EP 153: More Leading, Less Managing with Wanderwell Founder Kate Strathmann

Oct 9, 2018 | Business Models, Podcast

Tara McMullin is a writer, podcaster, and producer who explores what it takes to navigate the 21st-century economy with your humanity intact. Click here to support this work.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Why making decisions as a collective aligns with Kate Strathmann’s business vision instead of the “this way or the highway” mentality
  • How Kate pushed past her introvert tendencies to show up for team members and clients and the importance of meeting face-to-face as a remote company every week, even if there isn’t an agenda
  • How Kate sets healthy and strong boundaries with her team and clients — and how she supports her employees in bringing their full self to work
  • Why Kate values flexibility and autonomy as company-wide values so her team does what’s best for them

Kate Strathmann’s company Wanderwell Consulting pays homage to Aloha Wanderwell, the first woman to travel around the world by car during the 1920s — and a woman who continued traversing the planet for the rest of her life.

That same adventurous, quirky, and unconventional spirit threads through everything at Wanderwell, from how Kate hires and leads to how she works with clients in a “pretty off-beat, feelings-oriented, and very non-traditional kind of way,” she says.

In this episode, Kate shares how she leads a remote team in a democratic way, how she faced her own limitations to become a better leader, how she approaches work and life, and, of course, more about rebranding under the name Wanderwell.

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There is no “Right Way”

“It’s really important to me that we don’t have any kind of “Right Way” or top-down old school way of saying: this is how you do business. The word wander in a literal sense speaks to the spaciousness and openness to what we’re trying to do and the space we’re trying to give the folks that we work with to find their own way and to say that: you’re not going to figure it out right away. This is a nonlinear process. There’s going to be lots of ups and downs and twists and turns… it’s kind of an adventure. But at the end of the day, we want to well, do well, and feel well.” — Kate Strathmann

My way or the highway doesn’t work. “That kind of mindset isn’t as resilient over time,” says Kate. “It tends to be overly dependent on one person and their personality. Some of those businesses rely on charismatic personalities and we’re seeing a lot — especially politically — how that doesn’t work.”

What does work? Realizing that your business is less about you and much more about your customers and clients. “This business is about a larger mission in helping people do business in a different kind of way,” Kate says. “It would be really out of alignment for me to say: this is exactly how you’re supposed to do this thing — and you’re doing your business wrong.”

Where do you notice this rigidity in your business or mindset?

Flexibility matters — in life and in business

“One value that’s really important to me — and to my team especially — is that of autonomy and having a lot of flexibility for our whole lives to be supported by our work and our business.” — Kate Strathmann

Full-time workers spend the majority of their time… at work. When that’s the case, says Kate, it’s incredibly important to support the full expression of who they are at work. “I think a lot about how we can support folks to show up as full humans in the space where they spend the majority of their time,” she says.

At Wanderwell, for example, Kate’s created a strong vision of flexibility that plays out in the team culture. In a practical way, this looks like:

  • Encouraging team members to take a vacation and go completely offline for a real, true break. There’s no expectation to check emails during time off.
  • Having a flexible work schedule. It’s sort of 9-5ish but Kate works out in the middle of the day and some people don’t work Friday mornings. It all depends on how they prefer to work.
  • Giving team members full autonomy to work according to their schedule, energy, and productivity. Not every person does their best work sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day. This also builds trust and takes a lot of trust, Kate says.

If you have employees, how can you support their full human expression both when they’re on and off the clock?

Leading as an introvert

“Some of that was having to get over myself and be like: well, I’d love to disappear for three days and not talk to anybody and think about these things but that’s a very me-centric way to be in this business as a leader. It’s not in service to the team, our mission, or our clients. That was a personal learning curve in how I’m wired and figuring out how to shift my mindset and show up in a different way.” — Kate Strathmann

When we imagine the greatest leaders, we think of charismatic and energetic people. But some leaders, including Kate, aren’t extroverted at all — and in some cases, are most comfortable exploring rabbit holes and operating on their own time.

But as she grew her team, that eventually didn’t work anymore. Kate realized it the moment a new employee said they felt they needed to leave her alone. “That was a really big wake up call,” Kate reflects. “I’m doing that. That completely has to do with how I’m showing up and the energy I’m putting off, which at the time was very boundaried. It started a process with shifting the way I was showing up which was really uncomfortable for me.”

This mindset shift resulted in some positive changes within Wanderwell, including a weekly meeting. “I found with having a mostly remote team that even if we’re wasting our time and don’t have a real agenda,” Kate shares, “having anchor times every week where we see each other face-to-face is one of the most important things that we’ve figured out and developed together.”

Are there any ways that you’re stunting your teams’ growth because of your own personality or mindset?

Listen to this episode to hear more from Kate Strathmann about leading within Wanderwell, how she works with both clients and employees in a democratic way, and how she leads as an introvert.

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