Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Jody Michael Is Helping To Change Our World

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Great leadership is consciousness; it is awareness. If you’re a great leader, you are deeply aware of yourself. You manage your emotional states maturely and effectively, modeling for others. You have a nuanced awareness of others; you can coach and develop each person in ways that are effective for that particular individual.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jody Michael, Author of Leading Lightly.

Jody Michael is CEO of Jody Michael Associates, a premier coaching company specializing in executive coaching, leadership development, and career coaching. She is recognized as one of the top 4% of coaches worldwide and is an internationally credentialed Master Certified Coach, Board Certified Coach, University of Chicago trained psychotherapist, and Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book Leading Lightly: Lower Your Stress, Think with Clarity, and Lead with Ease (2022).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

My early childhood was culturally very Italian, and my maternal grandparents provided most of my care. My mother suffered from mental illness. She was hospitalized when I was 18 months old and was largely absent from my life. She was in and out of the hospital, always leaving our home suddenly and dramatically. I repeatedly experienced traumatic separation and loss.

My father was an immigrant who could not read or write and was an abusive alcoholic. When I was ten years old, he essentially kidnapped me to Chicago in the middle of the night. I was unable to communicate with my grandmother, and it was a violent separation from maternal love.

In Chicago, my father’s behavior escalated into daily abuse. I understood intuitively this wasn’t normal, and that I would need to parent myself. Although I lived in constant anxiety and fear, I found stability and support in sports and school. And, I learned to be the adult in the household: manage the bills, clean the house, cook dinner, and so on.

This went on for many years until I was finally old enough to leave. From then on, I intentionally and decisively created a completely different adult life for myself.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

When I was 15 years old, I found a library book called Seth Speaks, by Jane Roberts. It was pretty “far out” from the mainstream. But its premise was simple: Beliefs create reality; thoughts create reality. I found this to be profound. The book opened me to asking bigger, deeper questions. To building greater awareness. What was I thinking, day to day? What were my beliefs? I learned I could consciously choose my own beliefs instead of living by the default beliefs that were indoctrinated into me by my family dynamics and upbringing.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

My most interesting career mistake was years ago, when I placed a ten-thousand-dollar advertisement for my services as a psychotherapist in the Yellow Pages. Other therapists’ ads emphasized pain points: Are you experiencing anxiety? Depression? and so on. I was determined to be different, so I gave my ad a positive, aspirational twist: Create the life you want!

How many calls did I get? Zero. What did I learn? Mistakes are valuable.

I imagine most people would have quit the Yellow Pages after that! But the following year, I shocked the Yellow Pages sales rep when I put in a new ad, and hugely increased my ad spend … to forty-thousand dollars.

I deeply understood that people would only connect with the therapy ads when really hurting. So, I built the best ad I could to address prospect’s pain points. And over the next ten years (until people stopped using the Yellow Pages altogether) that ad brought in a quarter-million dollars’ worth of business over the cost of the ad.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

The great opportunity for social impact is at the individual level. Change happens person by person, WITHIN an individual. With my book, I can touch many more individuals than I already have as an executive coach.

What is that impact? To have an aha moment, to learn to navigate life with less pain, to feel more in control. And, to understand it is within oneself to be able to operate differently, even in same environment, even with all the people and factors we believe are causing our pain. We can lessen their distress to a degree that’s unimaginable.

And there is the ripple effect. If one leader of fifty people experiences deep internal change, those changes will positively ripple out to the fifty team members — and even beyond, to their family members. Mathematically, I know I’ve already positively impacted millions of people in my lifetime. The book extends this even more, and I couldn’t be happier.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Hmmm … that would ruin the surprise of the story I tell in the book. It would be like telling you the end of a movie before you go see it. So, no spoilers here!

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

Even as a young kid, I knew I wanted to write a book. I also remember driving with friends in Hawaii, and telling them, “I know I’m going to write a book in this lifetime.” As my career progressed, I began to feel pressure: I really NEED to write this book. But it felt too daunting.

A dear friend and mentor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business tried to break my inertia by appealing to my career aspirations. She practically screamed at me: You can’t teach here without a book! You can’t be a powerful thought leader without a book! YOU NEED A BOOK!

And yet … no book. I was haunted by my mentor’s words.

Shortly thereafter, talking with a colleague, I shared my dilemma — wanting to write a book but stymied by overwhelm. She gave specific ideas and encouragement to slay the dragon, and she offered to be a supportive presence along my journey. Something clicked for me; it felt like the stars aligned. I moved into action the very next day.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

The individual — let’s call him John — had been a long-standing employee of a Fortune 500 tech company. Once John became a C-suite leader there, his behavior was seen as problematic. He was mandated to get executive coaching. I interviewed the people who worked with him, and learned that he was intimidating, inappropriate and aggressive to the point of being a bully. He lacked emotional intelligence and thoughtfulness, and he had no active listening skills.

On the other hand, outside of work, John was a wonderful person. He had strong ethics and was devoted to his family. It was almost like a split personality.

At the start of our work together, John believed This is just who I am, I’m a natural leader, I’m just powerful. If people are intimated, it is because my body happens to have a large, tall frame.

He did the MindMastery work and had numerous “aha” moments. On a deep level, he saw the unintended impacts his behavior on others. As we built his awareness, he was a very different leader within weeks. Fast forward a year later: there have been no incidents despite increased stress and chaos in the company. John has not slipped up even once, and this was confirmed by his same group of stakeholders.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

It’s very challenging to get people’s attention on the root of the problem. Most people are unconscious that they are going through their day unconsciously — without self-awareness. So first, we have to get people to be “conscious that they are unconscious.” Then real — and dramatic — change can happen.

For example, I volunteered with the Chicago Few Initiative. I took twelve kids through an immersive engagement to build their self-awareness. When I met the kids, they shared one trait: they were all procrastinators. We worked on becoming aware of how we create procrastination (because we are not procrastinators by default.) As their awareness grew, they found more time to play, had less stress, performed better, felt better about themselves, and they got more sleep.

This awareness, plus change of mindset and habit, will be with them for a lifetime — and they’ll likely share it with other people in their lives. And in fact, the program’s intention was for them to become ambassadors in their own communities.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Great leadership is consciousness; it is awareness. If you’re a great leader, you are deeply aware of yourself. You manage your emotional states maturely and effectively, modeling for others. You have a nuanced awareness of others; you can coach and develop each person in ways that are effective for that particular individual.

You have tremendous situational awareness. You read the room and pivot in a single moment. You’re aware of the politics and intentions of others; you navigate these waters effectively and are able to calm the triggering that can happen.

You have high ethics, a strong moral compass and you’re not self-serving. You’re focus is to solve problems first with your organization and second within your team. You put your own individual agenda last.

You have a high level of discernment, so you make good, strategic decisions about complex issues. And finally, you have strong business acumen, so you are able to look at things from an overall business perspective as well as through the lens of your particular vertical and subject matter expertise.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

As a young kid, I wish someone had told me that I would be okay. I had a lot of anxiety about having to raise myself without real emotional or social support.

I wish someone had told me early on that you can build/create/design your life — and the sooner you embody that, the better the life you will have.

I wish I’d known even earlier that the two greatest investments you can ever make in life are (1) your self-development, and (2) prudent financial investing.

I wonder what it would have been like if someone had said to my young self: You don’t need to hide. You can have a voice.

And, I wish I’d realized that finding the right business mentor — a trusted relationship where someone is really looking to help you grow and progress — will catapult you faster and further than anything else.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

George Bernard Shaw said, Life is not about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself. I have personally found this to be wildly true. For many years now, I’ve charted my own course and lived a consciously designed life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are a number of very powerful women with whom I’d love to share a meal! Brené Brown, Meryl Streep, Whoopi Goldberg and Jane Fonda — all these women are incredibly interesting, intelligent, talented and successful. Each in her own way, they are authentic, willing to step outside the lines — be outside the box in some way — and to lean into their beliefs.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Jody Michael Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.