Sonia McDonald is many things: the founder of Leadership HQ, a single parent, and a renowned and award-winning author. While some of her books include titles like Leadership Attitude, Just Rocket, and First comes Courage, she is also a regular contributor in the Australian HRD Magazine, Smart, Healthy Women, and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the ‘Top 250 Influential Women In The World’, as well as ‘Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs’ by Richtopia. Evidently, Sonia is internationally recognized as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.
1:48 While Sonia is very clearly on a mission to build a world filled with great leaders, Lauren is curious to learn where the initial idea for Leadership HQ came from.
- Today, Leadership HQ is an award winning leadership development and performance organisation, but it originally started out as simply Sonia’s blog in 2007, before becoming a must-read for leaders looking for a more people-centred way of doing business.
- The motivation for sharing her insights came after 2006, when Sonia’s life fell apart and she moved back to Australia from China to start a new life as a single parent. While working in the consulting space, she struggled with a lack of flexibility.
5:21 It’s no secret that good leadership has the power to change lives. Keeping this in mind, Lauren asks Sonia what some of her proudest moments are during her career.
- It’s Sonia’s belief that being a good leader doesn’t equate to being feared. This applied when she was tasked with working with a superintendent in his sixties with close to fifty years on the job, who then had the courage to reinvent how he approached his work.
- For Sonia, the magic of what she does lies in empowering people to realise that sometimes it’s not about teaching an old dog new tricks, but that a little bit of self-awareness and empathy can go a long way.
8:10 Sonia says that you can’t teach someone leadership, but you can encourage someone to further develop their existing skills. For her, good leaders always have some key qualities.
- In her experience, Sonia believes that a good leader will always have a growth mindset. If someone is continuously open to learning and growing, and is self-aware enough to identify their strengths and weaknesses, then the sky’s the limit.
- While it’s important for a leader to work on becoming the best version of themselves, they should also prioritise serving others to do the same. They aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, and understand the power of compassion.
10:13 Having just successfully pulled off the very first Leadership HQ Awards, Lauren is eager to learn what lessons Sonia learned from hosting an event of this scale.
- In the spirit of ‘building doors’, Sonia has long believed that there was a gap in recognising Australia’s key leaders that wasn’t tied to a specific sector. Despite the many tears, the support and feedback she received afterwards made it all worth it.
- Championing those who make courage, inclusion and kindness part of their everyday culture, Sonia was immensely proud to witness a room of hundreds of people stand up and share their personal stories and struggles with each other.
12:43 Lauren acknowledges witnessing Sonia’s daughter speak at the 2022 Leadership HQ Awards about her experiences with bullying, and Sonia discusses how this impacted them.
- As a long time anti-bullying advocate and a staunch supporter of kindness in every school and workplace, Sonia shares that this stemmed from watching her daughter Abby struggle enormously in high school with this issue she describes as an epidemic.
- The impact of the bullying that Abby experienced saw her exit high school at just fourteen, and face an ongoing struggle with mental health. A decade later, she is now about to graduate university with a degree in social work, and Sonia couldn’t be prouder.
16:13 As a single parent juggling her home life and what could arguably be called an empire, Lauren asks Sonia to share her tips on getting through the hard days and staying resilient.
- While Sonia is aware that she works in a space that advocates for kindness at work, she also emphasises how important it is to be kind to yourself. In fact, she recommends the Brene Brown method of speaking to yourself like you would speak to someone you love.
- Sonia also recommends using tools like journaling and visualisation to keep your eye on the prize, and avoid falling into the trap of beating yourself up when you inevitably make a mistake or have a bad day.
20:26 Lauren and Sonia discuss the importance of knowing when to ask for help, and how having a good tribe around you can be revolutionary for kicking goals.
- Sonia identifies former Super Retail Group CEO Peter Birtles and strategic consultant Ted Bennell as some of her two key mentors that she’s retained over the years, but also acknowledges the importance of having friends that really want to help row your boat.
- Having spent years juggling several different plates in the air, Sonia also states that it’s important when to recognise that it’s time to walk away from people who don’t have any real desire to see you succeed.
24:05 Passionate about teenage mental health, Sonia shares more on her own experiences and what advice she would give to her fellow parents on how to better support their kids.
- When her own teenage daughter began to withdraw and spend larger amounts of time in her room, Sonia dismissed this as normal for a child of her age. In hindsight, she now believes that this was one of the first warning signs that something was wrong.
- While Sonia believes that it’s okay for parents to want a good education for their kids, she also urges them to let go of their own expectations and dig deeper if their child doesn’t want to go to school or is disinterested in homework.
30:28 While both Lauren and Sonia are both working mums, Lauren is eager to learn how Sonia stays connected with her daughter as a busy single parent.
- Sonia prioritises spending time together doing things that she knows her daughter enjoys, and doesn’t pursue activities just for the sake of them. For the McDonald family, that presented itself as op shopping.
- Sonia also mentions that it’s equally valuable to ensure that your teenager knows they can be with you without the pressure of speaking, such as having a cup of tea together. If you want your teen to open up, she also recommends taking a drive together.
33:28 As a champion for building doors by creating her own business from scratch, Lauren is eager to hear Sonia’s thoughts on what she would do differently with a little hindsight.
- Above all, Sonia advises wannabe business owners to find what their version of a sweet spot looks like. As a general rule, aim to cover three key areas: what the world needs, what you are passionate about, and what you’re good at.
- Sonia admits that she made a mistake thinking that she could do everything on her own, and wishes that she sought more advice from people with more experience, and found herself a mentor.
36:50 As per tradition, Lauren quizzes Sonia for some pearls of wisdom through the ‘Building Doors’ Rocket Round . Controversially, Sonia is the first guest to pick cats over dogs.
You can connect with Sonia McDonald on LinkedIn.
About your host:
Lauren Karan, Director and Founder of Karan & Co.
With over a decade of experience as a recruiter and development coach, Lauren Karan found that her priorities rapidly changed after the birth of her two children. In 2022 she founded Karan & Co flipping the out-dated recruitment model with a focus on retention through career coaching and development.
Lauren believes that If opportunity doesn’t knock, you have to build a door – and it’s this same philosophy that inspired her to create the Building Doors podcast.
The Building Doors podcast is for anyone undergoing a transformation in their life. Regardless of whether you feel stuck in your current role, need some inspiration on what steps to take next, want to learn how to level up as a business owner or simply want to listen to the experiences of successful entrepreneurs and industry professionals, the Building Doors podcast is all about unlocking your potential.
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