Kathy Colace is the founder and managing partner of JBN & Associates, LLC, an executive search firm with the motto “Strengthening Companies. Building Careers.” She is also the mother of three adult children (after whom her company is named) and my classmate at MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program.
It was amid one of our classes that Kathy produced the following Paper Napkin Wisdom: “Life is a gift… the gift of choice who to spend it with!” I had asked everyone in the room to write down a Paper Napkin Wisdom, about which Kathy commented, “You would think I would come up with a nugget that was about business.” But, she says, after looking around the room, she realized it was her choice to be there among great people. And she emphasized choice, underlining it three times on her napkin.
As the fifth of five children, she felt torn in her younger years between wanting to be her own person and wanting to be perfect for her parents. Initially, her perception of being perfect for her parents was doing exactly as they would do. But, when she started to follow her own path, she realized that her parents loved her for the individual she was. She believes being honest about who we are is at the heart of choosing who we want to surround ourselves with. But that is not to say that making those choices will always be easy.
She notes that toxic relationships are easy to walk away from. It is when we have to let a perfectly kind or well-meaning friend or family member who we no longer have anything in common with out of our life that we begin to feel guilty. “Is that a cold statement?” Kathy questions. “I don’t want it to be.”
Kathy believes it is important that we be around people who add value to our lives and that we add value to their lives. Part of that is being open to the changing dynamic of relationships. Those who are important to us today might not be the same people who are beside us at our deathbeds. And that’s okay. There are benefits to being honest with ourselves about which relationships are important to us, says Kathy. “When you determine or define those quality relationships, they go deeper because you’re not trying to please everyone.”
Like many of the leaders I speak with, lessons Kathy has learned in her personal life have applications in her professional life. She approaches her business relationships with the same mindset that she approaches personal relationships. Not only does she encourage clients to be okay with taking opportunities, even if it means leaving a long-time employer who has been good to them, she says the same thing to her own employees. For her, it is a matter of respect – she respects that her employees have a choice and that it’s not personal. That type of approach, she says, empowers her employees and creates a more transparent workplace.
Listen to my conversation with Kathy here: