sanitize areas more frequently and observe public health. The use of technology has grown exponentially, from conducting activities such as banking, shopping, coursework and training, to addressing the medical needs for non-emergency situations and performing other professional services such as advice from attorneys, psychologists, or coaches. There are more online services, and I expect that traffic and related travel will continue to be minimized with fewer people on the roads. Outside social venues such as football and baseball games may resume to Pre-COVID times. Still, it is unknown what effect there may be related to indoor activities such as basketball games, restaurants, and bars. Perhaps room and venue capacities will be re-evaluated by our states as we learn more.
A critical factor in how we relate during a pandemic or any life situation goes back to how flexible are you/we are in life? How flexible are you at work? Do you have a growth mindset, or are you someone who is just there, going through the motions, or stagnant? You have to be willing to see possibilities and opportunities, the glass half full, to adapt. You may not know how to pivot exactly, but you are willing to give it a try. You are agile and willing to do the hard work. There are parts of life that are not easy, but we are all in the same ocean for the first time in our history. Our vessels may be different, but the vastness of uncertainty is facing all of us similarly.
I have heard beautiful stories of people reconnecting with loves ones, camp friends, college roommates, as they finally made the time to make that happen. I have seen people let go of their egos and all their facades of success to get back to the basics. I have friends and clients who have created hipster classrooms in their garages and storage units. Others have abandoned their brick and mortar businesses into Sprinter Vans, taking their trade on wheels. I have watched people who are always waiting for things to be “perfect” before they make their next move and finally let go of their ideal and seize the day.
We can focus on how upsetting this time is to get the frustrations out. Indeed, it is appropriate to grieve for what once was, but to linger in melancholy and become paralyzed does nothing but harm to you, your business, and community. We need to move on.
There is no denying that this new reality is a wild ride, but I say buckle up because it could be the best one of your life. I hope we will learn how to treat one another to be kinder and be more flexible and tolerant. It’s a choice. Let’s choose to learn from this pandemic and take away the positive learnings to change how we behave, act, and start that now!
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I know life has changed, but my mission has not. I have always held the notion that there is no work-life balance, that its all integrated. This is directly reflected in my coaching style. If there are certain aspects of your personal life that aren’t so great, this is likely to be directly reflected in your business. I like to refer to myself as an integrated business coach, where I assess every detail, incorporating your core values into your business model for the utmost success.
As I shared already, I am entering the world of social media with a new mindset. I am making sure that I have a team that supports my vision and brand, and I am working on being more open and personal every day. I am working with my team to grow my email list, increasing my outreach in progressive communities where I know my brand will resonate. We are creating new protocols and products that align with my brand. And to be honest, I am spending some of my savings to do this as I believe the work you put into taking care of your business now, will pay dividends later. Some may say it is risky, but if I cannot bet on myself, who can?
I am also using this time to take care of those business needs that I have put off or don’t want to dive into because they are not the “sexy” part of my business. For example, updating my contact list, organizing my files on my computer, and scanning documents to have less paper in my life and purging what I no longer need.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Have a growth mindset. With change, look for the opportunities where you can regenerate, and become revitalized. Learn to recognize when you are making assumptions. Change does not have to be your Everest; when we attach expectations that it will bring an easy solution is when we can lose sight. When the change doesn’t yield the solution we had hoped for, instead of being left disappointed, full of regret and wanting to give up, or longing for what once was, shift your mindset. Change provides opportunities that you may have never thought possible, as it is within the change that you can gain your most valuable lessons. Embracing it makes it a whole lot easier.
Determine where your business is in comparison to your strategic plan. If you don’t have one, now is the time to sit down and knock that out. It always helps to have a road map; you have to figure out where you are going. Start at the end, what you want to achieve, and work backward. Planning allows you to be on course for continued growth, profit, and a new normal. Your structure needs to be loose, and what I mean by that is flexible, anticipatory, and include contingency plans.
Have a support system, and if you don’t, build one. It is often helpful to talk to someone who knows your situation and can give you perspective, calm your fears, and keep you moving onward and upward.
Set your priorities, aligning them with your core values, focus on one thing at a time, and be kind to yourself.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I know it’s cliché, but for me, there is no alternative. I believe there’s always something good, always. I’m a positive person. And I think that rings through with everything we’ve been talking about in this interview. It shows that to make lemonade, you’ve got to think differently, you’ve got to act differently, and you’ve got to do it differently. So, that’s pivoting, you know, that’s changing, making you do something instead of pondering that all you have is lemons. Make lemonade, make lemon meringue pie, make a lemon tart, make lemon cookies, make margaritas with lemons instead of limes. I mean, it’s all kinds of stuff, it’s just what you do.
How can our readers further follow your work?
To continue to see my work and insights, follow my social channels: Facebook @implementingchange, Instagram @dr.arianneweiner, LinkedIn at Arianne Weiner, PhD and Implementing Change. You can also sign up for my mailing list through the link on my website home page, found at the beginning of this article. I look forward to connecting with you all!