Leading with Heart: Julianne Williams On The Power of Authentic Women’s Leadership

An Interview With Pirie Jones Grossman

Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

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Stay True to Your Values. No matter what you are asked, never compromise your moral compass to achieve success. In my over 30 years in healthcare, I knew my focus always has to be the patient and employee satisfaction. There were times that crossed paths with profitability in the short term but I knew my primary responsibility was about the people I served. At times, that was perceived as being “soft” but in the end it was my strength.

In today’s dynamic world, the concept of leadership is continuously evolving. While traditional leadership models have often been male-dominated, there is a growing recognition of the unique strengths and perspectives that women bring to these roles. This series aims to explore how women can become more effective leaders by authentically embracing their femininity and innate strengths, rather than conforming to traditional male leadership styles. In this series, we are talking to successful women leaders, coaches, authors, and experts who can provide insights and personal stories on how embracing their inherent feminine qualities has enhanced their leadership abilities. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Julianne Williams.

Born with a congenital heart defect that required life-saving surgery at the age of 5, Julianne has always been resilient and tenacious. Julianne decided to overcome the restrictions of her physical body by pushing the limits. Being told by medical professionals that she would need to live a more sedentary life and not have children, Julianne made her own path by training to run half-marathons and have two beautiful children.

She also married her high-school sweetheart in college and they built a life together that included those two children. Both Julianne and her husband worked on their careers for the first part of their marriage as well as traveling and completing post-graduate work.

Rising in the world of administration in the skilled nursing sector, Julianne loved her occupation and the rewards by caring for the elderly and infirm. As her career took off, her husband began to have mental health problems. Even after professional treatment and in-patient stays at psychiatric hospitals, her husband took his life when she was 36 years of age and their children 7 and 3.

Through these hard times, Julianne was able to rise to the President of the company at which she started her career. This company was the second largest skilled nursing provider in the nation with 320 locations in 21 states employing 30,000. After the company sold, Julianne started her own company with a partner which she just sold in 2022.

Julianne served on the Board of Governors for the American Healthcare Association, is past- Chair of the California Association of Healthcare Facilities, Recipient of the Spindle Award, served on the Board of the Kingsburg District Hospital, Kingsburg Youth Baseball, and was a Girl Scout leader. She attends Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in Fresno, Ca and Kingsburg Community Church in Kingsburg. She is a proud member of the Armenian Relief Society — Mayr Chapter and the Recording Secretary for the Ladies Guild of the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church. Currently, she serves on the Board of Directors for Bright Horizon Hospice in Fresno, CA.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about authentic, feminine leadership, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

The first 32 years of my career in skilled nursing was inspired by my Great-Grandma, Serma Nahigian. She was an immigrant from Armenia, coming to the US during the Armenian Genocide. She was placed in a skilled nursing facility when I was a girl and my Grandma and her sister were always unhappy with the care. Because she is my hero, I wanted to make a difference for the elderly.

The last few years, post-retirement from being a skilled care provider, I have focused on writing books, speaking, and sharing my message about grief and mental health through my podcast and FENIX TV show. After the death of my husband, I supported many women through their grief and felt I could make a broader impact for those who were suffering. My other focus during this time is to empower women both at work and at home, especially single moms.

I also enjoy working with healthcare organizations on a consulting basis to focus on business development, asset management/real estate lease negotiation, and strategic planning.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have so many after working in healthcare for over 30 years. You see the best and the worst of people when there is illness and family dynamics involved. Over all, the most surprising aspects in my experiences revolve around what happens in families.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

When I was a skilled nursing center owner, being an active part of all of my centers was paramount to me. Whether that meant spending part of my holiday thanking the team, working side by side with them during the pandemic, or celebrating their successes, I cared very deeply for the people behind the scenes, doing the work of angels.

My goal was to always be accessible and to demonstrate my appreciation. One Thanksgiving holiday, I bought over 500 pies and delivered them to each of my care centers so every person working could take a pie home to their family.

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

The first is tenacity. What I have learned is business does not follow straight lines or strategic plans. When things veer off track, the most important path is to keep pressing on. Being able to stay persistent in work makes the difference in reaching the goal or giving up.

The second is courage. Business and leadership are hard! There were so many times I felt unprepared, behind the eight ball, so to speak, I had to actively choose to not cower down, to not focus on the worst-case scenario. In the face of fear, I would make the decision knowing it could be wrong. At times, courage has been to simply open up the bank account to look at my current cash position.

Last, integrity. Honesty with no only your team, but yourself is one essential, especially in my work as I can have a profound affect on the lives of others. In healthcare, as an example, if there is an error or omission that may lead to a a negative outcome. The most important action is to take responsibility and be truthful to all involved. And, as a provider, there is little more difficult than communicating this message to a patient’s loved one. Instead of minimizing or ignoring what happened, it was always my approach to be transparent when it was tough.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

I had a boss with a saying, “Indecision is Death”. What I learned is that in all cases, the most important decision you can make is to make one. Even if you make what is later seen as the “wrong” one, when you make the decision you can prepare for the expected and unexpected outcomes. When you pause to see what happens, the outcomes are already being affected by the delay. So, in general, I work hard to understand what the options are, what could possible happen, and choose in an educated manner. I have always been known to move forward in situations which I believe is strength in leading.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Can you share a personal experience where embracing your unique leadership style, which might not align with traditional expectations, led to a significant positive impact in your organization or team?

As a leader, utilizing the expertise, passion, and creating of my team, while giving them the credit, has been the center of my leadership style. When the division I was leading needed to stretch to meet revenue goals, the executive team came together and created an interdisciplinary approach with a fun and attention-grabbing theme. They rolled out the program/contest and it was so successful it was adopted across the US operations. When it was time to share the program with the rest of the company, I was present but I had the team present the program, the data, and how to successfully implement. I believed good leadership promoted innovation so I didn’t need to get the credit for the “work”, just for the leadership of my team.

In your journey as a leader, how have you balanced demonstrating resilience, often seen as a masculine trait, with showing vulnerability, which is equally powerful, but typically feminine? Can you give an example where this balance created a meaningful difference?

When results were not as expected, I was always honest with the team about the shortcomings and consequences. However, they also knew they had my support to improve performance. And, if difficult conversations were to happen, it would be private rather than using the situation as a power play.

As a woman in leadership, how have you navigated and challenged gender stereotypes, especially in situations where traditional male-dominated approaches are the norm? What strategies have you employed to remain authentic to your style?

For a time, bring the only female in senior leadership was an invaluable experience. Attitudes from being “hinted at” to not join on the after-hour events, to not being a part of “inside jokes” taught me that the gender bias was real. I realized had to stay true to myself by embracing core behaviors.

The first is confidence and assertiveness. Demonstrate confidence in your abilities and be assertive when expressing your ideas. Challenge the stereotype that women should be passive or deferential. Stand firm in your convictions and communicate with authority.

Remembering I am confident and an expert in my field. I focused on showcasing my competence and expertise in my field by emphasizing my achievements, skills, and knowledge to challenge any preconceived notions about women’s capabilities in traditionally male-dominated areas.

Addressing bias directly in a non-confrontational way. If I encounter gender bias, address it directly and professionally. One path was to provide examples of my achievements and contributions, and challenge any assumptions that may have undermined my leadership.

Remember, the key is to be true to yourself, embrace your unique strengths, and challenge stereotypes through your actions and accomplishments. By doing so, you contribute to breaking down barriers and promoting a more inclusive and diverse professional landscape.

How do you utilize emotional intelligence and active listening to create an inclusive environment in your team or organization? Could you share a specific instance where these qualities particularly enhanced team dynamics or performance?”

Emotional intelligence and active listening are crucial skills for creating an inclusive and positive work environment. Here’s how I utilize these qualities to enhance team dynamics:

Demonstrate Empathy and Understanding: Imagine a team member is going through a challenging personal situation. As a leader, you can demonstrate emotional intelligence by expressing empathy and understanding. You might say, “I understand that you’re going through a tough time, and I want you to know that I’m here to support you. Let’s discuss how we can adjust your workload or deadlines to make things more manageable for you.”

Practice Conflict Resolution: When conflicts arise, use emotional intelligence to address the underlying emotions and concerns. Actively listen to both parties involved, acknowledge their feelings, and work together to find a resolution. Instead of blaming, say something like, “I can see that this situation has caused frustration for both of you. Let’s find a solution that works for everyone and ensures we maintain a positive team dynamic.”

Celebrate Successes: When the team achieves a milestone, acknowledge and celebrate it. Recognize individual contributions and express genuine appreciation. This fosters a positive and inclusive atmosphere. For instance, “I want to recognize the hard work and dedication each team member has put into this project. Your efforts have not only met our goals but exceeded expectations. Let’s take a moment to celebrate this achievement together.”

Improve Feedback Delivery: When providing feedback, ensure your messages are constructive and considerate. Instead of saying, “Your performance needs improvement,” you might say, “I’ve noticed some areas where we can enhance our results. Let’s discuss how we can work together to support your professional development and improve our overall team performance.”

By consistently applying emotional intelligence and active listening in various situations, you create an inclusive environment where team members feel heard, valued, and supported. This, in turn, can contribute to improved team dynamics, collaboration, and overall performance.

What role has mentorship played in developing your authentic leadership style, and how do you communicate authentically to inspire and empower both your mentors and mentees?

Being blessed with four true mentors changed my career and its trajectory. Interestingly, all four were men. I quickly learned, however, that I needed to communicate more in their style — authoritarian. Most expected me to be very traditional in leadership and to demonstrate my position with fear-based approaches. The gift there was that I became more aware of methods to implement accountability to results. But, I also had to find the courage to push back on some feedback to incorporate my style.

In terms of mentees, my style has always been to be their cheerleader and resource. I also like to be an encourager and point out areas to improve with out destroying confidence and self-esteem. As a mentor, I am honest and warm but also strict with deadlines and results. This is really the hallmark of my style.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience and research, can you please share “5 Ways Leading Authentically As A Woman Will Affect Your Leadership”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

1 . Stay True to Your Values. No matter what you are asked, never compromise your moral compass to achieve success. In my over 30 years in healthcare, I knew my focus always has to be the patient and employee satisfaction. There were times that crossed paths with profitability in the short term but I knew my primary responsibility was about the people I served. At times, that was perceived as being “soft” but in the end it was my strength.

2 . Show Your Emotions. I think connection is one of the strongest motivators. If your team doesn’t see your joy or disappointment, they can’t connect with you as a person and develop loyalty. We work for people, not companies.

3 . Know it’s OK to be Tough. Being a woman doesn’t mean you are soft and able to hold your position. Being tough also doesn’t mean you raise your voice or use fear-based tactics. I have found being tough means holding people accountable to expectations with clear and concise communication and following through on consequences as communicated.

4 . Consistency is Key. Showing emotion or being tough doesn’t mean you are erratic or unpredictable. Be clear in what success is in your organization and be firm with that mantra day in and day out. It is important so if results do slide, teams know the course correction is not personal but a part of a well thought-out plan.

5 . Managing to Each Individual for Success. I am naturally wired to learn what makes each person “tick”. Using my natural inclination to manage to the person can be seen as unfair or inconsistent. However, when done correctly, your team realizes each member is special and their unique personality is respected. For example, one person may want very direct communication where one may appreciate direct but with the “whys” or a story to understand what needs to happen.

Are there potential pitfalls or challenges associated with being an empathetic leader? How can these be addressed?

Empathy does not weak incompetence or weakness. When working with others, it is my opinion that compassion can be shown without changing the responsibility or performance expectations of those who you lead. So, it is our duty to remember these things are mutually exclusive. The pitfall we must avoid is the perception that if we are caring then we can’t expect our team member to do their part.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I recently posted a blog about women supporting women. My passion lies in the paradigm shift that there is plenty of abundance for everyone, including women colleagues. I also truly believe in the past leadership positions were scare for females. As time has passed, I realized for us to continue to rise in any organization, we need to help other women through mentorship and promotion. Instead of being intimidated or jealous, celebrate and unite as there is room for us all.

How can our readers further follow you online?

My website is: www.juliannewilliams.com. I am on Facebook as and IG as Brave Enough Community and you can catch my show on FENIX TV — “Step Into Your Life.”

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About The Interviewer: Pirie is a TedX speaker, author and a Life Empowerment Coach. She is a co-host of Own your Throne podcast, inspiring women in the 2nd chapter of their lives. With over 20 years in front of the camera, Pirie Grossman understands the power of storytelling. After success in commercials and acting. She spent 10 years reporting for E! Entertainment Television, Entertainment Tonight, also hosted ABC’s “Every Woman”. Her work off-camera capitalizes on her strength, producing, bringing people together for unique experiences. She produced a Children’s Day of Compassion during the Dalai Lama’s visit here in 2005. 10,000 children attended, sharing ideas about compassion with His Holiness. From 2006–2009, Pirie Co-chaired the Special Olympics World Winter Games, in Idaho, welcoming 3,000 athletes from over 150 countries. She founded Destiny Productions to create Wellness Festivals and is an Advisory Board member of the Sun Valley Wellness Board.In February 2017, Pirie produced, “Love is Louder”, a Brain Health Summit, bringing in Kevin Hines, noted suicide survivor to Sun Valley who spoke to school kids about suicide. Sun Valley is in the top 5% highest suicide rate per capita in the Northwest, prompting a community initiative with St. Luke’s and other stake holders, to begin healing. She lives in Sun Valley with her two children, serves on the Board of Community School. She has her Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica and is an Executive Life Empowerment Coach, where she helps people meet their dreams and goals! The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a date on it!

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Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.