Powerful Women Interview Series: Charlotte Rooney’s Strategic Playbook — Insights for Success in Business 2024

An interview with Natalie Ruiz

Natalie Ruiz
13 min readApr 4, 2024
Charlotte Rooney

As part of my Powerful Women series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Rooney. She is a Women’s Leadership Coach, Mentor, and Founder of A Half Managed Mind. She helps ambitious women stop firefighting and start leading strategically so that they can have more impact in their careers by teaching them how to leverage their team, their strengths, and their influence to get things done without doing it all themselves — because she believes that success shouldn’t come at the cost of a life you love. I am so excited to share more about Charlotte and her insights into leadership, equality, and the outlook for women leaders!

How would you describe your leadership style, and how has it evolved over the years?

When I started managing people in my teens, I thought that being more present was helpful — I was one of the classic unintentional micro-managers who was regularly checking in with people to “see how they were getting on”, which I thought was useful because it means that I was always up to date about all the projects and, I believed, meant that I could help them solve any problems they had. What I now know is that my style was both patronizing and demotivating — people don’t like being “checked in with” because it feels to them like you don’t trust them and want to control what they do.

So now, my leadership style is pretty flexible — I try to adapt it to the situation and the person in question. After a slightly rocky (and over-enthusiastic) start, I learned to use a more empowering and hands-off leadership approach. I learned how to hire people with the skills, potential, and desire to do well. Then, I agree on clear aims with the people I am leading and leave as much of the detail as possible to them. My role then becomes making sure that they have what they need to stay on course, and can jump in to help when they ask for it.

Can you share your vision for your organization or industry in 2024? What key goals are you working towards?

My goal in 2024 is to help at least 100 women get the promotion or role they dream of — and then be able to enjoy it! I think that women who would be incredible leaders are often not getting the opportunity to show that — to themselves and their bosses, and I desperately want to change that. But most of us don’t want to be senior leaders if that means we have to give up on brunch with friends at the weekend, seeing our kids’ school plays and sports events, or having date nights through which we can stay awake! So I also want to help women who are already in leadership roles find ways of being more effective so that they can be happier in their work (and get all the knock-on benefits that not being on the brink of burnout will bring to the rest of their lives, their families and their friends).

I’m also looking to collaborate with more companies to support their learning & development paths for women in leadership. Training managers to lead and manage well has a direct impact on a company’s bottom line because it makes everyone in the organization happier, more productive, and more likely to stay. While I love working with women individually, to really scale the impact, I want to be able to work with corporates, too, where I will be able to reach more women and create a ripple effect of empowered and motivated women in leadership who can then go on to nurture their teams.

The coaching & mentoring industry continues to grow, as does the corporate wellness industry, which is worth multiple billions per year in the UK alone. There is more and more recognition of the importance of good management in employee wellbeing and company profitability, which is a great thing — and I believe an increasing recognition of the value add that coaching brings to any existing L&D pathways for leaders.

What do you see as the main challenges for women leaders in 2024, and how do you plan to address them?

There are plenty, so I won’t even attempt to list them all! I think that the biggest challenges for women remain fairly constant: Unequal distribution of expectations and responsibilities in the home & family, biases and dual standards for what is seen as leadership behavior between men & women, socialization of women into “helper” stereotypes, not enough flexibility in working times & styles to accommodate women in leadership roles. I could go on for a while!

Dual standards for women leaders are very much still in effect (often unconsciously — I don’t want to minimize in any way the ways in which people and organizations are trying to improve things). Behaviors that men are rewarded for, like being decisive, expressing strong opinions, disagreeing publicly — or refusing to do work that doesn’t move their career forward, are all behaviors that get women labeled as unhelpful, overbearing, aggressive, or uncooperative. And then, to top it off, they're seen as “not ready for leadership” because they don’t behave like men from the 1980s. Continuing to call that out and allowing people to address their biases is crucial.

On a more personal level, many of the women I work with don’t quite know the “rules of the game.” They still think that if they keep their heads down and work hard, they will be rewarded. Or that promotion comes from being really good at what you do now, being constantly busy, being the person who is always willing to jump in and help — and in general, going above and beyond in their current role. And all of those things are actually counterproductive if they want to be seen as leaders. I work with women to challenge all of those beliefs and help them to shift the way they are seen at work — without having to give up on what they value most.

In 2024, I am starting a new offering to help more women get promoted into the roles they deserve and want. I’ll be creating an inclusive & supportive group environment where I’ll be sharing everything I know about how to “play the game” without giving up on your values. Because of the setup, the participants will also have access to the support & experience of other women in similar situations. There’s incredible power in the community — not only for the person receiving the wisdom of her colleague but also for the women offering it. The feeling that you’re “not good enough” or that someone will call you out as not being as qualified as you think is so common, and one of the best ways of combatting it is to have the opportunity to help others — and to know that you’re not alone (and there’s nothing wrong with you!). I’m really excited about the potential here to increase female representation in leadership and also for those women to feel like they belong there.

Are there specific opportunities you believe women leaders can leverage in the coming years?

The fact that younger workers will outnumber baby boomers in the workplace from next year is a huge opportunity for standards and expectations to shift as the old guard retires. Women leaders have the chance to step up and be the kind of leader that Gen Z wants — more caring, more personal, interested in balance and work, which is fulfilling and interesting as well as lucrative. If overwork is no longer glorified in the same way, that removes one of the biggest barriers to advancement that many women have had to navigate: how to balance work and having a family.

How do you plan to lead your team or organization through uncertainty in a rapidly changing landscape?

Being a team of one right now gives me incredible agility to adapt to changes. The bigger risk is actually becoming too responsive and needing to give strategies more time to play out and show whether or not they are working. My strategy for that is to make sure that any changes I make to my business model are considered, based on data — and the impacts are continually monitored afterwards to see what is working and what isn’t. Keeping a curious mind & a strong sense of separation between my work & my worth will also be fundamental parts of my 2024 business plan.

Can you share a specific instance where you successfully navigated a significant change, and what lessons did you learn from that experience?

One of the most significant changes in my career was moving from humanitarian aid with Save the Children into management consulting at McKinsey. I completely underestimated how much of a culture shift it would be and how much of a mindset shift going from the person in charge of an emergency response to the most junior analyst in the room full of consultants would be. It was a rough ride for a while. Still, I learned a few valuable things

■ The way people see you is hugely context-dependent (I started getting feedback that was diametrically opposite to what I had heard for my entire career up until that point!) — so finding the right place for you will make a significant difference in your job satisfaction.

■ Being too quick off the mark will often mean that you end up doing more work than necessary, so it pays to take the time to think it through first

■ Failing fast and getting feedback quickly might be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster (until you learn to keep feedback about your work instead of about you.) Still, it is the most efficient route to the best possible output. You’ve got to learn to use feedback!

How do you prioritize diversity and inclusion in your leadership approach, and what steps are you taking to promote a more inclusive environment?

For me, personally, the key thing is to keep challenging my assumptions and asking for input and feedback from people around me. We all have unconscious biases, whether we like it or not — so the best we can do is to keep trying to be aware of them and learn and course correct as best we can continuously. That often looks like running towards what makes me uncomfortable, or ideas which I react strongly against. Whenever I instantly reject something, I know it’s an opportunity to examine my biases!

In your opinion, why is diversity important for the success of an organization, and how do you ensure diverse voices are heard?

Diversity and equal access matter for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is a question of equity — and I believe that ensuring people have equal chances of entering and thriving in an organization matters just because of that.

Secondly, there is the business case for diversity & inclusion: if you want to increase your company’s performance, the essential thing is to find people with different experiences, educational & social backgrounds, perspectives, and ways of thinking (and then create an environment where those things don’t get trained out of them or not listened to!) We can use demographic markers as proxies for that (and there is, of course, a lot of intersection and overlap between demographic markers of diversity and life experiences.) Still, if we insist that there’s only one way to do things, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. We need all kinds of diversity (including neurodiversity) to get the full benefits.

The more different ways of thinking you have when trying to solve problems, the faster you’ll find the answer and the more efficient it will be. It’s also important to have different perspectives on what a good solution looks like. Think about mobile phones: they are amazing computers now, and cameras, and video cameras and TVs which are all great things to have. But most of them are too big to hold and use with one hand, or to carry easily in a pocket — if there had been more moms on the design panels, I can guarantee that those features would have been considered more important!

To achieve that, you need to look at the whole process — from the way you word your job adverts (is your language unconsciously “masculine” and therefore off-putting for people who don’t see themselves as “ambitious self-starters” for example) to how you select and hire (do you remove names and identifiers from CVs to reduce biases in filtering?), what your onboarding looks like (do you tell people how to do things, for example, or ask them what they see that they would change or challenge?) And then what kind of culture exists in your teams, your meetings, your decision-making?

It requires a lot of safety for people to challenge and speak up and a lot of self-assurance for someone to hear a challenge and not react defensively. That means you need to train & support your leaders, reward innovative ideas, invite people to speak up — and be prepared to listen when they do.

I once worked for an organization that had a value they called “the obligation to dissent” — as in, if you disagreed with a solution in a problem-solving meeting, you should feel that it was your job to speak up and disagree. I love that as an idea — but it has to be backed up with a hierarchy that doesn’t squash junior people and ways of communicating which allow for quieter people, introverts, or people who like to have time to think about things first to be able to contribute generously.

Have you had mentors or role models who have influenced your leadership style? How has mentorship played a role in your career?

Honestly, I didn't have as many as I would have liked because I didn’t learn how to find, engage with, and use mentors early in my career. I was often working in highly isolated environments (sometimes days' travel from the nearest town with no internet or cell phone coverage), and that is something that, I think, slowed my development as a leader. Now I’ve set up a business to offer that opportunity to more women because having mentors (along with your sponsors, peers & coaches) is a great way to accelerate your learning. I’ve also deliberately sought mentorship now from other entrepreneurs who are running the type of successful business I want to have, and I am finding it not only operationally useful but also emotionally supportive.

How do you prioritize leadership development within your organization, especially for women aspiring to leadership roles?

My entire organization is dedicated to providing the training, mentoring, and coaching women need to be successful leaders. Training leaders to manage effectively to create inclusive, safe & productive environments for their teams and themselves is at the heart of what I teach. It combines personal awareness and mastery with leveraging their skills, strengths, and influence to have the greatest impact they can.

I don’t have employees yet, though I expect to bring on some people in 2024. It will be a few years before I have managers in my organization, but I will be choosing the people who work with me based on the potential they have to drive parts of the business under their remit, whether they have teams or not.

What legacy do you hope to leave as a leader, and how do you hope to inspire future generations of leaders?

There are two key ways I like to think about this. I’d love to be an example of successful female leadership as an entrepreneur and business owner, showing a counter example to all the “bro” CEOs you see on social media who tell you about how they have only taken three days of holiday in the last 20 years, and have never put their children to bed because they were sacrificing it all at the alter of success… Because there are other ways to run successful businesses, I think that most women, and maybe even most people, no longer want that balance in their lives. I run my business part-time so that I can travel, spend time with my family & friends, and have time to continuously learn new skills or hobbies that interest me — that is the model of leadership success I would like to inspire future generations.

Secondly, I would love to disrupt the current thinking in corporates about how we choose who ends up as a leader and how they are supported. For me, management is a skillful career in and of itself — not just something that should be tacked on to someone’s job description because they’re a great technical expert or because they needed a pay rise… I hope to leave a legacy where managers are people who genuinely want to lead others, who have the talent and skill, and who have been trained in evidence-based management and leadership techniques.

In what ways are you actively working to create opportunities for the next generation of leaders?

Right now, mainly through helping women to feel confident and ready to access or create opportunities for leadership in their careers. So many incredibly capable women self-select out of leadership opportunities because they think they can’t be leaders and still be people they like and respect. They think that they will have to be ready to cancel vacations at a moment’s notice because the job might require it, or that they will have to be less open & friendly with staff if they are senior leaders, or even just simply that to be promoted they will have to become braggarts who oversell themselves to be noticed… I am working to change all of that and to empower future leaders to see that they don’t have to compromise their values to be leaders. Just because other people might have done it that way, doesn’t mean you have to.

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us! This interview was inspirational, and I wish you continued success!

🌸 About the Author:

Natalie Ruiz is the CEO of AnswerConnect and often says that her path to success has been unconventional, which fuels her to continue to challenge assumptions about what work, success, and the concept of balance in life look like.

Natalie is an award-winning executive recognized as Female Executive of the Year and for Women Helping Women by the Stevie Award Association and a Woman of Influence by the Portland Business Journal.

Outside of her day job, she volunteers as an executive board member at PDXWIT, speaks on international stages, lends her voice and words to podcasts and publications, and seeks in all that she does to leave people and places better than she finds them.

Connect with Natalie here: on Medium, on LinkedIn, and Instagram

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Natalie Ruiz

Tech CEO. Mom. Non-Profit Board Member. Working to normalize belonging at work. Living in gratitude. Trying to leave people and places better than I find them.