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 Stormi Lewis.
Multi-published international author and Story Sharing Coach Stormi Lewis helps people over thirty squash their excuses and overcome fears of publishing their stories. Stormi has authored Surviving the Storm, Fuel for the Storm, and the Sophie Lee Trilogy, proving time and again that you can successfully publish a book in 6 months or less, while working full time and caring for your family. After spending a lifetime with bipolar disorder and ADHD, Stormi went from choosing to break her people pleasing addiction, to hosting a podcast “Bookish Chatter” that helps keep new authors from feeling lost or alone on their journey. Find more information about Stormi at www.chasingstormi.com.
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?
My business started off as a blog. A place where I intended to hold myself accountable as I attempted to break my people pleasing addiction I had developed over the years in response to being unknowingly bipolar growing up. I used to tell myself that if I could make people like me enough when I was on my a-game, then they would be able to forgive me when I wasn’t. The problem was that it led me to be in two toxic/abusive marriages. I was going to college getting my marketing/management degree at the time that my emergency divorce was finalized. I also started my blog in order to practice the marketing tips and tricks I was learning in school since there was no internship program at the time. However, after publishing my first post I knew Chasing Stormi LLC was meant to be something so much more. I just didn’t have the clear mindset at the time. I tried a couple of different things, but nothing seemed to really feel 100% right until I started writing again in August of 2020. I started writing and publishing a book consistently despite working full-time, helping with elderly family members, and dealing with the new norm of the pandemic. More and more people kept telling me how hard it must be to publish a book, and I realized that there were still so many more stories that weren’t being told because people didn’t have the right information or know how. I started my Bookish Chatter podcast to help new authors get tips, tricks, and honest author journeys so they never felt alone. With the passing of my nana, I am also building a small publishing company C.S. Press to help more authors tell their stories the way they want to.
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 can’t think of the funniest mistake I have made when I was first starting. I can tell you that everything was truly trial and error, and I laughed at myself often in order to not feel defeated along the way. Being an entrepreneur can be an emotional roller coaster ride. I laugh at the fact that it took me at least five years to even figure out what exactly I wanted to offer that felt like a good fit. It was so bad that people would groan before saying, “What are you doing now?” I got so irritated I just stopped telling people that I was doing anything at all. I had to accept that not every idea was going to be as “great” as I thought it would originally be. Despite knowing it was something people needed, it was difficult for me to find the right words in order to help them know they needed it in the first place. Passion isn’t enough to make something work, and trying to do it like everyone else just led me to burn out, frustration, and feeling like a failure when I wasn’t. I just had to find my own voice and way of doing things to have a zen mentality about growing my business, but not trying at all made more people hurt than just myself.
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 nana was always my biggest supporter. She never hesitated to tell me how proud of me she was or how much she loved me. She also taught me to stand up for those that needed it most and not to “take crap for anyone”. She was my biggest fan and always demanded her own autographed copies of all of my books before they were even finished. Shyera McCollough is a business strategist who always took the time to listen as I talked out my latest creative idea. She was perfect because she never told me what to do, but instead let me decide if it was good for my business or not and then helped me strategize on how to get there. She calls me out when I am going too far off the desired path, and talks me off the ledge when my emotions start to get the best of me. I also do coaching with Jen Gottlieb and Chris Winfield. They were the first people to really help me find the confidence to accept my whole story and be comfortable with sharing it with purpose. They are constantly overdelivering with their knowledge, keep your mindset in the right direction, and let you do things when it works best for you. They’re the perfect cheerleading motivators you need when you start to feel overwhelmed or when Imposter Syndrome kicks in.
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 really wanted to help women 30 and over learn to love themselves. I had found myself single after a second divorce and no resources to help me figure out who I was, so I made it up as I went along. I thought if I could help them get comfortable with being uncomfortable I could not only make a living, but also make the world a better place and #BeTheChange.
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?
The pandemic was difficult for everyone. People were losing loved ones unexpectedly, and couldn’t even be with them to say goodbye or give them a proper burial. Anxiety rose with being put into lockdown, and panic spread even faster than COVID. Businesses shut down and loss income or themselves all together. I had an opportunity to slow down, sit with myself, and really decide what I wanted to focus on and how I could best provide in the middle of a crisis. It was easier to come to a clear path when I turned off the noise and listened to my own desires. Once I had a clear path, I was able to break it down for my team and help them see the path clearly as well. I broke everything down into manageable parts, and spaced everything out enough to allow for days when productivity just wasn’t going to be as high due to life winning the battle. I enforced grace for myself and those working with me so no one was beating themselves up for not being able to finish the to-do list that day. It was important to me that we celebrated our wins instead of focusing on what didn’t get done, and simply moved anything leftover to the next day without guilt or ridicule.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
It’s easy to consider giving up when things get tough, but who benefits from that? Certainly not the people that are waiting for your products and services, especially if it is desperately needed to get them through. Imposter Syndrome is a very powerful thing. It can derail you at any given second in the day. It can be sneaky and catch you off guard. I don’t consider giving up as much anymore, because my “why” or purpose is so much greater than not doing it. I like to have my “why” posted on post-it notes around my apartment, especially next to where I work. I also have a top 10 list of “badass” moments that Jen Gottlieb had me make. When Imposter Syndrome strikes, I have that top 10 list to remind me that I have already successfully accomplished so much. This will be just one more thing, and it works! Which is why I carry it on my phone too in case it sneaks up on me when I’m away from my home.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Transparency. Nothing is more frustrating being an employee and knowing that something’s wrong but no one telling you what it is until it is way too late. I understand you can’t divulge everything to everyone, but the employees will catch on sooner than you give them credit for. You will lose their support, trust, and loyalty by waiting until the last second because they will feel lied to and betrayed. It takes a lot longer to earn someone’s trust back once it’s been taken away from lack of transparency.
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?
I love going old school. As a kid, one of the coolest things my elementary school principal did was order you whatever you wanted while you sat in his office and talked to him during your lunch period. Businesses tend to focus so much on putting the customer first, but if you show you actually care for your employees they will gladly do what it takes to keep you in business. Even if it means dealing with grumpy customers who seem to think they have a free pass to be mean because “the customer is always right.” If you can’t afford lunch due to financial strains, even a gift card and hand written personalized note will go a long way.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be honest. Nana recently passed away, and I knew it was going to affect me personally, but also my productivity. I could have just told everyone I was fine and keep trying to push through, but that doesn’t help anyone, least of all the people I work with. I was honest long before she passed, and explained she was my most favorite person on the planet so it would be difficult to show up 100% all the time between now and after she passed. I let everyone know that I was keeping my promise to her by still showing up, but I also had to give myself grace for not being able to run full throttle. Everyone has let me know that they respected me for my honesty, and applaud me for anything I accomplish. Customers are supporting me more than ever understanding that I am doing the best I can for that given moment on that given day.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
The only time the future was predictable was the invention of the magic eight-ball in in 1950, and even then it was still questionable. As long as one can understand that the future will never be predictable, that’s why it’s called the future, and you must be flexible with whatever comes your way then you will survive just fine. How many times did you make plans with friends that got changed before you ever left the house? Did you not go because something changed? Or did you simply just roll with it? Business is no different. Even if you write them in pen or print them on paper from your computer, it’s still not set in stone. Things will happen, and like Ross on Friends you will need to PIVOT! And that’s okay. Sometimes pivoting puts you on an even better path than when you started. I know it did for me, and I’m loving the ride even more!
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I follow Dory’s advice on Finding Nemo and “just keep swimming”. You might find a majestic tropical island or you might find a smack of jellyfish. If you don’t keep swimming, you’ll never know what’s on the other side and people will suffer without your creative genius. I’d rather keep swimming and see what I can find vs. sinking and no one knowing that I was missing in the first place.
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?
- Not being honest with employees. Again, they will sense the shift of change first. The more you can give them the heads up of change, the less bitter they will be to be the last to be told by management. Don’t pretend nothing’s wrong. They’re your frontline. They will know before you do quite honestly.
- Not willing to be flexible. You saw plenty of businesses have to close their doors because they couldn’t be flexible and think outside of the box to keep income coming in. Many brick-and-mortar businesses that had no online presence had to quickly adjust or be lost for good.
- Not planning ahead for a rainy day. When things went south many businesses just started making cuts without looking at what would hurt them most as a business. They had no strategic plan for crisis other than to cut jobs and costs as quickly as possible.
- Focusing on what couldn’t be done instead of what possibilities were available. People panicked and lost focus of what they could do vs what they couldn’t. This enhanced their weaknesses. Fear led them to make poor choices without looking at the whole picture. Ask for help. Seek all options available. If people can’t physically come to your business, figure out how you can get to their homes to still give them what they need.
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?
Be in tune with the needs of your target market, no matter how much they are changing. If it means you have to lower your prices or distribute wider or in a different way, then do it. Amazon is getting more competition because other corporations like Walmart geared up to take their people back by offering same day delivery among other things. Cut out what isn’t absolutely necessary and invest in things to help you keep going. Ask questions from the people who buy from you. Don’t assume you have the perfect products/services they need for their current situation. Their lives changed too and so did their priorities. Openly communicate with your team and customers. Your team will see a pattern before you do because they deal with your customers more regularly than you do. Don’t buy things out of desperation to getting a quick fix. There is no such thing, and you end up with buyer’s remorse every time. Put in the time to listen and strategize.
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. 5 Things Video
1. Self-care is a must. If you’re not taking care of yourself and recharging your batteries, then you will be no good to those that need and depend on you most. That means getting enough sleep, taking time to pamper/spoil yourself, unplugging and starting fresh the next day.
2. Listen. Listen to your employees and your customers. Panic and fear can make people irrational, but it doesn’t mean their original distress isn’t something worth hearing. You may not be able to do anything about the pandemic or lockdown or other uncertain or turbulent moment, but if you listen you might be able to help develop a solution to make it more doable or easier to get through. Your team will see patterns of customer behavior long before you will. Customers will be able to tell you their new problems and priorities as they shift. Once you’re done listening to everyone else, be sure you find someone to listen to you as well. Talking things out can help you process to see a clearer solution, and it’s great self-care at the same time.
3. Planning and preparation are the key. The more you are prepared for what might happen, the more you will be able to adjust whatever is thrown at you. Being flexible is an important component since no plan is entirely fool proof, but the more you can adjust to whatever is thrown at you, the better you will survive whatever is thrown at you.
4. Be transparent. People trust and respect leaders who are honest. It’s important to learn the truth and be transparent when sharing it with others. It protects no one to withhold information or only share parts of the whole truth. People become jaded and will be motivated to hurt you and your company once trust is broken and betrayal sets in.
5. Celebrate wins with your team. You may not be able to give everyone a car like Oprah, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reward your team when you make a win during uncertain or turbulent times. As people continue to be forced to work more hours, take a pay cut, doing things not in their job description to fill needed services, etc., you will need to show your appreciation for the sacrifices being made. Let them know that their sacrifices matter and they are appreciated as a person to you and not just some servant. Share good news, personally celebrate your employees, avoid blanketed template emails, and show them they’re more than just an employee number for your taxes. You’re not the only one making sacrifices to keep the business thriving during difficult times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Nothing that happens to us defines who we are. It’s simply a part of our journey. For we are designed to survive, and come out stronger on the other side. For we are all Storm Chasers.
This is the motto I live by and share with others. It keeps me going on my weakest days, and reminds me that no matter what happens I will always be okay.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can always find me on Instagram the most under @thestorysharingguru (my clients nickname for me). My website is chasingstormi.com. I’m trying to be better at being on twitter @chasingstormi1 and Facebook is @chasingstormi.