Power Women: Holly Dowling of ‘Extraordinary Leader’ On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman

An Interview With Ming Zhao

Ming S. Zhao
Oct 11 · 14 min read

Perhaps one of the best qualities of powerful women is they have the uncanny ability to always let their light shine to such a high level that it brightens the lives of everyone around them, so people always feel better in their presence

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Holly Dowling.

Holly Dowling is a highly sought after award-winning Global Keynote Speaker and Top Ten Inspirational Thought Leader, as well as founder of the “Extraordinary Leader” program. For the past 20 years, she has addressed hundreds of thousands of Fortune 500 companies around the world including Facebook, Deloitte, PaloAlto Networks, Disney, Wells Fargo, Cisco, Home Depot, Google, Hilton, and IBM, among others and impacted the hearts and minds of millions in over 120 countries worldwide with her “A Celebration Of You” podcast via iHeart Radio.

Holly was recently honored as a Top 10 Global Inspirational Thought Leader among other honorees Deepak Chopra and Dr. William Wilson, President of Oral Roberts University. She is also a member of the United Nations Girl Up, a two-time Stevie Award winner, a recipient of The American Riviera Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award, a global speaking member of the AICET Council, and she was recently recognized as a SHERO who are women “thrivers” making a positive impact in people’s lives. As the creator of Hollyisms Daily Dose Of Inspirations App based on her well known book “Hollyisms,” Holly’s mission is to continue to inspire hearts and minds all over the world!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

This career found me! I did not seek to be an inspirational speaker and thought leader. Yet, I do believe that through the course of my life events, I have always been a very driven and self-motivated, self-directed female. I have always had a passion to start little businesses even as a little girl. As young as seven years old I was ringing neighbors’ doorbells on the weekends trying to sell them literally anything ; from entertaining them by dressing in a tutu and dancing in front yards for 75 cents, to taking empty baby food jars and filling them with shaved soap from around the house and trying to sell it, it all came down to how I always had a sense of fearlessness. I wanted to try new things by combining entrepreneurship and entertainment, all with the goal of helping people and spreading joy. Who you are as a very young person can tell a lot about who you are later in life. Little did I know my childhood would play into my lifelong mantra of “Tell me no, watch me go,” and would be infused into every chapter of my life!

I believe that if we are open to what the universe and God has planned for our soul, sometimes doors open and present themselves in the most unbeknownst ways!

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

When I was living in Denver, Colorado, I was really trying to be the woman I thought I was supposed to be, which was to be a stay at home mom of two small children with one still recovering from cancer, but I could not figure out why I was so depressed. I was doing tons of laundry, changing diapers, and cooking and I realized I was missing a whole part of Holly. I felt I was missing out on making a difference in the world!

The pivotal point at this time in my life was when I learned that “The Summit of The Eight World Leaders” was coming to Denver, I wondered how the businesses of Denver were going to make a good impression and accommodate such diverse cultures. I decided to call the mayor’s office and discovered that no one had thought of how to educate the nuances of different cultures, customize menus in different languages, etc. With all eyes on Denver to make a great impression, I created a business called “Worldwide Etiquette.” With my background engaging diverse cultures on a cruise ship, I expounded upon research and developed workshops for all the Denver area businesses. As a result, I was featured on the BBC, interviewed on CNN, and was asked to join the African American Consulate. At that moment in time, my world dramatically shifted, and I was catapulted into the work of trying to make a difference on a global level.

The takeaway from this experience I would like others to know is to think big, don’t think small, think out of the box. And always be willing to walk through the door when it opens versus being discouraged when doors close!

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?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have always been tenacious and persevering. Whether it was creating “businesses” as a child or my unstoppable dream to become a cruise ship director, my mantra, “Tell me no, watch me go,” has always been at the forefront. The more resistance I have experienced by the world and by people telling me I couldn’t do something, the more that fueled me! It has been a character trait that has helped me as a business leader and kept me going.

Fearless. I have broken all the rules! Once I realized this was the journey I was going to be on as an Inspirational Speaker, I never followed what the world dictated that I should do to become a speaker. I have no bestselling book, no TED Talk, and no speaker’s bureau; nearly all of my business is from referral. As for being a Thought Leader, this title is something you do not seek out. I believe it is a title that is anointed because people follow you and respect your opinions.

Faith and spirituality. I have always had a very strong faith that has been tested. I am not someone who reads a lot, instead, I listen to my own internal wisdom. I think as a business leader, this has behooved my business and allowed me to achieve my goals.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?

I totally disagree. I think this is a social stigma. What you believe a “strong woman” is comes from your own experiences. This question is being asked with the assumption that people are uncomfortable around strong women and I don’t believe that. I believe it is how you show up to the world and what other people’s opinions of a strong woman is versus the social stigma people think they should listen to.

Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?

I have observed women my entire life, older and younger, their qualities and what I have believed has made them strong women. But, for me, the word “strong” is really not the correct word. I define a strong woman as a very gentle woman who is very comfortable in her skin and possesses a quiet, elegant, calm with poise. That is the type of woman I have always gravitated to and looked up to. Strong women are feminine and fearless, poised, and elegant, confident with unshakable grace, classy and sassy and charming, and a magnet of joy. I would love to say this is how I show up to the world!

What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?

I believe if people are feeling uneasy around you, it is because you are not standing in a peaceful, poised place where you are comfortable in your skin. You attract in others exactly what you put out there for them to see. If you change your perspective and realize that everyone is human and they truly want to connect with you, then you will not make people feel uneasy. I think people that show up in this world and make others feel uncomfortable are very caught up in their ego and this creates walls. To me, it’s about finding your humble, beautiful internal self and being so comfortable with yourself that others are attracted to you, not repelled by you.

What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?

Exactly what this article and this magazine is doing! Kudos to Yitzi, Ming, and the entire team! We need to showcase fabulous women who are not trying to be “intimidating women.” Women, like me, in the world who are choosing to show up and be authentic, transparent, and vulnerable enough to reveal and help others heal what they feel is wrong with themselves. Then they can start focusing more on what is beautiful and right from within! Truly powerful women are poised, charmed, and have a calm about them and are not trying to intimidate others.

In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?

I am very honored to answer this question. No, I have never felt I am in competition with men. I am regarded globally as a thought leader and inspirational speaker and many times I am in a green room of mostly men. My colleagues and authors out there are also mostly men and I have never felt intimidated, nor have I felt like I had to compete with them … I have always collaborated with them! For me, I have always found men to be my number one advocates, champions, and fans. Depending on the client, I would say 60–80% of my audiences are men.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women get in their “own way.” I believe the biggest challenges by women leaders, which are not necessarily faced by their male counterparts, is that women leaders create their own walls and barriers. Frankly, all men want to do is to be our allies and support us, but they need to know how!

One of the strategies we have been instrumental in leading with our biggest global clients is that we do not encourage women only events or women only association networking. While it is important to have these events, we always ask the client to invite men to participate, and the clients love it! How can men know how to support us if they are not hearing what we are talking about?

Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?

Absolutely yes, it was! It has been a struggle for me for several years because 90% of my speaking business is traveling and it was a struggle being single and the breadwinner when I was married. For a lot of women who struggle with this, either being single with children or being married with children, it is a challenge to make it work on a normal basis. For me it was battling the guilt when I traveled, especially when my boys got older and were involved in activities and sports. I have spent many nights in a hotel room crying, wondering if this was what I was supposed to be doing and begging God for answers and signs; knowing that if I was doing my soul’s highest calling that I need to have peace knowing that I am still doing what is best for my children and my family. I prayed that I was raising them to see a very strong, independent woman.

My boys have repeatedly said they have the highest level of respect for who I am and I attribute this to who they have become as extraordinary young men today!

What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?

Truly it was me practicing what I preach which means creating not work/life balance but work/life boundaries. I gave myself permission to put in some non-negotiables.

One of the turning points in my non-negotiables was when I had to tell one of my biggest clients that I would no longer be able to fly out on Sundays since it was our family day. I said “no” to a very big client with the fear that they would never book me again. I over-thought the situation and created a volcano of emotions and had put it off for months before broaching it with this client. Once I did ask, the client graciously replied with, “That’s fine, if you can’t be here, we’ll just move the event to Tuesday, and you can fly in on Monday.”

It is now a hilarious but profound story that changed my perspective on creating boundaries for myself and having non-negotiables.

I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?

This is such a powerful question! It is so difficult to not feel sucked into this, but I have always stood my ground that I have chosen to age gracefully. It is not easy living in an area like Scottsdale, AZ where there is so much plastic surgery readily available, but I have chosen to stop scrutinizing my videos and photos. I have decided to be a model for aging gracefully and not wear much makeup; I feel comfortable accentuating what God has given me and not cover up. I would like to say that this is a personal choice, and I would never dictate or judge what others do. My own personal battle at the moment is letting my hair be curly! I always felt that my curly hair was not professional, so I made it a point to have it blown out all the time. The timing of this article is perfect since I just recently have been making an effort to do more appearances with my curly hair!

How is this similar or different for men?

I cannot speak for men, but I feel they battle age issues just as much; however they deal with it differently. While public speaking is a number one fear worldwide, I think the fear of aging has no gender difference.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Poise. Poise is power at its best. When you think about people with poise, they have a calm strength about them with a touch of grace.

Verve. I love the word verve! When you are powerful in the best way, you are enthusiastic about life, people are attracted to you. The stigma around the word “power” can repel people but when you have verve, you attract people into your space. You attract energy, light, and love, and become a magnet of enthusiasm.

Tenacity. Tell me no, watch me go! From that overweight little girl in PA to becoming the woman I am today, nobody can stop me from going after the things I really want.

Unstoppable. Powerful women are unstoppable because when they are faced with adversity, they do not become bitter, they get better!

Faith. For me, power is having faith in yourself! I am very spiritual, and my faith has grown and changed. It is more than self-confidence, it is not ego driven, it is soul driven! Have faith in yourself to stand for what you stand for.

Perhaps one of the best qualities of powerful women is they have the uncanny ability to always let their light shine to such a high level that it brightens the lives of everyone around them, so people always feel better in their presence.

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

I would love to meet and thank Marlo Thomas! She wrote a book, “Free To Be…You and Me.” I read it when I was that shy, overweight little girl in 5th grade living in Overland Park, Kansas. I was being made fun of and bullied and the librarian shared this book with me. That book changed my life! At that moment, I realized that I am a good person, and I am free to be me, and I love me! The other reason I would love to meet Marlo Thomas is she is very active in St. Jude. I am a huge supporter of St. Jude since I had a child who was diagnosed at the age of two with a very rare form of cancer. Thankfully, he is now 30 and thriving. I would love to personally thank Marlo Thomas!

The other person I would love to meet is Deepak Chopra. I have spent years listening to his voice and love what he brings to the world! I am also deeply humbled and blessed to share the title with him as a top ten global thought leader. I would like to thank him for the spiritual gifts he brings to the world!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

All my appreciation, love, and gratitude for this opportunity to share!

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Ming S. Zhao

Written by

Co-founder and CEO of PROVEN Skincare. Ming is an entrepreneur, business strategist, investor and podcast host.

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.