As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Joanna Martin, Founder of One of Many. She is a renowned visionary, coach and catalyst; supporting women into the new global paradigm. Her message and work have directly impacted over 120,000 people on 4 different continents.
In 2014, Jo founded One of many to train, coach and support women around the world — empowering them to step up and lead the change they want to see without burning out. One of many has supported more than 70,000 women across the world, has an active community of over 12,000 members, and is now the fastest growing global leadership community for women.
Jo is also a committed financial investor in the work of The Hunger Project. A charity mobilizing rural grassroots communities to achieve sustainable progress in health, education, nutrition, and family income.
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?
I was born, educated and spent the first half of my career in Australia. After qualifying as a doctor I spent a number of months in oncology. It was there that the death of a very dear patient served as a wakeup call to get my life “on purpose”. Within 6 months I had swapped medicine for acting, and was accepted to the prestigious Actors Centre Australia, where alumni include Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman — although sadly they were not there at the same time as me!
Restless and increasingly curious about how people could be encouraged to transform their lives, I retrained in human psychology, behaviour and growth. In 2003 I launched and built a thriving coaching practice before I was headhunted by a leading global personal development company.
Fast forward several years and I had got married and had a baby. One of many was conceived in the uprush of creativity that often arrives at the birth of a new child — just when you have no time to do anything with the ideas!
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?
When I first started out I set myself lots of goals and I became so attached to them I started to become ‘needy’. I remember setting myself a goal that I wanted to make $5,000 a month and so I wrote ‘$5,000’ all around the house. I’d open the linen cupboard and ‘$5,000’ would jump out at me, and all that served to do was make me needy and desperate. I’d be going out to parties on a Saturday night with friends and all i could think about was where my next client was coming from. I was turning into this needy freak and it was not even slightly helpful. So I don’t set goals anymore. I have intentions that I’m working towards, but I don’t set definite goals and I certainly don’t pin them up around the house to remind me what I should be doing. Instead I listen into my heart to know what the right next thing is, and keep listening inwards rather than setting goals from my head.
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?
A core element of my approach is collaboration so it’s really difficult to single out a particular person. There’s no way I’d be able to do what I do without my support network: my husband Greg, my sister, our nanny, the One of Many community, there’s just no way I’d be able to lead and live in my soft power without my network.
But if there’s one person without whose contribution and support none of this would be possible: it’s my husband Greg. Greg was meant to have left the business earlier this year to pursue his own dreams — but he stayed and between us we have managed to pivot the entire company, take care of and home-school two small children and handle the million and one other demands of a growing business and young family. He is my rock.
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?
I am passionate about purpose and about helping the women in our community not just to identify their’s, but empowering them to fulfil it. One of many is about empowering purpose driven change.
My vision is of a world where there is parity of leadership. Where there are as many women leaders in the world as there are men. But many women currently don’t want to participate the way things are, so they are opting out. If we want women in leadership positions then the culture needs to change — across politics, business, society — and those cultural changes will create a far better world to live in for everyone.
I don’t expect this is going to happen for a generation, One of many is sowing the seeds now by supporting, encouraging and training this generation of women to step-up and inspire the next generation of women leaders.
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?
One of many provides powerful training and coaching with the side benefit of really deep personal connections and friendships that are forged at our events. Our biggest event is our annual conference. This year it was scheduled for 14–15th March, the 500+ tickets had sold out within hours of our booking page going live and 30% of our annual turnover comes from sales made during the conference. By early March, a UK lockdown had yet to be announced but I was increasingly nervous about putting over 500 women at risk by going ahead with an in-person event. And so, in spite of the terrifying potential business consequences, at 4.30pm on Thursday 12 March — 36 hours before I was due to walk on stage — I postponed the live event.
My team was fully prepared and ready to go, but suddenly we not only had to manage the logistics of the postponement, we also had to decide whether to try and organize a virtual event. Difficult doesn’t really do justice to the next 36 hours. The training team travelled from across the country to convene at my house and over the next 24 hours, we created a brand new, two day, live streamed event: ‘Clarity in Chaos’, offered it for free to disappointed delegates, our entire community and beyond, built a livestream studio in my house, created an entirely new product range: an online coaching and training membership programme — Living the Change — to launch at the event. Instead of the 500 women we had been expecting live, over 2000 women registered for the event.
This was just the start of an extraordinary year, and the team have been amazing, because the foundations of our team are built on soft power. Releasing ‘negative’ emotions; handling crises; avoiding overwhelm and prioritising self-care and time to replenish — these are all core elements of how we work.
Plus my team get a huge buzz from seeing the transformation that our work causes in the lives of the women we serve. Our sense of a shared vision and purpose is a key ingredient of what makes our team so strong and cohesive.
And…dancing! Every team meeting, every One of many event — even now they’re virtual — features dancing!
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
This year has been hard, but I’ve never considered giving up.
Covid-19 hit hours before I was due to walk on stage to open our annual conference. We had to cancel the conference and the other face-to-face events we had scheduled for 2020. Without events to run I had no choice but to furlough 40% of the team. And I had to rapidly pivot the business, create and launch new online offers and repurpose our existing training so it could be delivered virtually. Doing all of this, with almost half the team on furlough and homeschooling two under-8s, has been the single, biggest professional challenge I’ve ever faced.
Two things have sustained me — my purpose and the women in the One of many community.
In those moments where it has gotten really hard — and there have been a lot of those in 2020 — knowing my purpose has kept me on track. In those moments the voice in the back of my head immediately shouts “come on, you’re sowing the seeds for a cultural paradigm shift!”.
I’m not the only woman who has found 2020 hard. Early on in the pandemic One of many made a submission to the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into the unequal impact of COVID-19 and the response to it. We asked our community to share their lived experiences and included those in our submission to the committee. Reading the final submission still moves me to tears, but it also inspired me to create a new programme for One of many — Living the Change — to support and coach women through this unprecedented moment.
Knowing my purpose is benefiting the women in our Community and taking us a step closer to the paradigm shift we need, is a huge motivation.
The challenges of 2020 have also highlighted why we need that shift. The praise women leaders have earned during the global crisis, provides clear evidence of the difference women can and do make in our world.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Don’t burn out. Leadership can be demanding, doubly so if you’re operating with 40% less staff and reduced revenue. The temptation to work harder, fill in for furloughed staff and come up with new products and services can be overwhelming.
When you’re spread too thin, lots of little sacrifices made over time can gradually add up. You might find yourself feeling frazzled, forgetful and exhausted. Your executive function starts to suffer, as you juggle multiple deadlines and demands. And eventually, that stress can take a more serious toll — burnout, exhaustion, and a feeling of chronic overwhelm.
Know your boundaries, set them with your colleagues and yourself. Protect the time you have to do activities — the gym, crafting, walking the dog — that rejuvenate and refresh you. Indulge in things that inspire you and light your spark. Real leadership — particularly in challenging times — is less about skill, and more about having a well of physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual strength to draw on.
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?
In moments of uncertainty a leader needs to provide a clear vision of the future beyond the chaos. They also need a path forward — with at least two or three steps marked out — that the team can follow. This is what I describe as ‘clean energy’, the ability to provide clarity and stability for your team. People also want to know you’re human, and that’s where vulnerability plays a part. It’s not the first characteristic that springs to mind when most people think of leadership, but it’s important to your authenticity as a leader.
For months a lot of us have been wearing our “everything’s okay” mask. “Everything’s fine!”, “I’ve got this handled!” — even if you haven’t, and most of us haven’t. So if you’re wearing your ‘everything’s okay mask’ and your colleagues are not okay, what impact might that have on them, on their confidence, on their motivation?
Then imagine if they knew that their leader was also experiencing stress. Maybe they’d feel less stressed. Imagine if they knew that leaders found difficult decisions difficult to execute, maybe they’d have more confidence to make decisions and not delegate up. What if they could relate the emotional strain they feel to how you also feel. Would they think less of their boss? Or would they be more secure, more engaged, more productive?
Sharing your vulnerability is uncomfortable. But demonstrating your authenticity alongside a clear vision and a path forward, will inspire, motivate and engage your team.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Delivering any news face to face may not be an option right now, but video is. Record short, regular updates. Open yourself up to regular Q&A from your teams. Ensure your managers and your staff have the right tools to maintain contact by video. And if you have to deliver bad news to your staff, do it before they have a chance to hear it from elsewhere.
For customers and colleagues the key is sincerity and speed. Be empathetic and genuine, share what detail you can, and apologise for the news.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
It’s challenging, but one way to plan is through scenario planning. We can’t know what will happen because right now it is so unpredictable we can’t foresee what the government will decide or what restrictions we will have to live by in three months time. So the best thing we can do is to be working multiple scenarios at the same time. You also need to consistently remind your team that yes, we’re working scenario A at the moment but we have plans to move to scenario B if X happens. Always make sure the team knows there’s a back up plan, that you’re ready and prepared to switch to plan B or plans C and D if necessary.
The scenarios and your responses to each scenario can be worked out with your team. This approach will help bring your team with you and provide reassurance that you’re all on the same page in a very unpredictable time.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Companies have to know they are making a contribution to making the world better and more sustainable.
We live in a time where there is a huge lack of sustainability in every area. Our political systems, the corporate world and our societies, are inadequate to the challenges we are facing and they require cultural change.
Companies need to know how — what they do — is making the world better. If you’re not doing something that will make the world better, more sustainable, then it just doesn’t have longevity. If it doesn’t have longevity then it’s not going to survive the sort of turbulence we’re experiencing right now.
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?
A mistake I see business leaders make is to believe that in a crisis they need to take control of everything. The more a leader tries to stay on top and make decisions on revenue, products, staff safety, communications, the less room there is for collaboration. Their team then begins to feel alienated, and management enters a vicious cycle. The leader feels they have to do everything, the team stops making decisions because they feel alienated, and so the leader feels they have to do even more. This invariably ends in burnout.
I’ve spoken to a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners since the pandemic started, and one of the questions I am frequently asked is ‘should I stop or reduce my selling?’. I understand why people can feel it’s inappropriate to sell when people are ill, losing their jobs or seeing their income reduce, but my advice is an unequivocal ‘no’. Yes people might have less money to spend, but businesses, particularly entrepreneurs who have a bespoke offer, need to think about their services as an investment. You’re asking customers to invest in themselves, their skills, their wellbeing, and their future.
One mistake that applies to business leaders and entrepreneurs alike, relates to needs. We have two sets of needs. Stable needs — relationship, home, job — and replenishable needs — sleep, food, exercise. In normal times our stable needs only require periodic review, leaving us with time to focus on our replenishable needs. However in more difficult times our stable needs become unstable and we are forced to focus on them and we neglect our replenishable needs. When we neglect our replenishable needs we become unwell, less productive and we risk burning out.
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’ll confess, I’m not great at the numbers, but thankfully I have an extraordinary person who provides me with monthly reports and my meetings with her are the most important in my diary. She makes it incredibly easy for me to understand how we are performing and where we need to focus, and that means I can focus my strengths where they’re most needed.
We have weekly marketing meetings where we review and track our performance in terms of growth and engagement in the One of many community; and evaluate the effectiveness of our marketing in reaching prospective community members and take-up of our training events.
Finally, listening. I’m incredibly fortunate to have an online community of over 12,000 women. Their honesty and compassion are incredibly important to informing the strategy of One of many. But it’s a two way street, by being honest and open with us, I am able to respond and tailor our programmes to their needs and thereby support those women to develop, grow and lead the change they want to see.
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.
- Stay relevant to your purpose — if you know your purpose and know that everything you are doing is geared toward the fulfilment of that purpose, you will be clear in the goals you set for your business, yourself and your team. When I first started in business I did have to push myself through because I wasn’t as aligned to my purpose as I am now. But I now know my purpose and I have a vision for the world that I deeply care about. So in those moments where it gets really hard — and there have been a lot of those, especially in the last six months — they don’t last.
- Stand down your superhero — I’m one of many women who know burnout first hand. In fact, once upon a time I’d been running on adrenaline for so long, I ended up in hospital. Take off the ‘i’m doing fine’ mask and let soft power be your super strength. This isn’t the time for heroics, it’s a time for collaboration.
- Make time for inspiration — don’t become a victim of ‘i’m too busy’. “We were not made by Nature to work, or even to play, from eight o’clock in the morning till midnight. We throw a strain upon our system which is unfair and improvident.”. Winston Churchill said that, not me. He was a leader who made time for his hobbies, like painting, and it strengthened him. The time you have for the activities that replenish and recharge you, will give you the energy you need to complete a task far more effectively than working through the hour you had set aside for the gym.
- Recognise the signs of burnout — feeling tired all the time, not able to think straight, feeling alone, feeling constricted, having physical symptoms — headaches, tightness in your throat — and feeling you’ve failed. Earlier this year, after months of pivoting One of many, home schooling and the stress and anxiety of living through a global pandemic, I began to recognise many of these signs in myself. So I cancelled what I could, depriorotised some things and took a couple of days off. The sky did not fall in, we continued to grow, and I was able to recharge and focus on what we needed to deliver in the second half of 2020.
- Know your strengths and build a team around your weaknesses. You might be a fantastic public speaker and therefore a great public face of your business. But if you’re not, have someone in your team who is. If marketing isn’t your strength but strategic planning is, hire a great marketeer so you can focus on devising a great plan that your marketing manager can then sell.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I found this quote on a graphic a couple of years ago and I like it because it captures why the work of One of many is so vital, “ Burnout won’t look like we expect. Burnout will tell us “I’m bad at this” or “I don’t even like it or care about it”. This can cause people to abandon a career instead of seeking rest or support.”
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read that quote, I still find it incredible that in society, in business and in politics, we perpetuate a culture where competition rather than cooperation is prized. Competition creates pressure, and pressure is the root cause of burnout. The result? We lose hugely talented leaders because they think they’re simply not cut out for senior roles — when in fact, burnout’s the culprit.
Changing the way we work isn’t a small project. But it’s one that I’m convinced isn’t just worth doing. It’s essential if we’re going to be able to fully make the most of our capabilities to solve the massive challenges we’re facing.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I blog regularly on our website oneofmany.co.uk
And every Tuesday I do a a lunch and learn on Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/OneOfManyWomen