What ‘Doing the Work’ Does For Your Agency, with Rachel Roberts Mattox
On this episode of THRIVE — sponsored by accessiBe — Kelly and Rachel Roberts Mattox discuss how an agency leader’s self-development work can significantly change culture and business trajectory.
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Kelly: Alright, so welcome back to Thrive everyone. The last episode with Gina Hayden was a great entrance into what we call effective leadership. Some people call it conscious leadership. And today I’m actually talking with Rachel Roberts Mattox who is the founder and CEO of Oyl + Water. It’s a brand development and go-to market agency for beauty brands. And full disclosure, Rachel has actually been a client of mine for about a year. Today, we’re diving into something that very few people want to talk about, but we want to talk about it. And hopefully you want to listen to it. So we’re going to talk about how our emotional history actually can hold us back in terms of leading our agencies. So I’m really excited to finally record this episode with her. Welcome, Rachel. It’s so good to talk to you.
Rachel: Thank you so much, Kelly. It’s awesome to be here. And I love that people get to listen into this conversation. I’ve gotten a lot out of it with you in the last year. So I’m excited to bring it out in the world.
Kelly: Yeah, let’s bring it on. So, let’s start with where you were with the agency with Oyl + Water a year to three years ago, whatever it was when you initially reached out to me?
Rachel: Yeah, well, right, if I reached out to you in like, 2019, and then we’ve worked together, starting in 2021, so we’ve been around for nine years, and we’ve been growing every year, incrementally. When I reached out to you in 2019, it was actually our biggest year today that year. And I had some team members actually who I loved and respected saying to me, hey, I think you’re thinking too small. I think you’re kind of holding yourself back. You’re holding the agency backwards a little bit with the way you’re thinking and I think at that time, it was around things like were we charging enough and were we kind of getting out of our box. And if I was very clear on like the services that we were offering. But I think that my team was seeing that there was more than we can offer. And I remember at that time, being a little bit kind of ticked off that they were saying that to me. I was like, you don’t understand what it’s like to run an agency and to have to keep clients happy and keep money coming in and keep paying all my people. And, I kind of felt like they just didn’t get it. And it really did. And we talked about it I remember in 2019. And that wasn’t the right year for me to engage. And then 2020 happened. And I think 2020, we survived it. But it was a really hard year, of course. And I think that coming out of 2020 I had the aha there. I was like, okay, if that didn’t kill us, then we’ve got something. But I’ve got to go bigger bubble. I’ve got to figure out some way to really come out in 2021 in a really powerful way and shifted pivot. And I realized two years later that what my team had been telling me was true, that I was holding myself back somehow. And I didn’t know quite how. And so I called you and I reminded you who I was. And I said I think I’m ready. And luckily you were able to take me on as a client and now a year later, oh my gosh, I can see so much more clearly now, how I was holding myself back. But I think when I called you, I just knew that something was holding me back. I wasn’t sure what it was and I needed some outside help.
Kelly: Yeah. So over the last kind of year or so, what are some of the realizations that you started to come to on your own as you were kind of becoming a little bit more self-aware?
Rachel: Well, I think the big sort of meta-idea that was coming to me and it still is, the veil is always sort of being lifted. But I think that one of the big ahas was that I couldn’t disassociate myself as a leader from my real self. There was no like real Rachel in the real world and in my relationships that was separate from the Rachel that showed up to work every day, and the Rachel that was hiring and bleeding and, signing on clients and trying to make them happy, like, there was just this one self. And I think for a very long time, I thought that I could hide out in my work, and in my role, like if things weren’t quite okay, in my personal life or in relationships, or, I was having my own sort of reality over here, that I could just drown myself in work, which I did for many, many, many years before even the agency started. I found a lot of comfort in that I found a lot of sort of identity in that. And I do feel like I thought that I could sort of like now I can see it very clearly or more clearly that I felt like I was almost like hiding out. But the truth is, is that all of the stuff that was going on sort of in the background, and this sort of inner world, was showing up in the way that I was leading, in the way that I was growing the business. And the people I was hiring that were a big aha, like, I could start looking at the people I had hired in the past and say, oh, they’re a reflection of my mindset. They were an embodiment of the things that I was thinking and fearing and all of that. So I started to really see that there was no separation, and that I was bringing it all to work, whether or not I was conscious of it.
Kelly: Yeah. It’s interesting, because what you’re talking about in terms of hiding out in the work is really, it’s distraction. Some people could call it that, as a socially acceptable thing. That’s a trauma response, right? So if we don’t want to face something, and again, I say this all the time, but trauma, big T, little T, it doesn’t actually matter. Right?
Kelly: It’s a response to, like, I can’t cope, there’s something else going on. So I’m just going to distract myself and not actually face whatever is actually going on underneath the surface. So some people throw themselves into work. Most agency leaders throw themselves into work, because that is socially acceptable. And other people, not that agency leaders don’t also do this, but it could also look like, drinking or lots of other like, “addictions”
Kelly: So this is natural. It’s kind of like a coping mechanism.
Rachel: It absolutely is. And I can really now see it. I mean, it started probably in my, well, it started probably in my early use, but I really started to see work becoming a coping mechanism in my 20s. And it’s a very sneaky coping mechanism, because it’s also attached to achievement.
Kelly: That, because you get reward for it.
Rachel: Exactly. And you get rewarded financially, you get rewarded from bosses, who you’re hoping to impress. You get rewarded from the family, who may be where this is, where it came from, and you’re just hoping that they see you finally, as like the star that you are. So I think that, like the achievement, addiction is a really powerful, and a very long lasting, and sort of like, it’s sneaky. And it really, I think I could have had my whole career sort of operating from that place. But ultimately, I think, I came to a place where I was like, what is the next rung on the ladder that I’m trying to achieve that I think is going to bring me some sort of peace of mind or some inner peace or reduce this level of anxiety that I have? And I think that it was that level of sort of anxiety, I’m feeling like, and I mean, as agency owners, we know this, that we’re, I say this all the time, where we kind of eat what we kill. We’re really only as good as our project pipeline. And when you’re a founder, and you’re running the agency, you’re looking at that pipeline all the time and saying, is this healthy as a substantial? Is this going to sustain us? That’s just an o ongoing sort of chronic level of anxiety, right? And so, that reality, which is like nobody can really escape, if you have an achievement mindset, and you’re also coming from sort of maybe a scarcity mentality, of always feeling like you’re not, it’s not quite enough and you need more. And, you start saying yes, to kind of everything in anything and trying to figure out how to make this happen. I was very stuck in that for most of the nine years. And, it’s funny now, but to look back, we didn’t really even have like a project management system. We didn’t really have like a production schedule. We would sort of glance at the calendar and go, I think we can say yes to this, or they can fit it in. And these two days, it doesn’t work like that, like you have to allow for buffer. You have to allow for the reality of what projects really take to complete when you start squeezing projects in between projects, just to kind of pad and support your bottom line. I mean, it’s a recipe for chaos and burnout.
Kelly: Hundred percent.
Rachel: So these were things that were just sort of the natural state of the day to day inner workings of the agency for so long until I started to wake up to some of this deeper stuff.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s interesting, because as you’re talking and kind of like, describing that experience, I’m like, well, yeah, I absolutely went through that, for the majority of the time that I own my agency, and I’m assuming that every agency owner or leader that’s listening to this is like nodding, even if they don’t admit that that’s been the case, or that that is currently the case. Like there’s definitely I could feel the head nod from the collective right now.
Rachel: My team is nodding their head, and they’re, ah, yeah, we’re not quite out of that. Are we? I mean, it is the reality to have, like you’ve got to make the numbers work. And you’ve got to make your month and you’ve got to make your quarter. And so I mean, I’m deeply compassionate about this issue. But I think that there are not only systems to put in place to support that, but the work that we’re doing, and I think the big aha is that or kind of coming to me more regularly, are about why am I operating like this? Why am I planning from this place?
Kelly: Well, let’s go to into that. It’s good, because my curiosity is around how has unpacking some of your own emotional history just directly impacted the business? That’s what we’re here.
Rachel: Yeah. Well, I’ll talk about the thing that I think nobody really wants to talk about, including me, but I think it’s really important. Because I think we all have it, to some extent, most likely is the scarcity mentality. Right? And it can show up in so many ways, but the idea that, are we enough? Do we have enough? Are we good enough? And I think that are we good enough kind of correlates to the imposter syndrome, which is its own sort of emotional territory. But I think that the scarcity mentality, I imagine that every agency owner has had times where that’s been very up for them, like, is it all enough? And I think that, as we just said, that can lead to some making some really poor decisions, and making what I would call sort of blind decisions. And Kelly, we’ve talked about this so much. I’m not going to look at it. I’m just going to say yes, and we’re going to figure out how to make it happen. I think that the hard work that we’re doing, but that I think we should all be doing if we want to just get better at being sort of an awake human, not to mention a leader is having the courage to look and to really start unraveling, where does that come from? So I think for me, certainly, family upbringing, and sort of family issues around money. I was raised by an entrepreneur. My father was an entrepreneur. Seeing him throughout my whole life thriving and also struggling at times, that’s just sometimes the reality of being a business owner. And being really sensitive to that as a child, I just was just very attuned to it as a child. I really sort of like picked up on that energy. And then coming out of college and getting into my career, and really just having unbelief that like, I had to do this on my own. I wasn’t sort of wired to just sort of like, coast. I wasn’t wired to get married and settle down and not work. I was wired to like, go and get out there and shred and I really wanted to experience life and I loved business. But there was definitely this sort of unconscious tape that was playing in my mind that was like, you have to hustle, to make it always. There is no rest. The hustle is what keeps you fed. The hustle is what keeps it all going. The moment that you start to sort of lay off the gas pedal, it’s gonna all crumble like the axes. Right? And that I mean, that phrase is a phrase that we’ve used throughout my life in my family like the shoe is gonna drop. So I just came into this world and was born into an amazing family but a family that these were the issues for us. So I carried this into my adulthood and into my career and, the veneer of achievement and the veneer of hustle and like, I may not have been the smartest person in the room, I was definitely not the most like educated person in the room. I was setting with Harvard MBAs at many tables, but I would outwork anybody, like that was my thing. I was going to show up first. I was going to leave last. And that was the badge of honor I’ve worked for a really long time. And I think that, it got the agency up and running. But launching an agency and running and scaling an agency are two different things.
Kelly: Right, because exactly what you’re just talking about that like hustle mentality where like, I have to do it all on my own. This like, I’m gonna outwork everybody else, it ends up alienating our own employees, like your city mindset means that we say yes to non-ideal clients, it means that we don’t price our services appropriately. So literally, like what gets you to this point of owning an agency is the literal thing that holds you back from scaling, growing, etc., right?
Rachel: You just said it exactly perfectly. Like, I don’t regret the things that it took to get here. Just like I don’t regret the hustle and the sort of achievement oriented mentality that I had in my 20s. Like, it got me here. I’ve got to love that woman and that girl, and I love that the agency got to this place. But I’m definitely aware now that like, you’re absolutely right. Like, my team was looking at me, like, first of all, this is totally unsustainable, what you’re doing and then what you’re asking me to do, , and it wasn’t this is the big thing for me. It was like, it wasn’t producing the best work, right? Like my team was burning out. They were losing creative energy and vitality. They were definitely not stoked. Just like, they were doing what they were doing, you’re showing up and luckily, like, I’ve got an incredible loyal team, like they’ve stuck with me through a lot of it. But yeah, it wasn’t sustainable. And I think seeing being able to really remove the veil and see that like, it’s not just me. I’m impacting now all of these other humans that are showing up every day working for Oyl + Water. So it’s self-awareness, but it’s also like, collective, like, what is my impact? How is it impacting my community? And that’s a huge aha.
Kelly: Yeah. So where are you sitting right now? Not that you’re on the other side of it, but you’re certainly on the other side of it, if that makes sense.
Rachel: Yeah. I mean, definitely. Yeah, we’re definitely in the work. What I mean by that is, the lessons over the last year in working with you, and just how I’ve been actively sort of implementing these things in the agency have led me to a few really key realizations. One is that I’m working on this conscious leadership. The concept of conscious leadership or effective leadership really on like three layers. There’s the self, of course, that’s where it begins. And that’s the only place that we can really have the truest like impact is being willing to work on the self. See where the triggers are coming from. I’m always working on like, you will always work on that. Yeah, at least and responding consciously instead of just reacting, taking those pauses before making decisions. Really knowing that like my first response may not always err, my first reaction may not be the healthiest. Sometimes that first reaction is an old tape, right? The conscious reaction or response is the one that you go wait, stop the, like what’s going to be like the downstream effect of this of this decision that I’m about to make? Like just pausing and thinking. I know it sounds simple, but boy is it when you’re in the moment and making bad decisions, like having that practice is really key. So self-mastery. Mastery is a very strong word, just working on myself. And then, practicing conscious leadership with the team. And I’ve got a small team, and they’re tight. We’re remote, but we’re tight. I’m really encouraging them to work on this in their own way, working on themselves, their own self-awareness, their own sort of self-care. This is a really big thing for us at the agency. We’re obviously in the beauty and health and wellness space. So we talk a lot about self-care. How are you nurturing your creative health? This is a conversation that we have to start every Monday meeting. Let’s see, I want to be really real like this, it’s just a conversation. Sometimes people don’t have anything to say. Some people are like, I’m not nurturing it this week, like we’re just in the practice, but at least there’s a space and a container where we can talk about it, and share ideas, and some of the ideas that have come up have just been so beautiful. Yes. It’s like, getting into nature, taking time in the middle of your day to do a quick meditation. I mean, these things, they sound so trite or simple, but they really do change the course of the day. So culture, and then the third one is, of course, clients, like how is this effective leadership and conscious leadership practiced internally, for us, as a company, impacting our clients? And how can we share it with our clients? This is actually like, to me the most exciting territory because we’re marketers, and we’re branders and we’re helping to build brands. And yes, a lot of it is marketing, and messaging and design and what you see and what you hold, but really, at the end of the day, it’s like, what company are you building? And are you living your values? Are you really like practicing what you’re preaching in your own company? So there is sort of a dotted line or like a string that connects what the work we’re doing with our culture, and possibly the company that they’re building. And that feels really good. It feels like we’re gonna have maybe a bigger impact with this work. So, yeah, I would say we’re sitting on, what I’m sitting with now, is these three layers, and how am I working on them every day.
Kelly: It’s interesting, the way that you just described that because I almost see that third layer of like, what is the impact that I can have on the clients, on their businesses, maybe on their employees, as well as your own, of course, and then like, the larger impact of like, their customers, right? So like, they embodying conscious leadership, and I almost see this, like, third layer of leadership that you’re working on, as almost like an undercover service offering. It’s like, consciously, right?
Kelly: You’re thinking that we’re just gonna build your brand, and maybe give you a go-to market strategy and a content strategy. But at the end of the day, we’re also kind of like consulting, as to like, how to live your values. They’re not just things that sit on a website or on the packaging, right? It’s like, how are you actually embodying that and then conveying that to the world to the customers who may also be impacted by it. So like, the ripple effect is kind of incredible.
Rachel: It’s, well, the ripple effect is one of our, we have six sort of creative commitments. And the ripple effect is the sixth one that I added later, because I was because of this exact thing where I thought. I’ve always been passionate about mindful marketing and marketing the truth of the product, or the formula, or the brand, or the company. And what that requires from us is to really get into the truth of it. Like, what are the underpinnings, what really is driving you to do this, and to put this out in the world? And I think when we can tell that story really authentically; these values start to just sort of naturally kind of come out in the context and what we’re creating, right? So yes, absolutely. Like if we’re doing our jobs well, and the client is really open to it, and they’re on the path of making the world better with their brand or their company, then it’s really about just communicating through the company and through the brand and through the product, these really important values that can make us all a little bit better. So it’s aspirational, but that’s what we want to be up to. So you definitely nailed that.
Kelly: Yeah, it’s interesting also, because the way that I was thinking about that, as you were talking is, there’s been so much focus on like the why, right? Like, if you’re building a brand, everything comes down to the why. But what you’re saying is yes, the why is incredibly important. And that’s how we’re going to get to actually have a brand, have a company. But then this thing that I call like lighting the way, you call the ripple effect, but in my forthcoming book, I call lighting the way, like one of the prerequisites of conscious leadership. And for me, it almost seems like the why but beyond ourselves. Right?
Rachel: Yeah, for sure.
Kelly: And then, what’s next?
Rachel: That’s it. And I think, the emergence of conscious leaders is, I think, it’s a requirement for our planet. I mean, to just speak boldly, like, I think we have to be moving in this direction. But it’s not just for the benefit of the leaders doing their work and all of that. It’s really so that they can lead and we can lead bigger companies and make this impact on a bigger scale. Because it really, I believe, is like, these big companies, and maybe hopefully one day governments that are awake enough to create this big change into like, the way. We need these pillars, these examples, these like lighthouses in the world, and it begins with this work on a very individual internal level.
Kelly: So that’s a good segue to kind of like wrap up here. What’s the biggest takeaway that you would impart on other agency leaders, regardless of what vertical they serve? Agency leaders who are maybe a bit skeptical about this correlation between like healing our past or unpacking that stuff and becoming a more effective leader. Like, yeah, what guidance would you give?
Rachel: I think the, the simplest thing I can say is that we, I think, growth and success, like connecting success, your success as a professional to your success as a human and being such a successful human is, I believe, like, really having the courage to look at yourself really, really closely. And to say, like, what are the things that might be getting in my way, from having a really fulfilling peaceful things, less anxiety, kind of like existence, and a lot of that stuff that stands in our way professionally, that stands in our way, in relationships, that stands in our way between us having really great relationships, even with our employees and our colleagues like that stuff is often just like past stuff that we haven’t dealt with. And again, you can call it a lot of things. You can call it trauma. You can say that you need to heal old wounds, whatever you call it, that sounds sort of therapeutic. The bottom line is that we are one human walking around in all of these different capacities and all these different roles, and the same human that’s in the relationship, or that has unfinished business with a partner or a parent or whatever, is the same person that’s showing up to this role as a leader. And it’s informing the decisions that we’re making and hiring and who we’re saying yes to, and how we’re actually operating and acting. So I would say that, like, the big takeaway is having the courage to kind of look at that stuff and work with someone if you need that help, so that you can be the most successful, the most sort of vibrant and alive and vital. And it’s really not scary. It’s actually deeply empowering because you start to really see like, oh, man, this was just something I could let go of. And it’s opened up this huge, like, new way of looking at things. So I guess the big thing is, is that it’s all connected. We can’t silo ourselves off. We’re all connected. And we have to lead with that awareness.
Kelly: Yeah, beautifully said. And I heard you say empowerment, I would also have build on that to say, freedom. There’s a lot of like, emotional liberation and other forms of liberation that are really on the other side of that and it’s not scary, as you said. I know a lot of people don’t want to talk about this stuff. But I feel like we’re kind of in a place in this world in this life, like wherever you’re at, where there’s not really another option so like, let’s just go, right?
Rachel: Exactly true. There’s no hiding. There’s no hiding in work. There’s no hiding. We’re here. Let’s fully embody all of it and wake up to all of it. Yeah, that’s the one thing I would leave for any agency owner who’s a little skeptical of all of this work. It’s the work.
Kelly: It’s the work.
Kelly: Rachel, thank you so much. I love that we were able to get together on the show. I know I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time. So I appreciate you.
Rachel: Thank you. I appreciate it too, Kelly. Thanks.