Removing your ego to make your company thrive with Sonya Lee

“It’s not about what I can do for you. It’s what this system or this method can do for you.” – Sonya Lee


If you feel like your business isn’t progressing…

Or that you keep having the same old issues within your company…

Maybe you aren’t attracting the right audience…

Whatever the situation, you most likely need to change more than one thing. Successful businesses aren’t created by doing the same thing over and over again. 


And that’s exactly what Sonya Lee, author, motivational speaker, business consultant, and an expert in customer behavior, psychology, user experience, design, and branding is here to talk about! In simpler words, Sonya is the person you call when you want your business to thrive.


We interviewed to get to know her processes, systems, and methods that guarantee growth in every business. Disney, eBay, Cisco, Skechers, Adobe, and AT&T are just some of the companies that she’s worked with and have helped her get a greater vision of how great businesses made it to the top.


Who is Sonya Lee 

Janine: Let’s start with a little bit about your background.

Sonya: My name is Sonya Lee. I am a brand strategist, but I’ve had a very colorful career as a creative director. As a web designer. I started a couple of tech companies and now I work with business owners to help them discover a brand and create messages that captivate their audience.


A short story about why being disruptive can be good


Sonya: I’m going to cut to a very, very fun time in my life where I was working at Disney. And I was brought in to work with the team to help them launch. And it was really interesting, everybody has a specific role and you stay within your comfort zone and you don’t necessarily go out of that. Now, what was really interesting is that Bob Iger had recently at that time gone to CES, which is a really big conference in Las Vegas. And now that the website was going to be launching in two to three weeks, he didn’t know what we had shown him was actually a demo, and there was still a whole lot of work that needed to be done. So being somebody who’s done several launches and helped put sites together through the marketing team, through the copy team, the creative team, everyone, technology, everyone needs to come together, but there was something in that structure that corporate environment where it was lacking


I took it upon myself to kind of go and talk to all of these different departments and say, “Hey, what are you missing? What do you need in order to move forward?!” And they’re like, “I need this, this and this.” And I’m like, “okay.” I go over to the next department and say, “okay, I have these requirements and I’m going to get you this, what else do you need?” So I became that facilitator. My title at that time was not a director. I was just a senior designer/art director at that time. So this was beyond my role.


They started serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the office and we’d stay until 11, which is really crazy. But yeah, we launched on time. The irony in all of this, having done a really, really amazing job and gotten the site launched on time, but I got a slap on my wrist and I was written up for being disruptive, which is kind of strange considering I got the company to launch on time. We did not lose millions of dollars.


Janine: It’s interesting how in the tech world being disruptive is a goal, right?

Sonya: It is. When I got written up, I actually took that moment to ask myself, “Sonya, do you really deserve to be here? I think you’re worth more.” And so I ended up leaving and that became the beginning of my own business, a design agency where I worked ironically with Disney and also several other really big top corporations as well. That’s kind of where I started in how I moved into what I kind of do today. 


Great communication gets things DONE


Janine: What would you say was the biggest problem with communications that you saw? 

Sonya: They definitely didn’t have a problem with understanding the goal. The goal is there. The thing that was missing was the culture in order to help everyone understand that they can rely and trust on each other without having to go through normal channels. Feeling confident that they could go to anybody within the company to get stuff done. 


Getting rid of your ego makes companies thrive

Janine: How did you apply the lessons you learned from your experience to what you’re doing today?

Sonya: I think this is really important for any entrepreneur and business owner is to understand that any business is not about you, it’s about the client, because guess who’s paying you? The client. So even as an employee, I had to remind myself that I’m not the superstar here. My job is to make the company move forward. So when I started my agency, the same concept came about. The reason why I’ve done so well and I’ve been able to continue working with so many big companies is because I don’t put my ego into my client’s work.


In layman’s terms, you have to be able to speak to the frustrations of your customer, not what you think they need, but what they actually need right now. And that involves going and doing research, talking to them, figuring out what is truly wrong in their business, and then using that exact language to captivate and capture their attention.


Janine: When we’re talking about corporate culture, how do you help your team? Or how did you choose the people for your team that have that kind of adaptability?


So I have the three C’s. These are the three C’s that I use to hire anybody within my team. 

Communicate.  If you can’t talk and you can’t tell me what’s wrong, then that’s a no go.

Collaborate. If you don’t play nice with other people, guess what? This isn’t going to work.

Commit. If you can’t commit to a project and you’re Willy nilly and you’re kind of flopping all over the place, that’s also a no go for me.


What I look for in people is a mixture of culture and talent. But when they meet three C’s, then that is a really, really big deal for me because I’m looking for partners, not just employees. I think for any business owner, you don’t want to spend your time writing down every single thing that you want them to do. You want them to have the initiative, you want them to be self-motivated and have kind of the instinct on what they need to do in order to move themselves forward. 


Hire slow, fire quick

Janine: What does hiring look like for you?

Sonya: It’s just taking the time to get to know someone as a person, not jumping into a situation where someone’s trying to please you. I do a slow interview process. We’ll give it a couple of weeks, have multiple conversations, let our guard down, go grab a drink. As an employer, I also do the same thing. My ability is to communicate, collaborate, and commit, you know? So it goes both ways.


I think the right person will always have the drive to learn and please to learn for themselves. So I would rather find someone who is hungry to learn, who might be mediocre and doesn’t have a huge ego about themselves if you go for the expert and they think they know better and they don’t listen and they don’t collaborate.


Janine: What happens in those situations where they were progressing but it seems like they have plateaued and not quite reached the level or kept up with the company?

Sonya: At that point, you know, we can do a couple of different things. You want to be able to bring outside experts in house, right? So maybe it’s calling somebody within your network asking for expertise. There is such a thing as an information meeting where you say, “Hey, we’re stuck on this. Can you help us?” There’s also where you can consult an expert and get guidance. The more you can leverage your network, rely on them for information and then create your own system, your own solutions, the stronger that becomes because now you’ve truly owned it and you’ve learned it and inherited it.


Branding is such a delicate thing because it is your messaging through and through, right? What you say, how you position yourself, how you execute and go out into the market and put your name out there really matters. But if you’re looking at it through the lens of yourself and not your customer, we’re not communicating properly. So it’s so important to remove the ego from any situation, to just kind of say “it’s not about me.” And that’s hard. That’s hard for a lot of people.


How to deal with ego in your company

Janine: If someone struggled with that as a business owner and they know it’s something they need to do, what is something that can help them do that?

Sonya: I run an exercise called “journey mapping”. And what we do is we break down what’s going on within the customer’s life. We break it down into what they’re thinking, feeling, doing, expecting, and then we track them through their buying cycle. What this exercise is all about is helping business owners understand what the customer is going through and creating that empathy. By using this framework, we help business owners understand from the customer’s perspective what is going on.


So we sit down and we’d go through every single thing that they’re doing, what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, what their frustrations are, where they’re at, are they at home in their office?


Or are they out shopping and constantly thinking about it? And then you decide, if they’re thinking about it and obsessing about this problem, while they’re doing grocery shopping, I guess I’m going to have to design my advertising on mobile because they’re constantly on the go, which is a completely different experience. 


Where to find Sonya


We hope this interview has been useful to you! You can find more information regarding Sonya’s projects and reach out through the following social media: