Empathy: Effective leaders understand the unique experiences of their team members. For instance, I once coached a woman of color through a challenging project, because I was able to empathize with her we were able to see the additional barriers she faced and tailoring support accordingly.

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, we’ll 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 Natasha Tous.

Natasha Tous is an accomplished Corporate executive and a visionary leader turned entrepreneur. She is passionate about empowering individuals to reach their full potential. With a wealth of experience in global business development, branding, and strategic partnerships, Natasha has built an impressive track record of success in various CPG industries and in key markets in the Americas, Europe, and China.

As the Founder and CEO of Kaleidoscope, Natasha is helping rising leaders to expand their reach and achieve their career goals. She is a gifted communicator and strategic thinker, with a talent for identifying opportunities and developing innovative solutions.

In addition to her professional achievements, Natasha is deeply committed to giving back to her community. She is a tireless advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and is dedicated to empowering underrepresented groups to succeed.

Natasha is also a sought-after public speaker, known for her ability to inspire and motivate audiences with her powerful message of hope and positivity. Through her work as a mentor and coach, she has helped countless individuals to overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.

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

I’m currently fully immersed in refining my leadership development curriculum as I take significant steps to expand my business. I’m thrilled to announce that we’re now offering leadership development workshops specifically designed for mid-sized organizations and high growth startups. This new initiative aims to assist these organizations in nurturing and growing their talent pool.

The curriculum we’re currently building is laser-focused on fostering resilience among mid-career leaders. In today’s ever-evolving corporate landscape, resilience is a crucial skill. Our program is designed to empower this cohort to reach new heights in their careers, helping them bridge the existing executive gap that often persists at the top levels of organizations.

Through carefully crafted workshops, coaching sessions, and actionable strategies, mid-career leaders will gain the skills and mindset needed to navigate the challenges of leadership effectively. They’ll not only strengthen their own abilities but also contribute to the overall growth and success of their organizations.

On a personal note, I’m gearing up for another exciting and fulfilling year of being a mom to my two little ones. As they continue to embark on their academic journeys, I’m committed to providing them with unwavering support and guidance. Balancing the demands of a growing business and the joys of motherhood is a journey in itself, and I’m embracing it with enthusiasm and dedication.

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

Over the past decade, one leader who has had a profound impact on my journey is Patty Wu. Our relationship began in an unconventional way — as a boss-employee dynamic when I met her in China. Patty hired me to lead the preschool division for the company I was working for at the time. Little did I know that this professional relationship would evolve into a lasting friendship and a source of invaluable leadership lessons.

Patty Wu stands out as a remarkable individual who embodies qualities that I hold dear in leadership. She is caring, authentic, graceful, compassionate, and profoundly human in her approach. These qualities left an indelible mark on me and continue to inspire my own leadership philosophy.

Leadership Lessons from Patty:

  • Leadership Beyond Hierarchy: I learned that true leadership extends beyond organizational hierarchies. She didn’t just manage her team; she nurtured and empowered them. Patty demonstrated that being a “leader’s leader” involves fostering an environment where each team member can thrive and contribute their best.
  • The Power of Empathy: empathy is a potent force in leadership. Her ability to understand and connect with the emotions, aspirations, and challenges of her team members was transformative. It created a sense of belonging and trust that empowered the team to achieve remarkable results.
  • Clear Communication: Patty’s commitment to clear and open communication left a lasting impression on me. She emphasized that being a leader means always staying on the right side of history by being a transparent and effective communicator. This not only builds trust but also ensures that everyone is aligned toward common goals.
  • Friendship Beyond Work: Even after Patty moved on from her role as my boss, we remained friends. Our bond transcended professional boundaries, and whenever our paths crossed, we made it a point to catch up. This emphasized the importance of genuine relationships in leadership, where trust and camaraderie extend beyond the workplace.

Patty Wu’s influence on my leadership journey is immeasurable. Her kindness, wisdom, and unwavering commitment to nurturing both the personal and professional growth of her team members continue to inspire me in my role as a certified executive coach. I strive to instill the same values of authenticity, empathy, and clear communication in the leaders I work with, just as Patty did for me.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

One significant mistake I made as a leader was resisting a major organizational change initiative. Initially, I clung to familiar processes and structures, hindering innovation and progress. This experience taught me the critical importance of flexibility and adaptability in leadership. Leaders must champion change, not resist it. This lesson now guides my work in developing resilient leaders who can navigate change confidently.

Adaptability is the most underrated skill that companies look for when hiring, so I’m consistently asking my clients to weave this into their interview as a super-power so they can start building character from the first impression.

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

My concept of leadership has undergone a profound transformation, shifting from traditional hierarchy to a model centered on collaboration and empowerment. Leadership, in my view, now involves creating an inclusive environment where diverse voices are not only heard but celebrated.

In the curriculum I develop for mid-sized organizations, this evolved definition of leadership takes center stage. I emphasize the importance of collaboration, teaching leaders how to harness the collective intelligence of their teams. By valuing the unique perspectives and experiences each team member brings, they can drive innovation and adapt to changing circumstances more effectively.

Empathy, another vital aspect of my leadership philosophy, forms a cornerstone of my teaching. I guide new leaders in understanding the significance of empathizing with their team members’ challenges and aspirations. This fosters a culture of trust and mutual support, leading to higher engagement and productivity.

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?

I remember my first gig as a manager, I was in my late 20’s and I had no clue what I was doing. At that time, I had this notion that all leaders needed to have all the answers. To this day I have no clue why I thought that or where I picked that advise from. You can imagine how those first couple of years went as a manager, I had an answer for everything and I was a Yes girl.

With the years I’ve let go of the notion that leaders need to have all the answers. I discovered that embracing vulnerability and admitting when I don’t have a solution actually encourages open dialogue and invites creative problem-solving from the team. It also empowers them to find solutions and without self-judgement. Win-win!

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

One of the key leadership traits I’ve consciously developed is the practice of active listening. This journey began with a realization that genuine understanding, empathy, and attention to the concerns and ideas of team members are essential for effective leadership.

Active listening goes beyond hearing words; it involves comprehending the emotions and perspectives behind them. When team members feel truly heard and understood, a profound sense of belonging and trust takes root within the organization. This sense of belonging is crucial in creating a collaborative and cohesive team environment, particularly in diverse and dynamic workplaces.

Moreover, active listening serves as a catalyst for innovation. When team members believe their input matters, they become more engaged and willing to contribute their creative ideas. These diverse viewpoints, when nurtured and integrated, often lead to innovative solutions and approaches that might not have emerged otherwise.

In my coaching and leadership development programs, I emphasize the significance of active listening. I encourage leaders to not only listen but to also ask questions that delve deeper into the thoughts and feelings of their team members. This approach promotes a culture of openness, where constructive feedback is welcomed and ideas are celebrated.

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?

My advice to leaders insist on using outdated methods is to embrace adaptability. Take a moment to reflect on the core principles that contributed to your past success. Then, with an open mindset, explore innovative ways to apply those principles in our ever-evolving landscape. While letting go of the familiar can be challenging, it’s precisely this courage that paves the way for transformative growth. One insight that I’ve seen many of my Executive level clients do is engage in in reverse-mentoring, where you learn from younger collegues who bring fresh perspectives and insights. This practice enriches your leadership style and fosters adaptability, ensuring you remain agile in a rapidly changing world.

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?

For new and emerging leaders, I recommend prioritizing relationship-building. Take time to understand your team members’ aspirations and challenges, and create a supportive environment where they can thrive. Also, don’t shy away from seeking mentorship or guidance; contrary to what most people think this is a sign of strength, not weakness.

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

  • Empathy: Effective leaders understand the unique experiences of their team members. For instance, I once coached a woman of color through a challenging project, because I was able to empathize with her we were able to see the additional barriers she faced and tailoring support accordingly.
  • Adaptability: In a rapidly changing work landscape, flexibility is key. I recall a situation where I swiftly pivoted a workshop to virtual format, this after months of planning an in-person meeting. While it was tough I reminded myself of the purpose of the workshop and defined that maintaining engagement and connection was most important through out.
  • Inclusive Communication: Leaders who foster inclusivity ensure all voices are heard. This is one of my favorite exercises, I facilitated a team discussion where I actively encouraged introverted team members to pair with an extrovert counterpart and share their ideas, resulting in innovative solutions.
  • Courageous Decision-Making: Effective leaders make tough choices with integrity. I recall a time when I advocated for equal pay for two team members, addressing the pay gap and fostering a culture of fairness. I must admit one of my proudest moments!
  • Continuous Learning: Leaders who value growth inspire their teams. I often share my own journey with my teams and ask them to share theirs with the team as well. When I was in corporate I took the yearly exercise of training and development very seriously and would hold individual team members to identify which areas of strength we needed to sharpen even further with training.

Here is a video that will inspire you to rethink your leadership traits.

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

This philosophy guides my daily approach to leadership and coaching. Each morning, I set clear intentions for the day ahead, with a dedicated focus on empowerment. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up.

My commitment revolves around enriching the lives of others through coaching. Whether it’s boosting someone’s confidence, helping them discover and amplify their voice, or guiding them toward personal and professional growth, I prioritize making each interaction valuable and meaningful.

As I engage with individuals seeking guidance and support, I carry with me the belief that each interaction is a canvas upon which I can paint a masterpiece of empowerment. It’s about fostering a sense of self-worth, resilience, and capability in those I work with.

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

My legacy as a leader is to be remembered as a catalyst for positive change. I want to be known for dismantling barriers, amplifying underrepresented voices, and leaving a trail of empowered women who have broken through glass ceilings and created lasting impact. Through my work, I’ve made a significant difference in closing the executive leadership gap at the top.

I’ve seen talented individuals, especially women of color, rise to leadership positions they might not have previously imagined. Witnessing their achievements and knowing that I played a role in supporting their journey is a source of immense pride and fulfillment. These success stories are not just about breaking through barriers; they’re about reshaping the landscape of leadership.

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

Readers can connect with me through Linkedin @natashatous, where I regularly share insights, tips, and stories related to leadership development, personal branding, and empowerment. They can also visit my website www.natashatous.com and sign up for my https://natashatous.ck.page/newsletter.

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