434 Laura Gassner Otting: Be Limitless
What are your limits? We all have them. What is your own glass ceiling? Have you constructed walls around your possibility? What would it mean instead to live a life that is limitless?
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who scaled and sold a business before writing a bestseller debuting in #2 spot right behind former First Lady Michelle Obama’s memoir.
Laura Gassner Otting is the author of Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life. It’s an inspiring book about what it truly means to be fulfilled in business and beyond.
A serial entrepreneur who started and sold a successful international executive search firm, built philanthropic and political action committees from scratch, and was part of the White House team creating the national service project, AmeriCorps, Laura describes herself like “a punch in the face wrapped in a warm hug.
Laura Gassner Otting will be here with her inspiring message in just a moment … and first, if you want to put into practice everything she shares in this interview and step into a limitless life as an entrepreneur, you’ll want to take advantage of this, because …
Now back to the inspiring Laura Gassner Otting.
Laura helps people get “unstuck” — and achieve extraordinary results.
Her company is called Limitless Possibility, and she collaborates with change agents, entrepreneurs, investors, leaders, and donors to push past the doubt and indecision that consign great ideas to limbo. She delivers strategic thinking, well-honed wisdom, and catalytic perspective informed by decades of navigating change across the start-up, nonprofit, political, and philanthropic landscapes.
Laura’s 25-year resume is defined by her entrepreneurial edge. She served as a Presidential Appointee in President Clinton’s White House, helping shape AmeriCorps; she expand the startup ExecSearches.com; and founded and ran the Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group, which partnered with the full gamut of mission driven nonprofit executives, from start-up dreamers to scaling social entrepreneurs to global philanthropists. She is the author of Mission-Driven, a book for those moving from profit to purpose, and now the bestseller Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life.
Through her own commitment to give back, Laura has helped build a local Montessori school, co-founded a women’s philanthropic initiative, advised a start-up national women’s PAC, grew a citizen-leadership development program, and completed three charity-inspired marathons—projects emblematic of her passions and values. She’s turned on by the audacity of The Big Idea and that larger-than-life goal you just can’t seem to shake. She’s an instigator, a motivator, and a provocateur, and she’s never met a revolution she didn’t like.
Are you ready to fly with Laura Gassner Otting? Let’s lift off.
Melinda Wittstock: Laura, welcome to Wings.
Laura Gassner Otting: Hey Melinda.
Melinda Wittstock: I have so enjoyed your book and the whole concept of limitlessness, which is a message that men and women, especially women need to hear, and I want to know, what was the spark that inspired you to write it?
Laura Gassner Otting: Well first, thank you very much. I appreciate that. I was at an event this weekend and somebody came up to and they were like, “You’re the author, right? I have your book in my car. Would it be too much of an imposition to ask you to sign it?” And it’s like, “Oh my God, I would be so honored to sign it.” So anytime anybody compliments you on your book is an amazing thing.
Laura Gassner Otting: What inspired me to write it? A huge impostor syndrome actually. So four years ago I sold my executive search firm to the team of women who helped me build it. And then I had this sort of crisis of identity. Who am I when I’m no longer Laura Gassner Otting: CEO? Here’s my business card. So I started a blog, and a friend of mine who was the executive producer of TEDx Cambridge, one of the big top tier TEDxes, asked me to speak. And I was terrified, but I did it. And mostly from the cajoling of my 14 year old who heard me say no at first and was like, “Mom, don’t you always tell me I have to do hard things?”
Melinda Wittstock: I love when kids do that.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah. “What gives mom?” And I was sort of stuck. Six weeks later, I’m on the stage. And that TEDx talk got some attention, and I started getting offers to speak in places for money. And I was like, “Wait, this is a job? People do this?” And once those dollars started getting bigger and bigger, I started feeling a little bit like, “Do I really belong here? All these other speakers have books, and I should have a book.”
Laura Gassner Otting: So I approached a publisher that I know and I told him ironically, that I wanted to write this book about confidence and how we find our voices as leaders. And he said, “Well, we’d love for you to do that. We’d love for you to do that under our imprint. But first, we actually are doing a guide book series and we’d love for you to do one about doing work with purpose. Since you’ve written that in the past, and that’s what you spent the last 20 years doing.”
Laura Gassner Otting: And as I started writing that book, I started fighting with the editor because a guidebook is just frankly limiting, right? It’s like chapter one, problem, solution. Chapter two, problem, solution. Chapter three, slit your throat. It’s not exciting.
Laura Gassner Otting: I called him up and I said, “I’m really not the author for you. I think you should fire me.” And he said, “I agree.” “Wait, what?”
Melinda Wittstock: You have to be careful what you ask for.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah. And he said, “But actually there’s a bigger idea here, and I think we should publish it as a big idea book and hardback in the spring when big idea books come out.” And I said, “Wait, what?” So I hung up the phone and I called a friend in a panic and I said, “Oh my God, what am I going to do?” And he said, “Well, how do you want people to feel when they’re done reading this book?” And I said, “You know, I’m just so sick of people being so limited by everybody else’s idea of everyone else’s version of success. And I want them to stop listening to all those people and just go out and live their own life already. And just be happy for God’s sakes.” And he goes, “So, you want them to be limitless, ignore everybody, carve their own path and live their best life?”
Laura Gassner Otting: It was like oh my God, I need to hang up the phone right now and go write that book. And literally three weeks later, Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life had poured out of me. So it started off as this, “I don’t belong here. I’m not so sure. I don’t have the credibility.” To then having in this moment, no longer being constrained by everybody else’s definition of what my book should look like. And then writing my book.
Melinda Wittstock: You said something there that really intrigues me. This book just came out of you. It’s like it was like a divine inspiration or a divine download or something right, in three weeks. So this was all inside of you and all you needed was the trigger. Because obviously so in alignment. So on purpose.
Laura Gassner Otting: It was. And when I was writing the other book, I had done a whole bunch of interviews of people about how they were able to make their work meaningful to them. So I had a lot of the raw material that was there, but it’s really based on 20 years of interviewing leaders at massive moments. These sort of cataclysmic moments of career shifts. So I’d already done the research, right? It took me three weeks to write, but I joke around that it took me 25 years and three weeks to come up with. It’s sort of like the overnight success, right? But it took 25 years.
Laura Gassner Otting: For me writing, I tell people I’m a very fast writer. I write an almost final draft form, but I’m a very slow thinker, right? Three weeks, 25 years and three weeks. You know when you walk around the outside of a house and you can see the sofa from the living room window, and you can see the kitchen island from the bay window in the dining room, and you can see the hearth from the bedroom, and you can see all the parts, but you just don’t know how to get in and really get in there?” Once you find the front door, you’re unfettered and you can run all over the house. And for me, having the framework of limitless as opposed to purpose, doing work that matters. Limitless really for me was I found the front door. And once I found the front door, all you have to do is just turn it. Turn the knob. Walk in. There is it.
Melinda Wittstock: Isn’t that so interesting? So finding the front door is like finding your purpose, getting into alignment. Because when you’re there, I found in my own life if I am in alignment, that everything gets into a flow. It doesn’t feel like I’m pushing a boulder up a mountain anymore. It’s almost like I become an instrument. And it sounds like that happened to you.
Laura Gassner Otting: So in Limitless, I talk about the state of consonance, right? We all want to find the state of consonance, and consonance is alignment. It’s flow. You know those moments when you are doing the very best of what you’re called to do? You’re at your very best version of yourself and you are doing that work in a way that is solving a problem that’s actually meaningful to you, and you’re being rewarded for it in some way. Karmically, psychically, financially, in a way that matters to you. When all those things come together, you are in consonance, right? Everything that you were doing makes sense. So you can’t be limitless unless you have that state of alignment and that state of flow. So it’s just like as you’ve described, you are at your very best when you’re in those moments. And the book is really written to help people figure out, “Well I’ve been spending all of my time trying to figure out what’s the mission of the organization? Am I inspired by the leaders and am I making the maximum amount of money? And is the title prestigious.” And all those things that I was told to look for when I graduated from high school or university. But is that really what matters to me, right?
Laura Gassner Otting: Because the money to take a really easy example, I could offer you a job and say, “I’m going to give you this job right now.” It’s the same kind of company, the same sort of title, the same responsibilities. You’re going to make the same amount of money, but you’re going to get six additional weeks of vacation.
Laura Gassner Otting: Now if you’re somebody who likes to go on really deep woods camping kinds of trips takes a long time to get there. You want to explore New Zealand or something, that might be really interesting to you. But if you’re someone like me who doesn’t like the bugs and the camping, and what you want to do is go to beautiful, luxurious cities where you’re staying at fancy hotels. So all you really need is a long weekend. I actually don’t need six weeks of vacation. I’d rather take the job that says, “Actually, you’re going to get maybe a little less vacation, but you’re getting a 50% raise in salary.” Because I can have what I want.
Laura Gassner Otting: So the dollars don’t mean anything unless they mean something to you. And until you can figure out what it means to you, then it’s hard to sort of find that state of consonance.
Melinda Wittstock: I found it interesting with so many of the women that I mentor and help, and work with to really strategically grow and advance their businesses or create their podcasts, or all the different things that I do. And I’m stunned by how many when you ask a couple of key questions like, “What is it that you really want?” And, “What is your number?” They don’t know.
Laura Gassner Otting: So I ask two numbers. I say, “I want to know what your want to make number is and your need to make number.”
Melinda Wittstock: Right.
Laura Gassner Otting: And it’s amazing.
Melinda Wittstock: Right, absolutely. But isn’t it so funny though that we’re so, I don’t know, acculturated, or trained or whatever, perhaps over many millennia, who knows right? To put everybody else’s desires first. So when we put our own, if we have the kind of temerity to say, “What’s important to me is important, and what do I want?” There’s all that, I don’t know, that fear that can set in so easily I think in a lot of women’s minds. “Who am I to ask for that? Because everybody else comes first.
Laura Gassner Otting: Right. And we feel like ambition is a dirty word and we feel like we have to have this like #humblebrag, right? God forbid we’re proud of ourselves. God forbid we show up … I feel like as women, we’re taught to shrink a lot. My wish is that we all start to grow more because I think the more we grow, the more we help others around us grow.
Laura Gassner Otting: I don’t believe that success is a zero sum game. I don’t believe it’s like pie. I think there’s enough for everybody to go around. And I’ve never been somebody who keeps score. We have those friends in our lives who you know they just sort of like wait and they’re watching, and they’re keeping score all the time about who showed up where and who got the bill last time, and who brought the wine. And it’s like, who cares? Right? It’s all going to come out in the wash. And at the end of the day I’m thinking actually I brought the blind two more times than you did. Then I’ve made bigger problems. I’ve had bigger problems in my life.
Laura Gassner Otting: So I feel like you could have two kinds of mentalities, right? You can have this abundance mentality, you can have a scarcity mentality. And I think the more we have an abundance mentality towards others. Not going to so far that we let people take advantage of us. But the more we have an abundance mentality towards others and that the more success that they have, the more success we can have. Then I think the more we feel like we can have an abundance mentality about ourselves. But when we have a scarcity mentality towards other people, I think that it’s almost like poison, right? It’s like drinking poison and hoping your enemy’s going to die. Right? It infects us, and we start having a scarcity mentality about ourselves as well. So I think the more we can be abundant, the more we become abundant.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with that, and I think it manifests in some interesting ways. Like often if a woman is undervaluing herself and her own products and services by extension, she’s going to undervalue the services and products provided by other women. And I am on this mission to get money circulating between women, getting women to promote each other, buy from each other, invest in each other, and all of these things. But to get there, It does require a pretty colossal mindset shift just to realize that there’s room for everybody to succeed.
Laura Gassner Otting: I really do. In fact, I post this on Instagram just yesterday. I got a fortune cookie. We had Chinese food for dinner last night and I got a fortune cookie. And the fortune was, “You are expressive with those you love.” Which I don’t know if it’s so much of a fortune as a pronouncement. But I looked at it and I was like, “It’s really true. I don’t praise in silence.” I am somebody who believes that praising in silence is a criminal behavior. And I think when you do it, you’re stealing joy from those you love. And it doesn’t have to just be love, right? It can be personal depth, and interesting conversations, and audacious goals, and people whose eyes light up when they tell you about what they want to do.
Laura Gassner Otting: When you husband your praise, you’re not helping them to grow. And I think I don’t know that we can have that massive mind shift and get money flowing between women and get more of that generosity that’s going if we’re husbanding our compliments. So I think just being more open and being warmer. And knowing that it’s okay to uplift each other. I think we as women have one job on this planet and that’s to uplift each other. So I try to do that every single day, and I try to do it as often as I can. Because the more often I do it, the more natural it comes.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s beautiful. So much good comes from that. So much good comes from the give forward. It’s almost like the more value you create in that way, the more good will you create. The more give forwards I suppose, the more that comes back too.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah. I always tell people if somebody were to ask what your secret superpower is. I think mine is that I’m able within just a few minutes of knowing somebody, to look at them and see greatness in them. I can see people’s greatness. And maybe that comes from 20 years of interviewing people as an executive recruiter, but I can see people’s greatness.
Laura Gassner Otting: So I have a choice. Do I keep it to myself, or do I reflect it back on them in a way that they can see it maybe for the first time in their lives or believe it and act on it finally. That’s the choice that I have. And it doesn’t cost me anything to reflect their greatness back in them. I’m not doing anything. I’m not giving them anything. I’m not stealing my own resources. I’m just holding up a mirror to show them what I see. That’s free. Why wouldn’t I choose that every day of the week? So I would ask your women, what are your super powers? What’s your super power? People who are listening to this, what are your super powers and how much of that can you give freely every single day? Because when you give it, you’re actually strengthening it within yourself as well.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so funny you mention superpowers because at the wings of the empowered retreat and mastermind that I’m hosting this year, on one of the nights, all the women have to come with some sort of costume that indicates their superpower, or superhero power.
Laura Gassner Otting: I love that. I have to have massive goggles or something.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, it’s great because when we really think and can accept our own genius, because we all have it, but we get so disconnected from it. The theme that’s been running through our conversations so far has been that kind of comparisonitis. People wake up in the morning and they kind of check their email. That’s somebody else’s agenda. Or they wake up in the morning and they check their social media. Well that’s just, “Oh my goodness, that person’s doing this and this person’s doing that. Oh my God.” And it can lead people to think, “I’m not enough.”
Laura Gassner Otting: Sure, right. And one of the things when I get up and I give these big keynote speeches, my favorite thing is when I speak in front of 2,000, 3,000 people. And I talk about how the first thing we do is we open up social media for answers. And what do we see there? And then behind me flashes a giant screen of 17,000 Kardashians. I’m like, there’s just so many Kardashians. One of them has to have the answer, right?
Laura Gassner Otting: And then I talk about how what we see when we go to social media is this pursuit of purpose, and passion, and balance. And it’s all just ridiculous because they’re not goals, they’re not even roadmaps. They’re basically girls in flower crowns that are staring out over Coachella or sunsets telling us to follow our passion. Right? So I go through each one, one-by-one, and I talk about why they make no sense at all for anybody. And then I look at the audience and like, “And why, why God sakes are we taking advice from girls in flower crowns anyway?” And the women are like, “Yeah, you’re right. That’s harebrained.”
Melinda Wittstock: That’s hilarious.
Laura Gassner Otting: But it’s not until you get to the point and you’re like, “Oh wait, I wouldn’t take advice from that. If that person walked up to me on the streets and said, ‘Follow your passion,’ you wouldn’t do it.”
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness. Isn’t this funny?
Laura Gassner Otting: [crosstalk 00:28:05] cloud around and you’d be like, “Okay, I’m out of here.”
Melinda Wittstock: Well that’s so true of social media too. Just even the way people sell on social media. It’s like walking down Broadway or something saying, “Me, me, me, me, me, buy from me, buy from me, buy from me.” And people show up in social media and do that too, ignoring the fact that it’s just a reflection of our existing society. And that’s not how you would make a friend in real life.
Laura Gassner Otting: You know what’s awesome? Is that we can un-follow those people on social media. And you know what’s even more awesome? We can un-follow them in real life too.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh well that’s true. So that’s a really interesting thing because you really do to succeed in business. And I know this from that God knows 400 women now that I’ve interviewed, and I’m onto business number five.
Melinda Wittstock: So the one thing that I’ve learned along the way is that we are really the sum of the people we surround ourselves with. So we need people who really actually have our backs and actually want us to succeed. And you know the tragedy is sometimes those people are not our family or they’re not our closest friends. They’re not necessarily entrepreneurs. They don’t necessarily understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. So you have to kind of go and find your business family somehow. Have you done that in your life?
Laura Gassner Otting: So I call them my “framily”. They’re my combination of friends and family. Some family born to, some family chosen. Right? But I think, so here’s the thing. The last time I lived in the same house as my born to family, I was 17 years old. Right? I was horrible at 17 years old. Most 17 year old girls are pretty terrible. I was pretty horrible.
Laura Gassner Otting: So when I call my mom, and my dad, and my sister up, and I tell them about this brand new thing I’m planning on doing, they can’t help but think about whether that 17 year old is able to do it because that’s really the, I mean, I see them. But I live with them every single day at that point.
Laura Gassner Otting: So I think that there are people in our lives we approach about our big, hairy, audacious goals. These crazy dreams. Those ones that we revere so much, we can only whisper them, right? We don’t even dare speak them out loud. And you go up to people and you tell them about these ideas. And they look at you with this look of horror on their faces because all they can think is, “Oh my God, I couldn’t do that.”
Laura Gassner Otting: And I think a lot of times, the people who should be closest to us that we think are going to give us the best advice can’t help but think, “Oh my God, she’s going to get hurt. She’s going to fail. This isn’t going to work. What’s going to happen?” Mostly because whenever anybody hears about a new idea, the only lens they have to look at it through is their own knowledge and whether or not they think they could do it. And just because somebody else can’t do something, there’s absolutely no bearing on whether or not you can do it.
Laura Gassner Otting: So when I first sold my company, I remember running into a friend on the street and she was like, “What are you going to do now?” And I said, “I don’t know, I’m thinking about venture capital.” And she just looked at me like what? She had no idea where to put me in her brain because I was a nonprofit person and it didn’t make sense.
Melinda Wittstock: I’ve had that so many times I think of all the things that I’ve done in my life where people try and keep you in that one box. And it’s sort of like you can see it discombobulating their brains to try and see you in a different context. And it’s always bugged me because I think I live my life specifically to try and transcend all of that.
Laura Gassner Otting: The only jobs I’ve ever been interested in are jobs for which I have absolutely zero qualifications. Because if I had qualifications, I’ve already done it. It’s not as interesting to me. I [inaudible 00:32:07]. So how do I do it? I look for people who are doing things that blow my mind. I look for people who are best in class. I look for people who are working their asses off and who are just absolutely crushing it, but are showing up in real and authentic ways where it’s not smoke in mirrors. It’s just they’re telling you about what’s working. They’re telling you about the struggles. They’re just real. And then I figured out who I know, who knows those people, and I try to figure out how to get in the same room with them. And I try to get to know them because I think that if I’m around people who do not let me settle for mediocrity, then I will excel every time.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s so important. I mean, figure out who’s the best at something and learn from them. I mean people are actually very generous. When they’re really at the top of their game, I found that everybody that I’ve ever, ever approached with some, you know most people talk themselves out of doing this. But if you approach someone who is the very, very best at online funnels or the very, very best at speaking, like you or like an amazing, amazing author, whatever it is that you want to do. That person is going to be flattered and genuinely want to lift you and help you.
Laura Gassner Otting: That’s so true. You know what? I was doing the whole whoring it out thing for book blurbs, which is really the worst experience ever, right? Send your book out to people, and you just beg them, and you hope that they’re going to reply, and you try anything you possibly can do.
Laura Gassner Otting: And I called a friend of mine who introduced me to a bunch of A list authors and also introduced me a bunch of B list authors. And the A list authors all got back to me within 24 to 36 hours with a yes. The B list authors either didn’t get back to me or I had to chase them down. Every single one of them said. This friend’s name is Dave. And I was like, “David,” his name is David Burkus actually, he wrote friend of a friend of a friend. It’s an amazing book of networking. I would absolutely recommend it.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s a great book.
Laura Gassner Otting: It’s a great book. And I said, “David, it’s so interesting to me that the A list people all said yes.” And he said, “How do you think they got to be A-listers?”
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. So this reminds me of Steve jobs and this will resonate with you. And you probably know this quote already. He was like, “Hire A people, because A people attract more A people. If you hire B people, there’ll be threatened and they will hire C people. So not to be shown up for being also [inaudible 00:34:32]. And then the C people will hire D people and then your whole organizational will fall.”
Laura Gassner Otting: And it’s so true. And it’s so interesting. And this goes back to the whole generosity thing, right? The A-listers are A-listers because they don’t feel threatened. They don’t have a scarcity mentality. They know that there’s plenty of room at the top for everybody. So it was a real learning curve for me. And it’s funny because when I’m on stage, I will say every single time I’m on stage, my social media is, “Hey LGO. Call me up, find me, let me know what’s happening.” And I’ll speak in front of 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 people, and maybe two will reach out. It’s not because I’m a terrible speaker. I’m okay.
Melinda Wittstock: I think you’re very good.
Laura Gassner Otting: But I get hundreds of people like wanting me to sign their book in the line afterwards, and they take pictures with me and I’m like, “Post it on social media, tag me, tell me what you’re up to.” And just a handful do. And I’m always so surprised. And every time I’m on a podcast, I’m like, “Reach out to me.” Reach out to me. It’s just funny to me how nervous people get, but we’re all just people, right? This just happens to be my job. Still my job.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah. It’s that terrible subconscious belief I think that haunts people where they just think they’re not worthy. There’s something in life or some sort of lesson that they’ve learned between zero and six years old or whatever, right? That they’ve made a meaning around. We all do it. We make meanings around things that weren’t even our beliefs to begin with. We might’ve even overheard on a TV show or hearing our moms talking on the phone to a friend or something like that. And without a frontal lobe yet, we’ve made a decision, and a whole story, and it’s driven our lives. So, so much of success I think in business is shedding all that stuff. Just letting all that go.
Laura Gassner Otting: Absolutely. Absolutely. My favorite quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, well I have several. But my favorite one on this topic is, “We would worry so much less about what other people thought about us if we realized how little they did.”
Melinda Wittstock: That’s right. Or another one, I forget who said this. But, “What other people think of me is none of my business.”
Laura Gassner Otting: Yeah. So what’s the worst that happens? You reach out to somebody and they say no? Can I tell you how many rejections I had about blurbing my book? And these are people who didn’t even read it. I had one person who I reached out to and said, “I’ve been a huge fan of your work for so long. I would be so honored. I’m looking for a cover blurb. I’d be so honored to have your name on the cover of my book.” And she wrote back within five minutes and said, “You respect my work so much that you didn’t even bother to cite me? Hard pass.” She clearly got my book, opened up the PDF, did a search for her name, didn’t find it, and sent it back to me. Had she spent more than 30 seconds on it, she would’ve noticed that I didn’t quote anybody else either.
Laura Gassner Otting: But it’s kind of [inaudible 00:37:33] to me how people act. And I could have taken that very personally or I could have said, “That clearly has a lot more to do with her and her own need to be important than it does about me,” because she didn’t even take time to look at it. [crosstalk 00:37:49]-
Melinda Wittstock: Exactly. And this is where I take my mentoring from my golden retriever who literally just shakes it off. You ever seen a dog do that? Someone’s indifferent to them or hostile or whatever and they just shake it off and it’s gone.
Laura Gassner Otting: Yes. I mean, nobody remembers. It’s five minutes later. They’re also worried about themselves. And here’s the thing. Every time we put ourselves out there, we have the option that somebody might say yes. You never know. Amy Cuddy has also been a huge [inaudible 00:38:16] of mine for some time. I reached out to her too, and she said yes, right? She said yes and I had this incredible blurb on the front of my book where she calls my book a manifesto. How cool is that? Right?
Melinda Wittstock: That’s awesome.
Laura Gassner Otting: But that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t reach out to her.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, exactly. So you get what you don’t ask for. It’s so, so important. So women, me listening to this, this is so, so critical. So Laura, I have a couple questions for you about your childhood. Because were you always an entrepreneur? Did you have the lemonade stand and all that stuff?
Laura Gassner Otting: You know I didn’t, it’s really funny. When I started my own company, I actually ran into an old boss of mine from my white house days. And he has been a serial entrepreneur and he said, “I always knew you were an entrepreneur.” And I looked at him and I was like, “I wish you would have told me,” because I never thought I was. Later on what I realized, my friend Scott [Straton 00:39:15] likes to say that entrepreneur is Latin for bad employee. I think maybe I was unmanageable. But I really wasn’t. I think I am now because I am fond of, what’s the Robert Kennedy quotes? Some people see what is and think okay. Some say why not, right? I think that there are no dead ends. There’s only left turns and right turns, and U-turns that we can take.
Melinda Wittstock: So true. So you obviously know a lot about hiring and firing, having built your business, the executive search business and sold that. And congratulations on getting to exit with that as well.
Laura Gassner Otting: Could do a whole show just on that.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely. We’ll have to come back. Because one of the things that women struggle with is hiring fast enough. And then when they do hire, being able to delegate. Not feeling like they have to be in control all the time and overcoming that kind of perfectionism gene. What did you learn along the way as you were running that business, really about the hiring piece and how to get that right?
Laura Gassner Otting: Well, I learned that the cobbler’s children have no shoes. In 20 years of doing executive search where we offer a guaranteed or redo the search after one year, if the person for whatever reason didn’t work out, I can tell you that I never had to redo a search. Now hiring for myself on the other hand, I made a lot of mistakes. And it’s kind of embarrassing to say that. But the biggest mistake I made was I hired somebody because I realized that I wasn’t scalable, and I tried to duplicate myself. So I tried to hire somebody that I could bring in to be me facing the client. And what I realized is that I hired somebody who was too junior. I gave her too senior of a title, and then she didn’t know that she had to back out to earn her wings. Right? She didn’t have it. And I didn’t make that clear enough in the beginning. I didn’t clue her into my strategy. So once she realized that she wasn’t as senior as she thought she was, it became very difficult to sort of unravel that piece of it.
Laura Gassner Otting: But I will tell you the best piece of personal and professional advice I ever got in my life was this. “You’re just not that important.” That’s pretty tough advice to hear at the time because my business was a few years old, my family was a few years old. I was on boards of organizations. I felt pretty important to my husband, my children, my community, boards, to my business. And I was bemoaning my lot about how I was really stressed and I had to manage everything, and everything had to be perfect, and I could be at the playground with my kids because I also had my cell phone, and I was still in the office. I can be all things to all people.
Laura Gassner Otting: And this woman said to me, she’s like, “If you’re trying to be everything to everyone, you’re not really anything to anyone. So why don’t you figure out where you really are that important, and double down there instead?”
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, great advice.
Laura Gassner Otting: Her point was that I was so busy trying to do everything that I wasn’t delegating. I thought I had to be in every meeting, I thought I had to cut all the carrots. I thought I had to be involved in everything. So the advice that I would give people now in hindsight is figure out where you really are that important, and make sure you do those things. And everything else, hire around that. Because if you can pay somebody even a dollar less than you pay yourself for the hour to do your invoices, to do the filing, to vacuum your rugs, to whatever the thing is that you need to have done. You don’t have to be the expert in all the things that your company does. You just have to be the expert in the place where you are that important.
Melinda Wittstock: This is so, so true. Oh my goodness, I could talk to you for hours and you will have to come back. There are so many things. I mean we haven’t even touched the surface of your philanthropic work or the fact that you are on a mission like me to encourage entrepreneurs to use their businesses as a canvas for social good. And I want to end there with just your perspective on that and what’s possible for women right now, and really stepping into and embracing that mantle.
Laura Gassner Otting: I think everything is possible for women right now. I think that our companies in this time of social media where we are the same person at work as we are at home, our companies absolutely have to be a manifestation of our values. Whether it’s the work that our company’s doing or the way that we take our profits and we pour them back into the community. Or the flexibility that we have allows us to serve on boards with the expertise that we have, or even just the kinds of people that we hire. Whether we’re looking for people of color, LGBTQ, or veterans, or whatever extra effort we make to try to be inclusive to communities that matter to us.
Laura Gassner Otting: And I think that again, as women, we are so nuanced and we see around so many more corners that I think we have an opportunity to be able to do that, and to allow … it used to be that we had to be like, “I’m the corporate person, and I’m buttoned up, and I never show any other of me. And I’ve got the bow tie, and all the big shoulders and the rest.” And I think now the more that we can live into who we are … I’ve got an executive coaching client who is a C-suite executive in a fortune 50 company. And she said the feedback she gets all the time in board rooms is people wish she would smile more, which of course gets your feminist hackles all up like crazy. But what they mean by that is we just wish we’d seen more of your personality because it’s like dry. You’re giving us a presentation, you’re showing us a strategy, you’re giving us the numbers. Fine, but we don’t want to work with you because it doesn’t seem interesting. There’s no personality. And I think we as women can let some of those guards down, and we can start showing some personality. And a really good and also professional way to do that is through showing our philanthropic commitment.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that. So everyone listening, take Laura at her word. You need to connect with her at Hey LGO everywhere on social media. So she says got a question, you want to talk or whatever. Do that, step into that. And Laura, of course I’m going to make sure that everybody has the link for your book. And also, I know that you’ve offered a free limitless assessment. And I want you to have an opportunity to talk a little bit about that and what people get. And thank you again for the generosity of that.
Laura Gassner Otting: So it’s at limitlessassessment.com. And I’ll say that again for the commuters, even though I know you’re putting it in the show notes. Limitlessassessment.com. And anybody listening is probably like, “Wow, Laura is pretty intense.” So, you won’t be surprised to know that the quiz is a little intense. It’s going to take you a good 15 minutes. The parts of your personal rubric of consonants are going to be calling, connection, contribution, and control. So the quiz will take you through each of the four elements, and it will show you how much of each of them you have in your life, and how much of each of them you want in your life. And where connection, contribution, calling, control are not overlapping. It’ll give you some quick tips about things you can do today to help get there. So I want you to take the quiz, I want you to reach out to me. Let me know how it went. And check out Limitless anywhere you’d find books are sold.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying.
Laura Gassner Otting: Thank you, Melinda. This was super fun.