Don’t “fake it ’til you make it” — instead, be transparent and vulnerable. People will connect with your honesty and openness, and you’ll feel happier being yourself.
Loriana Sekarski is founder and president of BONSAI, a consulting company that shapes leaders (and businesses) into the most accomplished, successful version of themselves. As a leadership coach, Loriana teaches leaders how to hone soft skills, spur workplace engagement, and achieve untapped levels of potential.
Outside of BONSAI, Loriana serves as an adjunct professor at Washington University’s graduate student program. Additionally, she’s fine-tuning her brainchild and passion project, TakeFlight, a program that addresses the oft-unspoken domestic abuse within the Christian community.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I had a consulting business previously, but when I started BONSAI, I really wanted to focus on helping leaders be their best in their own authentic way. I had visited the U.S. National Arboretum and recalled a huge room with only bonsai trees. The curator told us that any species of tree could be a bonsai. The gardener just had to start with a sapling, envision the tree 300 years from now, and start pruning it to look like the old tree in his mind. That is akin to what I do with leaders. Given how they are naturally wired, I help them envision the leaders they can become, and we identify simple steps to move in that direction. In essence, I help shape them into leaders as the bonsai gardener shapes the tree.
The idea of TakeFlight was connected to butterflies I used to draw and paint. I saw them as a metaphor for people whose wings had been battered and the desire God has for them to be whole and fly and be who He designed them to become.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Every Friday late afternoon, over wine and cheese, we plan the week ahead and what needs to get done to meet monthly goals. Then I plan each day in advance so I don’t waste time in the morning thinking about what to work on. I also do reflective questions such as: What did I learn from last week that was very productive? Where did I stall? What should I do differently? I also look at the schedule to ensure there is time for working out, blogging, etc.
I like to work in two-hour sprints and reward myself in the late morning with a workout. I also lump like activities together so I stay focused on one client or similar thought space. That triples my productivity because I am more creative when I don’t multitask and when I think about one client for a longer period.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a big whiteboard that fills up the creative room. I love seeing everything up on the board and putting ideas on Post-its and moving them around. I get energized brainstorming with others and hearing their suggestions and bouncing my ideas off them.
What’s one trend that excites you?
A desire for greater community. It seems that as people collect more friends on Facebook and followers on Instagram, true connections with real-life people have dropped. I am sensing a desire for more authentic community and connections. I see it in the college students I teach, as well as with clients and people in our community. I think we have all gotten so busy and consumed by non-life-giving connections that there is a gap that now longs to be filled even more.
I think there is an opportunity here for businesses. Businesses have the opportunity to provide a sense of community for their employees and customers; to give them a sense of camaraderie as a team striving for a common goal; and, as they develop their employees, to show that they care about their growth and development as people.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Doing my quiet time — Bible reading and prayer each morning — grounds my day and makes me more focused and productive.
The habit of asking, “How does this fit with our mission?” helps me stay productive, too. That is critical because especially as an entrepreneur, it can be easy to take on business that may not make sense. I see this happening with our small business clients — it might be a result of needing the cash flow, wanting the exposure, etc. But saying yes to one client can mean saying no to something better because you already committed the time. It can be a distraction.
As a leader, I ask myself whether the work I am going to do aligns with my strengths, skills, and purpose. Just because I can do it doesn’t mean I should do it. And if the work isn’t aligned with our mission, it will usually be draining, and that isn’t good for anyone.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Let people know the real you. I followed the philosophy of “fake it ’til you make it” most of my life. It did open doors and lead to success, but I wasn’t happy in that success. When I stopped being concerned with the “expected image” I thought I needed to portray, I was happier, and the mindset shift had a positive impact on my work.
I learned that vulnerability means people will actually trust you more because they see you are transparent. They understand your motives and intent. And it just feels a lot better being open and being yourself instead of being what you think others expect you to be (which is usually a misjudged target anyhow). I also found that vulnerability is contagious. As I opened up, I was amazed at how much others shared with me and how the opportunities to help others at a deeper level increased. It definitely has a ripple effect.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
“Fake it ’til you make it” just doesn’t work. So many of my graduate students in the STEM field have argued with me about this. It might be that until you cross over to the other side, you don’t see the damage you do to yourself by pretending so hard. For me, it is also deeply embedded in my faith. As I live out my purpose and I know I am where God wants me, why would I need to fake it?
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Technology breaks — and long ones. Twice a year, we disappear and let clients know we will not check emails, and we turn on our phones only once a day to check for text messages. One break is for a week, and the other is for two weeks.
I also take Saturdays and Sundays off so I am fresh on Monday. I never work Sundays — it is our day for worship and rest. The few times I tried to get ahead by working a few hours on Saturday, I paid for it by being tired and not mentally fresh on Monday.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I do what I do well for the sake of doing it well — not for the opportunities it might bring or how BONSAI will look. Any time I have been concerned about marketing, it seems it has not gone so well. But when I simply focus on helping people and doing the best job possible, then business increases from referrals.
I also focus on personal growth for others and being authentic, and people see this and want to be a part of it. They tell others and help grow BONSAI by word of mouth and testimonials.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I learned in my first business years ago that the entire leadership team has to be 100 percent on board before implementing an organizational change. I was working with a manufacturing business, and the 51 percent owner wanted a team-based work environment. The minority owner verbally supported the effort but — as I learned later — actually preferred an autocratic approach in which the sales department reigned supreme.
We were moving forward, and the factory employees were excited about the changes. Rework was down, processes were simplified, departments were talking, and people felt like they were treated as important to the business and their ideas were being considered. But the 49 percent owner started sabotaging the effort, and months later, the entire project imploded.
I learned from that to interview the potential client as much as they interview me. I want to talk with the entire leadership team before deciding to engage them. I also listen for not just what is said but what is not said. That often is more telling.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Easy glamping! We can’t get friends to tent camp with us because of the effort it entails — we actually enjoy the whole process (except with rain). This would be a game changer!
Imagine you could call a company and say where you wanted to go camping, and it does all the work — you just show up with clothing and toiletries. The company would have the tent, air mattress, sleeping bags, fan, lights, tiki torches, dinner table, and food set up and arranged. When you are done, the company will come and clean up your campsite and haul everything away. There’s no hassle and no mess for you, even if it rains.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Professionally: Hiring a business consultant to help us think more clearly about BONSAI and strategizing. Mike Schrader is adept at asking good questions and helping us think through things. Everyone can benefit from outside expertise, myself included.
Personally: We bought my mother-in-law a Christmas present: a wall hanging that lights up and is on a timer so she doesn’t have to turn it on and off. It was a picture of the nativity — the star of Bethlehem was bright, and the others stars twinkled. And so did her eyes. She loved it! Thinking of her smile makes me very happy. She is 94, and it was great to bring her joy.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Pandora. The right music can really help me focus on a project or help me relax when my plate feels overloaded.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“Getting Unstuck: Break Free of the Plateau Effect” by Hugh Thompson and Bob Sullivan
What is your favorite quote?
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” — Harry S. Truman
This quote really spoke to me this year as I feel God calling me to another mission field and reminding me the credit doesn’t matter — just solve the problem.
- Ask “How does this fit with our mission?” when planning out priorities and determining whether to take on a project or client.
- Take technology breaks to refresh yourself and focus on something other than work.
- Don’t “fake it ’til you make it” — instead, be transparent and vulnerable. People will connect with your honesty and openness, and you’ll feel happier being yourself.
- Businesses have an opportunity to help their employees and customers feel more connected as a community. People are longing for community and connection, and it can start in the workplace.
- Read “Getting Unstuck” by Hugh Thompson and Bob Sullivan.