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Women in Business Q&A: Katherine Wintsch, CEO, The Mom Complex

Katherine Wintsch is the a leading expert on motherhood. As the owner and CEO of The Mom Complex, Katherine's sought-after expertise has been featured by The Today Show, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and she's a regular blogger for The Huffington Post and Working Mother.

While her two young children don't always listen to her, many of the nation's leading Fortune 500 companies are hanging on her every word. Brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg's, Playskool and Walmart trust Katherine and her team to reveal the good, bad and ugly behind motherhood in order to find growth opportunities for their brands.

Katherine is a working mother of two, and she's intimately familiar with the highs and lows of trying to balance both worlds simultaneously. Her global research on modern motherhood shows the majority of mothers are doing everything they can but they still don't feel like their doing enough.

To help release the pressure so many mothers put on themselves, Katherine speaks and writes on the topic of motherhood regularly. It isn't always perfect, it isn't always easy, and that's perfectly ok.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

For 20 long years (age 15-35) I lived a life of "performing, perfecting and pleasing." I was desperate to impress everyone around me because I was so unimpressed with myself. I built a very successful academic and professional career that looked great to outsiders, but felt pretty hollow to me. After reading dozens of self-help books, watching hundreds of Oprah episodes, and hiring a life coach, I made some significant changes in my life and in my career and I've become a better leader and human being because of it. Still, looking back now, I wouldn't change anything about my journey. While my experience was exhausting and overwhelming, it was valuable life experience and I'm grateful for the lessons I learned along the way. Finding the courage to walk away from a life built on other people's expectations has empowered me to help thousands of mothers across the country do the exact same thing.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at The Mom Complex?

I had the privilege of spending 12 years at The Martin Agency, one of the top advertising agencies in the country, and the experience not only made me better at my job, it made me a better human being. The company's fearless leaders, John Adams and Mike Hughes, taught me everything I know about being a successful leader.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at The Mom Complex?

The biggest highlight has been impacting the lives of the people around me. I received a remarkable email this week from a young mother who works for me. It read, "Today I was able to do every single thing I needed to at the office, managing all the moving pieces and parts on client work and new business efforts. Plus check in on a friend who is going through a tough time. Plus truly be present and celebrate my daughter's fourth birthday. There isn't a word yet that describes this company you've built. Balanced is overused and doesn't even scratch the surface." What an amazing email to receive! I'm so pleased that I've personally been able to create a life that's both incredibly successful and incredibly balanced, but it's even more rewarding to be able to do the same for other mothers. My own experience is having a ripple effect on other women, and it's so fun to watch.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?

Figure out what your "end game" is before taking the leap. All too often entrepreneurs throw themselves into a company without pausing to contemplate what they want their life and their company to ultimately look like. A good friend of mine helped me visualize my own end game with a simple metaphor. He told me to think of myself as a chef in a restaurant. In order to figure out my end game, I needed to determine what type of restaurant I wanted to be a chef in. The metaphor helps because you have to think about the size, scale, and menu price point for your imaginary restaurant. For example, he asked, do you want to be the chef at Applebee's, where you develop recipes and chefs that report to you recreate those recipes all across the country? Or do you want to be a chef at The Four Seasons, where you handcraft high-quality recipes and oversee the work of a handful of other chefs? Before he could give me a third example, I shouted, "I want to be the chef at Millie's!" Millie's is a very small, but incredibly first-class restaurant here in Richmond, Virginia. There's only one Millie's and dining there is an intimate and friendly experience with a creative, talented, hands-on chef. It's expensive, but it's worth every penny. As soon as Millie's became my end game, I had a vision for my consulting company. Everyone needs an end game. What's yours?

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I don't like the traditional definition of work/life balance because it suggests that there are only two aspects of my life that I'm attempting to balance: the needs of the people at home vs. the needs of the people at work. What about my needs? I believe my personal health/happiness/wellness should have a seat at the table if there's any hope of being a happy working mother. So rather than trying to balance a seesaw (how hard is that?!), I think about sitting solidly on a three-legged stool. Am I spending enough quality time at home, at work, and with myself? In order to ensure I make time for the latter, I schedule yoga classes, tennis matches, and time for meditation on my Outlook calendar--just like meetings--six months at a time. My life revolves around my calendar and this is a failproof way to make sure I'm making time for myself. What's amazing is that even when there's a fire to put out at home or at work, I'm now far more capable and prepared to deal with it (physically and emotionally) because I'm not bone-tired and depleted like I used to be when I never made time for myself.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

The biggest issue for women--and mothers in particular--is not feeling worthy of their current or potential success. Lawyers tell me they're not smart enough, vice presidents tell me they're not successful enough, and almost every single woman tells me she's not wife enough, sister enough, or mom enough. It's a crisis of self-doubt that creates a complex, and men--for the most part--don't suffer from the same insecurities. Everyone always asks me when I'm going to start The Dad Complex and my response is always the same: "Never, because dads don't have a complex."

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I've been blessed by the presence of many amazing mentors in my life. But the one who stands out the most is my former boss from my advertising career, Earl Cox. During our 10 years together, I was at the height of my people-pleasing, workaholic tendencies and he did everything in his power to coach them out of me. He taught me how to deliver a high-quality product without killing myself. One of his tactics was to stick around the office late enough to insist that I go home because he knew I wouldn't go on my own. He'd walk over to my desk at 10:00 pm and ask me, "Is anything you're working on right now going to matter three months from now? If the answer is yes, keep working. If the answer is no--and it probably is--then you should go home." His kindness and his concern for my health and happiness demonstrated his depth of character and taught me lessons I'll carry with me for the rest of my life. Even though we don't work together anymore, I rely on 10 years of his wisdom to get me through challenging situations each and every day. I can only hope I'm half the boss to my team that he was to me.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I have incredible respect and admiration for Lauren Fitzgerald, the managing director of The Mom Complex, because she gives her time so selflessly to help others in need--most notably at-risk teenagers who are in desperate need of advice and leadership. She's a mom with two young kids and a demanding job and she still makes time to coach, counsel, and mentor teens and families who were born into unfortunate circumstances. That's admirable.

What do you want The Mom Complex to accomplish in the next year?

More of the same, please. I've come to believe that growth for growth's sake is a disease--a hamster wheel to nowhere but more work and more stress. Massive revenue growth has never been the goal of our company and it never will be. We've managed to achieve the ultimate sweet spot. We do amazing consulting work for some of the biggest brands on the planet (Walmart, Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg's, LEGO) while also helping working mothers find greater balance and inner peace. And then we go home and see our families. It might not be everyone's definition of success, but it sure is mine and I don't want to do anything or grow in any way that sacrifices the "good life" we're experiencing as working mothers. I spent most of my career with a pickaxe in my hand--constantly climbing and forever seeking out the next peak. But now I have a different philosophy: I've reached an amazing plateau of personal and professional success and rather than reaching for that pickaxe, I've decided I'm just going to dance on the plateau and enjoy each and every minute of it.

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