DEI Advisors Podcast

Rachel Vandenberg, Founder, The Travel Leader interviewed by Lan Elliott

June 10, 2024 Rachel Vandenberg, Founder, The Travel Leader
Rachel Vandenberg, Founder, The Travel Leader interviewed by Lan Elliott
DEI Advisors Podcast
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DEI Advisors Podcast
Rachel Vandenberg, Founder, The Travel Leader interviewed by Lan Elliott
Jun 10, 2024
Rachel Vandenberg, Founder, The Travel Leader

Rachel shares how aligning on purpose creates the glue within a group, and why she would advise her younger self to seek out (early on) the support she needed to achieve her goals.  She also explains why developing public speaking skills are key to those looking to advancing their careers, and the practices she utilizes as a skilled presenter.

Show Notes Transcript

Rachel shares how aligning on purpose creates the glue within a group, and why she would advise her younger self to seek out (early on) the support she needed to achieve her goals.  She also explains why developing public speaking skills are key to those looking to advancing their careers, and the practices she utilizes as a skilled presenter.

Lan Elliott:

Hello and welcome to DEI Advisors. My name is Lan Elliott on behalf of DEI Advisors, which is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering personal success. And today I'm really happy to have as our guest advisor, Rachel Vandenberg, who is the founder of The Travel Leader. She's also become a dear friend and I'm so glad to have you on the show. Rachel, welcome.

Rachel Vandenberg:

so much for having me. It's really a pleasure to be here. And I am a really big fan of DEI advisors. I've been listening right from the very beginning when you all started, even before I knew you or Rachel and I've really enjoyed and learned a lot from the different episodes.

Lan Elliott:

Thank you. Thank you. I thought you would make a wonderful guest and I'm so thrilled that you are here. So let's jump right into it. And I wanted to start with your journey to leadership because you've had such an interesting path. You wear a lot of different hats. You're an executive leadership coach, you're a speaker, you're a writer, you're a podcast host, you own a hotel in Vermont, so you wear a lot of different hats. Can you share some of the inflection points in your career and if there was any particular factors that contributed to your success?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Sure. Yeah. I think one of the first really big inflection points when was when I decided to shift my career from I was a operations manager in the Netherlands for a nonprofit. And after working there for a year and having a totally different career years before that, I decided to move back to the United States and take over our family hotel. And that was definitely a moment of jumping from to a different, a totally new career for me, even though I grew up in hospitality myself, but also being thrust into a leadership role as the operating general manager of the hotel and co owner. So that, that was the first one. And the next one was when we expanded the hotel. In 2016, we opened an expansion, which essentially tripled the size of our business. And then of course, our responsibilities grew in terms of the different aspects of the hotel and the complexity. We added a restaurant and an eight lane boutique bowling lounge. So we also needed more staff. So having more team members also meant that my leadership had to take a totally different level and grow from where I was. And I think what I learned through those processes is two things about myself is that I really have this kind of internal drive and self motivation that has been really critical to my success along that path. And with those kinds of obstacles and learning moments that come You know, on that journey that, I was willing to every time to grow and learn and, persevere through adversity. So that's 1 of the big learnings and I think the 2nd was. That no matter where I was, I had this desire to have an impact on other people and to be in service of others. And it really didn't matter which career I was in but those were always like a consistent thread for me.

Lan Elliott:

Those are wonderful. And I will talk in a little bit about some of the impact that you are making and continuing to make. But I wanted to shift a little bit to continuous growth because we hear from a lot of leaders that curiosity is a big part of their path. And you had alluded to the idea of a growth mindset, always learning new things, stepping up your skills. And as you, Your career progresses. I think most of us find new skills that we need to develop further. Is there maybe something that you recently discovered or a lesson you learned recently that is going to change your leadership or strategy going forward?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yes, actually, it wasn't hard to think of one because I had a recent experience. That a situation that had evolved over, I would say the last nine months or so where I was working together with someone closely and there were some challenges. In the relationship over the years and working with that person. And what I learned from, going through the different phases of this was that the importance of having transparent and open conversations. And it's really that idea I don't know if you've re but it's, i to be direct and share th And do it in a way that's not going to, it's not about offending the other person. Sometimes it's about giving feedback and also asking for feedback, things like that and having that, that courage to have those conversations. That is so critical for the relationships that you work with. Work in or, obviously personally as well. So both personal and professional relationships. And I just think it's such a a critical skill to have that, especially in your, in leadership, it's something that comes up every single day. And I know that I can still get better at it and it's definitely something that I will be working on even more after this situation.

Lan Elliott:

I love that. And I love the other theme of being more open with people. I think it's around having difficult conversations, right? Because those are the conversations we don't like to have or that we try to avoid. And I don't, and I want to talk about that a little bit later cause it's a bit of a balance in order to achieve that. Yes. One of the things that we're collaborating on together is a project for the women in hospitality. leaderships alliance, which is founded by Rachel Humphrey, our mutual friend. And you've also founded accelerate women leaders in travel. And this is all nonprofit work that, that you focus on. Can you share some of the advantages or lessons you've learned from doing nonprofit work?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yes. And I think, by advantages, you mean like the benefits of it? I think for me, the biggest benefit of working for like volunteer nonprofit type initiatives is it really gives me a chance to. To have an outlet for my passion and my deep desire to, for, and care for other people. And it's that outlet for making that impact, and doing something that's bigger than myself. So I think that's the biggest benefit in all of the work, the volunteer work do that. And the lessons that I've learned from that work is that particularly in environments where, these are usually situations where there's not a lot of resources, right? That's their volunteer. That it becomes even more important to build a coalition of strong partners and to find people who complement each other's strengths. And build those relationships and have really clear alignment on purpose, vision and values. And those things, those, the, that, that partnership, the relationships and that alignment become the currency of that work. So even if there's no, money, or economic, core economic value being exchanged, it's. It's those things which really are the glue that make the group work together so that's been something that's been important for me and a big learning lesson about that type of work.

Lan Elliott:

Yeah, I remember when we first started the podium committee that we've been working on together and the first thing you did is you went around and asked everybody there why and why is this important to you and that would have never occurred to me to do that. But it was such an important piece of helping us all gain alignment and understanding our common purpose and why we were all bringing our individual selves to this effort. And I thought it was a great way to create that glue within the group. Yeah, for acknowledging that. Yeah, that was wonderful. I think as most people, you don't get to a certain point in your career without experiencing a few setbacks. Have you ever had a setback that taught you a valuable lesson and If so, could you share that story?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Oh, so many so many but the one that really called out to me when I was thinking about this was when we were doing our first hotel construction project. And we were going from, we had about 28 rooms and we were growing, we weren't adding a ton of rooms, but we were adding a very big building, particularly because of this bowling lounge. So it was. 15 new rooms, including suites and our bowling alley. And there were a lot of complexities because we were building rooms above the bowling alley. And as you can imagine, anybody in the hotel business knows that one of the big issues is noise. And making sure you construct in a way or, do sound mitigation and things like that. So all of these complexities made for a very costly project. And we ended up not getting our budget until very late in the process or, the confirmed construction budget, and we were still thinking that a month. Before the project was about to break ground that we were actually going to break ground. And then the budget came back and blew us out of the water. And as a result, the project immediately had to be put on hold. And at that point, we had no idea what we were going to do. And I think the thing that I just, I really learned the most at that moment was what I had inside of me in order to pivot from that situation. And I remember just, having my moment of grief and, all the, doing all of the things, being angry, being sad, shedding tears, whatever that I slept a couple nights on it and I just dug really deep and I said, this needs to happen. We need to turn this around. How are we going to do it? And I just started making the next steps one step at a time, reaching out to all the people involved and, how are we going to get this project on track so we can move forward with it? And it really just became about digging deep and learning that I had that within me, but in realizing that it's all about uncovering every stone possible. And using all your resources that you can and expertise that you have around you to overcome those challenges.

Lan Elliott:

I love so many things in what you just shared in that story. The first one that I really loved was the idea of taking space, right? You took a couple days to mourn the way you thought things were going to go, but then you pull yourself together and it's that grit and that persistence. You go back in and you're going to figure it out. But I also loved that you said That you brought the team together and leveraged everybody's expertise, and it's so important, we're all stronger together. So I love that idea of gathering yourself, but then going back into it, but bringing everybody with you so that together you can come up with a better solution.

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yeah, absolutely.

Lan Elliott:

I wanted to turn to the topic of overcoming self doubt because we're often our own biggest critics and that noise in your head can get really loud, making us doubt ourselves. What are some of the strategies you use to stay positive?

Rachel Vandenberg:

So I think, a lot of it has come down for me into that idea of self worth, and I definitely struggle with this all the time. And we know that there's a common term that's used for it. Imposter syndrome comes up a lot when talking about this this topic. I think what has helped me the most. In those situations is really definitely self-care. And I do a lot of meditation and exercise to work through the stress of that when I'm feeling that. But also getting re-grounded and acknowledging. You know what I've accomplished and how I've achieved certain goals. And re reflecting on my strengths and what I have to offer and the value that I bring. So really just shifting away from that negative self talk and refocusing on what I have to offer as a person in these different kinds of situations.

Lan Elliott:

Those are really good tools to use. Do you have a secret for how you turn to it? I've heard of people who have a list that they keep in their desk of either like a gratitude journal, or they have something that is a list of these are the different ways you could recharge yourself. Get up from your desk. Go take a walk. What have you? How do you know which thing you need at that moment?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yeah. Yeah. So one, one tool that I actually created for myself was a notebook next to my bed. And when I need it, I have four questions. that I asked myself before I go to bed because it's also a release, right? Like getting clear for a good night's sleep. And the questions are, what am I proud of? What do I want to remember about today? What am I grateful for? And what do I want to let go of? And those four questions and especially if I'm going through a particularly, period of insecurity or feeling uncertain, feeling that self doubt especially doing that repeatedly on a daily basis for a while, gets me back to reality and that, that groundedness and sense of well being.

Lan Elliott:

I love that practice. I think I might adopt that. I'm not a big journaler, but I do see the value of those four questions and taking the time to reflect on them. Yeah. No, I am

Rachel Vandenberg:

not, by the way, I am not a journal either. I've been off and on like for many years and tried it and never could be consistent. But what I'd like About this was that it was just one sentence answers. The practice takes more, no more than five minutes. And it just gave me that release and outlet for those those thoughts.

Lan Elliott:

I love that. Great tool. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing that. Yeah. I wanted to turn next to public speaking because we were on the same in the same Toastmasters club together for a bit. So we're a bit on our shared journey regarding public speaking. How important is the skill of public speaking and elevating one's career? And how do you go about developing? How do you prepare? How do you feel more confident doing it?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yeah, great question. This is, obviously, we talk about this topic so much together. And it's important to both of us, personally and professionally and I think that, What is really important about it is that public speaking is a way for you to be seen in your career. And especially if you are growing as a leader, one of the things that's really important to build is to build trust and two things that are really important for trust are credibility and likeability. And or connection, I would rather say, making connection. I think that's a better word for it. There's other important elements of building trust, but and that when you do, when you perform or you do public speaking, that's an opportunity to demonstrate your credibility and your connection with people. And and, that then leads. To people seeing, wow, that's someone I can trust. That's someone I can see their capabilities right in front of me. And I want to do whatever I can to support them in their leadership development. So I think that's what really is really makes it a very important topic for people who are looking to advance in their career. And for the second part of your question for how you develop yourself or practice as a speaker I struggle with this. I definitely get very nervous. Speaking, there's an environment where I do very well, which is I could be in a meeting and speak off the cuff. No problem. I'm not, I don't have a lot of fear or a hesitation to do that, but put me in in front of a group and where Speaking and imparting information that is a totally other story. And I've been doing a lot more speaking recently in the last six months or so, and it really comes down to, I think three things. And first is you have to obviously know your topic. That you're speaking about through and through. And second, it's about the preparation. So really having a clear message that you are going to give to your audience. What's your purpose of standing up there and giving your talk in whatever form it is. And then one that I know that you. Stress all the time is the practice element and practice to the point where when those nerves come, you are so practiced and it's flowing so naturally that you can. Those nerves don't become an issue because you're just able to let it come out in spite of all that's going on in your head at the same time. So those are the, those are the three things that I'm really working on right now to improve my public speaking. And that's becoming a formula that's working for me.

Lan Elliott:

Yeah, it's incredible. I recently saw you speak on transformational leadership. You led a workshop at the forward conference and you were on stage for 45 minutes with a presentation. And I remember asking you, how did you do that? And you said you practiced and practiced. And I think people sometimes think it just comes easy to some people. And I do think it gets easier the more you do it, but I think it's hard. It's hard to overestimate how much work goes into standing up there and having it naturally flow off your tongue and speaking especially as long as you spoke during that session and teaching us on transformative leadership, obviously a topic, a lot about, but to be able to present it and have it be interactive and have it be Very impactful for so many people. I really thought that doesn't come. You might be a naturally talented speaker, but I do think even for those people practicing and really Doing it again and again so that you can get up there when you get nervous to do it is so key

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yeah I have so much of you to think in this process because I will tell you there were many times that your voice Was in my head And where, this idea of practicing and rehearse rehearse, and you, you really hammer that in and it stuck with me. And I knew it intellectually, but I think, us talking about it just made me even more aware of how much I needed to be prepared for that moment.

Lan Elliott:

You are incredible. Yeah, you were incredible in that moment. So yeah, absolutely. You had touched on something earlier, which is this idea of credibility. And you also talked on candor, doing it the right way. And I think one of the challenges that women leaders face. Face is this perception that they can't be both competent and kind. You're very competent and assertive. You're not really well liked. And so it makes it harder to get things done because you can't work across the organization as well. And on the other side, if you're really nice and kind, there is an idea that might be, maybe you're just nice and you're not really very good at your job. And for, Some reason women have to walk this tightrope between those two aspects in order to move forward. Can you talk about how you found the right balance in your career of being both competent and kind, because I know you were both of those things.

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yeah I can tell you it's a work in progress. Because, I think earlier in my career. I definitely lean towards the assertive side and I had a lot of opinions, a lot of things to say and wanted other people to hear them. So I definitely have more trouble coming more back to the middle in earlier years. And I think one of the issue, I think one of the challenges is that we swing to each side of the pendulum in these kind of extreme ways sometimes. And I think you, you pointed out very well that it's really finding that balance between the two. And I, but even more importantly what it comes down to usually those situations when you're, you're working, it's all about working with other people. And though, when you're working with other people, it's all about relationships. And the core for me to relationships is building a connection with people. And that has to come first before. And building that foundation upon which you can then express and bring your ideas to the people that you're working with. And that I think if you've built that foundation and that connection with people, that it does give you the ability to be assertive when you need to be. And it is all about how you're doing it. And it's about your. Your composure in that situation and how you treat people. Are you respectful? All of those kinds of elements. So a lot of it for me has really been trial and error and getting to that middle ground. But I think I've even more because I was leaning to that other polar opposite side of assertiveness. I think for me, it's. It's been about first learning how to make connection with people and build upon that in those situations.

Lan Elliott:

I'm definitely in the same boat with you. I'm usually when people describe me direct is the word that comes to mind. And so I definitely share that idea that getting to know people, building relationships is really the first step so that. Then it makes it a little bit easier afterwards. I also love this idea that people talk about along the same lines of think of it as a relationship bank, right? You need to be making deposits because every once in a while you're going to need a withdrawal, but you don't want to show up with a withdrawal as your first interaction with people. So yeah, I think knowing who, who's going to be important in your life, knowing who's going to be important in the work you need to get. Done as you said, right? You need to develop a relationship with those people. And then when things happen, or if there's a crisis or something like that, then you can actually lean on that relationship and it you'll get much further together in that way. So that's wonderful advice.

Rachel Vandenberg:

Yeah, the only thing, I do want to point out because I think what comes out in this topic is that there is sometimes a bias against women in particular, and I've definitely experienced that. I, there was a moment when I was serving on a board and we had We had some conflict happening within this organization that I was working on this board for and I was presenting an idea or an opinion about something in a meeting. And a fellow board member told me we've heard enough of you now. And it was very clearly a kind of male, female type thing. And it does happen. And I think it's important to acknowledge that we do sometimes face that bias. But we also just can't let it get in the way of us, and and it comes back to those relationships and building those across the board and across the table, right?

Lan Elliott:

Absolutely. I'm curious as a very direct person as well, what did you say to that person? Yeah.

Rachel Vandenberg:

I think I was really just shocked in the moment and it, I, I don't think I really put it together even until years later what had happened in that moment. Until I had reflected back on it.

Lan Elliott:

Yeah. I think sometimes we don't even realize it's happening in the moment. Yeah. Sometimes you realize that years later and then you have your comeback. I, sometimes it comes to me two years later and right. DEI is something that's very close to both of our hearts. I'm curious if you could share maybe one or two DEI initiatives that you're working on that you're most excited about.

Rachel Vandenberg:

Sure. I think the, so I have, I've been interested in the topic of DEI for many years and going back into my college years and quite honestly, for a while, I definitely stepped back and became complacent until like many people during COVID and George Floyd and things like that, I've. I was definitely reawakened to the importance. And since then, the most important thing that I've learned at it, that it starts with the inner journey. And it's just like leadership, DEI and doing that self discovery is really the first step. And it starts with becoming aware of your values and beliefs. And, so I asked myself the question, am I someone who values other people's ideas? Do I carry the belief that it's important to have other voices in the room? And So to, to answer your question, like the first initiative was myself and then it was, okay if I do have these values and beliefs where are the areas that I can influence? In order to make sure that there are space for other people that don't look like me or don't share the same experiences. 1 of them is on my local tourism association. I serve on the board and I've been president in the past for 3 years. I was part of two hiring prep processes in which we hired female executive directors. And I'm really proud of that I was part of that and I'm able to really to also, because of my, I think a lot of times what happens is that It's about your network and again, going back to relationships. That was really important. It wasn't just me, the women, obviously the women themselves were just, they were the best candidates without a doubt. And also in that process, with the same organization we've also seen a lot of turnover in our board and more younger people coming on the board and a mix of male, female, and trying to bring in some of that diversity where we could. So that's one, one really important place that I've been working on. It's a lot. And if I could just really quickly speak to that one point We spoke at the beginning was on the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance and the podium committee and bringing more women to conference stages. And that is just so critical to that idea of having more women be seen for their excellence and their expert expertise and bringing more equity to our industry.

Lan Elliott:

Absolutely. I love that. Thank you for adding that. One of our favorite questions at DEI advisors is what advice would you give to your younger self? And I think this question in particular goes to the self reflection and really knowing yourself that you've mentioned a couple of times. So I'm curious, what advice would you give to younger Rachel?

Rachel Vandenberg:

I think I had referred to earlier that I, Early in my career, I was often giving my opinion about things. And so I think that was the advice I would give my younger self would be that I need definitely to listen more and going back to that idea of being curious, asking questions and really challenging that belief that the smartest person in the room is the one who talks all the time. Because that's really not me. That's actually often not the case.

Lan Elliott:

So true. So true. We had someone who said when there was a problem that was being discussed and no one had an answer, her solution was usually to turn to the quiet person because a lot of times they might actually have the answer. They're just quiet about it and sitting there while everyone else is talking more loudly. Yeah. Yeah. As I feared we would run short on time. So I have time for one final question, Rachel, and that is keeping in mind the mission of DEI advisors, which is around empowering personal success. Do you have one last nugget of advice for our viewers?

Rachel Vandenberg:

Sure. That advice would be to. I think as we're growing and in our careers and reaching after new goals, it's always really good to look around you. What kind of support do you need to get there? And obviously this is, I'm very biased because I'm a coach myself, but I think one of the best things you can do is work on your personal and professional development. It could be working with a coach, but it could also be just in constantly learning and reading things and speaking to other people and learning from their experiences. The more that you can do that and see those different perspectives and find those support pieces of support from your surrounding, the better.

Lan Elliott:

I love that. That is a wonderful note to end on. Thank you so much for being on, Rachel. And thank you for all that you do to advance women, to advance others in our industry. I really appreciate you. And for our audience, if you've enjoyed this conversation with Rachel, I hope you'll go to DEIadvisors. org where you can find other interviews with industry leaders. Thank you. Thank you.