Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling
moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The
Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing (Lauren LeMunyan).
Lauren LeMunyan is the Founder of Spitfire Coach, an agile leadership development organization based in Washington, DC that works with global leaders from Fortune 100 companies, leading tech firms, think tanks and small businesses. Lauren is a certified executive coach that leverages design thinking, emotional intelligence, positive psychology and intuition to build trust, create solutions and take on hard topics. When Lauren isn’t releasing corporate resentment or upskilling professionals, you can find Lauren hosting The Spitfire Podcast or rapping and singing as JRSY FRSH with Justin Trawick and The Common Good.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Lauren LeMunyan: How long do you have?
As a 6-year-old my grandmother taught me how to crochet and invited me to her Tuesday night Crochet Club. I’d absorbed to their adult conversations while flying through scarves and afghans. I quickly adapted that into hat making which I turned into a business at 12. It remained a hobby until my mom’s second divorce when our financial bottom dropped, and I had to change colleges. I needed a way to cover rent and tuition and started cranking out hats. I worked the craft market scene throughout New Jersey and ended up in a young designer market of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. After months of making hundreds of hats, my immune system and hands shut down and I realized I had to create a more sustainable future for myself. I graduated from Rutgers in May of 2005 and slept on the floor of a friend of a friend’s couch as I started my career in association management. After 6 months of being an admin, I jumped at the opportunity to manage a trade association. I had a working knowledge of running events, marketing, building consensus and managing a budget, but I had no clue how to manage people. I made tons of mistakes, but the one thing I learned was to own it, get in front of it and learn from it. This unfortunately was not the widespread culture in the organization as a whole. After getting married and moving to Texas during The Recession, I adapted to remote leadership, but it only depended the divide of my career expectations and the reality of corporate culture. In 2016 after getting certified as an executive coach, I realized I could have more impact working with leaders like me who need support, skills and a safe space to express and shift in their leadership presence. Since 2016 we have worked with over 300 professionals from Fortune 100 executives to sole proprietors in helping them show up, show out and catalyze positive and lasting change
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Lauren LeMunyan: I remember the day like it was yesterday. I proposed a topic for a company-wide manager’s meeting – “How to Work for Your Happy” and was told that my ideas were too progressive for the organization. It was like a ton of light bulbs going off at the same time – Happiness should be a necessity not a luxury at work. I knew at that moment that I could be more effective activating happiness on an individual, ripple-out scale v. trying to change an established, unmoving organizational culture.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Lauren LeMunyan: Yes, as soon as I learned a skill, I immediately thought, how can I make money doing this, who may want to buy this. I would make key chains and bracelets and sell them on our front yard. I would bundle chores and sell them as a higher package to my parents and neighbors. I loved getting to yes!
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Lauren LeMunyan: My mom has always been super supportive and challenged me to get beyond the scary stuff. I always felt I was different and at times had trouble connecting with peers. She would always remind me that sometimes awesome needs to stand alone. When I started my business early on and was considering going back to corporate, she said, “that’s an option, that’s always an option. Tell me why you think you need to go there.” She never told me what to do but waited until I worked through my fear and discomfort and welcomed me back to my empowered self.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Lauren LeMunyan: We tailor and personalize our approach with every client. Our process is meant to be adaptive to meet each client, whether it’s a team or individual, in addressing, uncovering, resolving and activating their superpower. We do the unexpected and don’t play safe.
A client came to us fearing that they would lose their job after they received negative 360 review. We didn’t say what the client wanted us to hear, but we said what the needed to hear. In one session, they gained awareness and access to empathy, compassion, and empowerment. Over the next year, we upskilled him to transform his executive presence from The Effective Bulldozer to The Empathetic Empowerer. He is now the go-to person in his division for diversity, equity and inclusion.
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?
Trust – I see every interaction whether it’s in person, on Zoom, or in a text as an opportunity to build mutual understanding. I show up as a real person and in turn create human interactions that co-invest in mutual success and pay dividends long after the interaction. The first time I really learned about Trust was when I needed a loan for my hat business. I drafted a business plan with repayment terms. My uncle gave me the loan and said pay me back when you can. I paid him back with interest within the year, knowing that keeping my word was far more valuable than the dollar amount on that check.
Play – In a state of play anything is possible and there are no wrong answers. When you can bring people in and start doodling while listening to your favorite jams it allows you to recall past experiences and connect them to existing issues. I use this in coaching sessions and doodle characters or stick figures that represent the situation. If I can get a laugh, I know we’re on our way to a breakthrough.
Reflection – It can be so easy to be in go-go-go mode, but whenever I’m on the verge of growth, the best thing I can do is stop, breath and take stock of where I’ve come from, what I’ve accomplished and who I am. Any time I’ve tried to rush from win to win, I hit the wall of self-doubt. Reflection has been the key to resilient and sustainable success
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Lauren LeMunyan: When I left the association world to launch the coaching practice, I met with several people about advice to re-enter the space as an outsider. Someone told me I needed to change my company name because it came off to aggressive and powerful. I actually listened to them and for 18 months operated under Lauren LeMunyan Coaching LLC. I felt watered down and safe. Once I reclaimed my Spitfire name everything clicked, and I started attracting in the clients I wanted to work with.
R & R – What is realistic and reasonable for right now? We are in a constant state of change and people need to be honest with themselves and feel safe speaking when things feel unreasonable and unrealistic.
Breaks need to be honored as much as scheduled meetings with clients. Our best ideas can happen in the breaks and we need the space in order to process the excess information from the day.
It all starts with a clear and mutually agreed upon and acted upon mission, vision and values statement. When your decisions, actions and behaviors align with those three things everything clicks. When they are misaligned, how can they get back on track or what needs to shift or change to align better?
I would also start with personal reflection. Where are you contributing to your own burnout and overwhelm? Where may you be contributing to your team’s overwhelm. If we aren’t willing to course-correct our own behavior, we can’t expect others to.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Lauren LeMunyan: Transparency – Own your issues, address them, and talk about what’s going on.
Address the skeletons in your culture – where are you lacking psychological safety, where is there underlying resentment in yourself and your team, and where can you get support to resolve them.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Lauren LeMunyan: We are working to equip leaders to be the change we all need and deserve – inclusion, equity and diversity. We help leaders create safe and inclusive ecosystems to allow everyone to shine as their superhero self. If we don’t address these issues, we will continue to relive the sins of our past and become extinct and irrelevant
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Lauren LeMunyan: They don’t understand their own limitations – risk thresholds, experience/expertise, belief systems. Before jumping in the deep end of business ownership, take the time to reflect on:
Why you’re doing it,
What capacity do you have?
What financial and energetic resources do you have to give?
What baggage are you taking with you from past experiences?
What are you assuming to be true or expected?
What don’t you know that you really need to know?
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Lauren LeMunyan: Being an entrepreneur comes with the highs of landing deals, creating something from nothing and exceeding your expectations. On the same lines those expectations when not met can come with huge disappointments. Especially if you’ve initially had great success with profits, exposure, engagement, and interest, we reset our best day to what every day should be like and when it doesn’t show up, it feels like a massive let down. In a 9-5 corporate job, you have a relatively clear idea about what is expected of you for your job to get paid twice a month. You know when to show up, you know when to leave, you know what you need to do because someone else has figured that out. As an entrepreneur you are the decision maker on all accounts and your success is 100% up to you. For some this is an exhilarating feeling, for others this ownership feels like sheer terror.
The other element is the personalization in business ownership. It’s your name and reputation on the line. It’s an extension of your passion. Even if you love your corporate job, it’s someone else’s business which allows you to detach and disengage outside of contracted hours.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Lauren LeMunyan: The day I made more in my business that I did in my corporate job was the best feeling in the world. It felt like a cap of limits shattered as I flew up in my superhero stance. It was the validation that I was the maker and creator of my worth and it had no limits unless I put them there.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Lauren LeMunyan: The first year was the hardest. I literally made $13,000 that year. I started putting my rent on my credit card because I was afraid I was going to run out of money. I was terrified and didn’t want anyone to know what was going on for fear that they thought I was a phony and ill-equipped to work with them.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Lauren LeMunyan: I started writing and sharing my story with other business owners. In doing so, I reframed my fear into resilience and moved from paralysis to daily action. I started investing in my personal and professional development as a business owner, created stretch goals and took better care of my physical and emotional health. In reality I needed to heal from the corporate trauma I had left behind and I needed to breakdown to build back up.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know Your Numbers – What do you need to pay your bills? (all of them including yourself) If you don’t know how much you need to make or have in the bank to cover lean times, your brain is going to obsess over it until you do. In numbers we have truth, in the absence of them we have story, assumption, fear, worry and anxiety. If you look at your numbers and are consistently in the hole, is it time for a different conversation? Is this business actually working for you or are killing yourself trying to make something work that may not. By giving yourself permission to think differently it actually can activate the initial passion, creativity and energy you had when you started your business. Which leads me to my second point.
- Anticipate the Drops – Your business will cycle like the seasons. Maybe your Summer and Fall numbers are super strong, what can you do to plan for the decreases in the Spring and Winter. When you know your numbers, you can see how each month and quarter trends and then can plan new strategies – sales, partnerships, outreach, to make up the difference.
- Apply and Interview for Jobs Every Year – This sounds counter-intuitive, but nothing gives you a better gut check then the possibility of going back to a 9-5 job. It keeps you fresh in your skills, challenges you to update your achievements and track record and gets you in the door with companies in a new way. It also is a good indicator if you have gaps or blind spots you may need to pay attention to like new software or certifications.
- Keep an Awesome Shit List Journal – It can be easy to discount or undervalue our achievements especially when they don’t feel like they took much effort, but the reality is they came to you easy, because of your awesomeness. By capturing the awesome wins, lessons learned and growth you’ve experienced in your business, you’re not just collecting evidence to look back on when things aren’t going so well, but you’re giving your brain the directive to look for the good stuff. This works even better when you have a support system that is also collecting and sharing their awesome shit! Like energy attracts like energy – now what kind of energy would you like?
- Pre-schedule Your Vacations – Don’t wait for the time to open up to take a break. You will never find the time unless you make the time. Six months in advance, schedule a few days or weeks, yes you heard me weeks, to completely unplug. This will challenge you to create systems of coverage and communication for you to step away and see how your business can work for you. Block out your calendar and book your stay – no excuses. Your vacations give you time to fully recharge and recover through the ups and downs, have something to look forward to, and know that you deserve it!
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Lauren LeMunyan: Resilience is the ability to flex, stretch and respond when constraints and adversity arises. When things don’t go as planned, resiliency is what keeps us moving forward. The characteristics of resilient people are maturity, experience, trust, grit, empathy, strength, innovation, reflection.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Lauren LeMunyan: Resiliency is formed from adversity and challenges which my childhood was full of. I think the resiliency switch was flipped in me when my mom left my dad when I was 4. That was my first glimpse in the lack of permanence in relationships and where I realized I had to rely on myself.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
Lauren LeMunyan: I am most calm during challenging situations. If there is chaos or confusion, I immediately look for the options and resources around. I think it’s my ability to depersonalize and detach from the expectation. I look at what is critical and crucial and go from there. Once stress levels lower, then the real innovation happens.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Lauren LeMunyan: This is an interesting question and I probably won’t answer it how you may expect it. I think you need to have the attitude that your clients and team need from you in that moment. If I come in all roses and sunshine and someone is having a craptastic day, the worst thing I can do is tell them to look on the bright side. Empathy allows me to see from the other person’s perspective and shift as needed. Positivity like any other emotion should be treated like it’s on a dial and attuned in a way that builds trust rather than trying to coerce them into how I want them to feel.
I also love making people smile and laugh when they’re in the place to do so.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Lauren LeMunyan: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Gandhi
For a long time, I thought I had to wait for permission from someone else to get promoted or to start a new idea. I thought I had to wait to get what I wanted to become the person I wanted to be. When I realized that I was already that person in a state of learning, creating and growing, I stopped waiting and starting being. Once I locked into my vision of the change I wanted to create, everything aligned to meet that vision – how I showed up, how I felt, how I communicated, how I took care of myself. Without clarity we are bumping around and tripping. With a little bit of light we can find the switches to lighten the world.