EPISODE 633: Sales Success and the Hybrid Paradox with Sarah Olin

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Today’s show featured an interview with Sarah Olin. The interview was conducted by Gina Stracuzzi, IES Women in Sales Program Director.

Find Sarah on LinkedIn.

SARAH’S ADVICE:  “People need to remember who they really are. They need to get reconnected to their values, what they’re committed to, why they love what they’re doing. Take a moment to remember, why are you doing the work that you do? What do you love about it? How is this an expression of you and your values? How is this a contribution that you’re making? Bring that into your next conversation and your next meeting and just see. That remembering is such a game changer for everyone.”


Gina Stracuzzi: Sarah Olin is the founder and CEO of LUMO. LUMO is a company that is dedicated to helping working parents stay in the workforce, get back in the workforce, and she’s going to be talking to us about that and what she’s finding are some of the biggest challenges for women and for families in the hybrid workforce. Welcome, Sarah.

Sarah Olin: Thank you, Gina. I’m thrilled to be here with you.

Gina Stracuzzi: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to start LUMO.

Sarah Olin: For many years, I lived in New York City and I was a multi-passionate entrepreneur. I had a business where I was teaching meditation in big companies all over Manhattan. When I got pregnant from my daughter, I knew there was a bigger conversation for me. I knew that I wanted to help people and make a bigger impact, and I enrolled in an executive coaching program and leadership development program, which actually had a major sales element to it. I became an executive leadership coach in my entire career. The last 10 plus years has been around supporting working women in having a great experience of being a working woman, because as we know, the system really wasn’t set up to support women in the way that we were all sold to Bill of Goods. That we have all of that great stuff, which I believe, but it takes something. That’s a much larger conversation. But my career has been dedicated to supporting women from that journey from working professional into working parenthood. Then another demographic of women who have achieved quite a bit of success and found themselves, “Is this all?” Like, “Hey, I’ve checked all these boxes, I’ve met all these milestones, and I’m still not having the experience I want. What’s not working here?”

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s such a profound question or set of questions. “I thought this was what I wanted.” I think it feels like it has to be one or the other. I love that you work with moms and parents in general to help them see that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s just figuring out where that, I don’t want to use the word balance because it’s a slippery slope, but some harmony in their lives. Tell us a little bit about some of the biggest challenges you hear about, or things that you help women or families with in your work.

Sarah Olin: Well, it really depends, Gina, on what stage of life they’re in, because depending on the stage, there’s different challenges. But some of the high-level themes that we see a lot of is overwhelm, just doing too much. A lack of support. A lack of wellbeing. A lack of advocacy for themselves. Being willing to advocate and be in deep relationship and take risks. I was recently speaking on a panel for young women in tech, and it was a conversation around creating a parental leave. We’re at a tech startup with 10 people. There’s no leave policy. We’re just figuring out as we go. I was absolutely blown away to hear how much fear in 2023 that young women still have around sharing they’re going to be pregnant. This is not a new conversation for working women, but there is so much fear and resistance. We’ve come so far, and yet we haven’t, there’s still a long way to go. The pandemic, of course, has thrown in all sorts of new challenges with hybrid work and how do we win at a seemingly impossible game.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s so interesting that you say all that, Sarah, because a lot of what you just unpacked there or started to are topics that we speak about in the Women in Sales Leadership forum quite a bit. It’s amazing to me how much fear there is in such highly intelligent, really driven women who will advocate for other people in their companies, but not themselves. That’s a lot of work right there, because we all do it. We’re all guilty of it. At one point or another, we’ve all not helped ourselves. But now we’ve started the junior forum, and one of the things that came up, and I may have you come in and speak to them, one of the things that came up is, look, if you don’t start speaking up now, if you don’t start advocating for yourself now, not doing it is going to become a habit that you’ll carry through your career, and it will be painful. You’ll be kicking yourself all the way down the street for years for the things that you didn’t say that needed to be said. The idea though, that there’s fear over talking about pregnancy, is just horrible. How do you coach something like that?

Sarah Olin: From a coaching perspective, Gina, I’ve got to uncover what are the thoughts and narratives, the stories and limiting beliefs in the way of having those conversations. Because people have been taught something. “Hey, if you’re a good girl, you don’t make any waves, you don’t say anything that could upset someone,” we’ve all been taught and socialized lots of different things, whether it’s our family of origin, or what part of the country or the world we grew up in. Because different cultures have different experiences with women, and women showing up, and women as leaders. That’s one of the places that we start, Gina, with the training work that we do. Whether it’s women who are later in their career, or women who are earlier in their career, we start with the fundamental principle that you are a leader. Everyone has leadership potential, and it just needs to be developed, and everyone’s leadership looks different. When you start to think about yourself as a leader, it starts to change how you show up and how you’re willing to be in the world, including advocacy.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, that leads into another aspect of the virtual hybrid world that I think is probably derailing a lot of the progress we had been making is, I think it’s actually harder to advocate for yourself on a screen, and in front of a camera, where the conversation’s probably being recorded. Whereas if you were walking into someone’s office and you’re sitting down and you’re having a one-on-one conversation, it’s not as intimidating and there’s not that feeling of, “Oh my God, what did I say? Was that recorded?” Do you see that happening? That people are more hesitant?

Sarah Olin: I think that people are reluctant, period, especially women to advocate for themselves. I think that being in a virtual space creates another layer, but I don’t think one is because of the other. I think they exacerbate.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, absolutely. I would agree with that. But how do we fix that if we’re going to stay in this thing we’re in?

Sarah Olin: Well, I love that you asked that, Gina. There’s a lot of answers to that question, but one that I think is really, really important, and it goes back to one of the first questions you asked, is that you brought up something that led to this binary, it’s black or white, it’s this or that. People have very all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to hybrid work. People had wildly different experiences with it. Some people loved it. For some people it was so painful, they couldn’t wait to be back in the office. Everybody had a different experience. What I know is that in an infinite universe, there’s more than two choices, this or that.

From a coaching perspective, we’re always looking at how do we create a win-win? How do we create a both-and? There’s a million ways to be in relationship. There’s a million ways to be successful. Why aren’t we talking about how we can succeed in whatever the format is that we have? It’s something that companies ask us all the time. They want us, and people will ask us about policy around parental leave, and I say this, “We aren’t policy experts. We teach people to thrive inside of the company that they’ve chosen to work for.” We don’t dictate policy, and we’re not compliance experts. We have opinions, but so does everybody. But what we do is say, “Hey, here are the tools for you to be able to win inside of whatever structure you have.” I have a personal opinion on hybrid work and being together in person as someone who does both. I do both. We work with lots of companies, Gina, and the way that I see the most success in programming is when we have both.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, that leads into another question that comes off, or something that I see and I wonder about, because it’s become adversarial in some respects, the companies against the employees. I can only think back, and this dates me so much like that old cartoon, “You must pay the rent.” “I can’t pay the rent.” It’s like, “You must come back.” “I won’t come back.” I think that really we do need both. I think companies need it to really keep their culture strong and to build, in the case of what we work on mostly, really strong sales teams, but then be respectful of people’s desires and needs to have more flexibility.

From the worker’s side, I feel like you, I know for myself anyway, I get real juice out of being near people, especially when I was coming up in the sales ranks. There was power in the shared frustration of not getting the sale or nobody talking to you or something. Then when you did, everybody celebrated. To me that’s just how you build stamina for selling and how you build the competitive nature too. But if everybody’s separate, then the company culture does suffer. When that suffers, eventually, if not immediately, eventually, that is going to have a direct impact on employees. What do you advise?

Sarah Olin: One of the things we talk about a lot at LUMO is that relationship is the foundation of results. When we are in relationship with each other, we are going to produce results. I think part of what’s missing, Gina, there’s a couple of things, people are not in sufficient relationship to be able to produce the results around hybrid work. Meaning managers aren’t talking to their people, people aren’t being honest with their managers. We’re not having the conversation. We’re not being curious. But also, to your point, it’s almost this politicized, people are really dug in on both sides about how it should be, and about how it needs to be, and how they’re right. If you are more committed to being right about your perspective than being in relationship and finding a solution, you’re not moving anywhere. We say you can be right, or you can be in relationship, but you can’t have both, so you got to pick one. But that’s the game people are playing here. To your point, “I won’t come back,” “But you must,” well, now what?

Leadership is about two things, being and doing. People aren’t being great about it, and because they’re not being great, we can’t move forward, we cannot collect $200. We can’t pass go, because we’re dug in, we’re defended, you’re against me. I need to protect myself from you. I need to show you how you are wrong, Gina. Versus, “Hey, we’re on the same team. You see something this way. I see it this way. How can we work together towards the greater good, because we absolutely have so much in common here? We’re here for the same thing.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Man, your keynote’s going to be powerful. I just know it.

Sarah Olin: We’re going to have fun, Gina. I like to have fun.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, you came to the right place. Everyone who knows me knows I’m all about fun.

Sarah Olin: Well, I think sales are so fun.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, exactly. I always feel that sales is a team sport and there’s that competitive nature that comes from being part of a team. Yes, you work as a team, but secretly you’re going to perform.

Sarah Olin: It’s a both-and. It’s us, but I’m great. It’s that tension. It’s wonderful.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yeah, for sure. But also, going for the point of women, I think that if there’s this hesitancy to advocate for yourself already, and then you add the layer of the virtual environment, you aren’t getting the visibility that you need to progress your career, or the visibility you’re going to need to make you comfortable enough to advocate for yourself. Now you’ve double-whammied it, if you will, in terms of how are you going to get what you need if you don’t feel comfortable at all, and you haven’t really seen your boss since the one-on-one a quarter ago? It may feel like us against them right now, but it’s going to be just a big mess, I think, in a year or two when all this really comes to roost, and now what? Now we’ve burned the bridge and it’s going to be harder to get back.

Sarah Olin: One of the things that we’re going to go deep and talk about, Gina, again, to help people shift the mindset. Because if we’re in a leader mindset, we’re starting to think different and be different about what’s happening. We want to work on a leadership mindset, but the real sauce, the real juice from a leadership perspective, and how to really win as a leader is the concept of a hundred percent ownership. We’re going to dive into that big time at the conference, because oftentimes individuals are waiting for their companies to do something to them, to provide the policy. They’re at the effect of the company, the policy, their manager, whatever it is, versus taking a hundred percent ownership for the relationship, for the experience, before their results.

From a leader perspective, I was trained in a hundred percent ownership, and it has changed my marriage, my parenting, my business, my team, everyone is trained on it because, Gina, the old way is like 50% you, 50% me. Nope. A hundred percent me, because if I own it a hundred percent, I always have a say. If I’m like, “Hey, my half is great, but your half stinks,” then I’m victimized by your stinky half. Versus if I’m not loving your half, what am I doing about it, or who am I being? It’s like, “Hey, Gina, I noticed that this isn’t working for me in the relationship. How can I support you?” Or if you are on my team and you’re not producing results, but I’m leading the team, so I’m responsible for all the results, it’s like, “Hey, I noticed that you are not creating what you’re committed to. What do you need? What’s missing for you? What’s actually going on over there?” It’s not a shame or blame conversation. It’s I always have power to do something or to be different.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love all of that. I think bestowing that thinking on the people at the conference is really going to help them leave with something so profound that they can then come at this, “I like the convenience of virtual, and it helps me because I can pick up the kids.” But it gives them the opportunity to say, “If I’m being honest, I also do need this visibility and this other thing. It’s up to me to figure out how to get it.”

Sarah Olin: Really, Gina, part of the thing here is that everyone needs to, in the words of our friend, Taylor Swift, everyone needs to calm down. Everyone needs to drop their armor and lean into relationship. Brené Brown says it’s hard to hate up close. When we are together and we’re talking, and we’re really together, and I’m open to you and you’re open to me, we can actually get things done. But when we are all armored up, when you are out to get me and I’ve got to protect myself from you, we’re not going to produce anything great from that place. We’re just not going to.

Gina Stracuzzi: We like to leave our guests with one piece of advice, something they can put into place today to take their careers to the next level, or start thinking about it. Maybe you could just leave us with a nugget to start thinking about before we go into the conference.

Sarah Olin: The thing that I think is most important or so important is people need to remember who they really are. They need to get reconnected to their values, what they’re committed to, why they love what they’re doing. Because, Gina, we all forget. I’ll be sitting there in meditation in the morning and then I’ll be driving my daughter to school, 15 minutes later, someone cuts me off, I’m like, “I hate you. I’d kill you.” Meanwhile, in meditation, I’m like, “I love everyone in the world.” We forget like that who we are, what we’re committed to. Take a moment to remember, why are you doing the work that you do? What do you love about it? How is this an expression of you and your values? How is this a contribution that you’re making? Bring that into your next conversation and your next meeting and just see. That remembering is such a game changer for everyone.

Gina Stracuzzi: Goodbye for now.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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