By Aram Arkun
WATERTOWN – Monique Svazlian Tallon is an executive coach based in Los Angeles who works to empower women. She published a guide to women’s leadership in book form this year titled Leading Gracefully (Highest Path Publishing), and has been involved in Armenian community work. Tallon came to Boston to give a lecture at the Armenian International Women’s Association this spring, at which time she gave an interview to the Mirror.
She started out by clearing up a common misconception about coaches. She said: “I am an executive coach. I am not a life coach. I mainly work with people in the corporate world.” This does not entail giving advice or counselling. She continued, explaining that “coaching is a set of tools to help you, the client, to come up with your own answers. Only you know what is best for your life and your job. Through this coaching technique people are able to see things from a different perspective and come up with a different approach.”
Born, raised and educated in San Francisco, Tallon graduated San Francisco State University with a degree in marketing and then worked in various roles in different marketing companies in the San Francisco area. She then went to work for eBay in Silicon Valley for five years as an event manager, leading trade shows and conferences, before she founded her own coaching and training firm, Highest Path Consulting, in 2008.
After four years at eBay working hard, she said she realized no one had been giving her any credit for her accomplishments. She was given the opportunity to organize a 10,000-person conference called eBay Live and found her own management style. Instead of micromanaging, she asked 20 executives at their first meeting for their help, which in turn empowered them to be contributing members of her team.
Tallon said, “That experience taught me that women had a different choice. They did not have to emulate an older more masculine style of leadership – top down, hierarchical, and more authoritative. Women can be as, or more, effective … I was at the time using feminine leadership qualities but I didn’t know it.”
This experience led Tallon to decide to try to teach women what she herself had newly discovered through her own firm, and now her own book. She took a one-year course for certification through the Coaches Training Institute (2008-9) and then did a one-year leadership program through the same institution. What she liked about coaching was, she said, that “it is more action-oriented and future oriented. You look at the issues, but then say what you can do about it.” She moved to Milan, Italy, where she worked for several years.
Tallon explained that she further developed her approach. She said, “The feminine leadership model that I have developed is a combination of the latest neuroscience research available on how men’s and women’s brains are wired differently …. women have conformed and adapted to work and play in a man’s world, taking on those qualities, and not leveraging the strengths that come naturally to them. I have interviewed a number of different prominent female executives who use this approach in their leadership, and also rely on my personal experience.”
She explained that she felt that qualities like empathy, humility and vulnerability were not only feminine strengths, but also skill sets that are sought out in leaders today, whether male or female. She said, “Our president, for example has a very nice mix of feminine and masculine and we see other male leaders exemplifying and embodying these qualities. The point is not to be one or the other but to have balance. My book is a how-to guide to develop these skills.”
Tallon’s own coach encouraged her to begin writing at Huffington Post on women’s issues, which gave her the confidence to then write this book. It was released on March 1, 2015 at the Microsoft Global Women’s Conference in Seattle, and 2000 copies were distributed. Tallon gave the keynote speech about overcoming obstacles. It helped that Tallon had worked for Microsoft on their diversity and inclusion program.
While her professional work is not specifically directed at Armenians, because of her personal background, Tallon has also applied her analysis and approach to Armenian social structures in the diaspora and Armenia. Her parents moved to Soviet Armenia from Egypt and Syria in 1947, and then came to the US in the 1970s. Her father Gerard (Jirair) became a violinist at the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. An aunt who stayed in Armenia, Verjine Svazlian, became lead researcher at the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography at the Academy of Sciences in Armenia and spent decades collecting Armenian Genocide survivor accounts. Another aunt, Marie Rose Abousefian, originally from Aleppo, is an actress and writer now living in the US.
Tallon’s parents sent their daughter to Armenian Sunday school, and she learned to read and write Armenian (as well as to play the piano). Her parents have a house in Armenia, which no doubt has made travel to Armenia easier.
Tallon found that among many Armenians in the diaspora (and in Armenia), there was a type of “shame” culture – amot e in Armenian. Girls in particular are told, she said, “to be quiet, obedient and perfect. This is not intentional. It is coming from a place of wanting to fit in, to assimilate. We are a massacred people. We really want not to stick out.”
Telling our children “amot e” all the time, she said, negatively affects their self-confidence, especially girls, who cannot be themselves. Tallon said that even she, growing up, “was always afraid of saying the wrong thing or getting into trouble. I had to work hard to get over it.” Her book provides exercises to overcome this, and build up self-confidence.
Tallon joined the executive committee of the San Francisco affiliate of AIWA in 2012, and worked to increase the resources for Mer Hooys orphanage in Yerevan, which assisted young girls. Tallon was able to coordinate planning with the Women’s Resource Center of Armenia, which provided the youngsters with various programs.
Tallon professionally worked with the Dundee Mining Company in Kapan, Armenia, for the last four years, coaching their senior management team, made up mostly of locals. This gave her a better understanding of the challenges and also the opportunities in Armenia for women. Though now sold to a Russian company, Dundee was at the time Canadian-owned, and the owners invested in development for the local management. Tallon coached over Skype.
There were two women out of the 10 members of the management team. Tallon said, “It is a very male-dominated industry and a male-dominated culture, so there are a lot of gender biases and stereotypes.” Many Armenians felt that women were not capable of decision-making and management, and were too emotional.
Perhaps as a result, the women Tallon coached had issues with self-confidence, but her work to overcome this, she said, “taught me that women can transcend these biases if they can ‘own’ their self-confidence and command that respect.” There were also some remnants of the Soviet hierarchical mentality, and poor work ethics against which Tallon struggled. She also coached some Armenian men in Armenia and helped them control their anger while in the work environment.
Tallon wishes to continue to work to improve women’s status in Armenia. She said, “My dream would be to lead a women’s revolution in Armenia. I believe it would completely transform the country .… I am very passionate about reproductive education and rights for women in Armenia. It is important to address these gender biases from a young age, especially in the villages.” She wants to change the mentality of the older generations, get more legal protection for women’s rights and remedy domestic violence.
Tallon stressed that “if women collectively worked together they can create huge social change in Armenia … We need to help and empower them so that they can be the women that nurture and care for and create a future for Armenia.”
Tallon has spoken to a number of Armenian groups in the US, such as the Armenian General Benevolent Union in New York and AIWA. She is coming back to Boston this fall to speak at the AIWA 24th Anniversary Celebration Conference (September 29 to October 2) and at the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) center in Watertown for the New England chapter of the AGBU Young Professionals on September 29 at 7 p.m. She is considering lectures for Armenian student groups on how to pursue your dreams. She is looking into translating her book into Armenian so that it would be accessible in Armenia.
Tallon said that she likes writing and plans future books. Her next one will be on relationships. She continues to look for opportunities to speak in corporations and to their women’s groups.