Kamini Lane, 42, knows a thing or two about the art of persuasion. A CEO with a Harvard MBA, her charming smile and warm demeanor have made her a master influencer.
I started working with Lane over a year ago, shortly after she became President of National Brokerage for Sotheby’s International Realty. We quickly dove into business strategy and the understanding of human behavior.
Lane managed many different personalities at work, hoping to make an impact in their decision-making. We initiated big picture strategies that could be broken down into every day moves.
Within the year she herself had a big change; she became pregnant with her second child and she was offered the president and CEO position at Coldwell Banker Realty. Things were getting complicated!
Confident from the beginning
I like to get to know my client’s background when I start working with someone. Lane’s parents immigrated from India in 1975 and settled in L.A. where she grew up with her older sister. Her upbringing was influenced by her family’s Indian culture: food, holidays, local Indian friends, dance, etc. However, outside her home, she blended in with her typical Southern California surroundings.
Lane described her younger self as “curious, driven and happy.” Growing up she felt supported by her parents who instilled in her the confidence to do anything she wanted. Her father taught her to expect joy from her work. This made a great impact. Right from the beginning of her adult life, she had courage and took risks, graduating from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.
But recognizing it was not for her, she pivoted to consulting for Ernst & Young. After years of working 80-hour weeks and traveling nonstop, she craved creativity and landed a coveted job at eBay.
From there, Lane went to Harvard Business School and spent a decade in brand strategy and marketing, leading top tier agencies in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The confidence she got from an early age helped steer her success.
When strengths go south
After I learned about her background, I had Lane take a DISC behavioral assessment. It’s a psychological tool used to measure how the brain absorbs information and creates the behaviors that define your personality type (strengths, weaknesses, stressors, conflict management style).
Lane’s assessment identified her as the Influencer (I) personality type. On good days, she is approachable, interesting, fun, a connector, and a people person. On bad days she is too easygoing and overly optimistic.
I call this “strengths going south.” All of our strengths work for us until they don’t. Our ability to be positive is good until we are ignoring important negative facts. Our ability to be confident works until it turns to arrogance, accommodating turns to looking like a martyr, detail-driven turns to micro-manager and so on. Like many “I” leaders, Lane’s optimism worked for her in taking risks, ideating solutions to problems, and adopting a positive attitude. Her “I” tendencies veered south when she became unrealistic.
One of the topics we tackled was unconscious bias towards women. Many women don’t want the discomfort of seeing the double standard and at first Lane was no different. As a leader she needed to see its impact.
Being able to see the hard truths allowed her to make a difference. She would support women vocally, change the topic when it came up and question the real facts. This took courage because confrontation on this topic made her uncomfortable, but it aligned with her values and pushed her to grow.
Stay above the waterline
Next, I introduced a model I use with most clients to direct her focus called, “Stay Above the Waterline.”
We want to live our life above the waterline in the “Vision” portion. It’s a big picture view of where we are going and our 1 to 5-year goals.
The “Thinking” portion includes our strategy to get there and problem-solving skills to hurdle obstacles. In the “Planning” section we set actions every day to get to our goals, our daily to-dos that drive success.
When we are above the waterline, our life is great. Business is thriving, we are growing intellectually and emotionally, and our confidence is rising.
While that sounds great and easy, it is not. Life has “Problems” – issues we didn’t anticipate and don’t know how to solve – which can create “Drama,” or the emotional overreaction that turns to gossip. And the “Details” section, we ruminate on these problems to the point that we lose opportunities and hold onto grudges.
Lane loved the idea of being above the waterline – she was such a great visionary – but the details of problems would distract her from connecting her vision to the thinking (strategy) and planning (her to-do). And the constant agent and employee drama diminished her mindset. In coaching, we constantly aligned her actions to the big picture and problems-solved from that position.
Stepping into her power – Owning her position
When the CEO position became available to Lane, she knew she was going to have to make tough decisions right from the beginning for the benefit of the company.
Women in change management positions are always appreciated at first but can suffer a backlash. Additionally, she was pregnant and would have maternity leave in the first year of the job.
This was a lot to take on, but Lane had the courage and confidence to pursue it. The CEO position was a long-term, so taking a short maternity leave wouldn’t be relevant in the big picture.
She seized the opportunity and we hit the ground running. When she told the company she was pregnant, they didn’t flinch. We quickly started elevating the leadership and made a 90-day plan of attack. Lane’s qualities as a child of being “curious, driven and happy” were helping her continue to rise. Through coaching she leveraged her strengths more strategically, mitigated weaknesses that sabotaged her previously, and gained confidence to take big risks in her power.
Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs. She is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and executive coach to top leaders and teams across a broad range of industries.