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Ep#9 How to Tap Into Your Unique Leadership Strengths with Julianne Guinasso and Poonam Natha

In this episode of You Did That!, I welcome Julianne Guinasso and Poonam Natha of Level Up Leaders, a leadership development and employee management company created by therapists, for therapists. In 2014, Poonam and Julianne became office neighbors and quickly bonded over the idea that taking care of therapists would provide the clinical outcomes their bosses and communities craved. As fellow LMFT’s, they believe that, more than any other factor, relationships at work predict employee performance. Mastering relational leadership through cultivating a culture of TRUST is what combats turnover, overwhelm, and disengagement.

Nurturance, growth, and integrity are the driving forces in Poonam’s way of being. Poonam helps you navigate the path to your success as a leader and the health of your practice or organization by prioritizing the working relationship.

Julianne’s leading values are courage, curiosity, and service. She knows that by focusing on the energetics of relational trust in the workplace and by leading with emotional fluency, your employees can provide the highest clinical care.

Main Topics Discussed:

  • How to be a therapist leader
  • Pivoting from working at an agency to owning your own practice
  • The five leadership archetypes, and how to tap into your strengths
  • How each leader in an organization can complement each other’s unique strengths
  • Building culture beyond the pizza parties

What services do you offer?

Julianne: Through 1:1 consultations, we help our clients navigate employee management if they want to shift their work culture or hold people accountable in a way that aligns with their values. We also do workshops to work on group situations, and doing this also helps us learn the different issues that different organizations deal with. We have downloads and course work for those who just want to learn a foundational framework that they can apply almost immediately in their leadership role.

When did you two join forces to start the business?

Poonam: We met almost eight years ago and both became supervisors at the same nonprofit. We didn’t have a lot of training and fell on our faces a lot. We ran into each other’s offices crying, holding each other up. There were many moments when we felt like quitting. At some point, we realized that we were doing some things that worked, and we wanted other leaders to experience that success. A few years ago, we started brainstorming, and it went from wanting to put out an ebook, to wanting to launch a course, to wanting to host a workshop! It all expanded from there. It’s really hard to be a therapist leader without having resources to aid in your growth. And there’s so much theory, but very few practical applications for the workplace. We reverse-engineered our magic, and here we are.

What did you decide you wanted to teach differently from every other leadership training you’ve experienced in your careers?

Poonam: A lot of my training was about clinical and administrative supervision.

Julianne: I got stuck in compliance and quality assurance. It’s all different from therapy-think. Poonam and I, like she said, had to fall on our faces a lot to learn what we know now. We never imagined that leadership largely depends on tapping into your vulnerability. Actually being in a leader’s shoes is harder than it looks from the outside. A lot of leaders shut down their heart space and unintentionally villainize their employees because they’re unable to tap into this vulnerability piece. Through trial-and-error, and through devouring books and podcasts like those of Simon Sinek and Brené Brown, we had to take what we learned and make them practical in the clinical world. Poonam and I are different people, and we each have our own unique strengths. It proves that there’s not just one type of leader. It’s okay that Poonam thrives in the world of spreadsheets and I don’t. She’s a nurturer: someone who leads from that heart-space, making others feel safe to confide in them. I’m a visionary. Leaders shouldn’t put themselves in a box but instead embrace their natural gifts.

Poonam: As for Julianne, she’s probably one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever met. The way she packages her messages makes you want to follow her to the ends of the Earth! She explains things in a way that really connects with you. That’s a key leadership trait: really understanding the essence of the person sitting across from you. She doesn’t try to change anybody. She taps into their strengths to help them learn and grow. She’s a visionary: someone who works from a place of inspiration, freedom, and autonomy, and encourages their team to take risks and be creative, all while being collaborative.

Aside from visionary and nurturer, what are the other three leadership archetypes?

Poonam: The authenticator, the problem-solver, and the mediator. As leaders, we grow as we lean into each other, complementing each other’s strengths. Authenticators are honest. It’s so easy to go into a place of compassion but not speak the truth, so nurturers can learn from authenticators.

Julianne: Problem-solvers tend to be more objective and logical. They can effortlessly connect things that others can’t, and see solutions everywhere. The mediator brings people together. They think about how every decision impacts the group. They ensure that the systems and processes impact every department positively, and unify all the teams to ensure everyone feels heard and safe.

When did Level Up Leaders become “official” for you?

Poonam: On the first day we decided to create this business, we wrote “July 30th, 2018” down on a notebook, and the rest is history!

Julianne: Our dream was to bring the “human” into work culture, so that people feel included and that their work matters.

What were the biggest lessons you learned about building and managing a strong organization?

Julianne: We had to learn early on that systems are just as important as operations. And the thing that always gets pushed to the side is that work culture piece. Culture is more than pizza parties and perks. It’s more to do with treating our people with kindness, authenticity, honesty, and honoring their experiences. All of this takes leadership; but, a lot of people don’t realize that leadership is a skill more than it is a talent, and like all skills, training has to be done. That’s what we found was missing.

What’s the most common problem your clients struggle with when it comes to pivoting from working in an agency setting to owning their own private practice?

Julianne: Knowing that it stops with you. People who work at agencies have different experiences. Some have bosses who are super hands-on, others super hands-off. But when you pivot to a group practice, it all comes down to committing to your vision, treating your employees right, and being accountable for every decision you make as a leader, even if some of your people don’t understand certain decisions. 

What would your younger self say if she saw you now?

Poonam: “Good job breaking the cycle, breaking the norm, and creating a new path for people!”

Julianne: I’ll turn it around and share what I’d tell my younger self: “You have no idea how your path is going to unfold and how many twists and turns will come your way. Always stay open-minded because you’ll never know how things will unfold!”

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What’s your Leadership Expertise? This is the relational quality you demonstrate with ease. This skillset is what everyone seeks you out for. It’s the aspect of your leadership that cultivates TRUST with those around you. Take this 2-minute free leadership assessment to find out!