For the last 25 years, Mandy Cavanaugh has powered through the tough challenges of business ownership, growing companies into top-tier status within their industries. In her new book, Fuck the Glass Ceiling, Mandy merges high-performance coaching models, MBA skills, and her own experience to show you how to embrace your own inspired feminine leadership. She hopes you’ll breakthrough your feminine ingrained barriers like perfectionism, and do the unthinkable like enlisting masculine support to play your best business game, create jobs, build wealth, and fuck the glass ceiling.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I am excited to be here today with Mandy Cavanaugh, author of Fuck the Glass Ceiling: Start at the Top and Stay There as a Feminine Entrepreneur. Mandy, thank you for joining. Welcome to the Author Hour podcast.
Mandy Cavanaugh: It’s nice to be here, thanks for the invitation.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off, can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Well, I started out in sales with a Fortune 500 company, and then I got a master’s degree in hospital administration and spent a short time there in the consulting realm training hospital CEOs. Then I moved over into entrepreneurship. There’s a long story behind that that I tell in the book, but it is 25 years now that we’ve been running the company, Global Corporate Housing, and I have also started several other businesses including land development.
I have purchased a manufacturing company and turned it around. I had a turnaround business, consulting business, where I would go into companies that were struggling and help put in systems and procedures and teams and help them get staffed up and turn them around. I’ve also done seminars and workshops and leadership training and things like that, and that is where the book came from was in those international trainings with feminine entrepreneurs.
I was asked to help out with some seminars, and I didn’t really have any focus whatsoever on gender at all, but it kind of caught fire and it appeared that I was adding value just by sharing my story of being a CEO with these aspiring feminine entrepreneurs. Then eventually I was asked to write the book.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to write the book? Was it because you were inspired by those workshops? Was it because you had time because of COVID? Was there other inspiration or an “aha moment” for you out there?
Mandy Cavanaugh: I started the book about five years ago. I had a friend who is in those classes in Europe and she said, “I’d like to interview you for your book. Let’s transcribe the recordings and I would really like to help you get that book written.” So, we did a series of videos back then and what ended up happening is it came together as a book. But it was a rough draft of a book and I kept reorganizing it and reorganizing it–and that’s called perfectionism, which I also talk about.
What ended up happening with this book is that during the pandemic, I made the decision already, “I’m going to finish this book.” And little did I know that I would have so long to really finish it, take it through editing, and get it published. It takes quite a while to get a book finished and get it published but it’s been great timing, during the pandemic, it kept me occupied.
Go Ahead and Start a Business
Drew Appelbaum: Sure, were there any learnings or major breakthroughs you had during the writing of the book, maybe through some research you did or just that introspective journey of writing about your life and experiences?
Mandy Cavanaugh: The first thing that comes to mind is the fact that the whole time that I was finishing this book knowing that it was going to go to press at the end of 2020, and thinking to myself, “Why would I want to put attention on myself with all the things that are going on in the planet, businesses going under, people living in fear, the economy being shut down?”
I just recently said to myself, “Oh, this is perfect timing,” because I think the answer to the great reset and all of these businesses being shut down, the small and medium-sized businesses, is to go ahead and start a business. So now, I am super excited, and I should trust the process more. I think my breakthrough was trusting myself and not waiting for the right time.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, who is this book for? Is this for women only? Is it for executives only?
Mandy Cavanaugh: It is not for women only. There are a lot of men in my life who I’ve described the book too and they look forward to reading it. It is really for anybody who wants to explore high performance from a different perspective. It’s still about being competitive but it is about being balanced and having your life work out. Having your business support you and your life instead of the other way around so you don’t fall into the owner’s trap.
I would say there are two audiences among feminine entrepreneurs, those that already have a business or are aspiring to grow a business, maybe they’re a solopreneur. There is another group that I have targeted and that is corporate leaders who are handling a lot of responsibility, but they are working under a corporate umbrella. Inside that maybe it is a bureaucracy, maybe there’s a lot of pressure. There is a culture of overwork in most large corporations. So those are my two audiences–the entrepreneurs and those thinking about entrepreneurship.
Drew Appelbaum: Now early in the book, you talk about your career and how again, early on you attended a conference with business coaches who told you your true function was telling people what to do. How did it feel hearing that and how did it change you?
Mandy Cavanaugh: It is just like being seen. I was a little self-conscious at first, but this flood of energy came over me when I realized that it was okay. I instantly forgave myself for being who I am instead of trying to be something that I am not. I always thought, in whatever job I had, how it could be better, how it could be changed. I was a little dissatisfied or frustrated in most of those roles, and it’s funny because I can see it in people that I have hired in my own company.
I know when somebody has that entrepreneur streak, even if they don’t know they have it. So, it was very freeing to see that. I still remember very distinctly when the seminar leader said, “You have to lead people. They want that. There are people who want to be led.” It was just a very liberating kind of experience and I often have to remind myself that.
Drew Appelbaum: The coaches also showed you how to balance family while starting a business and taught you how to see business as a family system. Can you tell us what that looks like and if that balance is actually possible?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Well, when I started my company, I had a two-year-old and about three months later, once I already had several contracts with government agencies, I figured out that I was having twins.
So, business as a family system can look different ways, but the way that it started out looking is I had employees in my living room servicing clients. And I had a nanny with my three kids in another part of the house and so it was quite literally a family system.
There was a lot of crossover between what I did in a given day and I had no choice but to bring in support. I physically could not have done it any other way. So, I know it is easier said than done, and part of it is making the decision, especially a feminine entrepreneur, to bring in support before you think you need it and more than you think you need. I had no other choice and so now, I’m writing about it from that perspective of, “Trust me, you’ll appreciate it.”
Once the kids get older and you’ve got fewer moment-to-moment obligations in your business as far as your family goes, you realize that you are also running a system in your company that is like a family system. So, you have all the kind of dysfunction. You have people who act like the oldest child, the younger child, the middle child, you have quirks and capabilities and you can’t show favorites. You want to bring out the best in people.
You have to hold them accountable but that’s just kind of a terrible word. It doesn’t even sound good to do that, but you’ve got a business to run. So, it’s kind of like you have a family to run. You can’t listen to your child’s every concern. They have to meld to the requirements of the family, and the same thing in an organization. I personally want everybody to feel good about their job and love every aspect of it, but you can’t make every single person happy about everything.
So, you’ve got to manage that, and it is a form of diplomacy that I think mothers have naturally in the household that lends itself very, very well to the business environment.
The Glass Cliff
Drew Appelbaum: You also talk about this in the book. And I’d love for you to dive a little bit deeper into it. You talk about feminism that has been lost in the workplace, can you tell us what you mean by that?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Well, I think I said that feminism had failed in the workplace and what I meant by that was feminism as a phenomenon started 170 years ago. And we’ve had four waves of it, we’re at the fourth wave I believe if I’m caught up to speed. There’s not a really clear solution about how to get more feminine representation at the top of the world’s government agencies and corporations. I’ve been asked to help look at that and I’ve been inside those companies as a supplier and for a short time as an employee.
I think I might have part of the solution, to be quite honest, and that is that the systems are built around masculine high-performance and that is why women are going more to their masculine side in order to perform in those systems. Now, you might say, “Well you know, high-performance in business is a masculine phenomenon,” and I would just say to you that I tend to see it differently. I think that there needs to be a balance. It doesn’t have to be 50/50 to be quite honest but, you know, it needs to be there.
You can tell organizations that are out of balance, they don’t have a feminine perspective or any kind of feminine way of doing things. They get different results, and the research shows that. So, if feminism is about 50/50 equality, that is obviously not happening but for there to even be a balance in most corporations, they don’t see it as a priority. So, that is why I called the book, what it’s called.
The other thing about corporations is that the research shows there’s not actually a glass ceiling anymore, but it is more of a glass cliff. I did a ton of research for this book about the glass cliff and there are a lot of reasons that consultants have given and published studies on what exactly that is. But it is where female leaders opt-out or they are given tougher assignments as a rule.
So again, my thinking is that in an organization that you create yourself, you can organize it around your proclivities, and what high-performance is for you. And you can bring in team members to fill in whatever the gaps are.
Where in a corporation, you’re held to a certain standard that is uniform across all the leaders, and that is a very masculine thing. A more feminine way to look at high-performance is to see what each individual brings that is unique to them, and that is what I love about owning my own company is that you can draw upon your exact strengths and then draw upon the exact strengths of every manager in your company. So, I’ve got eight managers and each of them runs their department differently than somebody else would. I like it that way because I get the best out of those managers.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s dig into that a little bit more and talk about what you say is the divine feminine energy. Can you tell us what you mean by that and how it can be used as an effective leadership tool?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Sure. I think I look at divine feminine energy as a kind of a pure sort of blueprint of what is feminine. Whether it’s in nature or in the animal kingdom or human, but it’s a more receptive energy, a yielding energy, a holistic energy, you know, women see holistically. We can see all sides and that provides a greater degree of compassion, a greater degree of patience.
Divine feminine energy in an organization is very proactive about seeing what the unintended consequences of decisions are. Sometimes to a fault where we can kind of see everything that might not work about a project. However, it’s important.
The mentor that we discussed earlier who told me that I light when I am telling people what to do also called that radar. Women have radar, so I am relating divine feminine energy not in a relationship context or spiritual context, but just in the business context. I’ve had an all-female staff before and there were certain things that we were better at than anybody else in the industry.
There were also things that we were terrible at and so we brought in masculine energy to the business–and that’s not really politically correct to say but it is my experience.
Drew Appelbaum: That’s fair. So divine feminine energy, does that create an inspired feminine leader? Are they one and the same? Can you talk about what an inspired feminine leader is?
Mandy Cavanaugh: I mentioned inspired feminine leadership in the business book because in business, what it takes for a female to not drop off the glass cliff, the antidote to the glass cliff is inspired feminine leadership. What that is, is we feel like our lives are being contributed to by our work rather than detracted from by our work. And that’s what the glass cliff is about, is feminine leaders are less likely to tolerate their work, assaulting the quality of the other parts of their lives and with men, it’s expected.
This has been born out of the research. Divine feminine energy at work is more likely to show up when you have the women. The feminine leaders are inspired. And that sounds kind of hokey you know but it’s my experience–if I can inspire the feminine leaders in my company, we are going to have all of the benefits of that divine feminine energy in the business. And if I am pressuring them or if my CEO or other people that run my business are pressuring them, you are going to get something else completely.
Drew Appelbaum: I think some really valuable insight you mentioned in the book is building your team the inspired feminine leader way. Can you dig into that a little bit more and tell us what an inspired feminine leadership team would look like?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Sure, first of all, it’s the way you design your team, and you need those skills and those talents and those work styles that are going to get the job done for your client. And you want to make sure that you have people that like to manage projects, people that like to promote and connect with the client. You need people that are very much visionary, they can see down the road, they can see around the corner and they know how to strategically activate plans and projects.
You have to have a balance of those three types–detail-oriented, more people-oriented, and more systems-oriented. You have to have people not just to create the systems but to follow the systems. This is kind of basic business 101.
Then the next thing is to have clear agreements. So, it’s the culture of your business, which is, I believe, in a small business or medium business, it’s the spirit of the owner combined with your operating practices.
So, you want to keep the organization infused with that inspiration, which I call the ‘Spirit of the Owner.’ Then you put that under your practices. It could be your company values, the way you answer the phone, the way you handle internal conflict, the way you acknowledge people, the way you do variable compensation, all of those systems have that spirited attitude. It is not just black and white all business. Because for women it is not all business.
I am not going to say everything is personal, but it is more personal for us. We don’t compartmentalize. So, the next thing is to do acknowledgment and appreciation where people feel seen and heard, acknowledged, and appreciated. A lot of times, the inspired feminine leaders will make sure that in the company people who have worked really hard on something are known by the other people in the company. They are each other’s cheerleaders and celebrate each other’s victory if you will.
Then the other part of that is to appreciate and respect the masculine side. We have a lot of men in my company. I don’t like the meanness that people have shown to the masculine over the last 10 years or so. I think there is a backlash from that. I don’t tolerate it in my company. We appreciate and we don’t just go around seeing people as their gender.
You ask the question in that context and we appreciate the masculine way of compartmentalizing and staying hyper-focused on one thing and not seeing holistically as much, I require that. Sometimes I need to compartmentalize–everything is falling in and I will talk to somebody that has really compartmentalized thinking and they will help me get myself sorted out, to be honest, and that’s not something that you usually talk about.
You would never see that in a big corporation, where people are discussing gender in that way, and yet at the same time, they are extremely focused on how to bring in more diversity into the organization. Well to me, if you are talking about bringing diversity under your organization but you make everybody be the same when they get there, that’s not promoting diversity.
You Must Have Love
Drew Appelbaum: Mandy, for you, what makes a good CEO?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Wow, that’s a really expansive topic. It depends on the company. One of my companies is the hospitality business and what makes a good CEO is caring about people and their comfort and making other people look good. We have to make our buyers look good because they’re deciding the lodging for their employees and it can go south really quickly. We can make an employer look really good or bad. So, you have to really care.
We can’t put a product out there and then have technical support on the backend that is terrible. We can’t get away with that, so we have a very compassionate CEO. Other times, it might be a CEO focused on more data and analytics. But as far as running an organization, I think you have to have a heart these days. You can’t be just all business, you have to have a heart and put heart and love into the business.
A business without love is not going to make it very long. You want to track the new age groups, the Gen Z, they’ll just go somewhere else. They want to feel love and that’s the number one ingredient to me.
Drew Appelbaum: Are there consistent winning tactics that you’ve seen and experienced that CEOs or new entrepreneurs starting their own businesses should know about and incorporate into their business?
Mandy Cavanaugh: New tactics and strategies? I think profiling. Another way to say it is to do a work-style assessment when you hire someone. Because you can take a stellar resume and somebody who knows how to really interview well but if their work style isn’t what you are looking for, you are setting them up for failure.
We utilize a couple of tools like the Culture Index and the ProfileXT and it tells us whether that person is going to succeed in that role because we measure them against others that have been successful in that role.
It’s come as a surprise to some candidates that they didn’t get the job because of that work style assessment but I think we were doing them a favor because our environment would not have been in a place where they would thrive. So, I am a big fan of that. It does put a label on someone but if you use it correctly, you can help slot people into the right place. That’s been a big, big time, and money-saver for us and has helped us build a culture that we want. Even sports teams use those kinds of assessments.
Drew Appelbaum: Now on the flip side, are there any losing strategies and major pitfalls that you’ve identified that can cause trouble for an entrepreneur or in a CEO?
Mandy Cavanaugh: I actually talk about some of the losing strategies in my book that are geared specifically for feminine entrepreneurs. I think there are nine or ten of them and so, those come from personal experience and what I’ve seen others do.
There are some–I don’t know if I want to go into all nine of them right here. So, one of the pitfalls is perfectionism, which I kind of alluded to earlier but it’s thinking that everything has to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
You can’t make it perfect. So, the antidote to perfectionism is creating perfect moments. You want to create a perfect moment for your client, perfect moments for your employees. Do the best you can and create a real sense of honoring what you are there to do with each other. So, a loser’s strategy would be perfectionism and flying off the handle. And getting upset about little mistakes. There are going to be mistakes and if you can’t get over that, you should never be a CEO.
There are mistakes every day and if you are in business long enough, you are going to see the same mistakes made year after year and it is going to feel like that movie, Groundhog Day, you just have to get over it. Perfectionism keeps people from getting started in a business and it takes people out as well.
Drew Appelbaum: For most authors, they write their book almost to their former self. Usually, because there was some adversity along the way in their careers. Can you tell us about a few of the issues you ran into earlier in your career and maybe some of the lessons you learned that one, made you who you are today and two, made you know you want to put this in the book?
Mandy Cavanaugh: Yeah, I mean, I could start with the fact that I was in partnership with my ex-husband and we never compartmentalized the business from the personal side. As I mentioned, I had three kids in three years when I started the company and it just became too much. I would say to make sure that you have clear agreements and make sure you turn off the CEO role when you go home.
Playing different roles at different times of the day was something that I learned too late because we ended up probably being competitive with each other. And it just didn’t work out. So now, I have exercised the muscle. It felt very foreign at first, but I have exercised the muscle for about 10 years now where I shut it down. I know how to flip into a different character, and it doesn’t feel fake to me anymore.
Another one is letting problems fester for too long and being afraid to upset people by not mentioning them. Just sit down and say, “I am acknowledging that this is working, that this isn’t working, and this is what could work better.” I’ve had issues in the past with people screwing up my company and me sitting there watching it because they were qualified to do it. You have to sit down immediately and protect it.
Going back to the family system, you would never let somebody screw up your kid like that. You can’t let anybody screw up your company like that. So, you have to be extremely proactive about it.
Drew Appelbaum: Mandy, writing a book, especially like this one, which will help so many business professionals is no small feat. Congratulations.
Mandy Cavanaugh: Thank you.
Drew Appelbaum: The final question–if readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Mandy Cavanaugh: I want readers to get started with opening their own business and I want them to quickly build a team to deliver that service or product impeccably from the get-go. And stick to what it is that they love doing and what they’re the best at. Don’t hesitate, put yourself in a situation that there is a point of no return. And launch yourself because we need you. We need you to start businesses.
Drew Appelbaum: That’s very, very well said. Mandy, this has been a pleasure. I’m so excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called Fuck the Glass Ceiling. You can find it on Amazon. Mandy besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Mandy Cavanaugh: You can find me on LinkedIn, that’s my name, Mandy Cavanaugh, and then Instagram, @mandycavanaugh
Drew Appelbaum: Well Mandy, thank you so much for coming on the show today, and best of luck with your new book.
Mandy Cavanaugh: Thanks Drew, I appreciate it. It was great talking.