Whenever you find yourself in the leader’s chair, it becomes all the easier to get overwhelmed by things and succumb to stress. What escapes many leaders is that the tools and resources they can use for stress relief are really just an arm’s reach away if they know where to look. Dr. Ellen Contente specializes in helping people find these tools for themselves, beat stress back and revive their audacious confidence to lead. She shares how she does this as she joins Alicia Couri for a little chat. Dr. Ellen also shares a bit about her leadership philosophy, which revolves around self-leadership, positivity, and commitment to vision.
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Reducing Stress & Overwhelm To Restore Your Confidence As A Leader With Dr. Ellen Contente
With me is the amazing Dr. Ellen Contente. Dr. Ellen is the Founder of Heart-Centered Programs, a training and consulting business, empowering people to live and work with more passion, purpose and play. As a Certified Woman-Owned Business, International Speaker and Business Coach, she is frequently requested for her warm, engaging style and her ability to connect with people of all walks of life. People resonate with her genuine and transparent stories. She is a Certified Virtual Presenter in Zoom, WebEx, GoToWebinar, Adobe Connect, Teams and RingCentral and can engage your audience for optimal learning to maximize your training investment. Ellen is a stress relief expert, and is licensed and certified in stress mastery, mindfulness, HeartMath resonance, meditation, humor for stress relief, spiritual practices. She’s the Amazon best-selling author of M&M’s: Motivational Musings to Live an Inspired Life, co-author in Rock Your Life and licensed Bigger Game Leadership Program Facilitator. She has her Doctorate and Master’s in Spiritual Psychology and a Bachelor’s in Management. She is from Los Angeles. Welcome, Dr. Ellen.
Thank you so much, Alicia. It is great to be here with all of you. It’s always an interesting experience when somebody reads your bio. You’re like, “Have I done all those things? Who is that person?”
I just need to read out bios every now and then to ourselves though. We are confident human beings that have accomplished some stuff.
That will give us audacious confidence if we have somebody read our bio every day.
I wanted to ask you because my first question is always what is your leadership philosophy?
My leadership philosophy has always started with self-leadership. In order to lead other people, you need to be able to lead yourself first so that’s always been my leadership philosophy. It’s also believing in other people’s expertise and trusting their recommendations. As a leader, your role is to guide, motivate, coach, get everybody on board with your vision. You need to sometimes trust other people’s vision that they do have your best at heart as well. I think over the years, I’ve learned how to settle into that trust of other people and allow them to lead me sometimes and it’s serving me better and better as I’ve gotten older to just let some of that go.
That’s true how important it is to allow other people because sometimes your vision can only take you so far and someone else has the other part of the vision that can continue to grow your vision. I always think of Jeff Bezos. I’m sure when he started in his garage with the books, just trying to sell books on creating Amazon and selling books, he did not envision all of this that Amazon has become. It’s allowing other visions to blossom and grow, and visions from other sources as well. Self-leadership is important. It is vital. I’ve read your bio but your bio doesn’t talk about your extensive and stellar career in the corporate arena. Do you want to share a little bit about that with us?
I spent the first 30-plus years of my career in Corporate America and I started off in sales. It wasn’t something I necessarily chose but it was a great job that I got right out of college. I worked for Clairol as a sales rep and moved up the ranks, not necessarily with Clairol but moved up the ranks in sales and found something that I enjoyed. I ended up in technology sales for a good twenty-plus years of my career. One of the things that I learned in sales is that’s probably the first place that I learned about self-leadership because sales is all about the numbers and you’ve got to make your numbers. You don’t make your numbers, you are out. It’s something that is serving me as an entrepreneur as well but doing well in your job means you get promoted. I was promoted many times into leadership roles. One of the things that I learned is now I’ve got to be responsible for somebody else’s success. It’s not just my success but it’s the success of this person and then ultimately the success of the organization. Initially, I was focused on myself, what I need to do to be successful and that was all. It was like if I made my numbers, I could go home at the end of the day and I could get a good night’s sleep.In order to lead other people, you need to be able to lead yourself first. Click To Tweet
When I was responsible for a team of people, it wasn’t that easy. It was like, “I’m making my numbers, why aren’t you making your numbers?” I realized that was a big part of my job and a big part of my responsibility. I think I grew as a person. I grew as a leader and it also built my confidence in terms of what my abilities were. How I could coach other people to be as successful as myself? Eventually, I left the corporate world but it was a really good learning ground for having your own business for sure.
There are many things you’re going to have to learn how to delegate and train people up in, do all those things when you are the CEO and leader. You’re just not working for someone and you can go home and say, “I did a good job at work. I did my numbers. End of story.”
It’s interesting you said delegating. That was one of the things that I did have to learn as a leader is delegating because I was so used to doing everything myself. When I was promoted to my first management position and I was given an admin, I’ve never had an admin. I remember she came to me one day and said, “Ellen, I am supposed to do that for you.” I think it was some report that I was working on. I said, “That would be great because it’s taking up a lot of my time.” I learned how to delegate. That’s also something that has served me well as an entrepreneur is recognizing you just can’t do it all yourself. Physically, emotionally, you don’t have enough bandwidth to do it all.
I think it’s something that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle so much with is that piece of delegation. I wanted to go back since you did mention your first promotion, where you were promoted based on the numbers that you did because you were good at what you did, or was it something you were seeking to have more responsibility? How did that come around for you to get into leadership?
I’m thinking back. We’re talking in my mid-twenties, so it was a long time ago. I do believe that it was probably a little bit of both. I’ve always aspired to be my boss. To be a leader in whatever company I was working for was something that I was interested in. I always ask in the interview, “What’s the career track path for this particular position?” I always did want to move into leadership but I do believe initially I was promoted because I was the top salesperson in the company. I have the awards to prove that. I was the top salesperson. I was good at what I did and I was a people person. Taking the fact that I was good at sales and I was good at working with people, it seemed like a natural path to promote me to a management position.
You work now with other companies, how you were promoted seems to be like how Corporate America promotes in general, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In doing that, do you see that some people get overly stressed because now they’re being taken into another realm where I was a rockstar here? Now you’ve put me here with this responsibility, I can’t navigate that. I don’t know how to do that. Have you seen that in your work now that you’re working with corporate?
Absolutely. Especially given what we’ve all been living in 2020, many people have been asked to do things they’ve never done before. Moving away from an office environment with all the support and now being told, “You’re going to need to work from home but you still have to do your job.” Now, you’re going to have to do an online and you’re going to have to figure out how to do all that, which has created an overwhelming amount of stress for people. That’s just in the workplace versus all the personal stress that people have been experiencing. Whenever you put somebody into a role without training them, without giving them the tools and the resources that they need, either that person’s going to be overwhelmed and stressed or they’re going to learn pretty quickly what they need to do to get on board. Calling on all their resilient traits, looking at where they’ve been successful in the past and, “What do I need to do to build my confidence to be able to be successful now?”
I feel like the training part sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not. Is that something that you help corporate with training up leaders and helping them navigate that themselves?
One of the areas that I focus on is working with leaders both in that role as a leader and the people that are in whatever role they are. Everybody’s a leader, no matter what their position is. Helping people look at where they’re stressed, look at what they’re doing to better manage their stress and anxiety and making sure that they’re availing themselves of the tools that they have, whether it’s their own internal tools or it’s things that they can ask for from their organizations. Most corporations have a lot of relationships with third parties to provide mental health care, stress management care and physical health care, but a lot of people don’t take advantage of it. That’s what creates a lot of the stress and overwhelm is they’re not using the resources that are available, and they’re certainly not putting themselves first on their to-do list as in self-care and that is important. That’s the thing that I do focus on with people is helping them manage their stress.
The time has shifted many people. I’m a Kolbe-certified consultant. I know we’re in the same business development group. Having a lot of people make that shift, sometimes their brain isn’t wired in the way to handle all of this that was put on them in such a fast timeframe. It’s like one day you were sitting in your office and the next day it’s like, “Figure all this stuff out.” Within 24 to 48 hours, we had to move to home offices. We work from home. I have a home office, you have a home office. We go out and we work with our clients but we understand this Zoom world. Some people just couldn’t. You do some training online. How are you seeing that this whole scenario has thrown people, how you help them manage that and gain the confidence to do their job even?
I’ll tell you the number one tool, regardless of whatever is going on, is to focus on the silver linings, focus on what’s positive. When people get stuck in overwhelm like, “I don’t how I’m going to do this. How am I going to get through this?” Their brain shuts down. What we focus on expands. If we looked at everything that we’ve all experienced over last 2020 from the framework or the perspective of something positive has come out of this. I have learned a lot of new things. The newer things you tackle and even if they’re not successful the first time out but you said, “That didn’t work. What do we need to do differently the next time? These stress me out but I got through it.” I didn’t die just because I didn’t give the best online presentation or the technology wasn’t working properly or I couldn’t figure it all out.
Each time you look at something that didn’t quite go the way you hope but you survived it, that’s another notch in your belt. When we focus on the gratitude, the silver linings, the positives that have come out of all of this are things we want to keep in our back pocket to pull out whenever we’re stressed. I call it your stress management toolkit. What do I need at this moment to get through the situation? Do I need to just breathe or do I need something a little bigger? I need to breathe, do some meditation, go for a walk, take a break. Those are the things that I help people do. I do my best as well to practice what I teach.
There are things you can change and there are things that you just cannot change. If your technology goes down, what are you going to do? You cannot make the internet work if it’s not working. You need to learn how to breathe and wait a minute, try again and not get all crazy because you can’t change that. If you ended up, it goes down.
You were talking about you can’t help when the internet goes down. That’s where I have grown tremendously. I’ve been doing online trainings for years but not at the level I’ve been doing. I was literally in the middle of a training with a global client. I think they were out in New Zealand or something. The internet went down in the middle of my presentation. I was mid-sentence and I don’t think they realize it because there was also a delay. I’m like on the backend, “What do I need to do?” I’ve got to go find the link again. I’m going to log. I’ll get the PowerPoint. I barely missed a beat. When it was all said and done, I thought, “Look at how far you’ve come, Ellen, that didn’t even derail you.”
I have a terminology for that in confidence, I call it your TAGS: your Talents Assets, Gifts and Skills. You can catalog those skills that you have acquired over the last 2020. I heard someone talking on a meeting that she’s a videographer and she can’t do weddings. She can’t videotape so her business has gone and “What am I going to do?” “I don’t know how because unemployment is running out.” She was going down a list of all the things that you cannot do because she can’t go videotape weddings.
I had an opportunity to speak to her and I just said, “There are many things you can do. You can edit videos. You can pull things together because there are people now who probably want videos of things that they’re doing, and they don’t even know how to pull those things together. While you’re home, I’m sure there are a ton of things. Go through your toolkit of all the skills that you’ve learned over the years as a videographer and offer other things in your bag. You’ve marketed your business as a business owner, how can you help someone else market their business?” We get stuck in, “This is what I do and this is how I do it,” but we don’t take the time to look at all the things that it takes to do that one thing.Don’t get stuck in overwhelm. Focus on the silver linings. Click To Tweet
There are other ways you can apply the same talent and how you re-apply it.
I want to ask you what has been your biggest challenge mistake in leadership? It was like, “How do I show my face again?” Have you had one of those? If you have, what has it been? How did you overcome it?
I don’t know if I had one of those exactly like, “How am I going to show my face?” other than I probably had some trainings to some big corporate clients that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. I don’t know if that’s a leadership challenge. One thing I can say as a leader of my own business is initially, one of the biggest mistakes that I made is focusing more on the product and not as much on the revenue and not looking at my business as a business. I was very focused initially on myself, which is I am the business but not partnering and not having anybody on my bench and being so focused on having the best products in the world, market them to bring in the revenue. Without the revenue, there is no company and that has had a domino impact.
I struggled with that early in the business. It’s like you’re trying to make the products so amazing that you forget, “I have to sell it,” and coming from a background in sales.
I didn’t want the pressure of the quota anymore. I forgot about the sales part of it and just said, “I get to do whatever I want now. It’s my business.” “I get to produce the products that I want because it’s my business,” but you still have to sell the products and that is also, you have to sell yourself. I think one of the other if it’s a leadership challenge but it’s in context to what we’re talking about. I think some of the other things that got in my way were having what they call the imposter syndrome. I didn’t really know there was a name for that but that lack of confidence or belief in yourself. Even though I have years and years of experience and I have certifications and degrees, licenses and all kinds of things, I still felt like, “Who am I?” Nobody knows Heart-Centered Programs so who am I to come to the big girl table and sell myself or sell my product? I think that is probably the biggest leadership challenge that I’ve faced.
Have you overcome it? I asked, “Have you,” instead of “How did you?” because sometimes that little imposter tries to creep back in every now and then.
I won’t say she’s 100% gone. She does like to show her face and I hear her voice from time to time. I keep a couple of wristbands that remind me to overcome that. I took them off so I could read them easier. One says, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” that helps. The other one is, “Say yes and figure it out later,” and that has served me because I can figure anything out. It’s because I’ve never done it before doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it well or even better than somebody that’s already done it. I keep reminding myself of that and I remind myself as well that I have started businesses from many years ago that laid the groundwork for I am now.
I knew I wanted to have my own business. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for a long time, and I’m finally in the right place with doing the things that I love that I know I’m good at. I’m just owning who I am. I think each decade has been better than the one before for and I think coming into my 60s, I’m really owning myself and recognizing I don’t need to be anybody else. That was part of the impostor. I was trying to be somebody else. I’m like, “No people resonate with who I am and I’m not perfect.” Stop trying to be perfect. Be yourself.
That is perfect because it’s so true. Every decade, you gain more stripes or something and you just start more confident in who you are and what you’re doing. I want to talk a little bit going back to that imposter syndrome. You’re not the only person who’s awesome in sales, was a top sales producer and leader in a company and then shifted to your own business. It became harder to do the exact same thing you were doing for someone else to do for yourself. Is there something in that transition that makes it difficult that you’ve recognized? You’re not the first person that talked about having that challenge.
I think the big in the beginning is about confidence. It is about you’re starting something completely new. It’s your business, it’s your baby but it’s not proven yet. I think for me when I was working for technology companies that were very successful, I had a proven product and picking up the phone saying, “I’m calling from X, Y, Z Company.” It was easy to get a meeting. It was like, “Definitely come on in.”
They had brand recognition. They had a great proven product. They had a system. They had a process. They had all that already laid out.
It was all laid out, all done. I didn’t have to worry about the marketing and worrying about accounting and worrying about all the other pieces that make it successful. It was a lot easier to sell for somebody else. When I was selling for myself, there was no brand yet and people are like, “I never heard of you so I’m not going to take a risk on you.” You had to get over that hurdle to believe in yourself, believe in your value, believe in your product. If the product is you, you got to believe that you are it. Act as if. I think that’s one of the reasons why I resonated with writing a chapter in the book Rock Your Life because it was all about that. It was all about just believing in who you are and going for it.
I’m going to ask about The Bigger Game Leadership Program. What is that as you facilitate that program?
This is one of my favorite leadership programs. I didn’t design it or write it but I’m licensed to deliver it. It’s really about getting people out of their comfort zones. When you work with leaders that want to move their business forward whether it’s entrepreneurs, managers or CEOs, it’s about where am I stuck in my comfort zone? Where’s my team stuck? Where is our organization stuck? What do we need to do that feels both scary like, “There’s no way we can do that and exciting at the same time, which is called gulp?” What makes me gulp?”
It’s a full two-day program that is played on a tic-tac-toe board. If you’re going to play the actual game that’s how you play it. It’s on a tic-tac-toe board of different squares, comfort zone. What are you hungry for? What are you passionate about? What are you yearning to bring forward? It’s designed to get you to start to see where you’re stuck, where you want to go and take one bold action to move yourself forward. It is audacious. I’ve done it on weekends as a two-day workshop. I’ve done it online as a six-week workshop. It can be adapted to different teams in different formats but it’s very powerful. When people have taken the program, one of the comments I always get is, “I came in stuck, not knowing what I wanted or where I wanted to move forward or what was in my way and I left with so much more clarity and excitement. Looking forward to the next step.” It’s fun too.
When people are transformed, when they’re going from stuck to clarity, that is so powerful. I know that you have twins. That’s wonderful twin boys?Stop trying to be perfect. Just be yourself. Click To Tweet
I have a boy and a girl.
You hit the jackpot. All in one. You got one of each all at one time. They’re in their early adulthood. How have you taught them about their own self-confidence anything that you’ve shared with them and also your journey that you’ve expressed any kind of leadership like how to be a good leader, anything that you’ve got. Give us some of those insights into what you’ve taught your children.
I have always taught my children to be self-sufficient. I think part of my job as their parent is to bring them up to be happy, healthy, self-sufficient adults doing something that they’re passionate about. I knew I was wanting to be an entrepreneur. I always wanted my own businesses. I wanted to do my own thing. I have encouraged both of my kids to follow their dreams, follow their passions. My son wants to be an actor and I had toes in that pool at one time and I know how challenging it can be but if that’s what you’re passionate about. Here’s what you’re going to need to do to be successful. You’re going to have to get yourself up in the morning. You’re going to need to have the tools and do the work to be successful. It’s totally up to you. You get to make that choice.
It’s the same thing with my daughter. She’s very artistic and I remember she likes to post all kinds of stuff in this day and age on TikTok and wherever people post things. I posted in a lot of places so I know TikTok. She had posted one of her drawings and she got back all this amazing feedback. People started following her. From that, she decided to start a business online, creating clothing with her artwork and posters and all kinds of things. I just encouraged her. Here’s your opportunity to be in business for yourself but it’s going to take work. It’s something that you have to get up every day and put work into.
It’s right back to your philosophy on leadership. It’s about self-leadership. It’s about getting yourself up, following your passion but knowing that you have to do it.
You can always ask for help. I think it’s about finding that delicate balance between when do I need to push myself and do what I need to do and hold myself accountable to those things and when do I need to recognize that I’m beyond the scope of my strengths and abilities and I need to ask for support. I need to hire somebody. Bring in someone, a bench or a partner to do the artwork or to do the marketing or do the accounting. That’s what I’m trying to teach them as well. I want you to do this because you want to do it and do what you say you’re going to do. Be accountable to yourself but also, if you find yourself stuck, I’m here to support you. If I can’t help you, we’ll find the right person to.
My son wants to start gaming and become a gaming YouTuber. That’s his thing. He wants to start doing gaming on YouTube. I’m like, “Okay.” He follows a lot of gamers on YouTube. I’m like, “Go for it.” I’m always trying to encourage my children to do entrepreneurial things. It’s great when you can encourage them early to start doing those things. Once in college, once in high school and leaving high school soon and he is still in middle school and he wants to start his own business. I’m like “Go for it.”
I think that’s great. The sooner the better.
There’s a wide-open space for an opportunity if you see it that way. Is there anything that comes to mind about leadership or confidence that you want to share that I did not ask you about that you think might be important for people to know? Whether it’s your journey or something from a client that you want to share?
I think the most important thing about leadership is what’s the vision. What is it that you’re working towards? What gets you excited and jazzed to get up every day? Keep asking yourself that question, am I still working towards that? Am I still excited about that? Has the vision changed? Has the journey changed? I think these are questions we want to continue to ask ourselves because I think one thing you could end up with or wake up one day and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” This is not something I’m passionate about anymore. If that’s the answer, you need to ask yourself, “Has something changed and I need to revisit that internally,” or, “Is the goal just not important anymore and I need to choose a different goal that I could be more passionate about?” As we were talking about earlier, there are different ways of achieving the goal. Maybe the way I’m going towards it is no longer valid. As a leader, self-leading yourself, it’s like, “How can I achieve this in a different way that I can be passionate about?” If there’s no passion, there’s no fun. If there’s no fun then you’re not going to work on it. If you don’t work on it, there’s not going to be any success. At the end of the day, what are you going to do?
I love that in your bio, you talk about how much humor, fun and all these things because it’s important. Work is work, but we can make it fun. We can have a good time at work and enjoy what we do. Sometimes people go to work and you’re trying to tell them, “Tell your face that you’re alive.” It’s painful. I saw that. I’m going grocery shopping and the teller was like, “Can you tell your face you’re alive today and smile or something?
Smiling is so important and it’s easy to do. Just the act of smiling can make you feel better even when you’re not. What we’re talking about really does tie to leadership in terms of it is the leader’s responsibility, in my opinion, to connect the person’s self-worth their value, their mission, what’s important to them to the corporate mission. The checker in the supermarket that’s checking your groceries and checking you out, they’re not a checker. They are the person who’s responsible for creating a positive experience for the customer who’s going to want to come back. The more you can tie the overall mission to the person’s value and what’s important to them then you’re creating another leader in your organization. Let’s face it, not every job is fun.
Some jobs are monotonous and some jobs are hard. We live in a very challenging and stressful world, but life is meant to be enjoyed. We’ve got to find something that we enjoy about what we’re doing and where our part is in the success of the company, and that’s what’s going to connect us. I’ll be honest, I go to one supermarket over every other one that I can go to and I have one every mile. I could probably go to five different stores. I go to the one where the checkers know my name. They’re always smiling. They say, “Hello.” They make it a good experience. I think what’s important for a leader is you’ve got to make sure that your people are connecting the dots because if they’re not, maybe they are better off somewhere else. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing had I not connected my dots because I recognized I was no longer happy doing what I was doing. I wasn’t putting a smile on my face every day. It was time for me to do something that I truly wanted to do and now, I get to share that with the rest of the world.
I love doing these interviews and getting to know my guests more and peeling back those layers and enjoy. I enjoy doing these interviews and I hope as the audience is reading and experiencing it, that they enjoy it too. I hope my guests enjoy it too because I try to put as much. In fact, I’m not trying to put a smile on my face, I am smiling because I am enjoying it. I think it’s the first time I’ve heard anybody say it that way. Thank you for that. When someone is unhappy in their job, we look at all these studies about disengaged workers and all. Could it just be that they’re not connecting their values to the company values? It hasn’t been made that tangible for them for that and what their role, how important their role is in the success of the company. I appreciate you sharing that. With that note, we’re going to end this wonderful conversation because we’ve enjoyed it so much. We’ve had fun. Thank you, Dr. Ellen, for making the time to share with me on the show the keys to successful leadership, leading yourself and leading others with confidence. I hope we can do this again sometime, not in this format but I have other shows.
Anytime, Alicia. It was my pleasure as well to be on your show and share from my perspective, my thoughts and ideas about leadership. I have thoroughly had fun as well, so thank you.
You’re very welcome. Lead yourself, lead others, lead your teams with audacious confidence. Step out boldly. I will see you next time on another episode. Thank you. Don’t forget to like and subscribe to our channel and to this show.
About Dr. Ellen Contente, M.A., D.S.S.
Dr. Ellen Contente is the Founder of Heart-Centered Programs, a training and consulting business empowering people to live and work with more Passion, Purpose and Play™. As a Certified Women-owned Business, International Speaker, and Business Coach, she is frequently requested for her warm engaging style and her ability to connect with people from all walks of life. People resonate with her genuine and transparent stories.
She is a Certified Virtual Presenter in Zoom, Webex, GoToWebinar, Adobe Connect, Teams, and RingCentral and can engage your audience for optimal learning to maximize your training investment.
Ellen is a Stress Relief Expert and is licensed and certified in the following:
- Stress Mastery
- HeartMath Resonance
- Humor for Stress Relief
- Spiritual Practices
She is the Amazon best-selling author of ‘M&M’s; Motivational Musings to Live an Inspired Life, co-author in ‘Rock Your Life’, and licensed Bigger Game Leadership Program facilitator.
Ellen has worked with thousands of people all over the globe. Here’s what some have said:
“Ellen is an excellent, articulate, organized and knowledgeable presenter”. – City of LA
“Ellen created a space that was safe, joyous, creative and supported.” – Workshop Attendee
“Ellen Contente is an inspiration.” – CA State University Fullerton
Ellen has her Doctorate and Masters in Spiritual Psychology and a B.S. in Management. She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, 21-yr. old twins and five (or six) cats!