We had the good fortune of connecting with Laurel K. Rutledge and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Laurel, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
The short answer? I had just had enough. The deeper answer? I woke up in December of 2016 and realized I was miserable. I was tired of fighting the establishment about stuff that, for me, was just standard operating procedure when you are leading in integrity. I was unable to be present with family and friends. I was tired. I’d gained way too much weight, and my mental and emotional health was at risk. I was just done! So I took a little bit of time to decide. I prayed about it. I evaluated everything that had happened in my nearly 30 years of corporate life. I realized that there was a common thread through all of it. Through all of the moves, all of the bosses, all of the roles. First was, if I wasn’t learning, I was bored. The second was if I wasn’t serving and genuinely making an impact; I was uninterested. Third, while I am far from conflict-avoidant, living in constant conflict – especially over stupid, common sense stuff – was an absolute soul-crushing existence for me. Fourth, and probably the most important, I was more important to me than any company, shareholder, boss, or team. And that was an ‘aha’ moment. The realization that putting my mask on first was the only way that I could serve in a way that honored both my gifts and my belief that to whom much is given, much is expected. The way I could serve those folks who had looked up to me during my career was to be able to show up strong, confident, and unapologetic. But not necessarily still WITHIN the corporate construct. I could serve myself and others better and more in-depth on my own. So I took the leap. Decided on faith over fear, and here we are! I have never been more terrified and more excited in my life!
The decision was not easy. Entrepreneurship is the most challenging work I’ve ever done. There is a great deal of alone time building a business – and adding the pandemic to it means more time to get twisted up in head trash. Add “type A insecure overachiever” to that mix, and it can be a battle requiring Herculean effort. But what better way to address the stuff that has been bugging you all along, both conscious and sub-conscious, than being forced to do so? And you must do so if you are going to make the dream work! Plus, by addressing our own “stuff,” we become more capable of assisting others in managing theirs.
I don’t want any other woman, particularly any other black woman, to feel the way I felt every day when I walked into an organization as one of only two black female senior executives in a global company of 17,000 employees. The constant battle of walking the line to make everyone else comfortable and having to be so focused on the messaging – words, tone, context – that the actual work is secondary. Constantly code-switching and executing mental gymnastics to rival Simone Biles just for a small chance that the message’s value would not be negated by the visual of the “package” delivering it. Microaggression and unconscious bias are not just the buzzwords of the day for people who are suddenly “woke.” They are a REALITY of everyday life in corporate America (and elsewhere) for people of color – in particular black women. It isn’t necessary to be in pain. It IS necessary to be clear about who you are, where you are, what you want, and what you are willing to do to get there. It is possible to have an incredible corporate career – kicking a** and taking names and lifting others as your rise. Impacting corporate cultures and leading by example. I believe I did that to the best of my ability. It is also possible to leave that setting and do the same. And that is the journey I have CHOSEN. Because we all have choices – even if the standard rhetoric and golden handcuffs of capitalism tell you something different. It’s a matter of getting clear on what you want and giving yourself the grace and space to make that decision.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I am a career and leadership transformation expert. I tap into the genius that already exists in my clients to create soul-stirring careers and build compassionate and effective leaders. What sets me apart is my broad background and experience. I have been an accountant and auditor (detail required) and a consultant and HR executive (expert listening and project management skills required) and worked across industries and functions. As a result, I can actively listen to a client and connect dots they didn’t even know existed. Because I believe simplicity and clarity are essential, I am willing to continue to ask questions where others may cease and jump to a conclusive answer. I am also willing to “speak the truth” even when it is unpleasant. I can do so in a thoughtful way because I believe (1) it is not unkind to be clear and (2) it is not necessary to be ugly to be candid. While I have a “structured” foundation from which I advise (everything comes down to strategy and people), my experience gives me the ability to flex where needed for the client. It is not easy to show up just as you are when you’ve had to “modify” yourself to fit. And I don’t mean ensuring behavior and communication is appropriate for the situation (board room vs. family bar-b-q). I mean that it can be challenging to overcome corporate trauma and remember how exceptional you are.
Because we have choices, and I believe it is critical to know who you will work with, I want people to know a little of my philosophy:
I believe that you ALWAYS speak the truth to yourself and others – even when that truth is contrary to your opinion. You own your “stuff” – and we all got “stuff.” You serve from a place of no judgment – because everyone has some battle they are fighting. And finally, there is very little that we control beyond our thoughts, opinions, and actions. Surrendering to the flow and staying in flow is paramount to success. Why? Because when you know your why and thus your end goal, variations in flow are simply waves to ride, not barriers to achievement.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Houston is such a fantastic city with so much to do. While, like many residents, I don’t take advantage of it as much as I would if I were visiting, there are a few MUSTS if you are in the area:
Food: Houston has become a foodie hotspot. So much food, so little time! Topping this list for me is The Breakfast Klub (yes, with a ‘k’). Best food and best service spot and black-owned business! Then we would hit Calliope’s (the crawfish fried rice), Gatlin’s Bar-B-Q (brisket and greens on point), and The Waffle Bus -food truck or brick and mortar- for a savory waffle but mostly for the waffle with strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate!!!. We could also go to some of the staples like Goode Company seafood (campechana and crawfish tamales in season), Lucille’s for brunch, and Cool Runnings. I love to try new places, so we would also add to the list: Kulture, Wafflez-N-Creamz, The Greasy Spoon Soulfood, and Soulfood Vegan (and probably a few others if we could fit them in!)
To see: I’m a museum girl, and Houston has some of the best. We would visit the MFA and then the Menil for sure. Then we would head down to Galveston and Kemah to hit Moody Gardens, have some great seafood and take in the latest madness on the pier. And, of course, NASA and Battleship Texas. There have been some great drive-in/up theaters open in Houston during the pandemic, so we could do one night out in the air – socially distanced, of course – and see a rooftop movie. If Miller Outdoor Theater were open, they have some of the best live entertainment. We would sit on the hill and take in the Mowtown review or Salsa Y Salud (a little biased because I performed in it a couple of years – but if you love salsa, this is the show!). If the visit were during the summer, we’d get there early and get a seat in the covered section!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
So many!!! My incredible family (I love you!), My Fierce and Fabulous Five, My FFL Sisterhood, My Sister Circle, My Fab Five Line Sisters and ALL who serve Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., SSS Chiquis, Drs. E, M, and F, Marcia, Cassandra, Ruth, Michael, Kevin, Rene, Dina, Sheri & Glenn, John & Terri, Hang, Aleta, Luminary Coaches and Leaders, Jerri, Jeni, and Joy. For those I missed, charge it to my head and not my heart.
Instagram: @laurel.k.rutledge @the.rutledge.perspective @the.resource.bylkr
Other: FB Community Empowering Women: https://www.facebook.com/Empowerment-Village-104714268180457
Point & Click Photography, coleCOLORS, LLC