Christina Foxwell knew something was not quite right; she just could not exactly put her finger on it. After working exhaustively, coaching and training executives in the area of management and leadership skills in Australia, she was not seeing the results she was hoping for.

After a long and comprehensive reflection, it occurred to her that the issue was not related to the trainer or the trainees; it all came down to what the training was focused on. Traditional leadership training was centred around hard skills and a logic-centric approach. What was missing, she determined, was leadership training that incorporated empathy and other “soft skill” emotional qualities.

In 2012, Christina Foxwell took this newfound insight and founded Ignite Purpose, a professional coaching operation based on the notion that people are central to the success of every organisation. At Ignite Purpose, Christina Foxwell seeks to help businesses reach their full potential by helping employees reach theirs.

Rather than denying the importance of skills and logic, Christina Foxwell believes that, at its core, skill is derived from a logical and emotional connection. Those two facets have to come together for an individual to truly find wisdom.

The results of this approach speak for themselves. Since launching Ignite Purpose in 2012, Christina Foxwell has helped several huge businesses such as Clorox, Newscorp and GSK to improve their overall leadership capabilities.

Christina Foxwell discussed with WiFB’s Ramia El Agamy and LiquidGold’s Susanne Bransgrove the disconnect between theory and practice of leadership best practices, the difference in coaching men and women and coaching to bridge the generational divide.

This episode of Conversations with Women in Family Business is co-produced with Susanne Bransgrove, director of LiquidGold Consultants.


Do you believe the disconnect between the theory and the application of leadership best practices is found universally or is it specific to Australia?

C: I would say it is a global phenomenon. Regardless of where we come from, we are all told that if we study and get good grades, we will be successful. That notion is ingrained into our logical brain.

In practice, I have seen many people who gather information but never follow through on it. This is especially true in the leadership space. Knowledge alone is not going to help you become what you want to be; change requires action and practice that builds on that foundation of knowledge.

What is the difference in the way you approach coaching women as compared to men?

C: Women in leadership roles suffer from different stresses than men. We are often more complex because we are trying to be everything – a good mom, a good wife, a good partner, a brilliant businesswoman. In coaching, I have found that empathy and connection work best with women because they are open and connect more easily on an emotional level.

The ratio of men to women in leadership positions is lower in Australia than in many other parts of the world. Why do you feel this is?

S: Statistically speaking, a slightly higher involvement at the leadership and board level of women in family businesses can be observed, but the percentages are still not very high – approximately 22 per cent in senior leadership positions and 14 per cent in board roles.

However, we are seeing a change in traditional family business practices. In previous generations, it was always a male-to-male transition of control of the business. Today, the matriarch plays a bigger role in fostering family harmony and keeping things fair and equitable.

C: About eight years ago, Richard Branson spoke at a women’s breakfast in Melbourne about empowering women on his executive team. He asked the audience whether they would like to move into an executive role. I was one of only about 5 per cent who stood.

I am certain one of the main reasons why many others did not stand is that there is a price to pay in the form of acceptance in the community. Is it the right thing to do? Are we going to be ridiculed? Is it worth being away from my children? These dilemmas are still a huge stumbling block in Australia.

What role do you believe women have in empowering other women to succeed in achieving leadership positions?

C: As a matter of fact, women are harder on women in the workplace and often treat each other in a way that men do not. Some women would rather report to a man than a woman because the man might give them more opportunity to grow than a woman would.

S: Years ago, I held a workshop for the upcoming female leadership of a bank. One of the points I made to them was that it seems to be easier for a woman to target other women because you feel that you know how to tackle them. Whereas with the men, we don’t understand the games. I encouraged them to not take the women next to them down and, instead, find ways to collaborate and grow together.

Coaching Leaders Through Empathy and Emotional Intelligence
Adroa Fertility NSW -Making IVF affordable for families. Image courtesy of Christina Foxwell.

What do you believe is the biggest obstacle preventing this type of collaboration amongst women from happening more?

C: The problem is the sense of competition that has been ingrained in us since the dawn of time. Not going for the win makes us vulnerable, which is something we try to avoid because we are scared of judgment and the bully behaviour that often happens with other women.

I experienced it myself when I partnered with an executive. Our relationship was very challenging because I felt that I was not getting what I needed for my business area to be successful. I perceived it as sabotage, and the situation put immense stress and pressure on me from a mental perspective.

This is our challenge and the biggest obstacle we have to overcome. How do we as women stand next to each other and rise together? How can we start treating each other with love and compassion? How do we remove judgment and seek ways in which we can win side by side?

I often felt excluded and sometimes judged by the other mothers at my children’s school because I was not always around to attend plays and sporting activities due to my job. We need to allow women the choice and not judge them for it.

What are the main challenges men encounter when trying to empower women in the workplace?

C: I have seen several instances where men are trying to make space for women to rise. In their case, the main challenge is that they do not know how to connect with women because they are not wired exactly like us. They want to show empathy, but they do not want to get in trouble for crossing the line.

Some male leaders are even too generous. They are not challenging the women enough, which means they are not helping them grow the way they need to. The key to overcoming this challenge is to assess women’s potential and define how they can bring it to fruition for the business.

With the millennial generation expected to step into executive roles around 2030, how is this conversation going to change?

S: The conversation will eventually shift because the younger generation has a completely different perspective on how they relate to each other. I find that they are much more accepting of each other, and whether you are a boy or a girl is not quite as important anymore.

From accommodations to jobs, everything is changing for them so rapidly. The next-gens have accepted that it is better to support each other and fight together rather than turning against each other.

The generations who currently still hold power are trying to transition to the new world order, but they are still adhering to old rules, and that is where a disconnect is formed. This is going to be the focus of the conversation for the next 10 years.

C: I recently talked with a leadership team about the future leadership that is required to harness the strengths of the younger generation. They believe that next-gens are going to be more human-focused even though they are very technology engaged. They are going to seek out human peace, and they are going to want to be recognised for connection. They use a different language, practice meditation and talk about empathy.

I think that there’s going to be a significant shift in the way business leaders relate to their employees. It will not be about rules alone; rather, it will be about encouraging humans to be the best they can be. That means we will have to be clearer, kinder and more engaged, which are all the female attributes coming to life.

I truly believe that the female connecting piece will grow over time because it is no longer being framed as a male or female approach. There is a different righteousness coming in our new generation around how they see the world, and we have to be ready for that.

About Susanne Bransgrove and LiquidGold Consultants: 

Susanne Brainsgrove

Susanne Bransgrove, one of the directors of LiquidGold Consultants, is known for her passion for supporting Families in Business manage the complexities of balancing multiple generations and for encouraging female founders and future leaders to be the best they can be. Growing up in Germany as part of a third-generation family business has provided her with a sound foundation for understanding the range of issues that arise when family members work together. Susanne puts her heart into the businesses and individuals she spends time with and believes in a strong foundation of love and compassion.