Powerful leaders don’t just think about today, this quarter, or this year. They think bigger than their lifetime. They think generationally.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, well meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ashton Smith.

Ashton Smith is the Founder of The Awakening, a community and education platform for Soulful Businesswomen that has served hundreds of Founders all over the world through their coaching programs since 2019. After graduating from North Carolina State University with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration, diving into entrepreneurship in 2017, and building a brand with global impact, Ashton knows what it takes to build a business from the ground up. She fuses business strategy with intentional lifestyle so Founders can build a business that is sustainable, aligned, and impactful. Although Ashton is skilled in helping women design profitable and sustainable companies from the ground up, it’s about so much more for her. She is on a mission to help women breathe easier, live more powerfully, and leave a lasting impact on the generations to come.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that youre excited about personally or professionally?

It’s an honor to be here! Right now, we are in the midst of taking our brand in-person for the first time. Although The Awakening has been around since 2019, we have primarily served our clients and community virtually… until now! Myself and our incredible team have crafted a one-of-a-kind VIP Experience that will fuse business strategy and creative direction for the scaling Founder.

We will be hosting our incredible clients in our favorite local boutique hotel, supporting them with business strategy on their key areas of choice, and providing creative direction, organization, and facilitation on a brand photoshoot. Our ultimate objective is to help them showcase the true power of their work and stand out as a distinct, leading force in their industry. We couldn’t be more excited to be in person with our clients this year!

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

Without a doubt, the most influential leader in my life is my dad. As a little girl, I watched my dad build a large corporation from the ground up. And as you can imagine, that journey came with its ups and downs. I saw him excel, fall flat on his face, win business, lose business, experience betrayal, pour into his people with all of his heart, and never quit.

Later in life, I got to work for my dad’s company for a short period of time. Sure, he’s one of the most fiery, passionate, and disciplined people I know. He knows numbers like the back of his hand and how exactly to use cash flow powerfully. He’s smart and driven. But more than anything, he truly cares about people. He poured into his team without restraint, he sought to understand them and effectively communicate with them, and those closest to him will tell you he’s one of the most generous people you’ll ever meet.

Just being his daughter, learning from him, and observing his leadership in action has been absolutely pivotal to my business journey. This is where my work ethic, discipline, and deep-seated passion comes from.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. Whats the biggest mistake youve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

Upon the inception of our brand, I was determined to grow and grow FAST. I went on to hire an ads and funnels expert in order to drive leads and sales so we could establish a revenue base fairly quickly. This was a little over a $20,000 investment. It was a risk, but I was more than willing to take it in order to get the company off the ground.

We were promised to make our investment back plus more, but by the end of it all, we didn’t make one dollar.

At the time, this was devastating. We’d lost a good chunk of money and worse, I was questioning my ability to grow this business. But to this day, I not only look back at this experience as one of my greatest mistakes, but as one of our most pivotal moments in business history.

The mistake wasn’t necessarily hiring this person. The mistake was in my mindset. It was in the act of placing the sole responsibility of our success on the shoulders of someone else besides myself. Sure, we lost money. Sure, my ego was hit hard. Sure, I was crushed. But this lit a fire underneath me and provided the learning lesson that propelled our company into rapid growth in the coming years.

The lesson was this: As the Founder of this company, it is my responsibility to ensure its success. It is my responsibility to take ownership of our lead generation, sales process, visibility and more to ensure that we keep our doors open, continue deeply impacting our clients and community, and supporting our incredible team. This grit has stayed with me over the years and is one of the primary reasons we have grown and thrived as much as we have.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

When I entered the entrepreneurial space in 2017, my definition of leadership was entirely different than it is today. I remember feeling as though I had to know it all, get everything right, and always appear polished in order to be perceived as a powerful leader. I couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Over the years, as we have built a community and client base that spans across thirteen different countries, I’ve discovered that people crave leaders that are not just strong, not just powerful, not just polished.

They crave leaders who are relatable.

They crave leaders who are honest, transparent, and vulnerable. They don’t want perfection. They want REAL. Today, I strive to be a leader that is not only powerful in her own right, but one that is real. I aim to pull back the curtains of entrepreneurship, growth, and leadership to show our community that they aren’t alone in their failure, adversity, and struggle. It is simply a part of the journey.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

As our team began to grow, I had to release the idea of being central to all decision making at the company. Although Founders are considered to be the “top” of the company and responsible for final approval for team members, I found that 1) this was creating a bottleneck situation and 2) there is so much power in raising up other leaders on your team.

The need for significance has always been relevant, but it is even more so in today’s culture. And what better way to meet that need than to provide opportunities for your team to make big decisions in their department? And on the other side of the coin, what better way to crush their need for significance by micro-managing every little thing they are doing?

By releasing the idea that I, as the Founder, need to be involved in every single decision throughout the company, I have unlocked so many opportunities for our team to grow exponentially in their position and skill set. And simultaneously, allow the company to grow beyond myself and continue forward on a sustainable growth trajectory.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

Something I’m obsessed with right now is learning how to be a powerful and effective communicator.

Being able to effectively communicate requires that we be willing to deeply understand people. What is their personality? What motivates them? What communication style suits them? There’s a reason that there is such a rise in leveraging things like emotional intelligence, the enneagram, and human design in the workplace.

Because when you deeply understand people, you can effectively communicate — not in the way YOU like to communicate, but in the way THEY like to communicate. And when we do this, we can develop stronger leaders amongst our teams, expand our networks, and even become more proficient in sales.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

When you become willing to release what is no longer working, you open up doors for divine opportunity and powerful growth for your company. It’s very natural to want to hold onto what has worked. There is comfort in that place. There is a sense of reliability there. But if you hold on too long and too tightly, you will find yourself in a stagnant place.

When we think about some of the most pivotal leaders in history, they were paving new ways, embracing new ideas, and envisioning things that many thought were “crazy.” They took risks, they tried new things, and they adapted. If you will be willing to do this when it comes to your leadership, you will continually propel your growth (and the growth of those around you).

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

No matter how much you prepare, you will not get everything right. You will fail. You will mess up. You will fall down. But the great news is that perfection isn’t a requirement to being a great leader.

Your ability to listen to your people is. Your ability to be resilient in the face of adversity is. Your ability to rise up time and time again is. I always say that the very presence of a desire in your heart is proof of your ability to actualize it. That said, if you have a desire to lead, then you’re already set up for success.

Care about the people in front of you. And you will thrive.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?

1. They think generationally.

As a society today, we are so focused on the short-term: how to hit our annual revenue goals, how to lose weight fast, and even how to get our groceries delivered to our door in a matter of hours. Technology has progressed and allowed for our desire for instant gratification to be satisfied in many ways, but it dilutes the importance of thinking long-term.

Powerful leaders don’t just think about today, this quarter, or this year. They think bigger than their lifetime. They think generationally.

As a sixth generation entrepreneur, this trait is so near and dear to my heart. I think back to my great great great grandfather, the first in our family to become an entrepreneur. He was a brick mason in the late 1800’s. Little did he know that his decision to build his business would be influential in other’s taking a similar path later down the road — including myself.

When we think bigger than ourselves and farther out than present day, we have the opportunity to create ripple effect impact on the generations to come. And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I live for.

2. They have a desire to raise up other leaders.

An effective leader knows that in order to have a great impact on the world around them, they should take interest in raising up other leaders. The great leader John Maxwell said “A leader who produces other leaders multiplies their influence.” It’s so true. Leaders think less about themselves and more about how to pass along what they know in order to benefit the lives of the people around them.

As a Coach, this is one of my greatest motivators. My time is limited — like everyone else on this planet. Which means that I can only work with a select number of people each year — especially in a Private Coaching capacity. But if I lead the people in front of me well, if I pour all I have into them, if I pass along key skill sets that stay with them, then I have not just touched one life. I have touched the lives of many — through THEIR transformation.

Raise up other leaders, and you will multiply your influence.

3. They are willing to trailblaze new paths.

Leadership can be lonely for a reason — because by nature, we are called to pave new ways forward. Powerful leaders don’t ride the wave. They shift the tides. When everyone goes left, we go right. When others are pulling back, we press in. When folks are conserving, we powerfully invest.

Think about some of the big name companies that carved their own path during a recession: companies like Apple, Airbnb, and Uber. They knew it was risky. They saw everyone else hunkering down around them. But they had a vision — that many said was “crazy” — and that mattered more to them than the comfort of staying where they were.

If we are to call ourselves leaders, we have to be willing to put ourselves out on a limb — to be the first to take the risk, try new things, and potentially fail. It is in our job description to be a trailblazer.

4. They are skilled in meeting people where they’re at.

Great leaders know how to effectively communicate with the people around them. They have mastered the skill set of empathy. They don’t try to force their primary means of communication on people. Instead, they adapt their approach, and they meet their people where they are at.

In the brief period of time where I got to work for my dad’s company, I saw him do this time and time again with this team. He couldn’t have had a more diverse group of people working alongside him — some creative and introverted and others with much more dominant personalities. He was so skilled in adapting his communication style in order to best serve the person in front of him, which not only led to great productivity but happy people.

5. They are constantly receiving support.

After working with high level leaders across thirteen different countries over the last few years, the biggest commonality I’ve noticed is their determination to pour into themselves. Whether they are working with a business coach, prioritizing their personal development, receiving help with their nutrition and movement, or even balancing their hormones, they know that the key to success that is SUSTAINED is that they are taken care of.

Leaders that create companies that last can’t do it alone. Whether they hire a nanny to help with the kids, get someone to clean the house, hire a personal fitness trainer, or opt in for a group coaching program to elevate their skill sets, they are eager to receive help. Because they know that support will not only help them reach new levels of success, but it will help them do so with a sense of peace and joy intertwined — and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re after here.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

Back when I was in high school, my dad said to me “most of life is lived in the valley floor.” Picture a landscape in front of you. Maybe the sun is setting just on the other side of the mountains. As you scan from left to right, you see low points — the valleys. Then you see mountains — each with a slope going up and a slope going down. If you pay close attention, you will notice that the peaks, the mountain tops themselves, take up the least amount of space on the entire landscape.

We all want to live in those “mountain top moments.” The moments of pure joy and bliss, where goals are met and dreams are fulfilled. But this is a small fraction of our life. The truth is that most of life is lived in the valley floor. It’s wading through problems, fear, doubt, uncertainty, personal growth, and challenges. These are the moments where our character is built, our resiliency is strengthened, and we are prepared to carry the weight of the season ahead.

To me, making each day a masterpiece simply means that I am moving with radical intention. I see my vision before me, and I move methodically in order to get there — in both the biggest and smallest of moments.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

I hope that my life today creates a ripple effect of impact on the generations of the future. One where:

Women breathe easier — they are at peace with themselves and their life.

They live more powerfully — they are so awake to the power within them that they move with radical, unapologetic confidence in all they do. They build businesses, raise powerful children, write books — whatever it is that lights their heart on fire.

And think on behalf of those to come after them — more than anything, they think BIG. They know that life is about so much more than them and the present day. It is about the legacy we want to leave behind and the generations to come after us.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

You can connect with us on our website, Instagram, or YouTube channel. Please feel free to reach out. Myself and the team would love to connect with you!

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!