Beth Wonson spent years working in a leadership position. But she found that the tactics she employed to motivate her staff weren’t conducive to producing trust. She began to search for a better solution to motivate and inspire in an authentic way. After learning about different leadership cultures and traditions (and doing some self-work), Wonson was ready to start her own business. Today the Carmichael, California-based entrepreneur runs Beth Wonson & Company, teaching other leaders emotional self-awareness and management so that they can lead, inspire and empower their staff with empathy, compassion and a focus on the good of the whole.
Wonson’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I started my business because I had been promoted to a leadership position because I was great at doing the required tasks. I was not however, given any training or education about how the brain works, what motivates adults and how to empower staff.
Although I was great at my job and my team excelled, I was managing through manipulation and fear. I was not managing my own emotional reactions well and this was impacting my ability to build trust with my staff. But because we always hit or exceeded our goals, my own leadership was not concerned.
After several years of struggling to learn how to inspire, motivate and empower others I began to look at brain-based research, emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I realized that the problems I was trying to fix in my team were actually challenges caused by my lack of understanding of how to manage myself first.
When I left this position I spent three years working in a Native American organization who recruited me to help them develop Native American leaders to run the organization. I also got to work with tribal leadership from several tribes and bands in North America. Through this experience I gained so much insight into different leadership cultures and traditions. Through this and my own self development work, I began to see that in fact there is a better way to lead, motivate, inspire and empower staff.
At the end of the three year contract I spent some time deciding what I would do next and this is when I began building the core of the work of Beth Wonson & Company – Navigating Challenging Dialogue.
[Related: Deb Haaland on Bringing a Native American Voice to Washington]
I saved up three months salary, bought a house and started my company with one contract for $750. I was driven by the mission that it is possible to lead in ways that bring out the best in the workforce and in leaders – no matter how challenging the dialogue.
I define success by the feedback I get from people who’ve learned the NCD process. Not the immediate feedback right after our work together ends, but from the people I hear from 3 and 5 years later who tell me how what I taught them has shaped their satisfaction in their work and improved their relationships.
In 2019, prior to the pandemic showing up, we were hired by one the biggest names in technology to work with their managers in 5 locations including Dublin, Ireland. We trained and coached them use the NCD process to improve their skills as managers who coach staff. What we didn’t know at the time was that they were preparing for a big acquisition and these managers would be called upon to motivate, inspire and empower their staff in ways that they could not imagine. We were so grateful to continue working with their core teams through the acquisition process. This was great work and a highly effective application of NCD.
Most of my business has been on a referral basis. And that is great. But now as we are trying to increase the footprint of how many people know and work with us, visibility is a challenge. Especially now that we aren’t out traveling and speaking with groups. We’ve been increasing our public relations/visibility work by booking podcast interviews, engaging with media and creating our own online free events. With a team of three and all the other challenges of running a business, we are just being able to dedicate time to visibility.
[Related: 5 Social Media Trends Online Businesses Should Keep Handy for 2021]
In 2018 I decided to relocate my business from a community where I was so well known I could go for a cup of coffee and leave with a gig or two to the state capital of California, Sacramento. I moved for love and for the opportunity to cast a bigger net for clients including state government contracts. It was a bit scary in the beginning. Many of my former clients stayed with me however some weren’t willing to pay the travel (5 hours by car). So I had to use the same skills of networking and connecting that I used to start my business. It took me about a year of nail-biting and wondering if I’d made a horrible mistake before I was even more busy than I had been previously.
My dad is my greatest role model. He built a florist and greenhouse business with my mom when they had 5 kids and no money. He was asked to do something at his 9-5 job that he could not do (fire all the hardworking, dedicated men who worked under him and depended on their income for their families). He quit instead and came home and announced to my mom, “Evelyn, we are starting our florist shop now.” Ninety percent of what I know about hard work, sales, customer service and loyalty, money management and marketing comes from my parents.
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