The Wonder Woman Disrupter Next Door: Catching Up With Trailblazer Jo-Ann Mendles

It's been a year since 'Disrupters' hit bookshelves. Jo-Ann Mendles continues on her path of personal redefinition as she drives disruption and seeks out her next 'big thing.'
The Wonder Woman Disrupter Next Door: Catching Up With Trailblazer Jo-Ann Mendles
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In this article, Mendles talks with us about her latest projects since our latest discussion in Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold. We reconnect with the incredible Mendles and through our talk, she paints a profile of a real-life business maven who has set the stage for future disrupters who want to make change without losing who we are.  

It’s been a year since Disrupters introduced you to its readers. What have you been up to since the book hit the shelves?

In my Distrupters interview I spoke of a "portfolio of styles." In 2018, one could say that I focused on a "portfolio of experiences."

I departed amicably from my last company and placed myself “back in the market.” This led to numerous exploratory conversations with various parties about roles with mutual benefit. As typical throughout my career, these companies/firms and roles I consider transcend industries and functions. A common theme, however, is delivering against today’s imperatives while transforming aspects of the business and models. Also high in C-suite priorities is attracting and developing talent who can thrive in dynamic global business climates.

Always a curious soul, I am taking advantage of excess time capacity to remain current in global economic, business and technology topics. Content and media are abundant so there is no lack of available reading, webinars and podcasts. Keeping informed and challenging my own thoughts and beliefs is critical to keeping ideas fresh and applicable in driving toward large-scale innovation.

Related: How This HR Technology Executive Became a Champion for Disadvantaged Teens Through Her Disruptive Actions

And, then there are the live conversations where I learn as much as I am told I contribute. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in professional forums: conferences, panels, webinars. The Technology-Human connection and Diversity and Inclusion are key themes.

For some reason respected professionals -- former colleagues and new acquaintances -- approach me for business and career advice and counsel. It has been nice to have time for in-person and phone conversations. Mentoring and coaching has always been an important part of my leadership contribution. I am grateful to have some time to focus on investing in the careers of the people around me.

And, as life always demonstrates on a daily basis, as much as things change a lot remains the same. I continue my for-profit and non-profit board service. Because my fellow-board members are incredibly talented, I find this work incredible rewarding and interesting. My family and long-time friends remain the treasure in my life.

Tell us more about the coaching and mentoring you are doing.

The folks reaching out to me for mentorship are diverse -- women and men, at different ages and career stages, [within] different professions. At the core, they are seeking a sounding board, an independent perspective and safe confidentiality.  I am reminded that throughout my career, I have benefited being able to calibrate with trusted colleagues. Trust is so important and so, so hard to find. My sense in our age of everything [...] finding a safe zone is more challenging and more valued.  

Image Credit: Courtesy of Jo-Ann Mendles

You shared incredible insight into your portfolio approach to mindful disruption in Disrupters. How do you continue to shake up your leadership status quo?

I’ve always been an “and” business leader.  Relating to the C-suite dilemma that I am regularly hearing [of] ineffective execution of “digital transformations,” my “pragmatic disruption” acumen and mindset very much come into play. To deliver on today’s imperatives, leadership has to meet their customers and employees where they are. And to be a competitive market player, leaders have to invest and real-time implement change in their businesses. What is different now than a few years ago is pace. Disruptive strategies and running day-to-day operations demand a predictive and engagement pace that is the new reality.

Related: Catching up With Supply Chain Expert and Disrupter Lisa Morales-Hellebo

As you look ahead to the next year, what’s on your mind when it comes to disruption?

I look to join an organization where, in collaboration with fellow leadership, I will contribute to high impact work today and into the 2020s. Yet, it is still disappointing to experience ageism bias in the professional recruitment process. You know the data as well as I do, Patti. Every barrier, even the ageism barrier, leaves the opportunity to create disruption. It’s a bad status quo and doesn’t serve a world where we are working for 20 or so years longer than our current systems and culture supports.

There is consensus of the importance of life skills in the workplace: critical thinking, continuous learning and reinvention, emotion intelligence, appetite for risk and innovation. Yet in general there remain legacy beliefs that professionals over [age] 45 cannot reinvent themselves, cannot deal with technology, cannot be effective working with Gen Z and Millennial customers and employees. Also, the belief that productive work ends at 55 has not kept in step with advances in healthy living and healthcare. It’s now 2019 -- it’s time to disrupt that antiquated status quo.

Related: Startup Knickey Is Improving the Business of Women's Underwear

Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold has been a bestseller for Entrepreneur Press since the day it launched in January 2018.  In 2019, I will catch up with many of the disrupters from the book to find out what’s happened since we last caught up and how they are continuing to redefine what success looks like and how it can be achieved.

Rather than telling women that they need to lean-in more in order to achieve someone else’s definition of success, the women profiled in Disrupters: Success Strategies From Women Who Break The Mold help us see why women do not need to be fixed and why men do not need to be blamed and shamed in order to achieve gender equity in the workplace. Rather, true success for both genders requires a deep understanding of the embedded biases inherent in a system designed for one population to have all the power and all the glory. So much so that in order for someone to succeed, someone must fail. Disrupters know this is a flawed and dangerous status quo, one that stunts innovation and leaves trillions of dollars on the table every year. In my final article of this series, we will catch up the incredible super woman that is Nicole Sahin, founder and CEO of Globalization Partners.

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