"There will be betrayals." 9 women on navigating their biggest challenge in business.

For British media personality and magazine editor Jo Elvin, she learned two major lessons once she became the editor of Glamour Magazine.

Along with the status and the biggest salary in the room, Elvin said her job came with a lot of responsibility – and some harsh truths too.

The first lesson was that some employees struggle to see the head of the company or a senior leadership figure as one of them – a human. Someone who has real emotions, faults and feelings.

"It seemed that I was just the 'boss' object, whose personal life wasn't a real thing, just the focus of amusing gossip as sport," Jo wrote in her newsletter My Goodness! this week.

"There's often an assumption – perhaps an expectation – that the boss can take as many punches that come their way and carry on standing. Quite often, people forget their boss is an actual human being."

The second lesson was that employees are never really your friends when you are the boss.

"You realise that no matter how well you think you get on with the people you’re paid to manage, some of them will never really view you a fully-formed person," Jo explained.

Watch Mamamia Confessions: our horror job interview stories. Post continues below.

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"When you're 'the boss', this means you're often viewed as nothing more than the buzzkill who makes unpopular decisions. It's something you just have to make your peace with, otherwise you'll crumble every time you realise they all went to the pub without you."

She noted that the high standards set for bosses/managers are important – and they have a place. Because we all want a leader who is fair, empathetic, flexible and respectful.

But as Jo said, she wishes that people could empathise more with people in her position - because it's not all rosy being at the top.

To unpack this topic a little further, Mamamia asked nine prominent women in business on the tough lessons they learned when they became the boss.

Here's what they had to say.

Monika Tu, Founder and Director of Black Diamondz Group and star of Luxe Listings Sydney.

Monika Tu became a cast member on season two of Amazon Prime Video's Luxe Listings Sydney, and has been a fan favourite ever since.

She is one of Australia's leading luxury real estate and lifestyle experts, working with clients to find them their dream property in Sydney. 

Speaking to Mamamia, Monika said that she has learned a lot since founding the Black Diamondz Group. Over the years, she has built Australia's number-one agency for luxury property sales for Chinese buyers.

Reflecting on what she's discovered along the way, Monika said: "Staying calm and resilient in the male-dominated industry is key. There will be a lot of betrayals, but refuse to lose faith. Be kind and in everything you do, be kind."


Shelley Johnson, HR consultant at Boldside and a podcast co-host of My Millennial Career.

"One of the toughest leadership lessons was learning to say these three words out loud: 'I don't know'.

"As a young leader, I wanted to prove myself. I thought that meant I needed to have it all figured out… I was wrong (another three words leaders need to say often)."


Shelley continued: "As leaders, we feel like we need to have all the answers. There's pressure to exude confidence and certainty, so our team will trust us. But trust is forged in moments of vulnerability and humility. When we're not certain of the right call, and we invite our team into that uncomfortable space to help us solve it. You don't need to know it all. But know that as a team, you'll figure it out."

Laura Henshaw, Co-Founder and CEO of Keep It Cleaner, author and law graduate.

"I think the toughest lesson is that the hard stuff gets more challenging and complex as the business grows. I used to believe that the more successful the business became and the more milestones we ticked off, the fewer problems there would be to solve. The reality is the number of problems never drop off, and actually the problems get more complicated," Laura explained to Mamamia.

"As women, we so often default into 'I am not experienced / smart/ready enough' mode, and this is something I grapple with often in my role as CEO of KIC, but it is something I have learned I have to push to the side and replace with 'I have got this.' If you are running a business right now, it means that there has not yet been a problem that you have not been able to solve. There is almost always a solution, and as the leader of a company you have to back yourself and know that you can solve it (with or without Imposter Syndrome rearing its ugly head)."


Adina Jacobs, co-Founder and Director of Product for STM Brands, and an Entrepreneurs' Organization member.

"Some of the toughest lessons I've learned as a business owner and manager have been when I've allowed people get away with bad behaviour because they are good sales people. This happened a few times early in the business when all eyes were on revenue and I wasn't an experienced leader. There was bossiness and toxicity that I initially put down to 'a different style to me' and then excused for too long because on the surface the sales were coming in so I justified that those methods were working. I didn't understand early enough the damage done to the team and the culture. I'm much more mature in the way I handle difficult situations if they arise, and I've found a leadership style that suits me, that is kind yet still addresses the challenges."

Alisa and Lysandra Fraser, Founders of AL.IVE BODY, AL.IVE BODY BABY, and Founders of Alisa & Lysandra Interiors

First coming to attention via their appearance and win on The Block back in 2013, Alisa and Lysandra Fraser have gone on to have lots of business-related success. They founded Alisa & Lysandra Interiors in 2014, working on bespoke residential and commercial projects, and collaborating with high-profile brands, and now have their own hand and body care range. 


"Our AL.IVE BODY business is only two and a half years old and we launched right as COVID hit, so we've learned a lot of things along the way!" they said to Mamamia.

"Our most challenging lessons have definitely been people-related. We're fortunate to have built an amazing team, but we worked out pretty quickly that the energy and passion we bring to our business every day as founders are hard sometimes for a team to match. We've definitely learned that getting and keeping the right people around us has been our most important asset, particularly when you're doing the hard yards as a start-up."


Sonia Majkic, co-owner of 3 Phase Marketing.

"The toughest lesson me and my business partner Tamara have learned since leading a team of over 30+ is the realisation that people are not going to be completely honest with you. It is easy to make the assumption that 'everything is fine' when you don't receive any feedback. Or even when you are told 'it's all good' – it doesn't necessarily mean it's true. Getting people to open up was the biggest challenge," Sonia Majkic said to Mamamia.

"We've had to adapt our leadership style and listen more intently. We now create opportunities to share thoughts and feelings anonymously in writing. This has improved our retention rate and employee satisfaction immensely. But you need to act on the feedback fast, you can't sit on it. We've also made that mistake too and not acted quickly enough on feedback."

Emily Pask, Founder and CEO of Modest Mermaid, and a Lady Startup.

"The hardest thing for me is delegating parts of my business to others. Modest Mermaid is my baby and I know the brand and the customer so intensely – it's hard to delegate parts of the business to others and trust that they will represent and do the brand justice. I gave up running my ads recently. I still do the creative side of things, but the actual strategy behind where it goes and the audience type is no longer in my hands. This was so hard for me as I was used to going into my ads and understanding everything and making changes as I see fit. Now I just have to trust the expert and leave it in their hands to run."


Michelle Battersby, Co-Founder & CMO of Sunroom.

"One of the hardest lessons for me has been having to get comfortable with my experiments failing and then still having the confidence to iterate and try again, along with my team," Michelle said to Mamamia.

"You have to constantly pick yourself back up and hope that the next experiment you run will have a better return! I never quite understood what grit truly meant until I was faced with the relentless grind of week-on-week experimentation, constantly hanging in a state of anticipation, until hopefully one day one of your experiments results in what you've been hoping for!"


Victoria Butt, Parity Consulting Founder and an Entrepreneurs' Organization member.

"I started my first business as a relatively experienced team manager. I'd been leading teams since I was 16 so I was not worried about the transition – other things concerned me more when building and scaling a business. Ironically, the area I was the least worried about was the area that caused the most problems and pain. Leadership was completely different for me as an early-stage entrepreneur, it was like I threw the rule book out the window and burnt it," Victoria said to Mamamia.

"I was a horrible micromanager under the guise it was 'my risk and my money.' I found it tricky to fully let go of any high value task and therefore constrained the freedom of the team, restricted the growth plans and drove high performers away. This only really changed when I had my first child and realised how tricky life can be if you don't empower and support your team. I now cannot think of anything worse than being in the details and micromanaging anyone!"

Feature Image: Instagram @michellebattersby, @monikatu88, @alisa_lysandra@laura.henshaw.

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