(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Astrid Schrader is the founder of The Arc – an international Master Mind supporting purpose-driven individuals to build something that inspires themselves and others – whether that’s their own business, writing a book or taking the next level in their organisation. The Arc organizes bootcamps, retreats and online programmes for high impact individuals, mainly founders but also top talent in corporations, startups or NGOs.
Astrid is a former management consultant, freelance negotiator and facilitator turned entrepreneur, and worked with 100+ organisations all across the globe.
What makes you do what you do?
Having been a volunteer trainer at dozens of social ventures I ended up getting certified as a coach and mediator in my early twenties. I was at the UN in 2008 assisting the German government in the negotiations for the youth resolution when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt and I had this vague fear that: Unless my entrepreneur friends – be it non-profit or for-profit – start to be better leaders, their ventures are going to seriously struggle. I literally was scared to see them all suffer.
The crisis came, hit many of them worse than I had imagined at that time, but we started out organizing these bootcamps asking: Who do YOU dare to be and which IMPACT do you want to stand for? In short, we say: We coach you to a level where your impact is inspirational to yourself and to others.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
I am not sure if can say that I “rose” in the coaching industry. We are not crazily well known. I know though that the way we coach people has much better results than average coaching or leadership programmes. 96% of our alumni say The Arc is the best or one of the best training they ever attended. As a result of The Arc, 70% pull off something which they believed to be utterly impossible beforehand.
The way we got to that level? A ridiculous amount of global exposure to training and coaching techniques ranging from army teambuilding to methods from the natives of the Amazon rainforest and years of experience. We are also completely numbers driven. We track and evaluate ten times more than any other coaching company I know. That way we have tweaked and optimized our events at a crazy level of detail.
Why did you take on this role, especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
BAM. That was the hardest decision for me to ever make in my life. I was scared shitloads to be an entrepreneur. For five years I had led The Arc next to a consulting job. So I knew about the difficulties around scalability and financials in people-driven businesses. In year six my team took me aside telling me that with a product that is that much loved and a team that is dying to work more on this, I really shouldn’t be the bottleneck here. That’s when I quit my job. Against all odds.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I really struggle to find inspiring trainers and coaches. To me, too many people become a coach as some sort of self-therapy.
My biggest mentor is Magdalena Musiala. She is a gifted and hyper-intuitive facilitator from Sweden, has been my big sister in the process ever since. I still ask her for advice on core decisions of The Arc.
How did you make a match if you did, and how did you end up being mentored by him/her?
When starting The Arc I was desperate for mentorship, didn’t find anyone, and realized that it is easy to get lost in the search for a mentor whilst I should really be running the company.
Nowadays I meet my mentors on the go. Just like Magdalena. I say: You know it’s a fit when I get goose pimples from the knowledge the person brings along and the leadership she or he radiates. But those are just my criteria. If I want a mentor these days I’d just walk up to that person and ask.
Only yesterday one of our alumni sent us an email saying that in the attempt to write a book she asked one of Portugal’s most renowned writers as her mentor. He willed it and without any background in the writing industry (she is an engineer by training) she is now getting published. I made the experience that most people will happily be mentors provided that YOU structure yourself i.e. be prepared for any meetings and communicate when the mentoring relationship officially ends.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow, and support your talent?
I have a bunch of ultra-critical and tough-love trainers on The Arc who are known for cutting through people’s bullshit. That includes me. They are my biggest mirror, my biggest motivator. Their feedback, advice, and support is what keeps me up at night and lets me sleep calmly at the same time.
Maintaining an overwhelming level of quality in the trainers needs to be our #1 priority. Sure, we organize certifications for our trainers, but most importantly: We walk the talk. You can’t ask participants to leave their comfort zone if you yourself don’t. Hence, our feedback rounds are the most honest, hard, and freeing. We challenge each other to face our fears and treat our own personal growth seriously. If an Arc trainer is scared of one particular task e.g. to really rock a public speaking engagement, chances are that one of the other trainers will organize it for you 😉
We also celebrate like crazy. I think the best moment of last year was when on one event I was blindfolded, then carried to our aula where around 60 alumni wrapped me into paper streamers, put on my favourite song to go wild altogether. There is loads of stage diving on Arc parties.
What I had to learn was that I cannot develop everyone myself. I can only set a certain culture and jump first.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
Consciously! Full stop.
We work with people. If I can only truly connect to 40% of the audience, someone who is similar to me will make that to 60%. But with someone who is very different, we might cover up to 90% together.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Results. To me, you are a great coach if your clients get results that they have not believed to be possible. And these results are not an accidental by-product but the centre of your coaching.
Around 5% of the coaching industry manages this – in my humble opinion.
Advice for others?
In coaching, we struggle with the idea of advice because we think that we rarely hear advice that is so brilliant that people actually act on it. Instead, we like questions. My favourite question is (guess what): Who will YOU dare to be and which IMPACT do you want to stand for?
If you’d like to get in touch with Astrid Schrader, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/astrid-schrader/
To learn more about TheArcTraining.org, please click here.