Leading with Heart: Yalu Xu of Momo Lifestyle On The Power of Authentic Women’s Leadership

An Interview With Pirie Jones Grossman

Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine
11 min readMar 6, 2024

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While empathy is a powerful leadership trait, it’s important to strike a balance between empathy and objectivity to avoid potential pitfalls such as difficulty in making tough decisions. By maintaining clear boundaries and prioritizing the overall well-being of the organization, empathetic leadership can be effectively leveraged to drive positive outcomes.

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 Yalu Xu.

Yalu co-founded Momo Lifestyle in 2017 with her husband Daniel. At Momo Lifestyle, we focus on developing products with simple innovation along with outstanding customer care. Yalu manages staff of a mixed cultural background from 3 continents. Check out the innovative lifestyle brand: www.momo-lifestyle.com

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?

Unlike the majority of professionals that are trained and developed in one area, I have done a diversity of things in my career due to my curiosity. I started as a business analyst in an engineering company in Brazil, then transitioned to a headhunter and B2B sales manager in China, and later a marketing specialist for an Indian company.

In 2017, my last employer shut down their operations and I was unemployed, so I took the opportunity to create Momo Lifestyle. All my past experiences came in very handy, as I had to do everything for a good few years before we could afford to hire.

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

Our first product was an electric water pump for water gallons. When our goods were being transported internationally, we already listed the products online and had our first sales without knowing — we did not expect that at all! A customer called from Brazil to check on delivery and I was in an entertainment park with my family. I explained very frankly the situation and offered a voucher for later purchase. The customer happily accepted my offer and waited for a few more days. I still remember this very first customer named Osmar from Sao Paulo, a very remarkable first sale and a great start for my entrepreneurship.

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

Excellence in customer care.

We understand that there are many companies offering great products and services, but what really connects Momo Lifestyle with our customers is our care.

We had a customer who was very upset with a delivery delay. He registered a complaint with offensive wording. We got in touch with her and explained everything very calmly. He softened and told us that he broke his leg and had to stay in bed for a few months. In a frustrating situation, people may have a wrong choice of words and we understood that completely. We sent him another product as a gift, a sensor light Luzinha, to help him move around at night. When he received it, he was very touched and apologized to us. Of course, apologies were accepted and we were very glad to help our customers when we could.

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 eyes to discover the unexplored talent

Building a strong team at Momo Lifestyle has been instrumental to our success. Despite our limitations as a small company, I’ve always believed in the power of recognizing untapped talent and providing opportunities for growth. For instance, all of our team members come from non-traditional backgrounds and none of them had done what they were hired to do in Momo, but their potential was evident from the start. By nurturing their talents and investing in their development, we’ve created a culture of empowerment and collaboration.

Can-do attitude

As we have limited resources and sometimes we limit the size of our dreams. I always tell my team that we can aim high even without having much resources and with the right strategy and hard work in place, we will be able to achieve or get close to our dreams. Most of our goals set have been achieved and our team also started to dream big and work hard for it.

Value Inclusivity:

I’ve always believed in leading by example and challenging traditional norms. Rather than adhering to a top-down leadership style, I prioritize collaboration and inclusivity in decision-making processes. By empowering my team members to contribute their ideas and perspectives, we’ve been able to foster a culture of innovation and creativity.

Supporting mental wellness:

Supporting mental wellness in the workplace has been a priority for us at Momo Lifestyle. When a team member exhibited signs of distress, I made it a point to have a candid conversation with them, sharing my own experiences and encouraging open dialogue. This approach created a safe space where mental health discussions are not only accepted but encouraged, leading to improved team dynamics and performance.

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.

Sometimes we make a perfect plan — it seems perfect but it just does not work! It is important to quickly revise the plan before the boat sinks. We have changed our strategies multiple times according to the market reactions and I do not stick to what’s proven wrong.

We developed a very good product which is an air fryer called Momo Easy Fry. We put a lot of effort into it in every aspect, from carefully hand picking the color to the design of the manual. The quality was top notched. We had all the hope that the sales were going to roar but to our disappointment, the products just did not sell. There are just too many competitions, until today.

All the time, efforts and investment became sunk costs and instead of struggling to spend more effort to sell it, we decided to let go and focus on new product development, with lessons learned.

We always learn from our failures, not our success. It is very important to accept the fact that you have failed and keep going forward.

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?

I am not afraid to show my vulnerability and weakness.

In a common business environment, we see our leader as the mentally strongest person, that is fearless and persistent and in a constant upbeat spirit. Sometimes the leader has to hide his/her emotions to maintain this image. This perspective can generate respect and admiration, but also puts some distance between leader and staff.

We are all human and humans are emotional animals. Most of our staff are born after 2000 and I perceive that the younger generation is mentally more vulnerable. 73% of them have suffered some level of depression and they have never talked about it with their previous employers. They are afraid that they could lose their job by revealing.

I am sensitive when I see such traces and I talk to the staff in private. I share my own experiences of postpartum depression and encourage them to talk. And they do.

Everybody gets sick. Mental wellness is as vital as physical wellness for our people to perform well, but it is often a taboo in business. By encouraging our staff to talk about it openly and get professional help, I was able to enhance our retention rate and establish a very caring corporate culture.

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?

In September 2023 our Instagram account for Brazil business was deactivated for some unknown reason. It was a major setback for us because our team has worked relentlessly to grow the account from 0 to around 70000 followers, with very high engagement. This account is like our baby and we feed it with very well thought and planned contents.

We tried all means to request the reactivation but could not make it. It was a tough moment for everyone involved. Instead of showing only determination and confidence to rebuild the account from zero, I did take a moment with the team to “console” our account. Let the sorrow happen and let it pass, before we roll up our sleeves to work on the next project.

It worked very well, we can talk about this loss at ease and we have come back stronger. We created a new account @momolifestylebr on Instagram and are looking forward to achieving the same amount of followers in 2025. In 4 months’ time, we almost hit 20000 followers from scratch, which is a great start.

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?

I may be very judgemental right now: I feel like some male leaders are more imposing, they want their ideas to be executed and the opinions from the staff could be irrelevant to them.

I always prefer when we can carry on a project with the consensus of everyone. Most of the time I know exactly what I want to be executed, but I do not talk from a top-down approach to my team. I like to start the discussion from brainstorming and guide it to a desired direction. I am also humble to change my mind during the course when I see the team members have a better idea than mine.

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?

I hired an office manager in 2023 who performed really well during the interviews. When she started working in Momo, I found her constantly pale and her hands shaking sometimes. I talked to her in private in a very personable way, she revealed that she was under heavy meditation due to depression caused by divorce.

As a mom and wife, I could easily relate to her. I told her this is part of life and it would pass eventually, she should take the best care of herself. She did not need to hide anything from us. She felt comfortable talking about her depression and everyone in the company helped her in some way. No one judges nor discriminates against her.

Our staff feel comfortable to tell when they are mentally not well and they know they will not get themselves into trouble talking about it. This increases our retention rate and ownership that our staff take for Momo Lifestyle.

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?

I benefited from mentorship when I was a freshman. I joined an international student association and I was lucky enough to be mentored by a very bright and kind sophomore. I used to have lunch with her weekly to catch up about life and studies, she gave me a lot of valuable advice and we became lifelong friends. There is not a clear definition of mentorship in Momo Lifestyle, but we do maintain a rather close relationship. As the team is small, we are very much connected and share our experiences about life as well.

The staff see us as authentic human beings instead of bosses, which I see as a good thing.

Based on your experience and research, can you please share “5 Ways Leading Authentically As A Woman Will Affect Your Leadership”?

  1. Trusting Instincts: Embracing intuition can lead to unexpected breakthroughs and innovative solutions.
  2. Kindness and Respect: Cultivating a culture of kindness and respect fosters trust and loyalty among team members.
  3. Objective Toughness: Balancing empathy with accountability ensures that tough decisions are made in the best interest of the organization.
  4. Embracing Vulnerability: Acknowledging vulnerabilities fosters deeper connections and mutual support within the team.
  5. Mental Health Awareness: Prioritizing mental health discussions promotes a culture of compassion and empathy, leading to improved performance.

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

While empathy is a powerful leadership trait, it’s important to strike a balance between empathy and objectivity to avoid potential pitfalls such as difficulty in making tough decisions. By maintaining clear boundaries and prioritizing the overall well-being of the organization, empathetic leadership can be effectively leveraged to drive positive outcomes.

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. :-)

Mine would be convincing more companies to allow the employees to bring their pets to the office. At Momo Lifestyle it’s pet day every day. We have 3 dogs that come to the office frequently and everyone loves them. In this way you create a more relaxed atmosphere and a bonded team spirit.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/yaluxu

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.