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‘Many limitations faced by women are self-imposed’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
31 December 2022   |   4:42 am
Juliet Okene is a certified mindset coach and relationship counsellor for business and career-focused women. She has over 20 years of experience in human resource, relationship, and stakeholder management, as well as expertise in financial accounting.

Juliet Okene

Juliet Okene is a certified mindset coach and relationship counsellor for business and career-focused women. She has over 20 years of experience in human resource, relationship, and stakeholder management, as well as expertise in financial accounting. Okene is a senior coach at The Audacity Network, a personal development life-coaching firm, and founder of The Growth Club, a thriving closed community for successful business and career professionals who want to achieve work-life success. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting from the University of Benin and a certificate from the John Maxwell Team as a coach, speaker and trainer. An author of several e-books on leadership and career growth, Okene has worked with banks and energy companies across Nigeria. She also emerged first elected female president of the TotalEnergies Staff Multi-purpose Cooperative Society in 2022. The sought-after speaker at leadership conferences and women-focused seminars speaks to IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA on her interests, especially in grooming more women for success.

Take us through your life trajectory?
I have always had passion for helping people. My parents are chronic givers; they give when they have little or nothing. This greatly influenced me as a child. I used to detest this habit as it affected what was left for our family to survive on. But as I grew older, I better understood the benefits and ills of helping other people selflessly. My training as an accountant also helped me to nurture my interest in numbers and money. However, I realised that working with numbers is not as fulfilling as working with humans. I wanted to help people gain traction in their lives in general, not only financially. It was the starting point of my transition from finance to human resources, and eventually coaching and counselling. 

As a mindset and relationship counsellor, your experiences also cut across human resources and accounting. How are you able to hone your skills?
As I said, my specialisation and work experiences in accounting and finance made it possible for me to help entrepreneurs make money, but coaching and counselling training equipped me with the knowledge and skills to help people with their life challenges; especially business executives. To remain effective and progressive, I am constantly learning, undertaking trainings, seeking out relevant role models, and learning from field work. For my specialisation in coaching career women, it has helped me because I am a career professional and mother of four. Observing women’s challenges in their careers and relationships and seeing their frustrations and pains made me focus on this delicate group. I firmly believe that a woman can have it all; a successful career, a blissful relationship and a fulfilled life. 

Why did you transit from finance to human resources, and how did this inform your decision to become a coach?
I experienced an eureka moment in 2014 which led to my pivot from finance to human resources. I had looked back on my 13-year journey in finance and felt a gapping vacuum in my heart. My natural gift to help people had been stifled because I had been closeted with costing, budgets and numbers, amongst other internal work ‘politics’. Though my work had an effect on business growth for which I received several accolades over the years, it had little impact on people and their daily life struggles. That career switch gave me increased exposure to employees at my place of work and the opportunity to listen, encourage, advocate for, and counsel them as required. To increase my competence and effectiveness, I joined the globally recognised John Maxwell Coaching training and became certified in 2017.

In your over two decades in the corporate world, how have you evolved?
I have grown from a customer service representative to a senior HR executive and the first female President of the staff cooperative. As a younger staff, I observed my bosses and have now grown and learnt leadership by experience. I have since adopted the good qualities from each leader, and determined not to ever exhibit the toxic and demotivating traits exhibited by each boss. The tipping point was when I ‘stumbled’ into entrepreneurship and counseling. Since then, my growth, influence and impact have been exponential. My evolution process as an employee and finally to an entrepreneur has greatly shaped the woman I am today. 

Have you experienced any difficult periods in your career and were you able to pull through?
The short answer is yes! From difficult and insensitive bosses to backstabbing from colleagues assumed to be friends, career stagnation, work-life imbalance, tribalism, underemployment and I can go on. On the flip side, I gained much more than I could ever hope for or imagined. What I have learnt through the years is that life has ups and downs. There is no life without challenges; life’s discomforts are designed to help us grow and succeed. The bigger the challenges you have, the greater your opportunity for growth. Were those challenges painful? Yes! They seriously affected my morale, but I realised early that though I can’t change other people, I can change myself. I became more self-aware, more intentional and more emotionally intelligent. Essentially, I became my first client. 

What advice do you have for professionals who may be considering a transition from paid employment to entrepreneurship?
Transition from employment to entrepreneurship requires a lot of grit and preliminary mindset preparation. Entrepreneurship is a free ride, and it demands a bunch of management skills. As an entrepreneur, you have to manage yourself and all your resources. Career professionals often lack this strategic management capacity because many of them have been working in operational roles that don’t require strategic planning. Secondly, the fear of leaving the ‘safety net’ and guaranteed benefits is daunting for most. Others are simply afraid to take the leap and try something new. If you are considering entrepreneurship while still in paid employment, this will be my advice: start to be an entrepreneur now while you are still in paid employment, don’t quit yet. Secondly, focus on the niche you love or have a good competency for. Life is already stressful for career professionals, venturing into business in a space you have little knowledge about or are not passionate about can affect your health. Thirdly, get a great support system for the home, your job and the business. Because you are still in paid employment, you will not have the luxury of running your business yourself, because you will be working on your business after work and at weekends. It is normal to seek help and be willing to pay for it.

Through your coaching firm, The Growth Club, you are helping business and career professionals achieve work-life success. Would you say it is meeting its goal?
It is not just a goal, but the purpose of our community at The Growth Club is to help people achieve all round success. It has been encouraging to read the testimonials from the community and see members putting in the work and achieving their goals, both in their careers and personal lives. We regularly host workshops, seminars and masterminds, all designed to help our members grow.

How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
Many of women`s limitations are self-imposed. Our society is becoming more inclusive, and women already have channels to move forward. I suggest we develop more female-focused mentoring and coaching programmes to show our women that they can be whatever they want to. If we can remove our mental barriers, we will be better equipped to plough our way through external challenges. Dare to be aspiring, ambitious women, learn to be the best that you can be. Be confident in your abilities and take charge of your life. You can be, do and have anything that you set your heart upon. Simply believe and take the necessary steps.

As a wife, mum and boss, how have you managed these portfolios and still be at your best?
Firstly, I always begin with the end in mind. I am very goal oriented and I strive to sync my values with all my activities. I also have a very supportive and patient spouse; I think that helping me succeed makes him proud. My support system is amazing: my parents, in-laws, domestic staff, children, friends and clients. Lastly and maybe most importantly, I work closely with my Heavenly Father. I know that this might sound cliché but it’s true. God has been faithful and kind.

Having come this far, is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I don’t think so. No matter what, I paid for every mistake I have ever made. I gained more than I lost. We don’t really fail if we choose to learn from our mistakes because evaluated experience is the best teacher. Would I have done some things differently? Of course! But I have no regrets because I made the best decisions I could at the time, all of which have made me a grateful and a better person.

How do you get inspiration and stay motivated?
It is the most heartwarming experience for any coach or counsellor to see the joy and transformation in their clients. Finding your purpose and making money from it at the same time is rare and truly fulfilling. This motivates and inspires me. In my personal life, I am inspired by my children, husband and extended family.

What is your life mantra?
All humans stand somewhere between two extremes: good and bad. It is important that we remain genuine and original so that we attract people who like ‘our type’, and repel those who don’t. I also live by this famous quote of John Maxwell, ‘Everything rises and falls on the leader.’ This is a huge responsibility for all leaders: you are responsible for the growth or failure of your team, so we must lead diligently and effectively always.