Karen Brown Of Exponential Results On The Self-Care Routines & Practices Of Busy Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders

An Interview With Maria Angelova


You’ll be more helpful to others.

Regardless of what job you’re doing, taking care of yourself likely means you’ll do it better — which means you’ll also be helping co-workers, your company’s customers and, ultimately, all of the company’s stakeholders. What’s more, you will be a more effective leader, giving you the power to raise the performance of everyone around you.

All of us know that we have to take breaks in our day to take care of ourselves. “Selfcare is healthcare”, the saying goes. At the same time, we know that when you are a busy leader with enormous responsibility on your shoulders, it’s so easy to prioritize the urgent demands of work over the important requirements of self-care. How do busy entrepreneurs and leaders create space to properly take care of themselves? What are the self-care routines of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders? In this interview series, we are talking to busy and successful entrepreneurs, business leaders, and civic leaders who can discuss their self-care practices and self-care routines. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Karen Brown.

The Founder and CEO of Exponential Results, Karen Brown draws on 30 years of success as a corporate executive with over 20,000 hours of senior executive coaching experience. Years ago, Ms. Brown discovered the key to greater performance and effectiveness: identifying and addressing blind spots — the repeated thinking patterns that impede success. Her discovery led to the creation of Exponential Results’ proprietary Power Pathways™ method, based in neuroscience. She’s also a focused athlete, having competed, as an amateur, in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii and numerous ultra-marathon and triathlon events around the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! It is an honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you please share with our readers your personal backstory; What has brought you to this point in your life?

Like anyone else, there were multiple events — and people — who helped shape my life. But there were two things that really stand out in terms of bringing me to where I am today: competing in the Ironman World Championships and starting my own business. The Ironman was a particularly life-changing experience. Most of my life, I had been a recreational athlete but not overly competitive. What propelled me to undertake the Ironman was the feeling deep inside that perhaps I have what it takes to achieve great things and I might not be tapping into that potential. Fast forward to 2010. Having learned about neuroscience and behavioral patterns (I’ve always been interested in human behavior), I had a massive “a-ha” moment when I realized that it was my own behavioral patterns holding me back from the successes I craved; what’s more, it works the same way for all of us. From then on, I learned and ultimately became an expert in performance behavioral patterns, which I applied to myself and to my clients, with resounding success. Two short years later, I crossed the finish line at the IMWC at age 46 (having never ridden a road bike nor run a marathon), and also founded my company, Exponential Results.

What is your “why” behind what you do? What fuels you?

My “why” is to elevate the performance and effectiveness of senior leaders in mid- to large-market companies. Over the past 25 years in the leadership development/coaching space, I’ve seen that the biggest positive impact can be made through this group. They influence everyone in the company, as well as their families, friends, and the community. And my aim is to make a lasting, positive difference, leaving our world better than I found it. What fuels me is an insatiable appetite to understand and leverage human behavior, specifically how we can elevate leadership performance (and its impact) through the way our brains work — i.e., neuroscience.

How do you define success? Can you please explain what you mean from a personal anecdote?

I define success as being able to achieve the mission on my terms: the what, how, and when of my choosing. This is probably different than most definitions of success that are generally about money, power, prestige, or titles. From my perspective, if I’m achieving the company’s mission on my terms — that is, not sacrificing and in fact leveraging a balanced schedule, physical health, talented team members, resources, and systems — then the money, wealth, titles, and achieving our mission will naturally come with it. It’s the underpinning of everything I want to attain.

What is the role of a growth mindset in your success? Can you please share 3 mindset mantras that keep you motivated, sane, and propel you forward?

Having a growth mindset, to me, is one of the most critical elements in gaining success — certainly in the way I have defined it. It’s the difference between a manager and a leader. Managers manage things, like projects and vacation schedules; they don’t lead people. What I’m talking about is highly effective leadership that can only be achieved through a growth mindset. Too many so-called “leaders” have a fixed mindset. Their attitude is, “I’ve arrived, I’m good just as I am. I’m a success.” They reference their own personal yardsticks by which they measure their success — i.e., “As soon as I become president or CEO, I’ve succeeded.” Or “If I make this much money, I’ve reached the pinnacle of my profession.” This naturally leads them to believe they don’t need to change or improve anything.

A growth mindset fosters the belief that leaders can be constantly improving — and they are always looking for ways to do that. For them, success is a continuing evolution; they achieve remarkable things, and their mindset is to seek out the next goal or challenge, to find better ways of doing things. My three mantras are a byproduct of this thinking: 1. Never rest on my laurels. 2. How can I be better tomorrow? 3. What is the next level?

You are by all accounts a very successful person. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe that I have brought goodness to the world in an indirect but very powerful way. When leaders say, “you’ve changed my life,” I feel like we’ve hit the mark. By improving the performance of the senior leaders in the companies with which we work, I have provided those leaders with the tools to produce a positive impact on the mid-level leaders who report to them. Subsequently, those mid-level leaders can exert a positive influence on their reports. It’s a trickle-down process that casts a constantly expanding net of success over large groups of leaders and team members within the company, not to mention the satisfaction experienced by the company’s customers and stakeholders. The way I see it, I am bringing success — and the positivity that comes with it in terms of increased job satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness — to the people who bring it to the world. In my mind, those results can be viewed as goodness by virtually any definition.

Can you share a mistake or failure which you now appreciate, and which has taught you a valuable lesson?

Though it pains me to admit, back in 2008, I was a complete failure in my very first CEO role. Despite all my knowledge and all my training, I did such a poor job, I was fired. That really rocked my world — so much so, that I had to look deep down inside myself and ask some very basic questions: what am I doing, why am I doing it, where is it coming from, and what are my own behavioral patterns that are causing me to work this way? This was before I had a mastery-level degree in behavioral patterns, executive leadership coaching, and neurolinguistic programming, so I let myself off the hook a little bit. Still, I had been a leader for almost 18 years and should have known better; it was my own hubris that got in the way.

I learned a vital lesson from that experience, not only about my unique operating system but how it produced the pride and arrogance that caused my failure. The reason I learned so much from this experience is because humans, by and large, are motivated to change through pain. For better or worse, pain tends to teach us hard lessons that we don’t easily forget. Plus, it helped me see and understand the way that many senior leaders work: what kind of leadership motives they have; whether they’re in it for a big paycheck and prestige; or whether they’re looking to make a difference, bring people along, and produce dramatic results for the company and everyone in it. Without this experience, I would not understand leaders and what’s involved in senior leadership roles the way I do.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Self-awareness is number one. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses, what motivates me, what makes me tick — these have all been integral elements in my business journey. It’s important to understand, without emotion or self-aggrandizement, what you’re good at and what you aren’t. I’m not good at plenty of things and good at a very small number of things!

If you delude yourself into thinking you have abilities that you really don’t — or vice versa — you’re not going to be able to put yourself in the best position to succeed. Similarly, you may not ask for help when you most need it, or you may continue to “grind it out,” wasting precious time and energy.

Stubbornness is number two. I use that word instead of “tenacity” because I think stubbornness better reflects the lengths to which I will go to do something on which my mind is set. I simply won’t give up. If I set something as a goal (that is, the RIGHT goal), come hell or high water, I will figure out what it takes to achieve it, even if I have to course-correct or pivot along the way. The Ironman is a prime example, and I have plenty of examples since then. Turns out The Ironman was far easier than many of my business challenges!

Number three is my keen ability to see and accurately read people’s behavior. That’s how all this started: my lifelong curiosity about human behavior. I can see people’s behavior — not just their actions — and detect behavioral patterns behind why they do what they do. As I talk with people and ask probing questions, I can confirm their patterns and see in my mind’s eye how their behaviors came about. Over the years, it’s become very simplistic to me — just being able to read a person inside and out and help them elevate.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We are certainly excited about changing the name of the company from Velocity Leadership Consulting to Exponential Results. It’s a big deal anytime a company changes its name, but for us it’s very meaningful because the new name reflects exactly what we bring to our clients — literally, exponential results. Even more exciting are the new programs that we’ve developed to accompany the name change. These programs are the result of the insight we received from our clients, revealing needs that were not being addressed. We saw those openings and created a customized offering for them based on what companies need now as well as going forward. We interact with leaders every day; we also hear and interact with HR departments. So we see what leaders actually need to be transcendent and move to a higher level of performance.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview about Self-Care. Let’s start with a basic definition so that we are all on the same page. What does self-care mean to you?

At its absolute core, self-care means paying close attention to what I need to do to take care of myself so that I am physically and mentally prepared to achieve the mission of my life and company. Because if I don’t support myself at the most basic level, how can I expect to do my best for others? Though it might sound egocentric, it means putting myself first — not all the time, but with enough regularity to ensure I can produce at a top level. It’s analogous to what you hear before a flight, when the attendants remind the passengers that, in an emergency, you need to put on your oxygen mask first before you help others. If you don’t, you will be incapable of helping anyone — including yourself.

As a successful leader with an intense schedule, what do you do to prioritize self-care, and carve out regular time to make self-care part of your routine?

First, I identify those activities that I consider self-care. Then I put them on my schedule first — not last. I have other priorities that I subsequently add in order of importance, but the self-care routines are at the head of the pack.

Then, I block those times out on my schedule in a specific color. (I use red so I can see those items quickly and can immediately recognize them as self-care activities.) I give them the highest priority in my schedule because they are vital for me to be able to achieve my company’s mission; they are immovable. Conversely, if I don’t do those things, I am compromising my ability to perform. I learned this the hard way.

The problem is, many of us talk about it, but when the rubber meets the road, we don’t follow through. When we do that, what we’re really doing is putting ourselves last. I treat my self-care routines like client appointments. I wouldn’t dream of not showing up for a client appointment, so why wouldn’t I show up for an appointment with myself?

Schedule management is a key element as well. I learned how much I could accomplish in a short amount of time just through Ironman. When I was preparing for the Ironman Challenge, I had to fit in 20–25 hours of training per week and still perform my job functions. Through this experience I learned how to identify the few things I have to do — things only I can do or do best. The rest, I delegate to others (either staff, partners, or contractors). This might mean using concierge services for personal errands, booking appointments, following up on travel receipts, even grocery orders or food prep. If you have an Executive Assistant, use them to their full potential. Ask them what else they can help you with. Even when my company was just starting out, I used a virtual assistant 10 hours per week to do these things, and then grew the team systematically over time and revenue growth. Utilizing assistance enabled me to create the space for self-care.

The key is leveraging systems, processes, and the skills of other people. I cannot do everything, nor do I want to. When I founded my company, I knew the kind of model I wanted to use, and it wasn’t like a wheel with me in the middle (centralized). I knew I wanted to leverage everyone’s talents and create a distributed model, so that’s what I’ve built, and it works beautifully. In the end, it creates the space for self-care time for all of us, not just me.

Will you please share with our readers 3 of your daily, or frequent self-care habits?

I have a number of daily self-care habits, but I can offer the three that I consider the most critical to my overall well-being:

Body Movement. I have to move my body every day. It may not always involve an intense workout, but I need some kind of physical activity/body movement on a daily basis. When I get into the flow state — that sense of fluidity between your body and your mind, where you’re deeply absorbed and focused — it clears my mind. It helps me stop thinking about work and puts me in a meditative mood. Of course, sometimes movement does involve a strenuous workout. But in whatever form it takes, my body has to move every day, no questions asked.

Eating Healthy: I am vegan, so I pre-make all my own food, since It’s difficult to find fast food on the fly that is both vegan and clean/healthy. It’s the only way that I can be sure of what I’m putting into my body. I adopted my eating regimen to prepare for the Ironman, and I’ve maintained it ever since. Many of us don’t think about what we’re eating. Consequently, we as a society are overweight, listless, and sick more often than we should be. Plus, there is often a drop in energy (hello, bad energy drinks!) and “brain fog” that affects cognitive functioning.

Work Schedule: About seven years ago, I adopted a work schedule of Monday through Thursday, 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. What I’ve found is that if I take on too many clients or work too many hours — which is the typical leadership workday, by the way — I will be burned out and I will not be able to do my best. There are many studies that highlight how once you go past a certain tipping point in your workday, you’re compromising your thinking.

I will add a fourth habit here, because it may be the most relevant of all. I give myself permission to follow these rules. I allow myself to not feel guilty that I’m not working enough hours or that I have a strict bedtime (8:30 p.m. by the way). My rules are very stringent and may not work for everyone, but they work for me, so I swear by them.

This is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experiences or research can you please share 5 ways that taking time for self-care will improve our lives?

Taking the time for self-care has so many benefits, it’s difficult to limit it to just five, but I can offer the ones I believe are the most critical. There’s plenty of research to validate these items, but there’s no reason to do a deep dive here. Suffice to say, I can stand by the benefits of these five self-care tactics based on my own firsthand experience.

  1. You’ll have optimal cognitive function.

If you take care of yourself — both mentally and physically — your cognitive function will remain at a very high level. You’ll find that your brain is sharper, your memory is better, and your powers of logic and reason will be at their peaks.

2. You’ll feel better physically.

It’s no secret that if you exercise and eat right, you’re far more likely to be in better shape. That will generally translate to a greater energy level and, hopefully, a longer life. And don’t forget that regular exercise generates endorphins, the body’s natural mood enhancers.

3. You’re less likely to burn out.

When you feel good mentally and physically, you have a better attitude towards your work, your life, even the mundane things that make up so much of everyone’s day. This attitude will give you the mental strength to keep moving forward, even when work and life get overwhelming.

4. You’ll be happier and more fulfilled.

Because you’ll be able to perform at a higher level, you will likely have a greater sense of accomplishment that will, in turn, add to your overall fulfillment. What’s more, when you make yourself a priority — even if it’s just for a brief time each day — you help raise your self-esteem a couple of notches. It’s a way of telling yourself that you matter, which can’t help but increase your inner contentment.

5. You’ll be more helpful to others.

Regardless of what job you’re doing, taking care of yourself likely means you’ll do it better — which means you’ll also be helping co-workers, your company’s customers and, ultimately, all of the company’s stakeholders. What’s more, you will be a more effective leader, giving you the power to raise the performance of everyone around you.

Sometimes we learn a great deal from the opposite, from a contrast. Can you please share a few ways that NOT taking time for self-care can harm our lives?

Though I don’t want to make it sound overly elementary, you can take the answers to the previous question and simply reverse them. If you don’t make self-care a priority, you will not be operating at peak cognitive capacity. You’ll also have less energy, thereby cheating everyone you work with — and yourself — out of your best possible performance. You’re likely to burn out much more quickly, not just in your professional life but possibly in your personal life as well. Simply put, you will be settling for an inferior version of you: one who is less prepared to take on life’s challenges, less effective and, in the end, far less fulfilled. Don’t misunderstand: there are people who neglect their physical and mental well-being and still perform satisfactorily, perhaps even admirably. But by developing some basic self-care habits, would they be capable of better results?

What would you tell someone who says they do not have time or finances to support a regular wellness routine?

As far as not having the time, even the busiest person in the world can take a few minutes and jot down some things that they will do on a regular basis to ensure their physical and mental health. And besides, with few exceptions, there is nothing on your schedule that is more important than taking care of yourself. Because if you don’t, nothing else will matter anyway. As far as cost, creating and maintaining a regular wellness routine does not have to be expensive. In fact, it can cost almost nothing at all. The specific ingredients in a self-care routine will obviously differ from person to person, but things like exercise, eating right, getting enough sleep — these cost very little, if anything. For exercise, you can simply walk. Eating right costs no more than eating poorly, because you have to eat either way, it’s simply making different choices. And getting enough sleep involves nothing more than creating regular sleep and wake times and sticking to them. You have to think of and make self-care something autonomic, like breathing.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

The person I would most like to meet is Gautama Buddha, otherwise known as “The Buddha.” I have been doing a great deal of reading about Buddhism and am on a path to enlightenment myself. There’s so much in the Buddhist philosophy that is relevant to the work we do. I would have loved to just spend an afternoon talking with him, understanding him and his findings. Obviously, since he died somewhere around 400 B.C., I don’t think I’ll get the chance. And I doubt that he’ll see this, even if we tag him!

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

They can check out my website at https://yourexponentialresults.com/. Or they can follow my LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/company/exponential-results/.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher, and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness, and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at angelova@rebellious-intl.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.



Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.
Authority Magazine

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.