Inspirational Female Leaders Series with Melinda Gonzalez, CEO Melinda Gonzalez Advisors
Melinda worked at Salesforce for a decade, with roles spanning customer success and customer advocacy in both post-sales and product functions. She was directly involved in studying and experimenting with growth practices that arguably created one of the most enviable companies in the SaaS industry. She since left to start her own business Melinda Gonzalez Advisors, customer experience consulting firm
She’s a strong believer in the “fake it til you become it” approach. Your body language and stance in a stressful moment can have a huge difference in how you experience that moment.”
Let's dive into how she deals with imposter syndrome, her thoughts on leadership, and how she created a personal board of advisors to help her accelerate in her career.
What kind of problem is your company solving?
Melinda Gonzalez Advisors is a customer experience consulting firm. We help SaaS companies achieve their customer success/retention goals using human centered service design methods. Our approach puts the customer at the center of product and service design, employing customer empathy, understanding and connection to drive corporate profitability.
What has been the biggest contribution to your career success?
I don’t believe anyone achieves their goals solely on their own. So, the biggest contribution would have to be that of the people around me who have helped me along the way – in both big and small ways. I wouldn’t be where I am if it were not for supporters who had confidence in my abilities and advocated on my behalf.
Do you have a favorite failure? What lessons did you learn?
While I don’t believe in the traditional concept of “failure,” I’ve had plenty of learning experiences that have made me a better person and better at what I do. I’m not sure I have a singular favorite. But I have realized one big thing. The experiences that have been the most painful have always been the ones that I’ve grown the most from. I’m not advocating that others proactively seek out painful learning experiences. But this knowledge has now become a tiny shining light, and a really significant support when I’m going through difficult challenges.
How do you define leadership? Or, what does being a leader mean to you?
I believe the answer to this question is defined by lifelong learning. It’s ever evolving. But the north star idea that guides me today is the idea that “all boats rise” (economic reference aside). Two experiences informed this belief. First, I heard this adage in a business setting when I was starting my business. Another CEO had endorsed me in support of my website launch. I thanked her profusely, and she simply looked at me and said, “Hey, all boats rise.” Second, I once had a manager and mentor during my time at Salesforce who did a pretty amazing job of helping me succeed in my role and making me look good in the eyes of leaders and influencers. She also had her own career aspirations, and I was able to see for the first time how it’s possible to help others while also striving for personal growth. It was a “ah ha!” moment for me that gave me the profound realization that personal achievement and growth don’t have to a zero-sum game. Having had these experiences, I embrace this leadership principle, and it keeps me motivated to help others however I can as my own success grows.
Do you have a mentor? How did you go about acquiring one?
I don’t have just one mentor. I think early on it was because I didn’t really know what I needed or how to ask for one. Now, I informally maintain what I refer to as my personal board of advisors. It is made up of personal and professional friendships that I’ve cultivated over time. Some I see more frequently than others. I observe how their experience, skills, mindset or decision-making approach somehow compliments me. I am attracted to being around them because they also have an “all boats rise” perspective. For less formal relationships, the mentoring happens on a hike or something that we mutually enjoy doing together. For relationships where we see each other quarterly or not that often, I’ll generally offer to take them to coffee or lunch to catch up. I also approach all of these relationships thinking about ways I can help them, rather than just having the “ask/give” be one directional. This is key. Any relationship that is one directional will likely not last long.
What should women be doing more of to foster leadership skills?
Say yes to new and scary opportunities, and don’t be afraid to ask for advice or support.
I’m better at saying yes since I pulled the ripcord on my corporate cushion four years ago, and I have personally observed the amazing things that have manifested in my life as a result of saying yes. If you haven’t watched/listened to Oprah interviewing Shonda Rhimes about her year of yes, I highly recommend it. The second one I still struggle with to this day. Asking for help means being vulnerable. I’ve never been great at that. But I’m getting better!
Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and how did you combat it?
Yes, although I experienced it more often earlier in my career. I know this solution may be easier for some than others, but I believe strongly in “fake it ‘til you become it” approach. Your body language and stance in a stressful moment can have a huge difference in how you experience that moment. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, I recommend watching Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk about how body language may shape who you are. Saying yes (despite my heart racing). Claiming space. Doing power poses before giving a big talk. These methods have not only helped me in the moment, but they actually help to diminish feelings of imposter syndrome over time.
What do you do when you're feeling "overwhelmed"?
Exercise, cooking and the outdoors. Exercise has been my go to stress reliever my entire life. I also love to cook. Chopping in particular. It’s very meditative! I also spend a lot of time in my happy places which are always outdoors: anything in/around the ocean is my first choice, running, hiking, or just going for a long walk.
Self-awareness is also really important. Knowing the patterns that create stress in your life is key. Experiences that repeat in your life are usually the result of your own choices, not that of others. Once you understand the patterns you can start to change your choices to create different experiences.
Lastly, I think formal coaching or other preferred support system is sometimes necessary. For example, I know that I tend to be on a three-year reinvention cycle. Having just closed on my third year of the business, I’ve been sensing directional shifts with my personal/professional goals. So, I sought out the help of a coach to work through this. It’s been an amazing and rewarding process.
What is one quote you live your life by?
Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. ~George Bernard Shaw
What are you reading right now?
I’m pretty mercurial with my reading, so I’m usually reading/listening to a handful of titles at a time. Currently in rotation:
Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust, Laura Smith
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit, Michael Finkel
If you had one tip or life advice, or mantra to share, what would it be?
Be authentic. Anything else is too exhausting. I also try be conscientious about where I spend my time, with whom I spend it, and which companies I support through donations or purchases. There are so many different ways to make choices that align with your beliefs and higher being. Do the people around you give you energy, or do you feel exhausted after spending time with them? Are you giving daily attention to things that don’t serve you? Are you buying goods/services from companies that have poor labor or employee practices? It feels like I’ve come late to this realization, but it now plays a big part in my choices.