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The Rungs of Learning with Jennifer Dimaris, Former Marketing Executive Turned Coach

Jennifer Dimaris and I both worked at Starbucks at the same time but didn't know each other until after we both left the organization and were introduced to one another by a mutual friend. I was immediately enamoured by Jennifer's energy and desire to help people be their best self not to mention her courage to break away from to start her own business.

Enjoy this month's Rungs of Learning with Jennifer!

Going back to early in career, why did you get into marketing in the first place?

People are often surprised to hear that my major in college is in quantitative business analysis. I loved math and I found out that quantitative business analysis was the highest paying position out of undergrad. I was very motivated by that at the time, but I ended up not being very happy in that as a career because it was a very isolated and independent position. I came to realize how energized I am about people and understanding people and what makes them tick so it was the consumer insight realm of marketing that got me curious.

So much of my early life was motivated by external things like my position, job title and how much money I made. I was not really understanding enough about myself and what motivated me and was blind to listening to a lot of other people at the time. But, when I got promoted to a manager position, it started to click for me that I loved the people part.

What’s a significant learning moment you’ve taken from your time at General Mills and at Starbucks?

At General Mills, their learning environment is super structured. It was there that I learned what it means to be “kind” versus “nice” as a manager. I was managing a team and one of my direct reports was really struggling. My manager told me that this person was “on the river of denial”. He had a hard time seeing he wasn’t performing, and I thought being nice and supportive was what he needed. My boss helped me see the difference of being nice and being kind and, that no matter how much I was trying to help, I needed to help the person move on to a place and career where he would perform and be happy.

At Starbucks, I worked for a manager named Tom Barr when I was on the food team. He was one of my favorite servant leaders and I was a senior director on his team. We were doing a really big presentation to the senior leadership team and my team just rocked it. One of the more junior directors came up to present after my team did and it did not go well for them – they missed a lot of stuff, didn’t anticipate some of the questions and it didn’t look good. I was on a high afterward, practically skipping down the hallway when Tom pulled me into his office to give me some feedback about the meeting which initially shocked me. He said “Jen, you’re a senior director in this company. If you’re going to be a leader in this company, you need to take care of everyone”, referring the junior director. I was so wrapped up in my own performance that I didn’t see this coming for the more junior team member. It hurt my ego and was an emotional learning, but it hit home. I learned your job as a leader is to look out for everyone.

How did you decide to leave corporate America to start your own coaching business?

I started to think about it when I noticed I was not feeling like I was myself and I couldn’t figure out why. I was a VP at Starbucks at the time and was driven by a lot of external things, but I was unhappy. I started to journal moments of sadness and frustration and moments of highlights. What I discovered in that process is that the lowlights and the places I was getting stuck was when I was dealing with politics at work, or I felt my time spent pushing my agenda in the organization wasn’t returning value. The highlights were getting people promoted, helping people get promoted and learn new things and being a mentor.

Even with that insight, I still didn’t have the courage to leave corporate America or Starbucks. Then one day, an HR manager I worked with pulled me into a room and said “Jen, are you happy?” I was shocked - I couldn’t remember a time in my career when anyone at work asked me that. Even though I’m such an optimist, he could see it on my face and in my step that I wasn’t feeling like myself. He offered to help me with this, and I felt like a guardian angel fell in my lap. He helped me exit the organization in the way that was right for me and on my terms, with dignity and respect. It was hard but I felt a sense of relief and such gratitude that someone had the courage to do that.

Did you know that you wanted to be a coach post corporate America? How did you prepare to be a coach? The journaling I did kept leading to the energy I get from helping people and I’m good at it. I coach people on superpowers, and I realized this is my superpower. People kept telling me that I see things in them they didn’t see in themselves. I started really listening to others and got really quiet and listening to what was really making me happy.

I knew that the transition to being a professional coach would not be hard because I was interested in the topic. I took an Ipec certification course, knowing that if I’m not meant to be a coach, it’s okay because I’ll get some awesome training that will make me a better leader.

What learnings have you had about being a solopreneur and building your business?

While the coaching part has come easy, I didn’t know how hard it would be to be an entrepreneur. Others told me it would take five years to make a business of it, but I had no idea how hard it would be.

When you’re in the corporate environment, you’ve learned to be successful in that system. When you leave that world and are by yourself, a lot of that learning and those skills do not apply. You’re starting from scratch and it’s all on you. It’s a big transition.

I get energy from others and your clients aren’t there the first day when you open the doors. It takes a lot of work and time for people to come in the door and I needed to continue to engage with others for motivation and inspiration and I needed to figure that out.

Fortunately, the coaching certification program I went through required lots of hours of peer coaching which created a community. I plugged into a lot of women’s networks and reaching out to people like you to learn from them. I continue to be amazed how willing women are to support you, help you and talk with you. It’s like they are as interested in seeing you be successful. I had to be willing to knock on doors which is different than corporate where everything is curated for you in a way. On your own, you have to pick up the phone and be a lot bolder. You have to be unafraid to ask.

I hear of a lot of people looking for a coach or a mentor. How do people distinguish between the two?

I like to say I’m a mentor-coach. I use that term because when I tell people I’m a former marketing executive, people say “she gets it” – I’ve been in their shoes, I know what it’s like to lead large teams, have P&L ownership and navigate organizations. I’m coaching around leadership mostly but understand the context they are coming from. I can move around in the consulting space too. For example, I had a client who went from a senior director to a SVP overnight and now she’s reporting to the President. We had a lot of conversations about what’s on her agenda, the structure of her organization, etc. and she appreciated it and needed it.

When I went through my coach certification, it’s pure coaching and about holding up the mirror. You don’t offer your experience or recommendations and asking probing, very curious questions that helps them solve their own problems. Because when they do that, the answer is so much more powerful.

What are you focused your learning on these days?

I’m on a journey of excellence of the Positive Intelligence mental fitness training. I believe it’s an incredibly powerful tool for individuals who have been dealing with saboteurs for a long time. Every time I take someone through it, I learn something about myself. It can be a life changing experience.

On a personal note, I’ll be taking over the role of President of the board of directors of the Green Apron Alliance (a nonprofit organization for Starbucks alumni founded by Starbucks alumni). I have a lot to learn about the nonprofit world, the individuals on the team and step back into strategic planning and teamwork to see where we can take this organization. I’m excited to get back into working this way.

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