I actually learned about Ygrene when I was running for U.S. Congress. The model that Ygrene utilizes to bring scale capital into the clean energy space (called PACE) was one that I promoted as a policy during my campaign for Congress. It’s interesting because it goes back to my upbringing in the Pacific Northwest — I always had an appreciation of the deep beauty of nature, the power of our natural spaces, and the importance of a healthy environment.
On a personal level, Ygrene attracted me because it’s an interesting synthesis of my interests — we partner with cities and counties to deploy clean energy programs, and so we’re involved with government, politics and finance. Putting this together with my love for the environment, it was like all the dots of my career had come to be connected through Ygrene.
What I love about Ygrene is that we serve communities by bringing financial resources so citizens can take their energy future into their own hands. This allows them to become energy independent — to be off-the-grid or to deploy energy efficiency measures — by getting affordable, safe and accessible financing. At the end of the day, It’s a win-win-win: the city or county wins because they’re trying to create clean cities; the homeowner wins as they create a greener and more comfortable home; and the environment wins too. It’s such a great business model and an incredible way for a social impact company to run. That’s what drew me to it — it connected all my dots, and was an ideal example of how we can use business for social and environmental impact…and do it at scale.
It has also allowed me to bring the things I’ve learned in business to meet my passion and purpose all in one place. I think most of us at Ygrene are there because we feel like we wake up every day and do something important — every day we’re making a difference and that’s just a really powerful opportunity.
I wish I had known that you really can’t fail — there’s no such thing as failure. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune of working in the Bay area and Silicon Valley, where there’s a whole different view of failure in general, but I would say this in a very personal way: Our life experiences are all about our own unfolding, and there really is no way to fail. We learn and grow. I’ve learned along the way that founders’ companies are our crucibles — they’re the catalyst of our transformation, and businesses don’t evolve or get built into greatness from the top-down, but rather from the inside-out.
So for me, the first tenant I follow is “know thyself”. Companies are made up of people, and evolving business happens from the inside out. Conscious organizations begin with conscious individuals and conscious leaders. We all have patterns under stress, our conditioned tendencies, and the ways in which our ego reacts to conflict or stressful situations. And so, really going deep in the inner work is important for me. There are great personal assessments, like Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram and others, but there’s also just the simple understanding that we’re all in the process of waking up to the deeper truth of who we are. In order to have a healthy company and to be a better leader, I should be willing to look deeply at myself and to evolve, heal and be open to change.
Another thing I wish I had known is what it means to be a woman (or man) standing in my power. This is a really big topic for me — I feel like my whole life has had a thread of really investigating this notion of power. I remember taking a survey at the Harvard Business School about all the things that drive you, and for me, power was at the very bottom. I later went on to run for U.S. Congress, which is a whole landscape built around power and power dynamics. Through these experiences over the years, I’ve ultimately gone from a concept of “powerful woman” to recognizing women who are “standing in their power”. The distinction I’m trying to make here is that it’s not about women (or men) trying to adapt to the current paradigm and exert power over others, but it’s about living from a place of authenticity — where we stand in our own sovereignty, claim our gifts and our unique genius, and we authentically bring that into the world.
This might not be the vision of assertive power that is normally perpetuated — what if someone’s power is in their softness, intuition, vulnerability or their ability to nurture, connect and empower others? There are so many ways to lead, and for me, power now comes from standing in the truth of who we are, offering the gifts we uniquely bring, and being ourselves — in fact, we lose power when we try to be something other than who we are. And so, I’m honouring the rising movements like MeToo and Black Lives Matter, and I’m glad to see that younger generations already have this seated within them — that it’s all about being true to who we are, and that power naturally arises from authentic expression.
First of all, I love the process of creating something out of nothing. Pure creation is an inspiring and energizing process.
Also, the idea of servant leadership — to be present with and aware of each person’s genius, and help them bring that into the world as a gift — has been something that I’ve tried to learn more about and live into as a leader and entrepreneur throughout my various companies.
My personal experience is that we are all deeply interconnected, and that our true power — our true identity — is a deep universal self. ‘Oneness’ is innate to our being. Recognizing that other people’s true nature is the same as my true nature, that we are actually one and the same, has been a profound realization. So then, a part of what drives me is this recognition that we are all interconnected, and that we’re all stewards and trustees of the collective good.
Being committed to deep inner work has allowed me to carry experiences and insights back into my companies and communities. I’ve come to believe that our experiences are the classroom for our personal development — but the actual lesson plan is us waking up to ourselves. It’s important to me to honor everyone’s path because the awakening process is so different for every person: it can be walking in nature, it can be reflection or contemplation, going deep into meditation or prayer, or maybe it’s taking a swim in the ocean, doing extreme sports or just sitting in silence.
For me, conscious leadership means being able to look at someone else and see their magnificence — to celebrate their journey while also seeing them already in their wholeness — even though we often feel so flawed and so screwed up and make so many mistakes. It’s all just part of the path.
Kahlil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” At the core, I probably keep building companies to keep practicing greater love.
Having a mindset of gratitude, working actively on becoming a better listener, and being aware of how I source my energy are three core mindsets that help me as a founder and leader.
A mindset of gratitude to me means cultivating a certain positivity. There’s a saying in the Conscious Leadership Group that “all people and circumstances are my allies”, which resonates deeply with me. I really do believe that if we’re grateful for every moment and we are receptive to the circumstances, regardless of how it looks on the surface, then we can acknowledge that there are gifts innate in everything we’re facing. It allows us to show up in ways that are a lot deeper and more present than if we are in reaction.
The second mindset for me is constantly practicing becoming a better listener. When we create spaces to hear all the voices — where we allow what sometimes feels like uncomfortable emotions like anger or fear to exist — and recognize that all of these feelings are part of the human experience, we can then drop into a place where there’s more acceptance, more creativity, more energy and more possibility.
Listening means the ability to drop into stillness, to pause and be aware of our egoistic tendencies and suspend them momentarily — to just take a deep breath and hear each other out. I believe if we can nurture the ability to listen we will actually discover a much more generative and creative set of solutions — new technologies, innovations, cultural and social shifts — that can only arise if we’re willing to sit with the vulnerability and discomfort of actually listening to each other.
I don’t say this from a place of being a master at listening — sometimes I find throughout my day that the first thing I want to do is tell someone why that’s not going to work, or why this should be done some other way. And sometimes I do end up saying those things, but then I realize “Oh, the energy of that didn’t actually feel creative”, or that the energy felt blocking and kind of constrictive, and so then I have to reset.
The third mindset shift for me has been around where I source my energy. In the early 2000s, I took a trip to India where I met a spiritual teacher who has now been a mentor to me for nearly 20 years. One of the first things he said to me was “you’re a successful businesswoman but you’re using your energy all wrong”. At the time I was definitely burning the candle at both ends, and I realized that I really can’t afford to source my energy from my body or from my mind alone. After all, the body has a finite endurance, and the mind has a finite intelligence.
But when I go into stillness, there’s a certain quality — whether you call it soul or intuition or inner knowing — where there’s actually infinite energy and intelligence. It’s sort of like an infinite battery I can always tap into for reserves. I’ve noticed that if I get too busy and too stressed out, and I don’t do that, then I’m relying on non-renewable fuel, if you will. So for me, leadership requires sustainability in the sense that we all have to be sustainable at a personal level, and these are some of the ways that I have tried to stay sustainable for the roles where I’m in a leadership position.
For me, it would be community — proactively seeking out and establishing relationships with people who I see have access to their heart. Seeking out people who have courage, even if it may come in the form of softness or vulnerability, or in ways that others might not recognize as courage. Having a cohort or a set of friends who are conscious people — committed to their own and others’ evolution, and to making a positive impact in the world — has been an enormous support.
I have a wonderful meditation circle of women I adore, a Harvard Business School forum group, and of course my spiritual community. The founder communities that I’m a part of are also inspiring in different ways where it’s about seeing the brilliance and creative power of others.
I also read and meditate a lot and find inspiration in other really loving individuals who have been mentors to me in many ways. What has really helped me is discovering that I can be myself, to find the uniqueness of who I am, and to shine that light into the world.
For specific resources, my favorite book ever, and I’ve probably read it four or five times cover-to-cover and still come back to it regularly, is the Shiva Sutras translated by Jaideva Singh. It’s very esoteric but it’s absolutely brilliant. I also love Joseph Campbell’s Hero with 1000 Faces — I love the mythology and the recognition of the journey that we’re all on, that arc of transformation. And right now, my favorite podcast is called Dear First Time Founders.
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