The Stella Women Series with Elana Robertson, Founder and Performance Coach at Foundher

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At a time when so many of us feel burnt out, Elana Robertson is redefining productivity for a generation of female leaders. Elana is on a mission to see us not only recharge and reconnect with ourselves, but also create positive environments that inspire our best work. 

Having spent two decades in hyper-masculine working environments, the feeling of burnout is something Elana is all too familiar with. With roles at some of Australia’s leading insurance brands, she developed a mentality of ‘do, do, do,’ which left her unfulfilled. It was only after hitting the reset button after a trip to Bali that Elana realised she could redefine productivity and performance on her own terms. 

The result is the creation of foundher, a women-led executive performance and coaching business that seeks to create positive change. 

Drawing on Elana’s wealth of knowledge as an ICF-credentialed certified coach, foundher’s Ripple Effect Framework has helped countless women align their career goals with their own identity. The result? Greater purpose, productivity, and stamina to create wider systemic change. 

It’s a powerful tool and one we had the pleasure of sitting down to discuss with Elana in this month’s Stella Women Series. In this candid conversation, Elana shares how her own experience led to creating foundher, and how her guides have helped countless women lead into their untapped potential. 

To kick things off, can you give us a quick introduction to yourself?

“I’m Elana Robertson and I have had the great fortune of being raised by the water on Awabakal Country near Lake Macquarie. This place is always home, even though I currently live and work in the growing and shining city of Brisbane/Meanjin.

For over two decades, I worked for all of Australia’s leading insurance brands in a variety of roles from operations to training and development, product innovation and IT. These roles stretched me, scared me and rewarded me. But they also expanded what I thought was possible by providing me with opportunities to lead from a very young age across a variety of countries and contexts.”

How did working in such a masculine environment inspire you to create foundher? 

“As you can imagine, I developed some pretty unhealthy ways of working and unhelpful coping mechanisms. I was known for ‘getting things done and making things happen,’ which I was incredibly proud of, and yet I found myself at the age of 38 wondering why I felt so unfulfilled, burnt out and stuck in a chronic cycle of do, do, do. I think so many of us can relate to this. 

After rushing off to Bali where I became a yoga teacher (in what has become a somewhat modern rite of passage and red flag), I bravely hit my own 360 reset button and walked away from it all by starting my own business called foundher. 

It’s no mistake that foundher is a women-led executive performance coaching business, focused on redefining productivity and performance for modern leaders. It’s all thanks to the The Ripple Effect Framework™, which guides every experience, program, and partnership we create at foundher. It helps people connect and amplify their BEing mode (who you are) with their DOing mode (what you do).”

In your line of work, what are some of the challenges you see female founders facing? How do you think we can overcome them?

“Women know the barriers we face: there are disparities from the boardroom to our homes, and everywhere in between. More than ever, we need women to feel, do, and be at their best more often, because what we know for certain is that our current world is demanding a new (kinder) leader right now. 

Beyond the individual level, I also believe that changing the world requires all of us. It requires us to show up with enough energy and stamina to play a role in systemic change and to transform the systems that are no longer working.  Fundamentally, this means redefining who we want to BE, then redesigning what we want to DO. 

foundher’s purpose is to unlock the infinite amounts of capacity and intelligence within, and support people to rewrite their own definitions of leadership, performance and productivity. 

As a former ‘work-til-you-drop’ employee, I wish I’d been guided to find my own rhythm and pace to perform in a way that felt great and was sustainable years ago. And so that’s the new path we offer leaders who want – and need – consistently good results, in a way that feels really impactful and doesn’t burn them out in the process.”

Why are you so passionate about helping leaders and business owners find a new path to achieve sustainable success and greater results? 

“Foundher emerged from my own experience after realising that being my best and doing my best was directly correlated to how present I was and how capable I was of sitting with the uncertainty of the world around me. 

Until my late 30s, I was someone who seemingly had it all on the outside, but on the inside I was scared to the bone. Constantly, I found myself thinking: ‘is this as joyful as it gets? Why can’t I be happy? What is wrong with me?’ It wasn’t until I started my business that I realised just how many women were out there feeling exactly the same. 

We all know that constant hustle doesn’t feel good, and our current systems aren’t working for us. But unless we have the capacity, skills and emotional intelligence to make individual changes while transforming the structures that keep us trapped in chronic overwork, then we’re destined to repeat this cycle forever. 

This is the future of work we need to be making happen, and we’re already seeing purpose-driven business communities right now. Stella is a great example of ‘disruption for good’, and we’re beginning to see more and more ripples of positive change throughout the world.”

Can you tell us a little bit more about what you’re seeing in these movements for systemic change? 

“The new model that’s emerging is showing us that we need to go ‘all in’. This means focusing on developing the human attributes, skills and behaviours necessary for our plans to actually succeed. And it is this untapped potential that we need to lean into. That excites me most about where we’re at right now. 

So, where do we go? I am a passionate co-creator of something called the Inner Development Goals – a global framework of capabilities, qualities and skills required for us to fundamentally change our global systems and achieve change through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It harnesses a potent combination of individual level shifts and locates them within our ability to effect systemic change – because we now know that we can’t have one without the other. 

We still have a long journey ahead to turn the tide on global challenges like climate change, gender inequality and racial injustice, but the best part is we can still go about creating change with evolved approaches. We don’t need to wait for them to change ‘out there’. We can empower ourselves to design and upskill our own inner development and get started straight away.”

That’s such great news! Can you share with us any daily rituals or practices we can implement in our daily routine to keep ourselves grounded? 

“The way we see it, modern high performance must now mean going at a sustainable pace. If we were to think about both sustainability and pace in human terms, related to performance or impact, don’t we all want to live and work at our best and create a positive impact without depleting or burning ourselves out? 

The key to sustainable high performance is getting good at knowing and feeling what you love, and what creates calm and recharge for you on the daily, rather than taking off the shelf what works for someone else. At foundher we talk a lot about ‘the three r’s’ – routines,  rituals and rhythms – and how they form the foundation of an upgraded approach to life and work. 

It’s about creating an embodied self-awareness practice and consciously designing from the inside out, a series of routines, rituals and rhythms that set you up for sustained success. We encourage our clients to look at:

  • Routines: the everyday supportive scaffolding to design yourself into your life, not out of it. E.g. a conscious morning routine of stretching; brushing your teeth before bed; a morning meeting with yourself – whatever makes you feel most alive.
  • Rituals: actions you choose to practice regularly, even daily, that are imbued with special meaning and purpose. E.g. a morning gratitude practice or meditation; evening rituals like ‘do not disturb’ mode that supports boundaries; or daily recharging cues like lighting a candle to signal the end of the work day. Rituals offer mindfulness which can then build resilience and wellbeing.
  • Rhythms: daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly check-points that allow us to constantly recalibrate to life’s twists and turns. E.g. a weekly ‘life admin’ appointment. Over time, these rhythms create momentum and allow us space to think. They also acknowledge that every day and task is different, and encourage us to adjust to the conditions so we don’t get stuck on autopilot. 

Believe me, these aren’t quick fixes, tricks or hacks that work once and never again. This is about surfacing and stepping into next gen leadership by getting great at understanding our biological (and often unhelpful) wiring and relaying it.”

And finally, what’s one piece of advice you would share with our community of women?

“Hustle is not a performance strategy. It’s a short term tactic and, if you employ it too often, it’s a one-way ticket to burnout. To quote Tricia Hersey, the founder of the Nap Ministry, “rest is an act of resistance and slowing down is a radical act.”

Continuing to do things the way they have always been done will not get us where we’re going. The good news is that it’s absolutely possible to hit the reset button and recreate a life on your terms. So, my advice is to take recharging yourself as seriously as you do recharging your phone, and invest in regular upgrades of your internal operating systems. Because when you find her, you can finally be someone who does something about that.”

Find out more about foundher at their website and stay up to date with Elana on her LinkedIn.

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