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 Genevieve Piturro.
Genevieve is a professional speaker, consultant, and author of Purpose, Passion, and Pajamas: How to Transform Your Life, Embrace the Human Connection, and Lead with Meaning. She was a TV executive in NYC for 20 years when a little girl’s question changed the course of her life — and she jumped off the corporate ladder. She began delivering pajamas and books to children in shelters and in 2001 founded Pajama Program, a national non-profit which to date has delivered 7 million new pajamas and new books to children. Genevieve has been interviewed on various national media including OPRAH, TODAY, GMA, CNN, Fox & Friends, O Magazine and Forbes and is the recipient of many awards. Piturro delivered her first TEDx talk entitled, “1 Idea + The Human Connection = 7 Million Pajamas and Books” in August.
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 a TV executive in NYC for 20 years when a little girl’s question changed the course of my life — and I jumped off the corporate ladder. I began delivering pajamas and books to children in shelters and in 2001 founded Pajama Program, a national non-profit with 63 chapters in the US and 7 million new pajamas and new books delivered to children.
I am now taking my 20 years of experience running Pajama Program to work as a professional speaker and consultant to help others discover their true passions and purpose like I did.
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 decided to make my speaking reel, I knew I had to have professional videographers at my speaking engagements taking the video. No more “do it yourself” tripods or asking audience members to take video of me on their phones! I went to great lengths finding the best local videographers and balancing and re-balancing my budget to afford the cost because I felt it was necessary to produce the best sample reel I could. Several of my presentations were (and still are) keynotes at meal events. awards dinners, breakfasts, and luncheon ceremonies. I’ll never forget the first time I hired a videographer and spent money I didn’t have on the best one in the area…Even though my speech came after the meal was technically finished, the noise and visual from the servers clearing made it look like I was speaking in a bustling restaurant kitchen! To make matters worse, I wandered around the room when I spoke to get closer to my audience and make eye contact with as many people as I could. You can’t imagine how disappointed and embarrassed I was to view the video with my mentors as they watched me swerve to avoid crashing into the waiters, trip over fallen silverware and duck to avoid high trays being carried into the kitchen! Thankfully we all had a good laugh over it…and I know better now!
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?
My mother for her loving support and for showing me what a good night routine is. My father for his work ethic, strength and teaching me determination. My husband for teaching me mediation and the ability to create clarity in my thoughts and the little girl I met in a shelter over 20 years ago who taught me what hope is.
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?
In the very beginning, the main focus of Pajama Program was to bring pajamas to children in group homes as a way to bring them comfort. That focus grew to include a Bill of Rights that every child is entitled to. They include the right to a sense of stability and security and the right to a comforting bedtime routine including a book and storytime.
“For all the reasons mom’s the world over put kids in pajamas at bedtime, I knew these children had a right to the same ritual. The phrase ‘Put your pajamas on’ conveys a million loving feelings, and these children had a right to have at least a few of those feelings, even if they came from a stranger.” Genevieve Piturro, Purpose, Passion & Pajamas
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?
I was always envious of those who were successful right out of the gate, the lucky ones who hit it big at the start. I tried to copy them because I thought they had the secret formula I wanted. I gave away my power and my originality, not realizing I was never going to make it that way — their way. The day in 2007 when the stock market hit bottom, so many who depended on that money, lost everything because they thought they could always count on those few supporters. And that day I was so grateful for my slow and steady growth, relying more on my ideas and ideas of those around me to keep us going in good times and bad.
As I built my marketing career, then Pajama Program and now my own Author/Speaker platform, I benefit from the lesson I learned in 2007:
Slow and steady builds a stronger brand.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I had many sleepless nights and moments of self-doubt but the more time I spent with the children and the more my eyes were opened, I knew that I could not stop. I knew that I had found my true purpose in life, a purpose that would propel me day and night. The children were my motivation.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Empathy and the ability to connect with others.
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?
Include everyone! When you create a team mentality and celebrate the wins and small victories with enthusiasm it motivates everyone else.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
With honesty and authenticity.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
You have to set goals in shorter timeframes and celebrate all the positives. Take your quarterly goals to monthly and sometimes the monthly goals need to be condensed to weekly — looking too far out during challenging times can be daunting. Oh and trust in the universe and know that tough times do pass.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay authentic to your mission and be flexible.
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?
Rely too heavily on donors without other areas of financial support. The day in 2007 when the stock market hit bottom, so many who depended on that money, lost everything because they thought they could always count on those few supporters. And that day I was so grateful for my slow and steady growth, relying more on my ideas and ideas of those around me to keep us going in good times and bad.
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?
When COVID hit, many of my in-person speaking engagements were postponed, cancelled or moved to virtual. It was disappointing as I was so excited to give my first TEDx Talk to a live audience! But I quickly adjusted, embraced zoom, coordinate a series of masterclasses to help others and executed a 2-day leadership summit for others to share their best practices for managing teams during a pandemic. All was a success! Being creative and having the ability to take a risk on something new to stay relevant is the best strategy for forging ahead.
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.
Empathy • Human Connection • Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway • Listening • Authenticity
Embrace the Human Connection
In the past 20 years, I have seen extraordinary things happen when people meet face-to-face. That’s because it’s here we begin to connect heart to heart. The human connection has inexplicable power. It can be profound and transforming, and it always evokes respect. It is in these moments when we lead with meaning, that we move mountains, and more significantly, it’s when we move people.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
Any major leap takes courage, faith, and an ability to train yourself to look up when your instinct is to look down. Whether you jump off the corporate ladder, change your life in another way, or simply make a commitment to try something new, fear will creep into your brain and your body. If your heart is crystal clear, put it in the driver’s seat. Your brain will figure out how to make peace with it and help you thrive under these new circumstances. But expect nothing to be the same. You, your relationships, and your work will be transformed. And transformation can lead to more fulfillment . . . for everyone involved.
Empathy: I think we all need to know what makes each other tick, feel good, smile, relax and look forward to, in order to nurture a cohesive team to rally for each other and meet goals together.
Stay authentic to yourself. Trying to be something you are not will never be sustainable.
Listening to the needs of others will help you make thoughtful and smart decisions when it comes to leadership.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That’s easy — I keep it on my desk as it inspires me every day. It was a gift from my husband when I was first starting Pajama Program. It’s about commitment written by Goethe.
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.
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