Anese Cavanaugh is an author, speaker, creator of IEP Method®, and leadership and culture advisor. She is the Chief IEP Officer of Active Choices, Inc., which provides virtual monthly “IEP Learning Labs” and online self-paced programs that can be completed individually or licensed by your organization for greater scale and impact. Anese is devoted to helping people show up, bring their best selves to the table, and unlock new levels of leadership potential in order to create a significant positive impact in their lives and organizations.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in the hills of Northern California, Cupertino, when it was still apricot orchards and tons of space. I have three little sisters and we were (and are still) best friends. We played outside and hiked a lot. The love of the outdoors and activity has been steady for me in my life. I learned independence, adventure, and an appreciation for nature that serves me to this day. My parent’s divorce, which ultimately led to a major split in the family, was a significant shaping experience in my life in terms of learning about collaboration, love, navigating disappointment, trusting that people always do the best they can, finding the gift in everything, using pain for learning, deciding to be happy, and ultimately creating the experience of life you want to create.
A side notes that when I was in Kindergarten, I was wildly shy and empathic. My teacher told my parents I’d “not make it in the real world as I was too sensitive.” (I later learned that my sensitivity and empathy were – and is – one of my superpowers.) In second grade, a teacher told me I was smart and strong. (And I believed her.) In fourth grade, I got laughed (almost) off the stage giving a speech. (And I swore never to go on stage again.) Later that day a teacher, who’d seen what had happened, pulled me aside to tell me that my “voice mattered and to never let other people’s actions or words take that away from me.” (Being on stage is now a large part of my work.) When I was in college, my writing professor said she’d really like to see what I’d write if I were to write a book one day… When I wrote my first chapter in a book, my mentor said, “Great, now go write your own book.” Words matter, teachers matter, mentors matter. Each one of these events had a profound impact on me in different ways that I carry with me and do my best to pay forward in some way every day.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
That no one cares about your life and what you do with it as much as you do – so, don’t worry about what anyone else thinks or tells you to do – you must really do what you want and believe in.
That intuition is ALWAYS right, interpretation may be off. So listen to yourself 100% of the time, no matter what, AND stay curious.
That “failure” is literally just a step towards clarity, wisdom, and success – IF you use it well and with intention.
And that no one knows better than you what’s in your heart or what the right thing is for you, so… LISTEN.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
That there is a “right” way to do just about anything. (For most things, there literally is no “right” way – the right way is how it works best for you and your team/partner/collaborator/family/client/etc.)
To get a ton of feedback from a ton of people and try to use it all. (Be selective and discerning.)
That the way to get people to do things is to force or mandate it. (Be an invitation, have them “own” it.)
That self-care is the soft stuff or “woo-woo” and that companies shouldn’t have to address it in their organization or that they don’t have time to. “We have business outcomes to address and fiduciary duties to the organization, we don’t have time for addressing self-care or the soft stuff.” (Which could also be “soft skills” – how people feel, the health of the culture, energetic dynamics, mental health, etc.) (This is the most important thing your company, or you as leader can tend to. It has a major impact on all the “business outcomes and fiduciary duties.”)
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
I have several, literally, every one of them has been from a time when I’ve expected one outcome and gotten another, or when something that I had zero control over surprised me – or knocked me on my butt for a bit. Disappointment, pain, loss, fear, grief. Anywhere from business to personal.
How I’ve moved through every single one of them, from a major loss in business to the loss of a relationship or even a miscarriage, has been to stay present with the experience, feel all the feels, get help/support and coaching/therapy as needed and appropriate, learn all I could learn, find the gift— no matter how painful or disappointing – and then put that learning into my big book of growth and moving forward.
I can honestly say that even the darkest periods have netted tremendous gold and growth IF IF IF I was willing to stay with the discomfort, do the workaround them to heal and learn, and also to be accountable for my experience and what I wanted to create next.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
One thing is impossible for this question – there are so many…
First, I don’t give up. I believe in what I do. I am fueled by gratitude and purpose. I also trust my intuition and higher power and that I’ll make the best decisions for myself and the business that I can with what I know at the time. (AND, I allow myself my feelings and disappointments and fears so I can process and learn from them.)
I actively and intentionally surround myself with a network and relationships that I can give to and also be supported by; I am in a business community/mastermind with other mission-focused leaders who I can bounce ideas around with and who are there for each other as needed. I have a couple of amazing people in my inner circle/posse who I can bring anything to (and vice-versa) – these include friends, sisters, and colleagues. I have a few trusted business advisors/coaches for when I need that kind of support, as well as a good therapist for when I need that kind of support. (It’s taken me years to build this “posse,” and it continues to refine and shift as I do.)
If I had to say ONE thing, I’d say it’s my intention/heart. I come from an honest place. (Which helps activate and support all of the above.)
What is your morning routine?
I love love love love love love my morning routine. It sets my day. It goes like this about 80% of the time, except when it doesn’t:
Up at 5:00 am and then…
Morning body scan for 9 minutes (body scan is where I hit snooze and just slowly let myself wake up staying present to my body and how I feel and any intuition or thinking that wants to come through before the day is “up”).
I go downstairs and grab 2 glasses of water and a big cup of coffee (super quiet because if I wake up my puppy, it’s ALL OVER).
Back to bed with a book (something that is life-giving to read and start my day with) – 5-10 minutes reading. 5-10 minutes journal. 5-10 minutes setting intentions and previewing the day. 13-minute meditation. Make bed, brush teeth, put on workout clothes.
By now it’s about 6:15 and the puppy is stirring. I grab him, take him and the older dog out to do their thing, play, cuddle, get my oxytocin hit. 6:30, get my daughter up for school. We all eat something, out again for a walk and dog business, and then spend time with pups and daughter until about 7:15.
At my desk by 9:00/9:15.
On the weekends (especially with puppy) it’s similar except desk time is for writing or reading in the a.m. on the couch with the dogs and Sundays there is zero structure or training – only whatever we all want.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
Taking care of my body and mind; workouts, hydration, clean food, prioritizing sleep, meditation, morning pages/journaling, and my “no drama” rule. I just recently started taping my mouth closed for sleep and workouts (I read James Nestor’s Breath book) and I think that is going to be a game-changer. I already feel subtle shifts…
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I time chunk like crazy in 33-50 minute time slots to do deep work and really focus. I find I get so much done. No checking email, social media, texts, calls, etc. during this time. I barely even let myself think about anything else, I just dig in. I’ll do several of these chunks a day and this has helped me immensely over the last two years.
I use a planner (Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt) that I set my whole week up with on Sunday so I know what’s coming and I can command my time. And then the planner breaks down for daily layouts as well. I also complete my IEP Sheet each morning and for any BIG meetings or conversations that I want to be extra intentional and prepared for. The combination of these two tools supports me really well. I set the planner up at the end of each business day, for the next, and then check both the planner and the IEP Sheet at the end of the day to ensure I got everything (and what may need to be moved or has fallen off priority). This way of tracking helps me stay on track, and even more importantly, shut down for the day so I can fully engage with family and my life and sleep and come back fresh the next.
I take care of myself; I always have a full bottle of water, or two, on my desk so that I stay hydrated and am forced to get up for bathroom breaks. And I eat intentionally. I plan my meals (either on the weekend or the night before) so I have food and snacks throughout the day. Water/bathroom/food may sound simple or silly, and they make a huge difference in my energy and productivity. I end my day feeling awake and energized – self-care throughout the day is a big part of that.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
Leadership & Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute – seeing people as people
Ignore Everybody by Hugh McLeod – following what you know is true
Deep Work by Cal Newport – focus!!!
Essentialism by Greg McKeown – simplification!!!
How We Lead Matters by Margaret Carlson – it just does + I saw her speak years ago and was really moved by her presence and how she talked about leadership
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu – lots of joy and why in here
Breath by James Nestor – literally JUST finished this and I think this will have a huge influence on me
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“People will tell you you’re awesome, and people will tell you you suck – believe none of them.”
“Hurt people hurt people.”
“They just don’t know how, yet.”
“Easy peasy lemon squeezy.” (I’m not kidding. ☺)