Gail Blanke is founder, president and CEO of Lifedesigns, an executive coaching company. Her newest book is called “Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life.” Blanke was one of the youngest female senior vice presidents of Avon Products and was chosen as a keynote speaker for the National Association of Women Business Owners 2011 Women’s Business Conference. I interviewed Blanke about her leadership philosophy and why organization is essential to a successful life. An edited version of that conversation follows.
What is your leadership philosophy?
I believe strongly that leadership is not a job level or a title, nor is it a skill set or a process (although these things are important in their place.) Leadership is an attitude. A leader is one who has the passion and the courage to stand up, stand out and stand for a vision of what’s possible and has the ability to motivate others to join forces to bring it to life. Leaders inspire ordinary people to discover the courage to be bold, to be decisive, to use themselves fully and to create miracles.
What inspired you to start Lifedesigns?
I spent more than 20 years at Avon. As senior vice president of global communications, I led the re-positioning of Avon as the leading “women’s company.” To make good on that vision, I launched the Avon Breast Cancer Awareness Crusade (which has raised more than $700 million) and created Avon Lifedesigns, a division of the company dedicated to enabling women worldwide to have not only successful careers, but fulfilling lives. I fell in love with the mission, the results it produced and the idea of running a company of my own — and acquired Lifedesigns in 1997. I’ve never looked back.
Your book is called “Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life.” Why is an uncluttered environment so crucial to a successful life?
We can’t move forward if we’re weighed down by all the physical and emotional debris — or “life plaque,” as I call it — that clogs the arteries of our lives. And that goes for the too-tight sweater and the too-small view of yourself, the dried up tubes of Krazy Glue and the old grudges, the makeup from your “old” look and the relationship that depresses you. You can’t grow if you don’t let go! When we throw out the physical clutter, we clear our minds. When we throw out the mental clutter, we clear our souls.
Do you think the digital age has made us more or less organized? How have things like paperless filing and the influx of social-networking sites affected us?
Living in the digital age has its benefits: Important documents that get crammed into drawers — from wills to tax returns, financial statements, passports, medical records, insurance cards — can all be digitized. The downside is that we’re constantly bombarded from every direction and in every medium by flying debris in the form of “information.” We’re deluged by all the stuff that’s gone wrong in the world, gone wrong in ourselves, gone wrong in our lives or could go wrong. The delete button’s not there for nothing! It’s vital to take control of our lives through constant editing. In the end, we are what we think about. And we get to decide what that is. Delete!
What other tips and advice do you think are essential for business owners, especially women business owners?
As entrepreneurs, we have to stay agile and light on our feet. Periodically, we need to “throw out” the old view of ourselves and our companies, the way we always “did it” — and reinvent. Refining our brands is a constant imperative. And clutter blurs clarity. That means we have to let go of anything that drags us back to some old idea of ourselves or our companies. And speaking of brands, don’t forget to let go of thinking that everybody has to love you. Think about Martha Stewart or Oprah or Ina Garten or Cher … or Lady Gaga. Some people love ’em, some don’t. Here’s a fact: If enough people love you, the ones who don’t, don’t matter!