Women in Business Q&A: Cyndie Spiegel

04/05/2015 04:50 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2015

Cyndie Spiegel is a Brooklyn-based Small Business Consultant, Coach, and Speaker specializing in strategy for creative entrepreneurs. Her motivational coaching and strategy sessions have inspired creative start-ups, independent entrepreneurs, and renowned luxury designers alike, helping them to develop extraordinary businesses and lives.

Before launching her current practice, she spent 15 years on the business side of the New York fashion industry. She's also an Adjunct Professor at Parson's School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology where she teaches students how to passionately navigate life, fashion, and entrepreneurship in an ever-changing creative world. She's wildly devoted to yoga, bold lip color, and supporting others to fearlessly follow their entrepreneurial dreams.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up with very little money but was taught the value of an education and accountability from a young age. The idea of dreaming big wasn't a question because I was often told that I could do anything that I set my mind on. I always knew that I could create the life I hoped for by working hard. With the exception of my mom, I'm the only woman in a family of men, which taught me to be straightforward and fearless. I was also the first in my immediate family to receive a college degree. {My mom has since gone back to school and will receive her Bachelor's Degree in May!} I'm also a yoga and meditation teacher, which continuously teaches me kindness and compassion. These experiences coupled with a career in fashion and global business taught me to be a curious empathetic leader with a penchant for helping others succeed.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure as a business coach?
Having incredible mentors and bosses throughout my career showed me how to lead a team with empathy and compassion. Working as a Director on the development and business side of fashion taught me structure, problem solving, cultural understanding and how to lead others with intention. Becoming a yoga teacher and a professor linked all of that together; and lead me to becoming an empathetic but straightforward business coach for creative entrepreneurs.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a business coach?
I'm still learning, everyday. The highlight of my career as a Strategist and Coach is working with creative small business owners that deserve to be supported and witnessing their successes firsthand. A conversation and connection has such a huge impact on their confidence and therefore their ability to create a thriving business.

The most challenging component of being a coach is that ultimately, the accountability for these businesses relies solely on the actions of the owners and sometimes, those decisions aren't in alignment with what I'd recommend. Over time, I've learned that my role is to coach with integrity and then let go of the end result. This has proven incredibly successful in work and in life.

What advice can you offer to women who want to start their own business?
The number one piece of advice that I offer women business owners is to build a network of support amongst other women. If you can't find an existing network that feels authentic, then create one. It will grow. Supporting, uplifting and sharing with one another is the strongest way to grow a business. More than ever, collaboration is overtaking the concept of competition in the profitable small business world. I recently founded a group called The Collective (of Us), which is based on this exact principal because together, we all rise.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
One of the most important lessons that I've learned is that people have a desire and need to be heard. That sounds simple but for small business owners, there isn't always the platform to share one's experience and be listened to. The same goes for employees of larger organizations, which is where I spent a lot of my career. This goes beyond suggestion boxes and "skip-level" meetings with senior organization leaders. By allowing people to authentically share their stories, ideas and opinions, an atmosphere of mutual trust, creative freedom and loyalty is built. From that foundation, anything is possible.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
In all honesty, there isn't much differentiation between the two. My work is an inherent part of my life and so much of what I do is based around doing the work that I love (i.e. networking with women, teaching, attending conferences etc.) There are times when I need a break but mostly, I'm conscientious about it by staying actively engaged in my spirituality and relationships with friends and family. These components of my life keep me grounded and supported.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I'm sure this is controversial but often times, I think women are the biggest issue for women in the workplace. I spent a large part of my career in corporate brands and there's an underlying acceptance and support for women who attempt to succeed regardless of who else they step on in the process. It's a "mean girl" mentality that is being perpetuated because junior employees are afraid of these women and senior leadership often feels like it isn't worth the effort to go toe to toe with them as long as they are successfully achieving profitable "results," which they do, through fear and bullying. What I'm referring to is much more calculated than women being driven but instead, it's often targeted selfishness usually perpetuated by putting other women down rather than helping one another collectively rise through the ranks.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having the support of mentors has allowed me incredible opportunities that I otherwise would not have experienced. I think of mentors as conduits of information and networks rather than someone to teach me their way of thinking.

I travelled to China on business for the first time when I was 22 years old. My mentor and former boss believed in my vision even though I lacked experience. She inherently trusted my view of the world and exposed me to empowering leadership at a very young age, which eventually taught me to respect my own ideas and to honor those of others, regardless of "rank".

Later in my career, while working a full-time job with a staff reporting in to me, my then boss and mentor supported me in going to Graduate School. I completed an international business degree that took me across the world multiple times during that 18-month period. My mentor taught me how to manage my team remotely and then gave me the tools to lead effectively while multitasking and empowering my own team's growth. Without either of these women mentors, I would not be where I am today.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
There isn't necessarily one specific female leader that I'd say I admire. I admire leaders who take risks on themselves and others, who make mistakes openly and dust themselves off and those who choose the path less travelled. Too err is human and I admire leaders who choose to be vulnerable while still being incredibly strong, determined and successful.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
Over the next year, my goal is to slowly build the Collective (of Us) and create a paradigm shift for woman creative small business owners. Through intentional empowerment and sharing of networks, resources and experience, we will shift the perspective that women entrepreneurs have about themselves as business leaders. The end goal should be more than just financial gain. My goal is that there is a clear understanding that success should come from collaboration and empowerment rather than competition, especially amongst women. Collectively, our businesses can be built on a foundation of empathy, compassion and profitability. This applies to small businesses as well as larger corporations.