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Women Of The C-Suite: LaDawn Townsend of the VOS Group On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite”, we had the pleasure of interviewing LaDawn Townsend.

LaDawn Townsend is the CEO of the VOS Group, a leadership development and strategic advisory firm leaders in positions of power and authority, and creator of the Recalibrate Leadership methodology. She has over twenty years of hands-on experience delivering leadership training and business strategy to global brands in the public and private sector including SBA, NASA and Large Enterprises.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Sure! I would love to. I’m a Los Angeles native that came from a family of entrepreneurs. It was the best training ground for my transition into being a CEO after my corporate career ended in 2014 when my department was downsized. I always loved fixing broken processes and that quickly became my career in the Finance and Tech industries.

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

My company is often brought in to recalibrate the leaders of an organization, this is simple but never easy because it requires most leaders to take a look in the mirror about what they have tolerated in the business. When they have shifted their thought process to instill and hold their team accountable that’s the magic moment. The most interesting story for me is after working with a global brand the entire department had a turn around in performance and the best part is that new talent was not needed, they retained the staff. It also led to over $1M in annual payroll savings for the company. When these moments happen it is an added benefit for my team and I and a constant reminder as to why I started my firm- to help leaders never have to use laying people off to make the budget.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of the funniest moments was when I traveled overseas to work with a client, keeping up with time zones is always tricky. In this situation, I was leaving the country after 8 days of fast and furious meetings, and on the day of my departure, I decided to do a late check out at the hotel, take a stroll around the city and then head to the airport later on for my evening flight. During that stroll, I remember my boarding pass flashing to my memory with the departure time, the time seemed odd to me. I then realized the plane left that morning at 6 AM and not 6 PM.

I was horrified a bit and was relieved later after my client was so gracious as to book a new flight for me to leave the next day. The biggest lesson in that from my early days was to hire an excellent EA and empower them to manage your calendar and you so that you’re not stranded in another country. Today, I can laugh about it but at the time it was a huge eye-opener.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my previous managers gave me the best piece of advice in my corporate career that helped me as a business owner and it was to anticipate the needs of my manager. He wasn’t telling me to be perfect in my performance, he was showing me how to think strategically at an entirely new level. Over the years I’ve mastered this ability to look for the watch items on the road ahead and I teach this inside of our Recalibrate Leadership program in our “Managing Your Manager” pillar.

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?

In 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic we were also a year into a rebrand of my firm, what started as a revision to the company logo and color palette turned into a pivot to our business model. This pivot was largely due to the positive feedback we received from both clients and prospects along with trusted colleagues on what they felt I did well as an expert and what the firm also did well, we specifically wanted to hear feedback on both. This is where it was cemented for us that our clients wanted more leadership training with the business strategy being secondary. As a leader, it is never an easy decision to make on the next path to take your company when there are team members involved. However, at that point, I had taken my firm on the traditional consulting route of adding more team members and was even on the verge of signing a commercial lease for a larger office space. That’s when everything paused, and I had to ask myself the question “Is scaling this way the right decision for the firm? Can we serve our clients differently with even more value? What type of life did I want as the CEO?”

That last question I often see leaders pause or never ask. But, it had become important for me because my inner compass was telling me something needed to change. After seeking advice from mentors and trusting myself we ditched the commercial space and reduced the team by 70% over the next year. It was a hard decision but the right decision to make and we tried to do it in a way that showed respect to the team. The transition ended as well as it could.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

This is a great question and one I’m glad to dive into because it is a core element of our leadership belief. Executives are on the hook to make the call that no one else can make, they have to make the toughest decisions by 10 AM while others are still figuring out their day. The buck starts and stops with executives and the more responsibility they have, which brings more pressure, is what I refer to as a privilege.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

The first myth is that decisions have to be made by a committee, nothing could be further from the truth. CEOs have to ‘make the call’ as I say with either good results or bad outcomes as a result. All eyes are waiting to see what they will do. It is a value add to get feedback from your Board and even the C-Suite team but I believe companies are not a democracy or a bureaucracy it is about having the roles well defined and within their areas of strength.

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

From my personal experience it is encountering a dismissal attitude, I’ve encountered this as an executive in Corporate and also as a CEO. And, it’s a challenge I look forward to. If it was during the days of showing an executive key data that revealed the gaps within their department or leading a workshop for a client with a heckler in the front row it is an opportunity not to ignore or silence the person but to redirect the narrative away from them being the spotlight and back to what we came here to do.

In many cases, with the work I do, there is a significant gap or problem that is detrimental to the company so when we keep the bigger issue in mind the limited mindset of someone displaying less than ideal behavior is not the priority. When I keep my tone and posture focused on that the individual turns around or someone steps in with a verbal mirror to help them see how they’re behavior doesn’t align with the title of leader.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Oh my goodness! How much time do we have? But, seriously the biggest shocker was the different things that would ask for my attention. As an executive, I would pride myself on clearing my end box by the end of the day and today I’m happy to get through it by the end of the week.

To help with this we have processes and procedures set up on how to communicate with me and what I should be pulled into so that all urgent items are being addressed on time and in scope. The biggest take-away for me in this season of being a leader is to give myself grace to accept what I can do and to move on to a plan of how to deal with the rest. I often talk with my clients about this, it is easier said than done but once it is put into practice it is an ideal productivity tool for leaders.

Is everyone cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

No, everyone is not cut out to be an executive. The ideal leader would be the one that shows their work ethic and character behind the scene when there is no one watching. They are the ones that are viewed as leading with influence versus with a title. What happens most of the time in organizations is that if someone does a task well or has a certain tenure with the company they are promoted, this is not accurate and can lead to a fallout within the employees and loss of productivity for the department.

Leaders are just that, ones who lead, you should be looking for how they show up when a promotion isn’t on the table.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The first would be to schedule vacation days in advance and to chart your business activities around that when possible. The reason for this is that if the leader at the helm is burned out and overworked everything goes downhill from there. The second would be to hire right the first time by being very clear on the work ethic you want for employees in their roles. The third would be to be okay to think differently about how the business should flow and don’t allow yourself to get stuck in patterns. Next up, is to keep your inner circle with only those who you truly know their character, and feel free to refresh that group as often as needed. If you have a hesitation or pause about someone, trust yourself and recalibrate.

The last is to take your time but don’t take your foot off the gas.. This means remembering that your goals are a part of the journey and it is okay to take action toward them but everything in business, and life, shouldn’t be a red alert.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

That leadership is an inside job! This is a core teaching in our Recalibrate Leadership system, if leaders want to see the change within their community it will start within the four walls of the office you work in. To make a change we have to first be the change.

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 admire Judy Smith, the world-renowned crisis management expert and past advisor to President Bush. Her ability to navigate and advise those in critical situations with the grace and strength that she does is something I deeply admire. If given the opportunity to have lunch with someone I consider a mentor, whom I may never meet, would be such a great honor.

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

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.