Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in leadership development but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Deborah LeeAnn, Founder of Authentic Leadership Academy & Consulting, located in St. Louis, MO, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

My leadership development business is multifaceted in terms of the various clients I serve and their needs for either individual development or team leadership facilitation. My passion lies in cultivating the inner leader within all of us. This has created a unique way of training, coaching, and retreat facilitation based on the embodiment. There's an intellectual component to learning leadership concepts and skills, and there's also the emotional intelligence that governs where we get in our own way and being able to manage that effectively. Tying it all together then is Somatic Awareness - where our body and non-verbals might be telling a different story than our words. Or, our facial expressions or tone of voice, or posture may not match what we're saying. Self-awareness in all these intelligence allows for Leadership Presence and a grounded confidence that allows for conscious connection and instills trust. Together the client and I choose the developmental changes needed to create the transformations most meaningful to them.

My customers are primarily very intelligent and educated women. Very often, these women are curious, wanting to grow, and move into their next level of leadership as well as feel a sense of confidence in their skills, abilities, and competencies. What I've found throughout the last decade is that if they're not involved in a long-term Leadership Development Program, an annual contract, or within a support system like a cohort growing alongside them, this work does not have the best outcomes. So much of the learning that goes on in leadership development programs is because of the interconnectedness and the community involved that helps each person to grow beyond what they can accomplish in one-on-one programs. Each group or partner experience, as well as group exercises and peer feedback, creates opportunities to see themselves from a different lens, allowing the individual to grow even more in their self-awareness and receive the support to do the hard work to get where they want to go.

Tell us about yourself

What first got me started working on this was wanting to support nonprofit leaders because they are the changemakers and seeing how they were feeling stifled, like their voices were not being heard or their actions weren't as effective as they needed to be. And I wanted to support them in standing fully in their power so that they could be seen and heard and respected and valued as the brilliant leaders that they were. The coursework evolved yet stayed mostly in the nonprofit area, continuing to expand into a variety of leadership 360 assessments, coaching, and cohort-style leadership development programs and retreats.

What motivates me still is the excitement of watching and being with clients as they move to their next level of awareness. Celebrating with them when they come back to tell about a difficult conversation or situation that became a beautiful place of understanding, growth, and trust-building experience for both parties. To hear that clients are noticing when they are feeling tightness or anxiety or overwhelm in their body and then learning to understand these sensations as guides. This helps them to trust their inner wisdom and to feel their confidence expanding. Seeing this transformation is what motivates me as I watch each client grow and become more confident in their leadership.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I would say when I got out of my own way! When I stopped working so hard on strategy, marketing, and making money… and began to grow my confidence, skill, and pleasure in serving my clients. It was a letting go for me to drop more fully into my intuition, my inner guidance (which is what I now teach to others) and enjoy the work versus focusing on the stuff I didn't enjoy and contracting that out. I was trying too hard to be what all clients needed and wanted, to do all the work of the business myself, and was losing the energy I needed to deliver quality services. What I was failing to do was to come across authentically and true to myself. And because of that, my message wasn't being heard. So once I got out of my own way and was able to stand fully in my truth, to speak with my purpose and my passion about what I am here to do, clients began coming to me. And I had the capacity and energy to serve with excellence. That, to me, feels like a huge accomplishment.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

This is very simple for me once I learned it. It has to do with separating "me" from the business in terms of time, energy, and finances. Every business will always have things that need to be done, yet as a solopreneur, all of the intellectual wisdom, creating of programs, and administrivia needed to run a business all fall onto one's shoulders. Knowing when to stop and walk away from the computer or to contract out the tasks that I didn't enjoy or have the expertise to do efficiently was a big lesson for me. Also, to remember that my worth is not equal to the money in my bank account. Learning to separate my individual value from how much the profit and losses of the business are, especially in the beginning when I was operating in the red.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

Number one, I would say stay true to yourself. As I have grown and evolved, I have learned that my business can grow and evolve with me. My clients are ready to uplevel each time I do it, and it's important not to try to go back and do things the way I did them 10 years ago because the world has changed. And I'm learning to listen to my intuition on that one.

Number two is to continue finding ways to grow and learn and develop and deepen my craft. So to find ways to enrich myself to keep me excited in between different projects or clients, and to find what reminds me of my passion that brings me back to the work that I'm doing. That also is a benefit to each of my clients. Each time I learn something new, I get to pass that on to them.

To continually align the outside representation of yourself and your business to your core values. Remaining in alignment can be anything from keeping up-to-date photos, marketing materials, and website to representation on social media. This also includes ongoing professional development in your field.

Recently I refreshed my logo and my website, and it feels delicious to me. And more true to who I am when I'm representing myself to the world today. An ever-evolving, continuous student and conscious business owner and leader in a world hungry for radical honesty and compassionate leadership.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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