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Next weekend Triberr is teaming up with My Guest Blog and Internet Media Labs to host Tribeup NYC, a day of content, seminars and networking for bloggers everywhere.
If you haven’t bought your tickets yet, you can still get in on what promises to be an amazing event. Bonus: if you buy them here you get my affiliate discount which is $20 – soon to be $30 – off the current price.
Why does this sound like an amazing event? Well, if you know Triberr you can probably already imagine, but just last week I had the good fortune to speak with one of the presenters, Lena West of The Influence Expansion Academy.
If you don’t know Lena yet, you’re in for a treat. I spoke with her for over an hour about life, work, parents and tattoos. The premise was that I would interview her in the lead up to Tribeup, but it was not so much an interview as a conversation. Lena is unscripted, passionate and thoroughly knows her mind. She’s been on more “top” lists than I can count and writes for publications like Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company and The Huffington Post. She also knows a thing or two about influence and success which will be quite evident as you read through her delightful words.
When I called Lena, we got disconnected twice, lost our recording once and had to compete with the sound of jackhammers outside her window. But she was cheerful, charming and completely on-point. I hope you’ll be as inspired and encouraged as I was after hearing what she has to say.
Interview With Power-Woman Lena West
The following has been edited for length but the full integrity of Lena’s words has been preserved.
Question: Lena, I first read about you on your Influence Expansion site. The first thing that struck me was that you changed career paths because you wanted to be “the best in the world” at what you do – and you didn’t feel you could be the best at what you were doing at the time. That’s what drove you to start the Influence Expansion Academy where you knew you could be “the best”.
Most people are happy to be good at their job, make enough money, go home at night, take 2 weeks’ vacation and be done. What drives you to want to be “the best”? And what can you share with those of us who find the idea of striving for something so grand a bit terrifying?
You can strive for mediocrity or you can decide that every single day you wake up you’re going to go for it – and everything you do that day is going to be geared toward, and in support of, the legacy you want to leave in this world. I operate from that perspective.
I think anybody can wake up and say, “I want to have a good day today.” That’s easy. It’s the exceptional person that gets up and says, “How can I change the world? How do I make an impact today?”
Oprah says it best. She says she’s been so fortunate in so many areas in her life that to tolerate mediocrity in any area would be unacceptable. How can you be exceptional in one area of your life and decide to accept mediocrity in another?
A lot is who I am as a person. Successful people do what other people won’t. For some people that might be intimidating and that might not work for them. Some people are into effort-free living. Everyone subscribes to their own philosophy. I was always told that you have to be a leader and that’s what it’s about for me.
If you’ve got to suit up and you’ve got to go out on the field you might as well win.
Question: That’s a terrific mantra. And it has a lot to with your attitude towards life. Do you have any particular strategies to stay focused and motivated?
I think your environment plays a huge role in the success you have and the ease with which you’re able to achieve success. I believe you’re the sum total of the people you spend the most time with so I’m careful about the company that I keep, and I don’t share my dreams with people who don’t have dreams of their own. It’s a mindset difference.
Question: You don’t surround yourself with people who will bring you down.
I surround myself with people who are big thinkers, who will support me in my big thinking, who I can support in their big thinking. I’m very careful about the words I use and the way I choose to talk about myself. A mentor told me that you should never use negative words when you talk about yourself. Unfortunately in this culture we’ve been taught that the way you show your humility is by saying negative things about yourself. That sends a message to yourself that you may not want to be sending.
I’m mindful of my language, my speech, the way I speak about myself, the ways I speak to myself, the ways I allow people to speak to me, who I allow to speak to me in terms of who gets my time and focus.
You have to control your environment and decide who you don’t want to be around. I want to be around people who want to make an impact in the world.
Question: Speaking negatively is so ingrained in us that it can be hard to escape. Everywhere from TV to movies to business meetings, if there’s no self-deprecation, you sound like the know-it-all in the room and people don’t like that. Has that ever presented a challenge for you?
I believe that humility is a posture of the heart and not your physical form. Anyone who has a problem with my confidence and support of myself and unwillingness to say negative thing about myself doesn’t have a problem with me, they have a problem with themselves.
What people think has nothing to do with you, but the filter with which they view you from their own life experiences. Either you’re going to connect and have synergy or not. And there’s not much you can do to control a person’s experience with you. Either it’s positive or it’s not going to work out and you move on and hope you make a connection next time.
Question: I’m curious to know who’s influenced you. Anyone who you look to as an inspiration?
Definitely my parents. I have a video of them where I asked them the question, “If you could have anyone special alive or dead to dinner and talk to them, who would it be?” And they’re lying on their bed watching TV and reading the paper in chillax mode and I asked this question and they know I have the camera rolling and they said, “Nobody. We wouldn’t want anyone.”
And I said, “So if you guys knew the president was coming to dinner, you wouldn’t think, “Oh my god!” And they said, “Nope, if he came over we’d treat him like anyone else who came over. We’d offer him something to eat and drink.”
My parents have always had this approach that nobody is better than anybody else. Someone’s station in life does not make them a better person than you. From them I’ve gotten a lot. Their approach and attitude has been very grounding.
I’ll never forget the first time I was on the cover of a magazine and I had the proof pictures that I brought back from the photo shoot and we were celebrating. I ran upstairs and I showed them the mockup and we all celebrated and on my way out, my mom said, “Oh, can you take the trash out with you when you go?” And I said, “Mommy, I was just on the cover of a magazine!” And she said, “Ok. Can you take the trash out when you go?”
Question: That’s a great story. Mom, don’t I get to be famous for just one day?
My family definitely keeps me grounded for sure. They’re proud of me but they don’t let things get out of alignment. I’ll always be Lena to them. I know I won’t go somewhere and get a tattoo on my face so my parents would be like, “What the heck is going on??”
I also look at people like Kathy Ireland. This woman is quietly building a billion dollar business. She’s not on TV every 5 minutes, you don’t see her on reality TV shows. She’s just chipping away and working at her craft, honing her craft and working with the best people in her industry.
Question: She really bucked a stereotype, didn’t she?
Essentially. She’s not someone you see on TV every 5 minutes having a media meltdown but she’s just chugging along and making huge strides and if you pay attention to her work you know she’s up to good things. She’s absolutely inspirational to me.
Question: She’s not looking for infamy. She’s basically looking to do what you’re doing but in her sphere.
She’s staying in her lane, and doing her thing and I respect that.
Question: I want to go back to something you said about your parents and how if the president came over they’d feed him dinner and send him on his way. Many parents instill a sense of fear or at least reserved respect for any kind of authority. Anyone from the next door neighbor you call “Mr.” to the policeman to the fireman.
That sense of equality that your parents instilled in you must be very freeing.
I think everyone deserves that level of respect. Why is that reserved for someone who’s achieved a title? In life you don’t know who’s who. You walk into a board meeting and unless someone tells you, you don’t know who the CEO is, who the players are. So you always have to be humble and respect everyone. You don’t know whether the receptionist is the CEO’s daughter-in-law. So you always want to be respectful of people no matter what their position or station in life.
My parents always had the sense that hey, we’re not going to change who we are because someone has a title. My mother is the same person who would give a glass of water to the president and who I’ve seen in a snowstorm take the shoes off her feet and give them to a homeless person because she has more shoes at home and she’s about to get into a warm car and go home to where she can put on another pair of shoes.
Question: Your family sounds wonderful and I might have to adopt them. On another note, I’d like to ask you a bit about the business side of what you do. You specifically teach women in business. Is that because you have a different perspective as a woman in business, or because women have a different way of learning?
Actually it’s both. In working with my coaches over the years, one thing I realized is that when it comes to online technologies and marketing, women are always being spoken at instead of spoken with. There’s always some guy putting himself in a position of authority saying, “Here’s what you have to do… this and this and this.” The way in which the instructions were ordered didn’t really fit with how women roll. How we approach business, how we approach tasks we’re not familiar with.
Women do learn differently. We think differently. We’re wired differently.
I was very passionate that women didn’t get left behind in this online marketing/social media revolution. I really want to make sure that no matter what a woman’s budget, they have access to quality social media and marketing advice.
I kept hearing from women, “I don’t have the money, I don’t have the budget, I don’t know who to listen to, I just started and I don’t know what to do.” It became an ugly trend. I kept hearing that and the more I head it the more I didn’t like it. Women are struggling to get their business on the map. They’re focused, they want to achieve, so why should they not have access to top flight social media marketing advice without having to mortgage their house? What if I created an academy where they could learn and all my fees were based on a sliding scale based on how much they could afford? That’s what the Influence Expansion Academy is.
Question: You have a subscription model. There’s a monthly fee and someone gets coaching.
Yes it’s a membership.
They get deliverables and benefits based on what they can afford. There are set programs, five levels starting at $5 a month all the way up to $7,000 a month.
Question: That’s an amazing starting level for someone to get good advice. There’s so much bad advice out there. Not only bad, but rehashed advice. There’s a lot of vague advice with nothing actionable and nothing to follow up on. Is there any advice you’ve heard and you thought, “Wow, I wish that would go away and I’d never have to hear that again”?
When people try to provide formulas – “Oh, everyone must be on Facebook.” Not true. A lot is determined by what your business is, who you’re targeting, whether your audience is on Facebook. I’m leery of any generalities and usually annoyed by them. You can’t tell everyone, “You need to be on Facebook.” That’s like telling everyone, “You’ve got to wear dresses for the rest of your life.” What if I don’t want to, what if I don’t like dresses? It doesn’t make sense.
Question: I think it comes from people who don’t know any better but they know a little and it becomes their content marketing topic of the week.
It also has to do with a difference in learning styles between women and men. It’s that “go get ’em, take over” attitude. But with women you have to explain why you’re going to do it and what you’re going to get out of it. It’s a different energy.
Question: I think the important thing you said there is “why” because people don’t always dig to that answer. On a bit of a different topic, I downloaded your report “76 ways to expand your influence”. One caught my eye. It’s #52: Go Ugly Early. What does that mean?
It’s all about deciding that, as Steve Jobs would have said, “You have to ship.” You can perfect and perfect and perfect and it holds you up from getting your product or service to market. It stops people from buying from you so it holds up a revenue stream. And you don’t learn anything because you’re still building the thing you’re trying to build in the vacuum in which you’re creating it so you’re not getting any feedback from customers or clients. “Go ugly early” is all about getting it out there, be willing to release it to the world, get feedback and go back and improve.
So many people get stuck on getting things perfect. When I talk to my team I tell them, we don’t believe in perfection here. We believe in excellence.
Question: That’s a great distinction to make – between perfection and excellence.
It’s all about knowing yourself and knowing when you’re in self sabotage mode. You have to be detached from yourself to observe yourself. So when you see yourself in the perfection/hamster wheel you have to have the presence of mind to say ok, I’m either going to do this hamster wheel thing or not. If the product isn’t going to represent you well that’s one thing, or are you just engaging in self sabotage and busy work? That’s part of being a leader, knowing yourself, and having the right team around you.
Question: Even if there’s wart on it, it still has to go out.
Right. Nothing is ever going to be perfect.
Question: This feels more like a coaching session than an interview. Judging by the last hour, your academy programs are well worth the price of admission. Those of us who will hear you speak at Tribeup NYC are quite fortunate. How did you get involved with that event?
I met Dino [founder of Triberr] in June out in Salt Lake City, Utah. We were both speaking at a conference and he loved my keynote and said we have to stay in touch. I think Dino is one of the coolest people I know. I respect his work. I respect what he’s building. And he asked me to be a part of it and I said, “Sure, what do you need me to do?” Anything I can do to support Dino, I will. It’s that simple. When you meet people you either like their style and the way they show up in the world or you don’t. Dino and I met and I thought, I like this guy.
Question: Could you give me a sneak peek of what you’ll be speaking about?
Good question, I have no idea what I’ll be talking about. It has nothing to do with Dino or anything. I never know what I’m talking about. I’m a minute-to-minute person.
Question: You’re not scripted. You’re not going out there with a PowerPoint.
No, believe it or not, a lot of people want you to have a PowerPoint. But I’m very much in the present. But if I open up my calendar and look… oh it says, surprise, I’m speaking about expanding your influence!
Question: Which you can do in your sleep.
Yes, it’s what I teach my students and clients. A lot of people ask me – why influence expansion and not social media growth or something like that? I always look for the bottom line. And I always think, “What are we really doing here?” This whole social media thing, digital marketing, online marketing, this whole thing really helps people build their influence and expand their influence.
Question: It’s also very timeless. Social media may come and go but people will always need influence.
You can talk about influence through many lenses. One of them is social media. I use the word expansion because when we think about growth we think about a linear process, bottom up. I like to think about expanding in all areas. You know those sponges you see, they’re really tiny but the minute you put a drop of water on them they expand like crazy? That’s the mental picture I had when I was building this company and I thought, “I want people to expand like that sponge thing. I don’t want them to expand in one direction. I want them to expand in all directions.” That’s what I’m going to be talking about. How do you use these tools to do that and get rid of all these mafia kingpin connotations about influence? I want to redefine influence and how we look at it and play it out in our lives.
Question: That’s a refreshingly expansive look at influence. A lot of times when people discuss influence its more in the context of reaching out to influencers and getting on their radar. This is more about building out from yourself as opposed to latching on to someone who’s already there.
A certain amount is about reaching out to other people. Nothing happens without other people. But that’s not the only thing. I have a 9 step social media process that I take my students and clients through and finding and engaging influencers is just one of the 9 steps. There’s a whole bunch of other things to consider beyond who’s hot right now and how can I tag on to what they’re saying.
Question: I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and I’m looking forward to hearing you at Tribeup. You don’t talk in clichés and tired guru-speak where you get the sense I’ve read that, seen it, heard it and don’t know what to do with it. This is a whole different world of influence and business. One more question to wrap it up. What’s next for you and what you’re doing? You seem to have reached a certain level of “bestness” where you are so will you be continuing on this path?
I’ll definitely be continuing on this path. I’m looking forward to doing some innovative marketing things, being as approachable and accessible as I can be for students and clients. I’m really focused on making sure people know what influence expansion is and what it’s about and the theories behind that. I’m looking forward to spreading the message about the movement. You don’t need to pay someone $10,000 for social media advice.
I hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed hearing it all from Lena. Her ideas about leadership and success are truly inspiring. If you’re here and you read this, chances are you’re not one of those people who’s ok with “effort-free living”. So today, as soon as you move on from this blog, I want you to ask yourself this question: “What can I do to make an impact today?”