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 René Murata. As the owner and CEO of two businesses, CEO Essence and Risk Integrity Safety Knowledge, INC, René Murata knows a thing or two about guiding with both purpose and compassion. Working to encourage more women to speak out and take charge, she hopes to show that collaboration and cooperation definitely do have a place in decisive leadership.
René Murata has only ever had one boss that was a positive role model, while many others sought only to belittle those they managed. But she knows from experience that in order to get the best out of people, you need to listen well, communicate effectively, and understand the power of your words. René teaches women how to incorporate the best of the masculine and feminine energies in leadership, using a methodology that seeks to empower both manager and managed.
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 actually started in gas and oil working for someone else, and I was appalled at how people were treated, both employees and clients. I decided that I didn’t want to work with someone like that, so, I started my own business.
Once on my own, other women started coming to me to mentor them, women from a wide variety of industries. It was due to comments from some of these women, in addition to years of being “different,” that I began to realize that my leadership style is unique.
Once I’d had that realization, I started really looking at the differences between mine and others’ leadership styles, defining them, and putting them into words. I started building processes and outlining steps to help others lead in a compassionate manner, to show people that they are capable of leading in a fundamentally different way to that which they have seen, experienced or been taught previously.
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?
A funny mistake…hmmm. Well, with both of my companies, I make all my own travel arrangements. One time I showed up at my hotel and I was not scheduled until the next day. They were fully booked that evening, so I found myself in a strange city, at 11:00pm with nowhere to go! Thankfully, they helped me find a room at a nearby hotel for the night. My takeaway? NEVER book my travel plans at 2:00am.
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 husband is my hero. When I started Risk Integrity Safety Knowledge, Inc (RISK, Inc), we had physical custody of our 18 month old grandson. We knew that there would be a lot of travel involved for me, and he worked crazy shifts. I almost didn’t start my business. But he insisted that we could hire a nanny and make it work. Then, after 18 months, he left his job and became a stay-at-home grandpa so that I could pursue my career.
Not only did he support me at home, he came to work for me and took on the role of COO, too. Today, he is retired from RISK, teaching Pilates, and still taking care of the kids.
When I started to talk about CEO Essence, he encouraged me to do it. He has seen first-hand how I lead versus the leadership of his past employers, and he also knows how focused I am on feminine leadership, compassionate leadership, and leadership in which I (and others) can claim both our masculine and feminine qualities.
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?
There is a story behind each of the companies that I currently own and operate, and actually one led to the other.
My husband and brother-in-law worked in the same oil refinery as me, and they were both involved in an incident that could have been quite serious. At the time, I was working as an assistant engineer, so I started helping the unit engineers with what is called Process Safety Management, a regulatory process that helps drive safety in sites with hazardous chemicals.
During that time, I was working for someone else. However, after a couple of years, I decided to start my own company based on several things:
- I felt that all employees could be and should be treated in a respectful manner.
- I felt that our clients should also be treated with respect, and I wanted to create connections with them that extended beyond a single project.
- I was tired of quotas being the driving force behind the perceived value of an employee.
- I felt unappreciated, misunderstood, and unheard by the men that I worked with and for at the company I was with at the time, even though my clients had a high opinion of me.
So, when I started RISK, Inc, it was about both creating a safe environment for people that worked in the realm of hazardous chemicals, as well as a safe environment for those supporting that effort. I also wanted to raise the bar on the quality and consistency of the work we were doing. With that focus, I provide a lot of training and cross-training to my team to establish and maintain those things.
Then, a few years into RISK, a couple of things happened. First, I realized that my company was predominantly women (a rarity in this particular male-dominated industry). Second, several women outside of my niche asked me to mentor them. With this in mind, I began to understand that my leadership style was different, that it hinged on compassion.
These “ah-ha!” moments encouraged me to start looking more closely at what leadership training WAS available for women. Really, there was nothing. Sure, there were training programs that said “feminine leadership” or “leadership for women,” but they were really the old style leadership with a pretty bow on top.
I recognized that to be at their most inspirational, women needed to be taught leadership differently to men. When a woman learns leadership the way a man is taught, oftentimes what I see is that she eventually fails, burns out or, at best, is just plain ineffective. We are not men. We are wired differently. So, CEO Essence was founded, the focus of which is on helping women become the CEO of their lives by stepping into their essence.
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?
2018 was a tough year for me personally and professionally. There was a lot going on in my life in many areas, and I don’t know if one thing impacted my decisions more than another. In any case, I ended up making some poor staffing choices and almost lost RISK. Concurrently, I was starting up CEO Essence, and the almost-failure of RISK made it challenging for me to feel confident about starting CEO Essence. I developed imposter syndrome.
Anyway, I let go of a couple of people in RISK and sat down with the rest of my team to let them know where things were financially, what I was doing about it, and what they could do about it, too. One person left, but the others stayed, rolled up their sleeves, and made a commitment to rebuilding RISK. Likewise, with CEO Essence, I hired a business strategist to help me organize some of the various things that I was working on. As a result, I was able to get myself realigned with what I had seen, heard and been told, and launched my business… without imposter syndrome.
What I learned from those experiences is that I can allow myself to be vulnerable on occasion and ask for help. I was trying to do everything… which is a classic female behavior! I now realize I had fallen into a trap that I have since helped other women get out of.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Have I ever considered giving up? Hundreds of times at first! And then dozens of times during 2018. However, both of my businesses serve a higher purpose than just making money. RISK helps protect employees in hazardous chemical industries as well as the public and the environment from those same chemicals, while CEO Essence teaches people, both men and women, that compassionate leadership is powerful, accessible and necessary.
Maybe it is a little on the idealistic side to say that I want my children and grandchildren to inherit a world where people value each other, the planet and other living creatures, but I do.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Ooh, how to pick one thing? I suppose it would have to be holding the vision.
To hold the vision of a company is probably the single most important thing that a leader can do. During challenging times, it is easy to cut corners and to forget to treat people as human beings with families and mortgages.
However, focusing on the bottom dollar can take you into a downward spiral emotionally when things are tough. It can be so easy to get caught up in the challenges and forget that your greatest asset is your team. So, hold onto the vision of the company and encourage your team to do the same, and that will bring guidance, ideas, and solutions that are in alignment with that vision. Sometimes, the solutions can be surprising.
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?
Tell the truth of the matter and engage your team in solutions. When you treat people as intelligent, capable and worthy human beings, they show up 100%. It’s amazing what ideas other people will come up with, IF you allow them to.
By engaging them in the solution, they become motivated to work towards finding ways to renew, re-imagine, or reinvent the company, or even create a new division in the company.
No matter what you do, bring compassion into the room with you. When you bring compassion into a tough conversation, it is easier for the person receiving the message to hear it, and, in fact, easier for an actual conversation to ensue in which valuable information may be shared. Bringing compassion into the conversation acknowledges that the person across from you is human. Period.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
With compassion and honesty. When I say compassion, I am not saying “bleeding heart.” I am talking about communication that maintains an awareness of the fact that people are going to have strong feelings, such as fear, anger and frustration, and that those feelings are valid. So go into situations and conversations with the understanding that your team members have feelings, and acknowledge that not everyone is good at controlling or managing their emotions. In fact, most people have no idea how to do that. So, first, be aware.
Second, be honest. And when I say honesty, I don’t mean that every sordid detail has to be relayed. It just means that you don’t hide, cover or lie about the truth of what is happening. People KNOW when they are being lied to, so don’t.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
That is a difficult question, and I think it depends on the business. But, ultimately, I believe that businesses can pivot and deliver a new model. For example, with RISK, pre-COVID we would travel to different sites and hold our sessions in person, but post-COVID, we use ZOOM, Microsoft Teams and Skype.
For things that we would normally go out into the plant to review, we rely on the site personnel to go out and look at various things and then come back and report, in detail, on what they observed. If possible, they also take photos and bring those back to show the team.
What I think that people can do but which I don’t see done very often, is teach their teams about mindset. Companies and employers need to start engaging their people in mindset activities that help hold the vision for the company. You don’t have to engage everyone, but if you can then why not? At the very least you should consider the management group.
When you engage everyone in activities that boost their mindset and hold the vision of the company, you are putting into action the Law of Attraction. This supports the company, and more importantly, it supports your people.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Use, speak, be, and listen with compassion. Compassion is not weak. It does not mean giving into something and someone in order to “help” them. It does not mean that you have to operate with a “bleeding heart.” What it does mean is that you look at and treat other human beings with dignity, respect and kindness. Compassion will take you further than any other trait I can think of.
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?
- Going into reaction mode. That knee jerk reaction is a killer, almost every time. You see, when you are in reaction mode, you can’t think outside the box for new solutions. In fact, it is hard to think at all when you are coming from a place of fear. Again, focusing on the vision of the company will help people come out of reaction mode and into response mode.
- Not engaging the team in the solution is another mistake you see a lot of employers and managers making. People are quite innovative when they are treated as intelligent, capable, worthy beings, and they will very often step up to the plate when given the chance. So encourage your teams to hold brainstorming sessions, and encourage brainstorming across teams. Crazy good things can happen if you do. But if you don’t engage your team, they will inevitably start to feel your stress and then begin to wonder if their jobs are on the line. This leads to all kinds of mental health issues.
- Finally, not talking to people outside of your circle can cause a whole host of problems, too. So find a mentor or coach who has been there and talk through whatever is happening to you and your business with them. You’ll come to realize that, most times, people will have gone through something similar themselves. Plus, some of the biggest names in business use a coach or have a mentor, so why not you? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
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 sit down with my team and discuss alternate ways of conducting business, and ways that we could bring new value to our clients to help them with the burden of today’s business environment. That conversation is an open ended, brainstorming conversation, which acts as an open invitation to everyone to think about and offer ideas that support the company.
I engage my team in this way on a routine basis, so that together we can look for ways to streamline things within our organization, reduce costs and improve efficiency in-house.
I also cross-train, and this allows everyone within the organization to support each other. For example, my marketing director will often support the facilitators in completing reports. Cross-training allows me to keep my people actively engaged and gainfully employed.
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.
1. Be compassionate, because people are scared. They don’t know if they are going to keep their job or not. They don’t know if they are going to be able to pay rent or put food on the table if they DO lose their jobs. So, be compassionate, and be aware of the emotions going on and the potential impact on mental health.
When RISK was at its worst, I sat down with each employee and let them know what was going on, what I was doing about it, and whether or not they could anticipate having a job in the near future. One employee was so relieved, he almost started to cry. He told me that just knowing made him feel better, because it allowed him to look at the situation objectively and make educated decisions. Not knowing, on the other hand, had led his mind down some crazy paths.
2. Be honest. People are smart. They know when you are lying to them, or even just hiding something. They don’t necessarily need to know all of the gory details, but they certainly deserve the truth.
As I started to focus more on CEO Essence, it took some of my time away from RISK. For my team, who were accustomed to seeing me work 60+ hours a week, they started to get curious. At first, they would say: “Well, you’ve earned the right to work less hours.” However, I always sensed a little passive aggressiveness in that statement. So, I told them: “My time is split between RISK and my new passion, CEO Essence,” and they have since been very supportive of my new venture.
3. You should always show gratitude, for everything and everyone. All the time. You have to remember that people are scared and unsure of their future. If they feel appreciated, it helps their mental health. And, if you live life deliberately, gratefully, and people see you doing so, it spills over into their lives.
I choose joy. But, as you have seen in some of my answers, life hasn’t always been a joy for me. However, it is what I choose. During the time when RISK was at its worst, I made a conscious decision to live my life joyfully, even with the uncertainty of RISK closing. I didn’t know what I was going to do if I did lose it. But I knew that worrying all of the time was killing me, my marriage and some very valuable relationships. As soon as I started to focus on joy and appreciation and began letting my team and my clients know how grateful I was for everything, things started to shift for the better. I truly believe that being in a positive frame of mind helped me to see new options.
4. Finally, be flexible, and consider offering flexible hours to your employees rather than letting people go. Given a choice, most people would prefer fewer hours than no hours at all. You can also talk to clients and renegotiate contracts. Offer a discount if they pay net 20 instead of net 60, and talk to vendors and negotiate reduced payments.
Going back to when RISK was at its worst, I mentioned that I spoke with my employees about what was going on. I didn’t share every detail about how or why we were in the situation that we were in, but I did tell them that I was negotiating with our vendors for a better A/P option, and our clients for better A/R options. Then, to my surprise, one offered to work fewer hours. Another opted to take partial pay for six months, and still another took out credit in their name to pay for travel. While I had not anticipated that, my willingness to be open, honest, compassionate and flexible brought about a huge shift in the organization.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Life is a rollercoaster. When you are on your way up, enjoy the view. On your way down, throw your hands in the air, yell like mad and enjoy the ride, and you’ll be on your way back up soon.
My life was a rollercoaster until I learned about the Law of Attraction and the concept of deliberately creating my life.
You see, I was molested at a young age and bullied from fourth grade until high school. After high school, I spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student, and, in my late teens and early twenties, I gave birth to two amazing children, got married — but then was assaulted. Then, I went on to work in a top notch company, but was treated poorly because I am a woman.
Eventually, I started my own business and grew it to a multi-million dollar company — but I had to watch it almost fail, before I finally discovered the Law of Attraction. From there, I became a Law of Attraction coach, started CEO Essence, and now my life is back on its way back up.
So, I’ve had some ups and downs.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can learn more about me on my website, renemurata.com, or on LinkedIn and Facebook under either Rene Murata or CEOEssence. I’m on Instagram, too, with the handle @ceoessence.