Serving The People: Redefining Leadership with Coco Brown

Companies around the world mostly care about one thing — profit. Even if they say people are their most important assets, many businesses still put profit over people when things get difficult. We've recently seen massive tech layoffs attributed to the economic downturn, inflation, and overhiring. If people are a company's most important assets, why are they the first to go when times are rough? Employees are the heart of a company. Companies should be serving the people working in them too.

Coco Brown joins us today to discuss what it means to be a leader in today's businesses. She also shares the importance of creating a diverse workforce and how leaders can create change in their organizations. She also shares Athena Alliance, a community for women and executives to learn and support one another in career development. 

For anyone out there aiming to start serving the people through better leadership, this conversation is for you.

3 Reasons to Listen:

  1. Discover the current state of businesses and how there's a critical need to create diverse workplaces. 
  2. Understand current trends in leadership and how to be a leader serving the people you lead. 
  3. Learn about Coco’s questions to help you reflect on your organizational culture. 


About Coco

Coco Brown is the founder and CEO of The Athena Alliance, an Executive Learning Community dedicated to helping women accelerate their leadership advancement. Coco is an expert in shaping the modern boardroom and modern leadership. She has extensive experience as a board member and advisor of several organizations, including Nasdaq, ArcherPoint, Athena Rising Foundation, DevOpsGroup, Executive Kinections, and Loggly. 

Before establishing The Athena Alliance, she was the President and COO of Taos. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Psychology. 

You can connect with Coco on LinkedIn.

Episode Highlights

[01:32] About Coco and Athena Alliance

  • Coco is working to redefine and revolutionize the way senior leaders advance their careers. 
  • Athena Alliance works with women only.
  • Coco believes women need more support. 

[02:54] The Current State of Business

  • Business models are constantly changing. Old models can't keep up. 
  • Learning in the current model now requires learning from people who have done similar things. 
  • Athena Alliance also helps companies stay on top of recent global trends and changes. 
  • Interconnectedness today is built on sales and recruiting rather than finding the right people to talk to. 
  • Coco shares how Athena Alliance is similar to a college campus where people learn and build social connections with each other.  

[09:48] Creating an Abundant Community 

  • Athena Alliance serves women. They consciously move toward serving their people through a more supportive community. 
  • Coco shares it’s important to let go of the scarcity mindset and embrace an abundant mindset.
  • The alliance fosters social connections through virtual salons and peer groups.
  • Coco shares the motto "come as you are," which is especially important in a circle of women. Women have more pressure around appearances compared to men. 

[17:19] We’re All Biased 

  • GitHub, a software repository, anonymized data and found that women's software gets accepted 4% more often than men's. 
  • However, when they don’t anonymize the data, the acceptance rate for women is less than 50%. 
  • Throughout history, white men have been steeped in business and politics while women focus on family and society. 
  • Not only that, most women carry the bulk of familial responsibilities. When women want to build a career, they need the flexibility to juggle their job and home responsibilities. Not all systems can offer that.

[26:39] Learning More About Coco

  • Coco was born in Malaysia. Her father is a professor at the University of Malaysia, while her mother was a social worker. 
  • Her father was researching cocoa beans as a commodity and thought it would be fun to name her after them. 
  • Coco's experience with her name had been a mix of positives and negatives. On the one hand, it's a memorable name. On the other hand, some want to change her name. 

[31:52] Coco’s Redefinition of Success 

  • She shares how she wrapped her identity to a company she worked for 17 years. 
  • Coco made Athena Alliance out of a dinner group with female chief information officers while thinking about what to do next. 
  • Now, Coco’s success is about changing the world for the better. Serving the people starts with us.
[34:07] “I had to redefine success as what I'm going to be for the world and how I'm going to change the world for the better, not just be a successful…leader of an IT company. I wanted to do something very, very meaningful in the world and do it by example.” - Click Here to Tweet This

[37:25] Identities, Success, and Happiness 

[40:01] “Identity [can] crush you, because if you can't put it in parallel to each other, then it can become the core resentment in the relationship…you get to keep moving forward, and I'm staying stuck.” - Click Here to Tweet This
  • Coco shares how she and her husband decided Coco would be the primary breadwinner based on their earnings. 
  • As Coco's job got bigger and bigger, she noticed her husband became 'Coco's husband.'
  • Identities can create resentment in the relationship when it’s not parallel to each other. 
  • Happiness comes from not getting our identities tied up to titles and comparison, then allowing yourself to define success on your own terms. 
[41:11] “Forget about the title… go for the role, go for what you're going to be doing, go for… whether it's additive and exciting, and those are the things... and the rest will figure itself out.” - Click Here to Tweet This

[43:48] Trends in Leadership 

  • Coco shares how businesses, like in Silicon Valley, say people are assets. But when it comes down to it, they value profits and growth above all else, no matter the cost. 
  • For example, Spotify made huge investments last year, and as soon as the economy became unstable, they let go of their workforce. 
  • Your business should consider responsible growth and sustainability when investing in something. 
  • There needs to be more people who care about change in leadership roles. Serving the people requires having better people make decisions.
[45:22] “Don't make the investments for growth at all costs right now, today. You make it because you believe that... [it] is going to make a sustainable business for the future. So when things get tough, you don't just cut to the bone. You stay the course.” - Click Here to Tweet This

[52:40] The Questions to Improve Your Organization

[57:11] “Has the company gone through a bad economic cycle?... To me, that's one of the biggest ways of learning what they really care about. And how you think about long-term sustainable growth.” - Click Here to Tweet This
  • Where are the women in your organization? What roles do they play?
  • Do you have strategies for creating a diverse workforce?
  • What do you do in tough times? How do you make decisions about what you invest in during those times?  
  • Most business owners know they need to make changes but few people take real action.
  • Many people only push change when it benefits them or affects something important to them.
[58:55] “Change happens because you want to change, change doesn't happen because you…should change [or] other people want you to change. Change happens because it becomes essential to you.” - Click Here to Tweet This

[01:00:09] Serving the People: How Athena Alliance Can Help You 

  • Companies can use Athena Alliance to hire diverse executives. They can post on their platforms for free. 
  • Looking for a more diverse workforce can be challenging because of pipeline problems, but it's possible. You just have to go out and find them. 
  • Athena Alliance welcomes people from all different kinds of industries. 

[01:03:48] Seek, Go, or Create? 

  • Coco believes more people need to be willing to seek information. 
  • She dislikes cancel culture because it doesn’t help anyone.
  • Coco believes we need to be empathetic when communicating with others.

Enjoy the Podcast?

Seek Go Create is for anyone seeking excellence, moving towards success, or creating something new. We share topics, stories, and conversations that allow us to rethink how we live, work, and lead. Serving the people — and by extension, finding success — requires we become better leaders. And as leaders, we have to create changes that benefit everyone.

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About the Podcast

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Seek Go Create
Redefining Success in Leadership, Business & Ministry

About your host

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Tim Winders

Tim Winders is a faith driven executive coach and author with over 40 years of experience in leadership, business, and ministry. Through his personal journey of redefining success, he has gained valuable insights on how to align beliefs with work and lead with purpose. He is committed to helping others do the same, running a coaching business that helps leaders, leadership teams, business owners, and entrepreneurs to align their beliefs with their work and redefine success.

In addition to his coaching business, Tim is also the host of the SeekGoCreate podcast and author of the book Coach: A Story of Success Redefined, which provides guidance for those looking to redefine success and align their beliefs with their work. With his extensive background, unique perspective and strengths in strategic thinking, relationship building, and problem-solving, Tim is well-suited to help clients navigate through difficult times and achieve their goals.