About Audra Agen
As a corporate veteran, Audra has 25 years of experience being one of the few women in the room and, in many cases, the only one. While the women she shared the room with may have been outnumbered, they were all uniquely exceptional, and Audra became fascinated to learn more about them and their experiences. It became increasingly clear that these women contributed significant value to their organizations, families, and careers. However, their contributions were taken for granted or overlooked, sometimes by themselves. Audra aspires to change that; from that spark of an idea, Women in the Arena was created. It's a platform unlike any other- it's a celebration. The motto is to celebrate women doing extraordinary things in plain sight. Audra believes that if we start to recognize the value within ourselves, we can start acknowledging the value within each other. We'll begin to see more similarities than what appears on the surface. That knowledge changes the narrative from "you are my competition" to "you are my best asset." This is life-changing and, as a result, world-changing. Audra's goal is to change the world one interview at a time.
In this episode, Steve and Audra discuss the following:
- Practicing empathy in leadership
- Permitting people to make mistakes
- Bringing in value even in the lack of recognition
- Being authentically and genuinely you
- To be a leader, you've got to practice empathy. Drop the facade, be genuine. Recognize that you're doing your best to get through this, just like everybody else.
- Permit people to make mistakes. Encourage them to make mistakes because if you don't make them, you aren't working hard enough or leaving your comfort zone. It means that you're not growing.
- Even if people don't see the value in your work, bring in the value regardless. Don't focus on the anger or bitterness that you could feel; allow yourself to recognize the value you give and then tell your story.
- The version of you behind the facade is much better than the plastic version. Bring out the authentic and genuine you, and give yourself and others a space to be vulnerable.
"I want to be the leader I've always wanted and needed. Keep that perspective; then everybody keeps their feet on the ground." - Audra
Connect with Audra Agen:
- Website: womeninthearena.net
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/arena_women/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Women-in-the-Arena-100770395010431
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/women-in-the-arena-podcast
Connect with Steve and Jason:
- LinkedIn: Jason or Steve
- Website: Rewire, Inc.: Transformed Thinking
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Show notes by Podcastologist: Justine Talla
- Audio production by Turnkey Podcast Productions. You're the expert. Your podcast will prove it.
Listen to the podcast here
Audra Agen: Be the Leader You Wish You Had
There are days when I get to do this and I get to be with people. Sometimes I wonder if this whole thing isn't for me. We get some pretty cool downloads and we get people reading. I get super excited to at least engage the world that we know with people that I get to meet that are on maybe some other part of our worlds. The world is colliding. I am super excited about our guest. Audra Agen, say hello.
Hello to everyone. Thank you for having me here. I'm excited to be here.
As we talked about, we get to turn the tables apart from being a seasoned veteran and some cool parts of the mortgage business, you do a show yourself. You get the tables turned on you. What do you think about that?
I like having the tables turned on me in which I don't know what's going to happen. It is fun. I'm not in charge, which is not fun but good for me to do it.
What if I told you that I'm not even sure what's going to happen?
Let's go. This would be fun.
The tradition we have carries over from positive psychology, which is inextricably linked to the coaching world. You're probably aware of that. We kick off in a way that we call a towards state. We're putting our minds in towards state. We want to be moving towards something. It has been said that the brain spends about four times as much energy detecting threats than it does seeking rewards. That goes back to some anthropological ways that our brains adapted for survival. With that being said, if we want to be positive, think things and be creative, which we hope to be on this show, we want to start with some good positive thinking. I'm going to divulge, you are in Arizona. I want to know in your world, what you do and who you are. What are you grateful for?
The list is long. I'm going to say something that's probably going to be very provocative and people will think, “We need to have our heads checked.” I am very grateful for the pandemic because it changed my life for the better. That is what I'm grateful for. That is why I'm here.
Elaborate on that for us. Why? How?
We have crazy jobs. In the mortgage industry and any industry for that matter, you make money by moving fast. You're constantly in motion. That doesn't allow you to slow down and think, consider and think about, “What do you want to do?” The pandemic forced me to slow down and made me sit, stop, think and feel all of the things that I could simply work my way out of for a long time. I no longer had that opportunity. When I got brave enough to consider my feelings and look at what I wanted, I changed my life.
Would you mind me asking what in your life changed?
I stopped being somebody that I wasn't. What I mean by that is I worked so hard to be what everybody else wanted me to be. I tried hard to morph myself into what my job expected me to be. I stopped caring what anybody else thought. That has been freedom. I now know my worth and I won't accept anything less than that.
We're going to come back to that. I don't want to go, “Cool,” and start asking you other questions. That's profound. I'm thankful for your honesty and transparency. Would you mind giving us a bit of a thumbnail background of you? Who are you? How'd you get where you got? What are you doing? However, you want to take that. Give us the thumbnail of Audra.
I am a wife and a mother. I've been married for many years. We got married right out of college. I was not a child bride. I have two kids. They are 25 and almost 22. They're almost out on their own. One of them is and the other one is almost out on our own. We've almost graduated from that. I'm a many-year veteran of the mortgage industry. I have done everything that you can do in this crazy space. Love it or hate it, it's one of those things that is in your blood and you want to do it.
The benefit of it is that if you want to do something different in this space, you can. All you got to do is go for it. That's what I've done for many years. With a lot of hard work, ingenuity, scrappy and refusing to quit or fail. That is my thumbnail of Audra. There are many other details but we don't want to be here all night and people need to sleep sometime.
There are some cul-de-sacs to go down in that but with the places, we could go with that. I'm sitting here taking notes and I wrote down hard work and ingenuity. Those almost sound like defining characteristics and qualities. If you've worked all aspects of it, you've been a leader. You told me you got promoted again and for someone of your caliber, you're going to end up leading people. What is a good leader in this industry? Let's date ourselves here. We're in 2022. What does a good leader need to be in this market? What do you think that requires?
Your question is timely because I've had this conversation with one of my employees and given him expectations for 2023 and what I want from him as a leader. What I want from him and all leaders is to be empathetic. Drop the facade. I don't care how important you think you are. You're a person. You're trying to do your very best to get through this. Let other people do the same, recognize it and give each other some grace. We mess up, fall, get back up and move on. What I have told my employees and I will stick to this until my last breath is, “I expect you to make mistakes. I want you to make mistakes because if you do not, that means you aren't working hard enough. You are never leaving your comfort zone. That is not where you grow. I need you to grow.” That's what I want from every other leader.
Make mistakes because if you do not, you aren't working hard enough because you never leave your comfort zone. And that is not where you grow.
For me, it sounds intuitive. It's also very insightful. We're in the inside interview so that's cool. How did this person respond to that? Did they look cross-eyed at you? Did they celebrate with you? Did they have questions for you? How do you find people respond to that?
A lot of times they look at me funny and say, “Are you for real?” “Yes. I'm for real.” They say, “Thank you.” I say something to them that makes them pause. I tell them, “I want to be the leader that I've always wanted and needed.” If you keep that perspective then everybody keeps their feet on the ground.
Have you had leaders in the past like that?
Very rarely. I wish I could say that I've had many. The truth is I have not.
That's certainly one way to change the world. Be the person you wish it could have been for you.
That's my goal. I believe I can change the world. I'm going to do it one interview at a time.
I want to get to the interview. I want to get to your show. You have a lot of cool energy around that. I want to know what you're doing there. I'm still interested also as you talk about leadership, which is cool. This many-year thing. What are some of the lessons that you've learned in those years that help you deal with? What are some of the things that you've accumulated over the years? There's probably been a ton. What jumps out at you like, “That remains very relevant to the success that I feel and who I want to be?”
One of the things is justice is on the edge of my existence all the time. It gets better over the years but in many instances, I've been the only female in the room. In the beginning, it was very intimidating. I was the only one that looked like me and then I started paying attention. I realized, “I can't be the only one here. I got to figure out how to bring others with me.” That's what I started to do. I started to figure out, “How do I bring others with me that aren't currently represented in this room?”
I've brought people along with me and said, “They're shadowing me.” That's one of the ways to make the room change. Part of that is going to be by making people uncomfortable. I'm okay with other people being uncomfortable because let's face it, I've been uncomfortable my entire career. How would you like to be the only one that looks like you in the room?
I'm uncomfortable. You made me uncomfortable. Now we're all uncomfortable. When I talked to you originally about this, one of the things I find intriguing about your story is you could have learned that, gone out, created a nonprofit and could have gone undone this. One of the easier ways outs is to get the heck out of an industry that didn't have people like you in it and you chose to stay in it. Why not just get out?
This is what I know. For better and for worse, this is what I love because you know this as well as I do. You do not pick this industry. The industry picks you. I bet you have never met anybody that says, “When I grow up and graduate college, the first thing I'm going to do is go work for a mortgage company.” No one ever says that. At least if they have, I've never met them. What I know that needs the most work is here in this space and environment. There are many brilliant people in this space, brilliant women and people of color. They're not being represented or heard. I figured, “I was blessed with the gift of gab. Why not me change it?” I'm using my big mouth and a microphone and trying to change it.
You do not pick the mortgage industry. The industry picks you.
How does your employer view that?
As long as I don't say anything disparaging that will create headline risk, they're all for it because I'm not doing anything out of maliciousness or negativity. I'm trying to create a positive space. How could you go wrong with that? If you're trying to do something positive and trying to change the world, how is anybody going to look at me and go, “No, you can't do that.”
I certainly don't hear that in you and I don't think people do that with you, which is probably why they give you the latitude that they do. It's easy for me to conceive how doing what you do could be born out of negativity. It doesn't seem like it is with you. I don't blame people if they want to help in a way that is born out of negativity but it doesn't seem like it's your makeup. Talk about that.
It isn't. What I have done was born out of a negative situation that I was determined to remake into something positive. If you indulge me, I'll tell you a little bit about how I got here. Back in November 2019, I received my yearly review. I was told that I was an incredible and important part of the team. They’re like, “I can't wait to see what you're going to do in the next calendar year.” Two weeks later, I was told that my role had been eliminated because they felt I no longer had the skills to do the job, which I thought was hilarious.
I thought that this is the funniest thing I’d ever heard because this is the greatest excuse I’d ever heard in my life. I knew it was because they didn't see the value that I was bringing to the organization by cultivating relationships and making people focus on what's important. I was okay with that because I started to recognize and notice that there were others around me, specifically women that were in a similar situation as I was. They were contributing so much. They were knocking themselves out, turning themselves inside out and setting themselves on fire for everything that they have done.
It didn't look the way that everybody thought it should in that little cookie-cutter spot so it wasn't considered valuable. I decided that I was going to change that. I could get mad and say, “I'm out of here. You guys are terrible. I'm not doing this anymore.” I was like, “No, I'm not going to leave these women behind.” I went out and bought a microphone. I decided that I was going to create a space that allowed them to share the story of their experience, values, what they contributed and things that they had achieved that nobody knew anything about.
I'll give you an example. A very dear friend of mine was one of my first guests because when I first decided to do a show, I asked my friends to be on it. They looked at me and were like, “You're crazy but we'll do it anyway. We like that about you.” She is the number one champion in her age bracket for amateurs in water skiing. She's ranked number five in the world. She's number 1 in the US and number 5 in the world. Nobody knew about it. This woman is a grandmother, even cooler. She's one of the coolest humans on the planet and nobody knew that she did this.
I said, “You've got to tell your story.” She said, “Why?” I said, “What do you mean why? That's amazing because someone needs to hear that you do this because then there might be somebody else out there that is considering being an athlete later in their years and they need to know that it's possible. Why not tell your story?” That's how it started.
What strikes me about it is that's a cool story. Yours is a great story. It would be pretty easy to get hung up on why it doesn't happen and why don't people see the value in women groups, minority groups or any different group. Why don't we see the value? Rather than focus on that, you're bringing value. What if someone comes on and they're like, “This happened to me,” and they're embittered by it? Do you still listen to that? Do you try to gear them toward what's your value?
The funny thing is I have never spoken to anybody that was stewing in their bitterness because I prepped them in such a way that I said, “This is a safe space. This is a nonjudgmental space. I want you to be vulnerable. For you to be vulnerable, you can't be attached to your anger because it won't allow you to be.” Once I set the stage that way, it was a beautiful conversation. I've had difficult interviews. I interviewed a woman who lost a child, a woman who did a documentary on racism and a woman who was a suicide survivor. These are tough subjects. I gave them the space where they knew that they were enveloped in love. I gave them enough cushion to be vulnerable and real.
Be the Leader: You can't be attached to your anger because it won't allow you to be.
You're a risk taker. You are familiar with Brené Brown’s work. Why aren't we getting her on your show? She is on a similar crusade. I think what and how you're doing is cooler. The work that she did reminds me of some of the work that you're carrying forward. What do you think about that?
You're spot on because she inspired me.
I thought Braving the Wilderness was one of the coolest books I ever read. It talks about being vulnerable.
I named my show after something that she quoted and it's funny how it happened. I watched her Netflix special several years ago. She shared the Teddy Roosevelt quote, “A man in the arena.” I wrote it down. I called a friend of mine who's an artist and I said, “I need you to make me a giant plaque that I can hang in my office but I need you to fix the pronouns.” This was way before I had even thought about a podcast. It never even occurred to me that I would be doing this.
She made this beautiful, gorgeous plaque that she hand-detailed. It hangs in my office and says, “Women in the arena.” When I decided to do this show, I had no idea what I was going to name this thing. Keep in mind this plaque has been hanging in my office for two years before I even considered this. I was pacing my office and staring out into space. Suddenly, I looked up and saw this plaque. I went, “It's been there the whole time.” That's how I named the podcast.
I got 50 other questions for you. I'm only going to get to 1 or 2 more because we're going to elaborate on them. One of my questions is, in your podcast and work, what questions have you asked your guests that you think have brought some of the most profound answers?
I have asked women if they have figured out what their superpower is yet because everyone's got one. You have one too but we don't sit and think about, “What makes us special? What do I do well that is truly a gift to the world?” That's what I mean by a superpower. Very few people sit around and think about that. That has stumped people quite a bit when I ask that question.
Connection, because I am truly fascinated by people. I like people a lot. I want to know them, what makes them tick and behind the facade that they present to the world because that's so much more interesting than that plastic version of you. What you see is what you get. You're never going to get a plastic version of me. I don't know how to be but people are drawn to my vulnerability so they feel safe enough to share me with theirs. We have an easy connection.
This won't be a perfect analogy. I’m reminded of the comedian Chris Rock who is famous for something else. He says when he first goes out on a date, “They're not dating me. They're dating my representative.” That fake person we want to be. That would make for a cool show. I'd want to keep it on the positive side. At some level, we've all gone through that and many people are still in it. There are probably many people that don't know the difference between the real them and the fake them. They've been doing it for so long.
That’s why I started by saying that this pandemic was such an amazing gift because I had nowhere else to hide.
Be the Leader: This pandemic was a fantastic gift because I had nowhere else to hide.
I didn't know where this was going. If you're going to be that brave, I'm going for it. Even though I own this coaching company, my coach is continuing to try to teach me that a good question is better than a great answer every day of the week because we can walk with good questions. The burden of having to find answers to things like some of the most profound and great things in life might not even have an answer. Walking with a great question, like you asked a couple, “What is your superpower like?” That stumps people. How long is connection has been your superpower?
Forever. I just didn't know what it was.
You were with it so you didn't see it as super. It was part of who you are. That's why identifying that takes time and a pandemic maybe cause you to think about it differently.
It takes time to sit down, unfortunately.
That's why when you ask the question, I'm not going to sit here and go, “You've been thinking about it so you can answer. I'm going to let that question be my companion for a while.”
Once you simmer in that a little bit, I'd love to hear the answer
I don't know how long it's going to take. I will make a commitment to you but I'm going to let it simmer. Thank you for that. What question, when you came onto the show, did you maybe secretly or not secretly hope I ask you?
I didn't have any expectations. I knew that I was in good hands. You and I got to speak and interact before we did this interview. I knew that regardless of what you asked me, you would take good care of me. I didn't have any expectations. I was excited to go along for the ride.
That's very honoring for me and I appreciate that. You have mentioned the comment of nonjudgmental. We teach people in our work the practice of metacognition, which is thinking about how you think. We can do a whole thing on that one day if we want but it's asking the question as if I were asking myself this, “Why do you feel that?” We all have feelings. Emotional intelligence revolves around.
We all have these feelings and you might ask the question why do you feel that? I have a long sense thought that question comes in two forms. If you feel bad, anxious, worried or threatened by something, that's how you feel. You say, “Why do you feel that?” As opposed to, “Why do you feel that?” In the manner in which we ask that question, one might as well end the sentence with, “You crap.”
The other explores the possibility of who you are. To that end, what I try to work with is there aren't bad feelings. I will take care of you and you are in good hands because if you feel a certain thing or say a certain thing, I am trying to learn not to go, “I like that or dislike that.” What would it look like to listen without agreeing or disagreeing? I'm being with you.
Isn't that the point anyway? If we'd learned anything during this pandemic where we were separated for so long and then we're in this weird spot where we've been separated for long, we don't know how to come back together but isn't that the whole point, being with another human being?
Are we with them as well as we can be if we're spending too much time deciding whether we like them or not, like their thoughts or not, this or not, agreeing or disagreeing? What I'm learning from you is the level of safety but how do we let people be? Not just let them be. Be curious like, “If you're different from me, great. Teach me that difference. I want to learn about it.” I suspect that if we all could practice that more, that would go a long way for women in the arena, minorities in the arena or marginalized anybody in any arena.
Including yourself because it gives you the vulnerability and the safety to be all the things that you've been wanting to be. Except you've had to disguise it because you had been this certain stereotype that society expected you to be. That's garbage. That's the big lie. It doesn’t have to be profound. It has to be true.
Be the Leader: It gives you the vulnerability and the safety to be everything you've wanted to be.
You're going into a new role. What do you hope for in your new role? We're in this stage of this business. I don't know if people quite know. Are we at the beginning, middle or end? Where are we? Maybe it doesn't matter or maybe it does. As you look forward to your new role, what do you look forward to? What do you see for the future for yourself?
What gets me giddy is that my passion and my profession finally get to commune in the same space. How exciting is that? I get to get paid to do what I love and change the world one person at a time. That's the lottery.
That's the word vocation or calling. You're blessed to have your calling, also be your work or at least interact with it. A lot of people can do that. I suspect if you figure out what your superpower is, you can figure out how to use that wherever you are. I can't believe we're already at the time. I would love to sit here and spend time with you. Your energy is off the charts well. Is there anything that I didn't ask you and you're going to be like, “I wish you would've asked that?”
What about doing part two?
I'm going to get off and book it. If we were going to do part two, what do you secretly hope the theme of part two is?
How can we actively change the world? You said it right there by saying, “If you could figure out what your superpower is and use it in your profession, that will change the world, I promise you.” Maybe we figure out how we can help guide other people to find their superpower and be brave enough to embrace it because that's the other thing. Finding out what your superpower is is one thing but then being brave enough to use it is entirely different.
If you could figure out what your superpower is and use it in your profession, that would change the world.
Thank you for being a part of this and for your energy. I'm grateful for you and all that you brought to us.
I thank you. I appreciate you asking me to be here. This was a lot of fun. I look forward to doing it again.
We could do one on empathy and what that means when you were saying to the people underneath you, “I want you to drop the facade and be empathetic. What is your superpower?” There are many other things that I got. How about being grateful for things, even the pandemic? There are many great insights. As we sign off here, we like to say that it doesn't matter what my insights are or the guest’s insights are as much as it matters what our readers are. What are your insights as you read this and what she does? Readers, thank you very much. Audra, it’s great being with you. We'll do it again.
I look forward to it.
We'll see you guys next time on the show.