Inspirational Woman: Yetunde Hofmann | Leadership Coach & Mentor, Author & Founder, SOLARIS

Yetunde Hofmann

Yetunde Hofmann is a Board level executive leadership coach and mentor, global change, inclusion and diversity expert, author of Beyond Engagement and founder of SOLARIS – a pioneering new leadership development programme for black women. Find out more here.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background, and your current role

I love nothing more than helping people and organisations get the very best out of who they are. I love this with a passion because when we are operating consistently and continuously at our very best, it’s amazing what we can achieve. I believe this is particularly true of the woman and of the black woman – her strength, her capabilities, her resilience, and sheer grit – and when coming from a place of greatness, can enable the most extraordinary  results for her, her team, and her organisation.

I currently have a portfolio career. Having spent over 25 years in the corporate world spanning non-profit, FMCG, National, international, and global roles I decided to step out to become an entrepreneur, focus on what I love doing, where I know I can consistently make a difference and play to my own unique strengths.

I run an international leadership and change consulting practice – Synchrony Development Consulting – that partners individual leaders and leadership teams in the management of change, diversity and inclusion and the alignment of their teams and organisations behind them.  It coaches leaders to be effective, leadership teams to be functional, and runs group wide leadership and culture change programmes for companies looking to unlock the collective potential of their management and leadership.

I am MD of The Enjoyable Life Series CIC – a community organisation designed to have men and women at all levels in business, education and community and to identify practical ways in which they can live more enjoyably in all of what they do.  In so doing, it supports their emotional, relational, and mental wellbeing and contributes to the development of engagement, trust, belonging and inclusion in organisation.  Our flagship annual conference, What’s Your Story? provides a platform for leaders from all walks of life to share a personal story of encouragement to diverse audiences whilst raising monies for charities whose life’s work is about supporting those currently disadvantaged in our communities.

I founded a global executive leadership programme targeted exclusively at the black woman leader or indeed the woman who identifies as black in organisation, Solaris. It is a programme designed to have her be empowered to advance her career beyond the glass ceiling and to enable the organisation that genuinely believes in tapping into the talent of ALL its people to ‘walk the talk’. Ever since the murder of George Floyd, I have chosen to stand up and be counted as a senior black woman, to amplify my voice and to provide an opportunity for other black woman leaders to do the same and in a way that is loving.  In addition to Solaris, I sit on a number of Boards as a non-executive Director and my current ones are a global ingredients manufacturer and a non-profit focused on ethical business.

I love reading and decided to turn my hand to writing too and in 2020 I had my first book published: Beyond Engagement, the value of love-based leadership in organisation. It is about the difference that Love can make in organisation, the challenges that can be encountered in establishing a love-based culture and the key actions that can be taken to develop love as a leadership and organisational capability. All of this is done in conjunction with the views and thoughts of more than 30 business leaders I interviewed from across the world.

I am driven and anchored in my faith and my husband, and I have a church – Overcomer Church which we started a year ago and I lead a Christian Women’s group – Overcomer Women.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No, not at all. I wish I had! And because I wish I had, I am consistently encouraging and asserting the importance of planning your career to the men and women in my network and to the people and leaders I mentor. It is good to plan because it gives you an anchor and something to keep coming back to.  You can own your decisions and your choices and all the consequences, both intended and unintended that come with them. Ownership means you can also change your mind and modify as you go along or have fresh information or insights into what you love and are great at.  I believe that if I had planned my career, some of the mistakes and turns I made in my career journey would have been avoided. However, I also appreciate that it is those scars and some of them deep, that have contributed to who I am today and from a place of self-acceptance, I wouldn’t change that today.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

For sure – several and actually still do.  I remember the challenges I faced trying to land my first job here in the UK. I must have gone for over 100 different interview processes and each one at different stages being halted and told “thank you for coming along, however there were other candidates whose background and experiences more closely matched our needs” or words to that effect. It really was debilitating.  With the support of friends and family, I did keep going and one day, I had my breakthrough. Every time I got a rejection, I would cry myself to sleep, then the next day I would wake up and start preparing for the next interview or writing more letters of application.  For anyone reading this and who has been looking for a job and is finding that they are continuously unsuccessful, my encouragement to you is this – keep going, hang in there; your breakthrough will come. It always does.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement to date is writing my book and having it published. I never thought I would write a book, but I did, and it is one that is for such a time as this. In a world in which there is so much constant change, the level of uncertainty increasing and the need for diversity in the midst of the creation of environments which everyone regardless of who they say they are feels they can be all of themselves and like they belong, Love is so much needed. Love is the unconditional acceptance of all of who I am, warts and all and the unconditional acceptance of all of whom the other person is, warts and all. I am proud that I was able to interview so many business leaders from across the world and gain a private insight into their deepest thoughts on what Love is, the challenges in the world of work it could bring and yet the difference it could make.  It also enabled me to share parts of my own story and lived experiences and being able to do this during a time of socio-economic turmoil made it even more special.  Yes, writing my book and having it published has been my biggest achievement to date.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I think it would be tenacity. Or you could call it drive. That determination to keep going, to pick myself up every time I fall, to continuously look for opportunities and ways out and forward, refusing to allow myself to remain down for long. I think this is the one thing that has been a major factor in my achieving success.  Licking my wounds after each rejection and then getting up again.  By the way, I hate rejection and so avoid situations where I think I may get rejected and this is something that I am working on – it’s a flaw of mine – and yet to be able to do so much more, rejection has got to be part of the game.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I feel strongly about mentoring. I never had a mentor through my career and feel grateful now that in the Champions I have for Solaris I have mentors. I think if I had a mentor in my career a few of the scars I acquired along the way would have hurt a little less because some of them were acquired by my own hand and having not thought things through in enough detail. What mentoring provides is that safe and confidential sounding board. I am a mentor now both from a professional perspective where I mentor senior executives and I also do a lot of pro bono mentoring – students and professionals in earlier stages of their careers. When I see someone grow and go on to achieve what they set out to achieve, it really does make my heart warm. It contributes to the purpose of my life.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Diversity & Inclusion, what would it be?

I believe that in order to tap into and release the talent and potential of ALL in an organisation you must have an inclusive mindset and culture, but you cannot have one for real and one that is lasting and sustained without Love. It just is impossible. To genuinely have an inclusive mindset and therefore the willingness and the ability to establish a culture in which diverse people want to join and are able to contribute, you must have kindness and compassion and the ability to see the human in every single person. It is near impossible in my view to do this successfully if you are not coming from a place of Love.  People are so inherently individual, that you cannot put two people who may look the same in the same room and assume they are the same.  They will not be.  Therefore, if organisations would work to develop that most critical capability called Love in their culture and in their leadership, the pace of change will increase.  I will cheat and give a second one – that every single HR department in every organisation is required to have a diverse group of people in it and that every HR Leader must have worked and/or lived in a different part of the world and across industry and cultures.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

It would be this – don’t sweat the small stuff. Stay out of the drama around you and by the way? You are more than enough.  You are more than others say that you are and much more than you believe you can be.  Never allow anyone to define you only on the grounds of your race or gender. If you know now who you will be, where you will be with whom you will be, where you are headed and why? It may indeed be difficult to hold your breath.  Never let anyone, no matter how powerful or career instrumental they may be, steal your JOY. This is not happiness.  Joy is that combination of knowing who you are; your own unique purpose in life and the unconditional acceptance of all of who you are, who others are.  It is appreciating that everyone without exception has something to contribute and has leadership in them.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I am going for three things in the short to medium term. Firstly, I would love to expand my Board Portfolio and achieve non-executive directorship on the board of a company higher up the FTSE. Secondly, I would love through The Enjoyable Life Series to increase significantly the funds we raise for charity and the currently disadvantaged and thirdly, I would love to have Solaris expand its target group to women at other stages in their life and career. Above all, I would love to see Love be openly and commonly pursued by organisations and entities across the world as a leadership and organisational capability, as it is only from this place that genuine and lasting change  – in poverty, climate, environment, and diversity – can be achieved.

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