Elena Sarango-Muniz of Sarango Executive Coaching On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Communicate effectively, verbally, and non-verbally, the decision or path forward to all stakeholders. This might require different methods of communication and messaging, depending on the audience. Do it genuinely and objectively, without hiding information and/or facts.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Elena Sarango-Muniz.
Elena is a seasoned global Leadership Coach, HR Consultant, and Speaker with a true passion for assisting professionals in unleashing their potential through the development of their emotional intelligence, one conversation at a time. This journey involves aligning their values and purpose to undergo a transformation into genuine leaders who can inspire others and foster greatness within them.
Her diverse background spans various industries including hospitality, oil & gas, professional services, and tech, providing her with a well-rounded perspective on tackling the diverse challenges organizations face. Elena approaches these challenges with a mix of empathy, determination, and diplomacy.
Bringing in more than 25 years of hands-on experience in human resources leadership roles across international corporate settings, both in profit and nonprofit environments, Elena is a dynamic and intuitive leader and coach.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
Absolutely! I am a Peruvian who has been residing in Houston, Texas for over half of my life. I ventured to the United States at the age of 22 to pursue a master’s degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management. Much like the narratives of many immigrants, my journey led me to secure a position at a prestigious international hotel chain, the Ritz-Carlton, which ultimately prompted me to establish my life here in the US. Through marrying an American and becoming a parent to my son, my connection to this land has grown stronger than my ties to Peru.
My career started with a role as a Front Desk agent during overnight shifts while I was concurrently enrolled at Hilton College, a division of the University of Houston. Reflecting, I often share with friends that this role served as my personal PhD, imbuing me with resilience, the capacity to address on-the-spot predicaments, and the aptitude to navigate an array of challenges independently.
Due to visa issues, I was temporarily transferred to Cancun, Mexico for a year. Upon returning to the US, an opportunity surfaced in Human Resources extended by my former HR Director, specifically as the hotel HR Trainer. This juncture signaled the inception of my HR leadership career, a trajectory spanning more than 25 years, encompassing diverse industries and cultures. It is this very expedition that culminated in my resolution to establish a leadership coaching enterprise of my own. Notably, coaching leaders emerged as the most gratifying aspect of my tenure in HR.
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?
Oh, there are quite a few anecdotes that come to mind! One particularly memorable incident occurred during my tenure at the hotel, and while amusing, it did land me in a bit of trouble. Allow me to share. I was assigned to the overnight shift at a time when the hotel was fully booked, and I was aware that if every guest with a reservation turned up, I’d have to “walk” (redirect them to another hotel) the last individual arriving.
Unexpectedly, the situation unfolded in an unusual manner as the final two guests, who were strangers to each other, coincidentally arrived together around midnight. Faced with the dilemma of informing one of them that they’d need to seek accommodation elsewhere, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision. I extended an offer to both guests to share the only remaining room I had — the luxurious presidential suite, complete with two bedrooms. While they were somewhat hesitant, they eventually accepted the proposition.
Regrettably, my improvisation led to repercussions from my supervisors. Yet, this incident taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of preparation. I realized I could have better anticipated such scenarios and mentally rehearsed the steps I would take to adhere to protocol. Additionally, it underscored my capacity to think creatively and act courageously, despite the oversight. Fortunately, this unconventional solution worked out favorably for the guests, and while the situation could have had more severe ramifications, luck was on my side.
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?
I am 100% in agreement with this. I’ve had many amazing mentors and coaches that have guided me along the way. This one, Marilyn, was the HR Director while I was working at the luxury hotel, who saw in me something I didn’t know even existed, my potential to be in HR. I had just come back from working in Mexico as a Front Desk Manager, and when she found out I was back in Houston, she contacted me and said she wanted me back in the hotel but as an HR Trainer, and this is how my life changed completely, and how I got to where I am today. She saw in me the ability to treat people as I want to be treated and help organizations thrive through their employees’ wellbeing. I will forever be thankful to her.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Before I even started my company, I knew that my calling was to help others reach professional success by overcoming their fears and limiting beliefs. I’ve had sages throughout my life showed me it is possible for anyone to be able to accomplish success and happiness. I want to be that sage that can do the same for others, one conversation at a time.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I was leading an international team of nine (9) people when the pandemic started. We went from going to the office every day, to working from home, in fear of the virus, a hundred percent. I was not only leading this team, I was also the site manager for the Houston office, with about 300 plus employees. The first step was to remain calm and to lead by example. In such uncertain times, showing up via all possible communication channels was important. Maintaining my comms simple but objective also helped people feel informed and connected. I also created a WhatsApp group for my team to stay connected with not only work info but to share personal happenings and photos. We had virtual happy hours, we took pictures of our four-legged co-workers, in essence, we tried to make it fun while staying connected. I made sure I was available to my employees whenever they needed time, as if they were popping into my office for a quick chat. As the leader, I had to stay flexible and available, those were the main skills I applied during this tough period.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up was never an option. We were all in the same situation, and even though sometimes it was very tough, like when many of the employees or members of their families got sick, I made sure I stayed closer to them during those days. This drive was sustained by my purpose of being present, of being always their leader, regardless of political opinions, life philosophies, and perspectives. People need to know they are understood and supported, in the highs and in the lows.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I read books that match the stage where I am at in my life. When I was younger, it was more about finding my purpose, and becoming resilient, so some of the books I read were written by self-help gurus I admire such as Wayne Dyer, Every Problem has a Spiritual Solution, and Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. Nowadays, the books that I read are mostly about building and growing my coaching business, such as The Prosperous Coach by Steve Chandler, Becoming Supernatural by Joe Dispenza, and Being Coachable by Marshall Goldsmith.
Wayne Dyer was introduced to me by my late father, who every day at dinner would read a page or chapter from one of his books and he would go around the table and ask all his children, seven of us at some point, to give our perspective on what he had just read. This to me was not only the start for my admiration for Wayne’s teachings but also the beginning of my passion for everything related to leadership development.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
To show up and be visible, while maintaining a balance between being vulnerable and strong at the same time. Those leaders that show up in their most authentic way, with compassion and genuine care for their teams, are the ones that truly are seen as inspiring leaders. They are the ones people do want to follow.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
This is something I truly love to share when working with my clients, tools to be the leader everyone aspires to be: inspiring, supportive, understanding and fun. This is where Emotional Intelligence really plays a pivotal role. It starts with self, a leader that is self-aware is a leader able to recognize, name and direct their emotions in the best possible way and under any circumstances, especially under uncertainty. This in turn creates trusting relationships, a safe environment and therefore sustains high levels of teamwork and collaboration; the ideal formula for having a happy and engaged team and organization. When there is trust, everything is possible, under any circumstance. The leader needs to work on themselves first, by asking for feedback, putting that feedback into practice, owning their mistakes, practicing empathy, and communicating effectively.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
This is a combination of straightforwardness and empathy. Stating the facts, being genuinely open with our emotions, and anticipating how the person/team might react. This last step is specifically important for the leader, so they can feel comfortable and prepared to respond to all possible potential scenarios.
The leader must have all the facts and points to communicate ready and confirmed as being the truth, no assumptions can be made when communicating difficult news. Additionally, the leader can prepare mentally and emotionally before delivering the news, so the communication is as smooth as it can be. This could be accomplished by rehearsing, meditating, breathing exercises, securing a supporting partner/peer or boss to be with them.
Drafting the message itself is also key. I usually suggest the leader shares the message with a trusted partner first so they can get feedback and hear different perspectives.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
One day at a time, keeping a balance between optimism and staying as informed and factual as possible. A leader has to be able to surround themselves with trusting sources of information, capable individuals as part of their team, so they can delegate and strategize confidently. Having a team of trusted partners that can contribute with different perspectives and ideas is also part of the planning. This all makes the leader able to flex and adjust when needed.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
In my 25 years of experience working with different organizations across continents, I can confidently say that the number one principle to guide companies through turbulent times is to listen to their employees’ voice and emotions. Keeping the employee’s well-being as their priority, even when having to make tough decisions, will guide them to take the right steps and make the right decisions that will ultimately benefit both, the organization, and its human factor.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Leaders hide behind the scenes and do not show face. Communication is minimal or non-existent.
- Companies who ask for feedback but don’t do anything with it, or even sometimes do the opposite without further explanation. Employees feel tricked and sometimes lied to.
- Implementing cost-saving policies and measures that do not make sense and that eventually cause more damage than not.
- Eliminating benefits that in the long run affect more than contribute to the recovery of the organization.
Companies need to keep in mind that the human being is complex and diverse in thought and perspective. Asking for trusting diverse and experienced perspectives is a wise step towards making the right decisions. Sometimes cultural and geographical factors are not considered, and decisions are made by individuals that think and feel the same way, and do not ask for the perspectives of the leaders that represent their different businesses, client groups and locations. This is a big mistake companies need to avoid.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?
- Pause: take time to process the situation in your mind and in your body. Notice what emotions are being evoked and what is the conversation happening in your own mind.
- If available, bring a trusted and objective thinking partner, such as a coach, and identify the different options and paths you have available to take. Some of the options are not obvious at first sight or when working alone.
- Choose the option that not only looks but also feels the best for you, the leader, and for the team and organization. Being able to evaluate and weigh the pros and cons of each option is key before making that final decision on how to act.
- Communicate effectively, verbally, and non-verbally, the decision or path forward to all stakeholders. This might require different methods of communication and messaging, depending on the audience. Do it genuinely and objectively, without hiding information and/or facts.
- Ask for feedback; embrace what is shared with you so you can then learn and apply, adjusting next time you are facing similar situations.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am a risk taker! So, I go back to what my mother taught us since we were little: there is no worse action than the one we do not take (translated from our native Spanish: No hay peor gestion que la que no se hace). Staying put, afraid of taking the next step, as scary as it might be, or doubting yourself on making a tough decision even though you know you do not have another option, is not part of the way I live my life. I am a risk taker, always have been, and this has put me through roads less traveled, and has forced me to make tough decisions, and endured painful moments, but I would have not changed this path for anything. I am who I am, and I am where I am at because I took those actions and made those tough decisions. This lesson in life has made me who I am every step of the way, and now more than ever as I build my company.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I am always active in LinkedIn and Instagram:
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Elena Sarango-Muniz of Sarango Executive Coaching On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.