What is your story? Or in other words, what made you your awesome self you are today?
I attribute my joy to the power of dreams, the wisdom of indigenous elders and nature, and the presence of support from all my relations (family, teachers, executives, pets, trees…) along the way. As early as age 4, I recall a dream where there was this huge earth with many stick people of different sizes, colors, shapes on it. We each had our hands on each other’s hearts. I knew very early that this is who I was going to be when I grew up. Although I have new dreams, this early dream of connecting hearts persists. So even in the darkest times, when I held the painful secret as a little girl of being sexually abused and the trauma as a new teen of the race-related murder of my father, I had lots of healing to do: forgiveness to practice for myself and others, rekindling hope, and drawing on the power of unity.
I am living my dreams, and I know that it is possible that you, too, can choose to live your dream(s) and be a life-giving connection to all of your relations. We all may have difficult, even horrific, circumstances. We are not our circumstances. We are so much more.
With four decades as a consultant, trainer, speaker, and CEO of my full-service organization development company, I am an author of five books in the last 3 years. The most recent is the best-selling international award-winner, The Four Sacred Gifts: Indigenous Wisdom for Modern Times, with Simon & Schuster.
What message do you promote?
From the living room to the corporate board room, I am calling on myself and all of humanity to pause, take a breath, and remember our unbreakable human bond with each other. We are human beings, with similarities and differences, on one earth.
Whenever you find yourself encountering division, whenever you observe yourself feeling isolated or needing to withdraw from people or situations at work, home, or the larger world, I invite you to remember there is another way to live, work and be. By weaving wisdom, science, and our innate gifts, we can choose to create generative cultures, communities, businesses, and a world where we can all thrive.
In what capacity do you LEAD UP in your community?
From my indigenous perspective, I define community as the One Hoop of Life/ One World. So, my community includes “All My Relations”: people and the earth. From my home, local community, country, business, and the world I promote, through deeds and actions, Wisdom, Belonging, and Positive Possibilities.
I am inspiring people to discover and trust their gifts so that they become a life-giving connection to everyone — to “All Our Relations.”
In my consulting, training, and speaking business, I weave indigenous wisdom and modern science to develop leaders and their teams, as well as create large-scale positive change, diversity, and inclusion, along with strategies for conscious companies’ success.
In my field of transformational leadership, I am active in my field of study and practice. I am a member of the Transformational Leadership Council and a board member of the Evolutionary Business Council. I am also a member of the Bioneers organization, providing solutions to the world’s biggest challenges, and the Pachamama Alliance, dedicated to creating an environmentally generative, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on our beautiful planet. I particularly love leading an annual journey into the Sacred Headwaters of the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador with business leaders, their teams, and their families, to deepen their connection to wisdom, beauty, belonging, sense of purpose, connection to nature, and the importance of indigenous culture.
In business and/or in life, share a struggle you overcame that other women can relate to.
Starting my own international business in the 1970s, with no financial resources, brought out the naysayers who said “You won’t be successful — remember you are a woman, a Mexican and Indian… You should get a job with a large corporation.” And it also brought out those people who were rooting for me and providing tips and referrals along the way. Local leaders, and luminaries on the World Council of the YWCA, saw something in me and encouraged me to go for it, despite the financial challenges I faced.
It was just as difficult overcoming the self-doubts that came after the first 18 years of my training and consulting business. I was intensely focused on helping corporations create inclusive workplaces, cultures, and diverse leadership at all levels. By 1995, I became discouraged, believing that workplace demographics were not changing as fast as they should, and feeling that I wasn’t able to do enough. I thought that maybe I should turn away from that work, take my doctoral degree and my experience, and do something else.
Then, I received the eagle hoop prophecy and the four gifts from indigenous elders, while volunteering at the conference of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. In brief, a few years prior, 27 indigenous elders from around the world had come together in prayer, ceremony, dance, and meditation to create a 100-feathered sacred eagle hoop. They placed within it four gifts for all humankind to remember how to create harmony and restore balance. The Four Gifts are the power to forgive the unforgivable, the power of unity, the power of healing, and the power of hope in action. Those four gifts awakened new hope and purpose within me. From that day forward, I began using those gifts in my own life and weaving them into my work with business and non-profit leaders and their teams around the world. I found the leaders were thirsty for this wisdom, taking the gifts and incorporating them in their personal and business lives with great success.
In 2012, I presented the Eagle Hoop Prophecy and the four gifts at a Transformational Leadership Council meeting. After my talk, a new member said that I should write a book based on the four gifts to reach even more people around the world. I thanked her and asked her who she was. Zhena, she said, then added: “I am a publisher for Simon & Schuster; I’ve talked to my boss, and we want your book.”
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I love it when the business or community leaders I work with a shift to a generative worldview. A generative worldview is one that understands that everyone and everything is intimately interconnected: we each are “enough” and we each have sufficient gifts and tools to be part of a healthy, harmonious life.
The generative world view is one that many indigenous wisdom keepers, from all kinds of traditions, have known from a very long time. Today, I see the United Nations, business and nonprofit leaders, and hopeful people everywhere beginning to respond to the call from Mother Earth and from our children and our children’s children and other species’ children that we each matter. Our gifts are needed now.
How do you SHOW UP?
I show up by being present; listening fully to the people, leaders, and their teams as they share their challenges; and helping them see their amazing positive possibilities.
I show up with my doctoral degree and years of experience in being a successful Woman of Color (Indigenous and Latina) business owner who cares about positive purpose: caring for people, our planet, and profit.
If you could give one piece of advice for women who are entering the workforce or launching their own business what would that be?
Absolutely follow your dream, your passion, your wisdom! However, please remember that it is an illusion that anyone fulfills their dreams totally on their own. We have so many people, family, friends, teachers, business leaders, and nature supporting us along our journey. Be a humble leader who can reach out to ask others for their insight, to help fulfill your dreams as you do the same for others. Enjoy your journey!