Honesty and Transparency: Effective leaders are honest, ethical, have high moral standards and maintain a healthy level of transparency with business staff, partners, and stakeholders.

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 Tina van der Ven.

Tina van der Ven is the CEO of vdV Consulting, a Miami-based boutique consulting firm specializing in strategy, marketing, business development, community relations, business coaching, and legal recruitment. Tina combines her strong institutional foundation — namely within BigLaw, Big Four accounting firms, and major healthcare entities — with her creative, efficient and customized strategies to help clients achieve their business goals.

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?

On March 1 of this year, I started a new company, vdV Consulting — coincidentally on the first day of Women’s History Month. I am really excited about this new venture. I was holding myself back from doing this for quite some time, but I ripped off the bandaid and took this massive leap of faith. I am ready to be in the driver’s seat and do the work that genuinely inspires me. I have worked in the corporate world for a long time, at amazing companies like Ernst & Young and Greenberg Traurig. Then, I co-founded a marketing-communications company where I had the opportunity to work with wonderful clients from a multitude of industries. Now the time has come to go out on my own and provide client service and deliverables the way I want to do it, and in the way that clients deserve. I have learned from the good and the bad over my professional career. I am now focusing exclusively on my passion areas — business development, marketing, strategy, community relations and legal recruiting, and building a team that understands the importance of quality work, accountability, reliability and a positive client experience.

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

There is one person in particular that I want to acknowledge here — Matthew Gorson, the Senior Chairman of Greenberg Traurig (GT). I worked with Matt for almost 11 years at GT, and I have known him for almost 20 years. He is one of the brightest real estate lawyers that I have ever met. Watching him work on a deal is simply extraordinary. He has the ability to originate business like no one I have ever seen before. Matt is self-made, and a tough, but fair leader. He loves his children and family and is a philanthropist who gives with heart and purpose. Matt is someone who pushes his team to think quickly and to work to their fullest potential — you have to be on your A-game around him. I am very grateful to have him as a mentor and friend for almost two decades.

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 of the biggest mistakes I have made as a leader is underestimating the importance of personal health and well-being. I can recall the first year of co-founding and serving as co-CEO to a marketing-communications company and being glued to my computer and office chair, on non-stop calls, trying to build a company while also homeschooling my two young children due to the COVID pandemic and dealing with the declining health of my father. I was operating at an extremely unhealthy pace, not sleeping well, and was under tremendous stress. By the end of 2020, I felt the ramifications of personal neglect. I was emotionally exhausted, physically out of shape and mentally burned out. I always think of the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Yes, there is a certain level of commitment necessary to being an effective leader. That role does come with compromises and sacrifices. But we should never use work or our role as a leader as an excuse to neglect our mental and physical health. In fact, I am an avid believer that investing in our health and taking time for ourselves is what makes us more productive, empathetic and creative leaders for our team, clients and our family. Needless to say, I made some serious changes in my life. I hired a trainer, resumed periodic tennis lessons, and went back to taking classes at SoulCycle. This has been a game changer for me.

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

There is no question — my definition of leadership has evolved over time and will probably continue to. I understand on a deep spiritual level the importance of having an emotional quotient (EQ) when it comes to business and leadership. With two decades of work experience under my belt now and having been in different leadership roles and interfacing with business staff, board members and clients from different industries, cultures and backgrounds, I feel that I have a better grasp on the power of utilizing EQ when it comes to leading a company, a board, handling clients or conflicts. It is essential to actively listen to people. People have varying communication styles. We need to honor and respect that and tailor our communication to different audiences. Life in this post-COVID world is incredibly challenging. It is important to recognize the reality of balancing family with work, or a hybrid schedule, or employees caring for sick family members. Being a leader means taking all of these variables into consideration and understanding that success as a leader is not just about “winning” and making money — it’s more holistic. It is about delivering quality work and having a strong team culture and camaraderie. As an effective leader, one should take the time to really understand their employees and stakeholders and show them that they are appreciated and heard.

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?

One legacy leadership behavior that I have stopped is not asking for help and not letting people “in.” Sometimes being a leader or entrepreneur can feel incredibly isolating. But it doesn’t have to be that way. For most of my life, I felt that being a good leader was internalizing my stress and challenges and handling them alone, and on my own terms. I was raised with the notion that sharing your struggles and problems is a sign of weakness. However, over the past few years, I have created a group of trusted advisors. These are friends and successful professionals that I know will honor confidentiality and provide me with support on matters related to legal, marketing, PR, HR, executive coaching, etc. Having this circle of incredible confidants has changed my life. They provide me with insights, feedback and sometimes very difficult truths that have enabled me to make very positive, yet overdue life changes. I encourage any reader to find that “tribe” or group of trusted friends to serve as a sounding board, both personally and professionally.

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

Active listening is one leadership behavior that I continue to work on. It is not only valuable and relevant, but it is crucial. Being present, making eye contact, and putting away devices and eliminating any distractions allows me to connect with clients, board members, team members and family and friends, to process and understand their needs, concerns, ideas, and perspectives. I find that some people have a tendency to habitually speak over others, or aggressively interrupt or speak over colleagues or clients in a condescending and patronizing manner during pitches, meetings, or conference calls (I have been on the receiving end of this on numerous occasions during pitches and it is mortifying). Instead, it is more meaningful and respectful to truly take the time to have the discipline and patience to listen and genuinely concentrate on what someone is saying, and to pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. When I take the time to actively listen, it strengthens relationships, leads to an increase in trust amongst my peers and stakeholders, and it ultimately allows us to create better solutions, decisions and outcomes as a team.

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?

Change is typically hard. I feel that it is common for some leaders to stick to what has worked for them in the past, but it’s really important to be aware of when those approaches and leadership styles are no longer effective. Knowing and being aware that it is time to let go and change is half the battle. Step two would be to have an open mind — be willing to try new things. Hiring an executive coach can be an instrumental resource in making this transition. Honesty is also important, and the process of taking stock of ourselves can be painful, yet humbling. It is helpful to do what I call a “personal audit” — identify what is working from a leadership perspective and what isn’t. Identify what is outdated and ineffective. Once you identify these strengths and shortcomings, you should be willing to make changes where necessary. It is also important to surround yourself with varying perspectives and ideas. We need to be able to gauge what works and what doesn’t work and evaluate things from different angles. Sit down with your team and stakeholders. Take the time to actively listen to them and take notes on their suggestions and feedback. Lastly, evaluate this feedback, create an actionable and practical plan, and hold yourself accountable to making these leadership adjustments. This is where you really earn trust and respect from your team. Change will not happen overnight and some days may be better than others. But it’s important to remember that change and challenging moments as a leader are instrumental forces for progress, evolution and growth.

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?

I remember many years ago when I was promoted to a manager role, and it was my first time as a new leader within a large corporation. I was absolutely terrified, but I was up for the challenge. As I reflect on that time in my life, there are several key pieces of advice that I would offer to new and emerging leaders:

  1. Be patient. There will be colleagues that will need to get used to you being their new leader. They may need time to adjust to this new relationship. There may be individuals on your team that may be apprehensive about your capabilities in your new role. Give yourself and your team some time to acclimate and recognize that you will need to prove to your team that you are the right person for the job.
  2. Build relationships. Set up one-on-one meetings with your colleagues and stakeholders. Actively listen and take notes. This is not a time to be defensive and be on the warpath to create change overnight. This is a key opportunity to adopt the humble “servant” leadership mindset — to be engaged, absorb as much information as possible, and understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and potential threats that you need to take into consideration as it relates to each team member, the company and the team as a whole. You want your team to recognize that you are committed to them and want to support their overall growth and success.
  3. Meet regularly with your team and set clear goals. A regular meeting cadence with your team is crucial. Try to make it fun as well — perhaps have standing meetings where there’s an element of surprise, such as adding a sensory experience for brainstorming, curating a themed lunch, or bringing in a special guest. Be very clear on what your goals and expectations are, and provide your team with the support, resources and confidence that they need to attain these goals.
  4. Lead by example. Remember — you are setting the example for your team. If you decide to work from home every day but expect your team to be in the office five days a week — this is going to backfire on you. Dress appropriately for the office or in-person meetings, maintain a professional demeanor and practice what you preach. You should have an open-door policy for your team. Also, fear-based leadership is a waste of time. Do not go down that path. You will end up losing trust, confidence and camaraderie from your team.
  5. Praise, reward and recognize. I come from the mindset that authentic recognition and praise goes a long way. If you have an employee that has gone the extra mile, give him or her the praise for the great work. We are absolutely nothing without the support of our team! Provide your colleagues with opportunities for growth and development.
  6. Remember the power of EQ. Further developing your EQ can help you build better relationships with your team and be a more effective leader. I believe it also makes a leader more relatable and approachable.
  7. Take care of yourself. You do not want to burn out in your new role because you have spent seven days a week in the office for three consecutive months without breaks and no time for self-care. It is imperative to sleep, eat well and make time for your physical and mental health. Your team and your clients need you!

Based on my experience and research, here are the top five traits that I believe effective leaders exemplify:

  1. Commitment, Optimism and Passion: Effective leaders embrace the philosophy of “do what you love and love what you do.” They have a strong commitment to their employees and company and a passion for what they do. They believe in the mission of the company and have positive energy, team spirit and optimism that resonates from the top down.
  2. Emotional Intelligence/EQ: Effective leaders can understand and manage their emotions, as well as those of their team members. Emotional intelligence enables leaders to communicate effectively, build relationships and morale, and is instrumental in connecting with employees and customers/clients. Leaders with a high EQ interact in a way that leaves colleagues feeling valued and respected for their personal and professional worth.
  3. Effective communication: Effective leaders are able to communicate their vision, goals, and expectations clearly to their team, as well as provide feedback and guidance on an ongoing basis. They not only speak clearly and listen actively, but they also choose the right medium for communication, such as email, phone, Zoom, or in-person meetings, depending on the situation. An effective leader tailors their message to their audience based on various factors including culture, language, etc.
  4. Honesty and Transparency: Effective leaders are honest, ethical, have high moral standards and maintain a healthy level of transparency with business staff, partners, and stakeholders.
  5. Decisiveness: Effective leaders are quick on their feet and make educated, strategic decisions and are accountable for those decisions. There is nothing more frustrating than a leader that takes too long to make a decision or simply keeps colleagues on a holding pattern and doesn’t make decisions at all. An effective leader acts decisively and if the decision does not result in success, they are resilient, pivot accordingly and maintain optimism for the greater good of the team.

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

When I think of the quote from Coach John Wooden, a few things come to mind: the importance of being present, having a sense of gratitude, intention and purpose, a strong positive mindset, enjoying life, and giving back to our community and helping others.

I have a life story where the moral of it really captures the essence of what John was talking about — and the story is about my late father, Tom.

My father was an immigrant who came to this country from Iran in 1979. He fled the war in Iran alongside my mother who was 14 years younger than him, with a newborn in tow (me) and had two young sons from his first marriage. He eventually arrived in Florida and had to figure out a way to feed his family of five (and eventually, six) in a country where he was treated as a social pariah due to the turbulent political climate around the Iranian hostage crisis. He struggled to find work and eventually ended up purchasing one of the oldest body shops in Fort Lauderdale. He quickly learned the trade and worked six days a week, sweating day in and day out along with my mother who worked with my dad, trying to provide a good life for our family. It was very rare to see my dad take a vacation. One day when I was about 13 years old, I sat down with my dad and started crying. I pleaded with him, “Dad, please, can you slow down? Can you take a real vacation with us?” His immediate response was, “No, I can’t. This is my time to work. I will take those trips when I retire.”

My dad never had the chance to take those trips that we talked about. My strong hardworking dad had his physical strength and quality of life ripped away from him in 2015 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia. My mom, my siblings and I spent the next eight years with our dad in doctors offices, hospitals, an assisted living facility and eventually in hospice. My dad passed away in November 2021.

I honor my dad each day by working hard and doing the best I can to be fully present, and by reminding myself to cherish every moment that I have with my children, my husband, my friends and loved ones. My husband and I learned a major lesson from my dad — “don’t wait to take that trip.” Don’t wait to open that new business or say I love you to someone you haven’t said it to in a long time. Today is today. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Therefore, we need to “make each day a masterpiece,” by living with daily intention and purpose, striving to make the most of every moment and creating a life that is exciting, fulfilling and meaningful.

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

I want to be remembered as a leader who led with heart and passion and made an impact — as someone who rolled up her sleeves and genuinely cared for the people around her — for her family, her team, clients, family, friends and the community at large.

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

Readers can connect with me on LinkedIn — my profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/tina-van-der-ven-1521136/ or find me on Instagram @vdvconsulting.

Thank you all for taking the time to learn about me and my personal and professional journey. And remember — don’t let anyone define your worth and never ever allow anyone to have the power to make you feel small. You need to value yourself first. As someone once told me, “When you follow your own path and find your own way, you will create the life that you want.”

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