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How Michelle Ifill Built Success As a Lawyer, Executive Coach, & Resort CEO

How Michelle Ifill Built Success As a Lawyer, Executive Coach, & Resort CEO
How Michelle Ifill Built Success As a Lawyer, Executive Coach, & Resort CEO

Are you dissatisfied, ready to move on, or to pivot in your career?

Perhaps you have a dream career or business in mind or don’t really know what you want to do. You just want to make a change, and as smoothly as possible. And while a strong personal brand helps make that transition more seamless, building one doesn’t just start when you decide to pivot.

Michelle Ifill made the kind of career pivot that others dream of. But she’s also always been very aware and consistent with prioritizing empowerment as a part of her personal brand, and that has stuck with her–from her former legal career to her current coaching business, and La Maison Michelle resort in Barbados. So I had to have her on to talk about how empowering others needs to be a central piece of how you operate, no matter what you do.

In this episode of the Branding Room Only podcast, you’ll learn the secrets to successful brand building as you move up (or on) from a position, company, or career. You’ll hear about the importance of self-awareness, using previous know-how and experience, being vulnerable, and building up others as you build your brand.



Available on Apple Podcasts

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1:17 – Michelle’s traditional perspective on personal branding, how she describes herself, and her mantra for 2024

4:24 – Michelle’s story and the importance of self-awareness about your brand as you move up and build your reputation

12:44 – Why it’s important to consider your brand when you’re working in-house and different aspects of your personal brand to think about

16:07 – Why Michelle’s transition from General Counsel to executive coach was so seamless and the legacy she’s most proud of

23:25 – How La Maison Michelle benefits from all of her prior knowledge and experience

28:30 – The types of retreats you can expect as a guest at Michelle’s resort

30:53 – The increasing awareness of the mental and spiritual health of employees and how you can tie it to your branding

34:44 – One thing most lawyers do that you want to avoid so you don’t hurt your brand and network

37:44 – How vulnerability helps when you’re building your brand

40:30 – What Michelle does for fun and how that coalesces into what she’s built at her resort

42:18 – Three aspects of her brand Michelle will always stand by and what makes her stand out in a packed room

Connect With Michelle Ifill

Michelle is the CEO, Co-Founder, developer, and designer of Villa La Maison Michelle, Barbados, a luxury resort and conference venue for the discerning traveler interested in personalized and specially curated work and vacation experiences.    After Michelle retired from her 25-year corporate legal career at Verizon, she turned her focus to family legacy by launching her Reboot Retreat Series at La Maison Michelle.  This is where she hosts a variety of retreats focused on career advancement and professional development, all underscored by a deep commitment to health and wellness.    Michelle is also the Founder of the  Women’s Excellence Network (WEN) a professional business development and relationship-building organization, the mission of which is to provide greater business opportunities and exposure for women in and adjacent to the legal industry.  

Michelle Ifill | LinkedIn

La Maison Michelle

Mentioned In How Michelle Ifill Built Success As a Lawyer, Executive Coach, & Resort CEO

“2024 Intention and Goal Setting Webinar” | YouTube

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Welcome to The Branding Room Only Podcast

Paula Edgar: where we share career stories, strategies, and

Paula Edgar: lessons learned on how industry leaders and influencers have built their personal brands. Now, let’s get started with the show. Hi, everybody, it’s Paula Edgar, your host of The Branding Room Only Podcast. Branding Room Only Podcast is an opportunity for me to talk to industry leaders and professionals about their brand experiences, how they shape their brands, their reflections on personal branding. Today I’m very, very excited to have somebody who I love dearly on the podcast today, Michelle Ifill. Let me tell you a little bit about her. Michelle is one who has successfully made the type of pivot that is the dream of many. After an impressive 25 year corporate legal career at Verizon, she took off her GC hat to move full-time into executive and career coaching, which includes her transformational and reflective reboot retreats for professionals, held in her family-owned and operated luxury resort, La Maison Michelle.

Paula Edgar: where she is the CEO and co founder. Michelle, welcome to The Branding Room.

Michelle Ifill: Hello, Paula, I’m very, very happy to be here.

Paula Edgar: I’m super excited to have you here today. So let’s jump right in. First question that I ask all of my guests is what does personal brand mean to you? How do you define it?

Michelle Ifill: Yeah, I have a very traditional perspective on personal branding, and it’s a phrase that we’ve heard many times, but it’s when one’s reputation precedes them. The concept is, as far as I’m concerned, how do people think and feel when they hear your name or hear about something you’ve done? What are you known for? What are you known as? And then how do you show up in the world? So that’s my view.

Paula Edgar: I love that. I love the part that you included

Paula Edgar: about the feel, right?

Paula Edgar: It’s like the Maya Angelou quote that people will remember how you made them. But when you just said it, I thought to myself, “How do I feel when I think of you?” And it makes me smile. So that is an important piece of that and I love that. I can’t wait to include that snippet in when we share that out. Okay, so to that end, I just said, you made me smile. But how do you describe yourself in three words or short phrases?

Michelle Ifill: Well, I’m sure you hear this often. There are many ways that we can describe ourselves, but for the purposes of today’s conversation, I would say I’m an optimist, an empath, and I’m also extremely determined. That has served me well in my career but as well as my personal life. So I’m not one that’s easily discouraged. Many times, lawyers are not viewed as optimists but I do view the glass as being half full as opposed to half empty.

Paula Edgar: I love that. Sometimes I take dealer’s choice and decide what I want to tell you, what I think about yours, and I’m going to add a word in there and it is convener. You bring people together. I think that that is something when I reflect on you, people come together because of you and you bring them together consciously as well, whether that be virtually or in person at La Maison Michelle, which we’re going to talk about shortly. But I think that is an important part of your brand and how I’m reflecting on it. So tell me this, do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

Michelle Ifill: Again, I have several, but the one that is moving me as we start this new year, 2024, is aim for the moon. But if you miss, be happy that you’re amongst the stars. It’s paraphrased from Norman Vincent Peale, but that’s something that I live by and I also coach my clients that way. Don’t set bar in a sort of mediocre way. Set your bar really high, and then you never know how far you’re going to be able to go.

Paula Edgar: I love that. That connects with two different things that I do at the beginning of the year, too, which is my Intention and Goal Setting Session, which is the intention is the path and the goal is a goal but you have to honor the path as well. I love that. Also, engage your hustle, which is just meaning you can always do better, whatever that is, do a little bit better there. Yeah, great. All right, so give me a little bit of deets about your upbringing, your experience, your career path.

Paula Edgar: Just tell me, give me the Michelle story.

Michelle Ifill: So I’ll try to give an abbreviated version. I mean, you know, we’re both caribbean sisters, so my dad is from Barbados and he came over to the States when he was in his late twenties. So I’m the eldest of four that grew up in Long Island in predominantly PWI, Predominantly White Institutions. I grew up in pretty much a Jewish neighborhood in Suffolk County. I did sort of the traditional path. I went from high school straight to undergrad and then straight to law school. I didn’t stop and pass go because I felt that if I got off the education wagon and started making money and traveling and doing the things I loved doing, shopping, it would be very difficult for me to go back to school. So the gap year approach didn’t resonate with me, but the eldest of four of caribbean parents, raised rather strictly, I will honestly say, very big focus on education.

Michelle Ifill: And then once I made the decision that I wanted to pursue my legal career, I went in both feet first, ended up at one of the Am Law 50 firms as White & Case right after undergrad, I mean, right after law school, did the summer associates, went back there, thought that I was going to restructure the debt of, because I speak French, and so one of the things that I was very interested in doing is representing francophone, French-speaking countries in Africa. The idea was that I was going to go back to the firm and I was going to restructure these countries’ debt. As you know, that has been a big, big issue in the 80s and of course, it’s come back again. Little did I know that you were not going to be restructuring countries’ debt every year. That’s a decade-long process. So when I ended up at the firm, I was pretty much in the securities department, in the printer’s office, at the printers at 2:00, 4:00 in the morning, reviewing 10-Ks for typos, et cetera.

Michelle Ifill: So I did that for a while, and I realized, “No, this can’t be the career for me.” I left and I moved myself to Schnader Harrison, which had a New York branch office. There it was a smaller office, 40, 50 attorneys. I knew that they had European clients, and so my plan was to use my French in supporting these European clients that had New York or East Coast subsidiaries. So I had a plan for that. Once I got to the firm happily, I was paired with a very wonderful partner who took me under his wing. However, all of his clients were Italian, and I did not speak Italian. So I stayed there a few years, and then that’s about the time where one of the major corporate crashes happened at the endish time in the 80s.

Michelle Ifill: So I saw the writing on the wall that that was not going to be a place that I was going to be able to make my home. I also realized around that time that partnership was just not something– It wasn’t in my blood. My brand would not lend itself to the concept of working through the partnership. I don’t know, hazing, if you want to call it that. I was lucky, and this is where I tell clients and anyone else who is willing to listen to me, always take the call because let’s say I made the decision early in the month, and then within six weeks, I get a call from a headhunter who said that MCI, and those of you listening hopefully remember MCI, who was the competition to the AT&T Mobiles of the world. They were expanding their contract negotiations team because of detariffing and the Telecom Act.

Michelle Ifill: So I was one of the first lawyers that were hired to create and expand this team of contract negotiators. That’s what my background is, and that’s where I really excelled quickly. I came in with a real excitement about being in-house, and that really sort of created the brand from a very, I would say, young age in my career at the company. Then it just pretty much grew from there. I started with a very huge negotiation. When we think about how the saying where first impressions are lasting, it can be extremely positive, but it also can work in negative ways, which maybe we’ll get to later. But for me, I came in with the work ethic that I’ll work 20 hours if you give me 19. So that’s the reputation I had.

Michelle Ifill: I came in, negotiated this huge deal against a consultant that had been in the business for probably 20 years. I was new, I did not know much about telecom, but for whatever reason, I was trusted to negotiate that. I think it was a $950,000,000 deal, the largest that the firm had done in this space successfully, and that really laid the groundwork for, I believe that laid the groundwork for my getting more exposure, getting more difficult deals, and then eventually getting a team and moving my way up.

Paula Edgar: I love that. First of all, I cannot do this podcast without shouting out that I also have a father who’s [Barbadian] who will be listening to hear that. So I have to acknowledge Barbados father’s represent. So there’s that. But what a fantastic trajectory. I love how you pull out a lot of the different pieces that people often ask about, right? Like, “Should I go straight through? Am I supposed to be on x path?” I love that you said, “I realized it’s not what I wanted, and then I went to do something else.” That self-awareness piece about your brand and who you want and what you want to be and how you want to show up is such a core lesson that I wish that we could impart upon other people to get earlier because then you would miss out on a lot of sort of false starts. But again, I guess our path is our path, right?

Michelle Ifill: It is. I think that what happens is we get comfortable, we see two or three paths that others have taken and then make the decision that that’s the path I need to go down. Taking the time to be self-reflective as to what your strengths are, and then where do you want to see yourself in five years or in ten years? Actually creating a path and creating a plan is, from my perspective, incredibly important, especially this day and age. It may not have been as important 20 years ago. I didn’t know, I didn’t have a plan that I was going to move into a GC position. Not at all. I knew I didn’t want to be a partner, but I made that decision.

Michelle Ifill: But once I started to move my way up in my corporate environment, and as you know, with MCI, then we went to WorldCom, we had the bankruptcy, we had the re-emergence. Then I made my way through there, and then we ended up ending with Verizon and adding so many other new companies and people, as well as the M&A and the reductions, there just was a lot going on so I can’t say that I was strategically thinking about what my next step would be when I was in the midst of all of it. But what I did know is that I was really paying attention to make sure that I remained true to what was important to me, and that was the people. I’m sure you’re going to ask a question about that, but I did want to make that statement.

Paula Edgar: So something that I reflect on a lot, when I do work with people who are in-house or I speak at a conference, I always get asked the question, “Why do I have to care about my brand if I’m in-house? I’m not trying to go anywhere.” What you just said to me, I’m like, “Well, I already knew the answer,” but it was a perfect example of why you need to work and think about your brand when you’re in-house, because you don’t know what the company is going to change, who’s watching, all of those things. But I wanted to give you the opportunity to maybe specify some reasons as to why it’s important to think about your brand when you’re in-house.

Michelle Ifill: That’s so interesting you said that, Paula, because I have this conversation with people who are in-house as well as people who are in the firm. Let’s focus on in-house, though. It is imperative that we all are focused on what our brand is no matter where you are in an organization. I think that that’s something that gets left by the table. You and I have had this discussion already that we all, as women especially, and then as Black women, the concept of making sure that all of the people who support you know that you also support them. The reality of it’s a circle, right? So as you feed into other people, they feed into you. The idea that someone in a room that you may eventually get in but you’re not in right now, they are having conversations about you. They’re having conversation about not only your work, though.

Michelle Ifill: How is it that you work with people? What is your general attitude around the office or on Zoom or wherever you are? How is it that you are feeding into those who are part of your team? How are you helping your teammates? There are all these different aspects of what makes up a person’s brand. The last thing I will state, because I do have a lot of conversations with women, especially on the concept of, and you’re like me, we smile a lot, I know that’s natural. That comes natural for me. I absolutely know that that has helped me in my career. Do I think that’s fair? I actually don’t, because there are people who are just as bright, just as engaging, just as interested in their career and interested in others, but they don’t have the face that wears that interest and that actually detracts in their brand.

Paula Edgar: It certainly does. When I was in undergrad, I studied anthropology. One of the things that I learned right at the beginning in my core anthropology classes was that as human beings, one of the ways that we connect is by looking at each other’s eyes and our teeth. So that really, yes, of course, we say it in terms of just wanting to look amiable, but literally, it’s how we connect, too. So if you are always in sort of grumpy mode or not showing those things, it can be a detractor, not just on how you show up and feeling, but also how you are perceived, period, because of our just basic human beingness. I am also not a fan of people being like, “Just smile,” even though I love to smile all the time but I do think that there’s a benefit in showing up in the way you want to be perceived, which is branding.

Paula Edgar: Right. So I love that. So you are talking about having not necessarily had a strategy, but in some spaces being strategic in terms of thinking about where you are and where you wanted to go. What resonates about that for me is that all of my strategy that I have had in my career, for the most part, has been either alongside a mentor, a group of people who are like my people, my squad, my personal board of directors, and that includes a coach. Tell me how does the thought about your career and then your emergence into becoming an executive coach, how do those things kind of combine with each other, both reflecting back, I don’t know if you ever use a coach, but thinking about what you do now and how you support other people?

Michelle Ifill: No, great question, great segue. So the transition from my general counsel role into my retirement and going full time into executive coaching was extremely seamless. The reason I say it was seamless is because I’ve always been a coach, I’ve always been a mentor, even before I knew or before anybody was even speaking about that terminology, as a matter of fact, and I’ll add manager in there, too, and have a little funny story, but when I was probably, I don’t know, nine or ten, a brownie, I went to my first brownie meeting from the girl scouts and I came home from the meeting and said to my mother, “Mom, I’m not going back there. Those people really don’t know what they’re doing. These are the things that needed to get done and they didn’t do.” I was ten, so I’ve always had this concept that I can strategically look at the strengths and weaknesses of a situation and people and then not focus on what the weaknesses are, but focus on the strengths. And that’s really what I did throughout my career. I loved having teams to be close to and to help bring along.

Michelle Ifill: As you said, I’m a collaborator and a person who’s a convener. So I was also quite interested in making sure that not only in the legal department, but that we also incorporated our business clients, too. When you think about coaching, looking at an individual and hearing what they believe that their challenges are, and then helping them to dig deep to understand possibly why either the communication style or the messages that they think that they are sharing or receiving aren’t being received and given in the spirit in which they were expecting or understanding, I believe is also crucial. So, you know, moving full-time to executive coach and then transcending from there to incorporating my coaching in our retreats at the villa in Barbados is something that, again, came somewhat naturally because we had built, my husband and I had actually built the resort from the ground up while I was in the role of GC, or just before I became GC at Verizon. I was wearing a double hat, but he really was handling all the heavy lifting so it was easy for me to just transition upon retirement to working with that full time.

Paula Edgar: Shout out to Gary because I love him. He’s the best. Just so everybody knows, we’re going to obviously have the link for La Maison Michelle in all of the page with all the resources. But it is beautiful. I can just say that it is gorgeous and the rooms are so beautifully decorated. So that is just my being like, “Let me just tell you, if you’re in Barbados, you need to go.”

Michelle Ifill: I appreciate that.

Paula Edgar: Fantastic.

Michelle Ifill: We have to get you back there, Paula.

Paula Edgar: Yes, most definitely. I’m ready and waiting. I haven’t been back to Barbados over four years now and it’s time. Oh, don’t worry, I’m coming. I will be back. My people, they’re calling me, they need me. You know, in thinking about what you just said about being a coach and then having been always a coach and always a manager and thinking about being a strategist, I think a really important part of having a leadership brand, and you do as a leader, is how you build up other people. Right?

Paula Edgar: So when I think about you had and have a squad, you have people who are serious about Michelle, they don’t play about Michelle, and it is because of how you have poured into folks. But I know that every manager and every leader doesn’t necessarily have that trajectory or that mission and vision. What has building other leaders done for you?

Michelle Ifill: It’s interesting because oftentimes I get the question, like, “What are you most proud of in your career?” It can sound trite, but the concept of building other leaders and actually, I had always been someone who led from behind. As I got more senior and moved to the role of GC, it was difficult to do that because I’m the one who had to be on stage, I’m the one who had to be in front of the camera, et cetera. But I’m really very focused on legacy in all aspects, frankly, of my life. The legacy of my career has been that there are many people, women and men, who have been able to spend time with me and I’ve been able to find, as I said, I really prefer to focus on people’s strengths than looking at their weaknesses and having them put their energy there because not everyone has to do everything. Oftentimes, if we don’t spend the time to understand what it is that a particular employee wants for their career, then you don’t really get an opportunity to get the best people in the seats that they should be in to excel. Then, of course, that makes the team stronger if everybody is in a place where they’re feeling that they’re providing their best value. Feeding into others has been extremely important to me and it’s a legacy that I’ve left that I’m extremely proud of.

Paula Edgar: I love it. I’m laughing because yesterday, just yesterday in therapy, my therapist said to me, “Why are you so obsessed with legacy? Why are you so obsessed?” And I was like, “Hello, I’m the child of immigrants. What do you mean?” It’s always been about what your impact is, but I think especially as you were just talking, I was like, “Maybe it’s also Barbados thing in specific too.” Because I could just feel like this. “How are you going to add value? What are people going to say when you’re no longer here, how have you impacted the world?” Obviously, you’ve got a legacy that you will continue to build. But it’s profound already and I’ve seen it and like I said, I’ve seen people talk about you and I’ve been like, “Don’t mess with Michelle because she got people who are going to come for you if you do. And I count myself as one of them.” So there’s that.

Paula Edgar: Okay, so you go from general counsel, which I would just say is probably not an easy job, to then working with people in terms of the coaching capacity on their strengths, to your point, and minimizing their challenges, but really focusing on their strengths. But this is not but-and, being a CEO proprietor of your own spot in Barbados probably has challenges and benefits as well. How do you sort of bring yourself that whole transition and being there? What is it getting from Michelle? What is La Maison Michelle getting from all of the things that Michelle has learned and done before this?

Michelle Ifill: Wonderful. I think I’ll bring it back to legacy too because my father, as I said a little earlier, bought this land like 55 years ago. My parents bought it and it just sat there for 50 years, overgrown and with coconut trees and weeds and the like. We weren’t doing anything with it. My parents actually bought it to build their retirement home. That was the plan, putting four children through not only undergrad but grad school. As I said, I’m the eldest of four. There’s no such thing as retirement to be able to build your home on the other side of the world. So it just sat.

Michelle Ifill: My husband and I got married in Barbados 25 years ago. Dad took us around. That’s how we ended up actually even seeing the property and saying, “You know, this is something we should think about developing.” Fast forward, once we made that decision, then I almost had blinders on about the fact that I wanted to complete this project because this was a vision that my parents had. The reality is that institutional and generational wealth is something that is not easily passed on in our communities. Decisions need to be made, bills need to be paid so we end up losing our land, selling it, because we need to pay bills, we need to handle tuition, et cetera. So I was really determined to look at this property and say, “Okay, what can we do to make sure that 50 years from now, 100 years from now, we have this piece that our grandchildren and their grandchildren can actually look towards to use, to enjoy, and possibly even use from a business perspective?”

Michelle Ifill: But the mindset was this is for the legacy, this is for the family. So what does the villa give to me, and what do I get out of the villa, and what I pay into it is just creating a space for people to go and actually have the mindset and feel the energy to just exhale. That’s really, in a nutshell, the way in which I look at La Maison Michelle. So it’s situated, in a way, because I know what the day-to-day lives are of 90% of the clients that have come through our doors. We are on Zooms constantly. We are trying to squeeze in a workout. Yes, we get a vacation pulled together, but then we’re figuring out where we need to go, where we need to eat, what we need to do. So we take all of that off of our participants and our guests because I feel we do not get an opportunity to take as good care of ourselves as we should.

Michelle Ifill: And we see that in the incidence of diabetes, of anxiety, of depression, of alcoholism, all of these different ailments that women, and Black women specifically, are suffering through in much greater numbers than they were during our parent’s time. It’s like night and day. Why is this happening? We know why it’s happening because we’re taking on so much, and then we’re not refilling that cup. That is the point of La Maison Michelle, in a nutshell, as far as I’m concerned.

Paula Edgar: I love that description. You can hear your passion for it as you describe it. I remember I had a conversation with somebody who, this was years ago, when they were like, “Oh, yeah, I’m going on a retreat.” I was like, “Retreat? What is a retreat?” In my mind, I was like, “What is this concept of going somewhere to do something? Is it vacation or is it not?” But obviously, and I think in particular, probably in the last decade, there’s been much more of a focus on saying you are not going to excel professionally if you do not look inwards and take some time to chill, to literally retreat, because I thought of the term retreat as like go back as opposed to relax. I don’t know. I think this is a good time. Can you tell a little bit about what the retreat experience has been like?

Paula Edgar: That has been like for you, how you convene folks, and what it might look like for somebody who’s interested in going to a retreat at La Maison Michelle.

Michelle Ifill: Perfect question. Happy to do so, Paula. I’ll start by saying that we have a series of different types of retreats depending on what it is that our clients and participants are interested in. There are those who just really, literally want someone else to just plan a vacation, which would mean a list of various activities that we provide for our guests. The retreatee would just say, “Yes, I’m interested in doing x, Y, and Z.” My focus is rest and relaxation. So yoga, meditation, stretching, walks in the countryside, the beach, all of these type of activities for those who really are just looking for vacation. But in addition, and this is where I spend my time, is a combination of professional and personal development as well as the R-and-R side, which is the rest and relaxation.

Michelle Ifill: So those, we have workshops in the morning where we’re talking about a myriad of issues, whether it’s how do you focus on your executive presence, how do you time manage? How is it that you deal with difficult bosses? What do you do about the onslaught of DEI challenges that are coming our way? What is it like to be a woman in an organization where you’re not feeling heard? So there are many different business development. That’s another area that we spend a lot of time on. So, yes, we’re quite pleased to be able to offer a curated experience for exactly what it is that our guests are interested in.

Paula Edgar: Oh, I love that. I love that it’s customized and curated because I think for folks who have that need, why not go learn where it’s beautiful and warm and the food is good and it’s Barbados? Shout out to Barbados’ beaches, which I will put against any beach that anybody says is beautiful in the world because I just know that it’s the place in which I’m like, “Oh, the beaches. It is fantastic.” All right, so I think that was a great sort of outlay of the role, et cetera. But what I really want to hear, but, not and, but I want to hear from you about some of the things that you may have seen in terms of your volunteerism and maybe how you convene people and particularly have continued to convene people that is helpful to you building your brand and them also considering and thinking about their brand by convening, like, the power of people for you.

Michelle Ifill: The power of people. Yeah. I think that that is an area that more organizations, firms, companies, entities are recognizing that putting time and energy into the mental health and the spiritual health and the intellectual health of our employees is actually increasingly critical. There was a time where the bottom line, it was just the billable hour and just keep it moving. But at this point, employees are making decisions that they really don’t want to be in environments where they’re not seen as a whole person. So that is relatively new. But it’s something that I, frankly, had always known. I do believe that my leadership style has always been that I want you to know that I’m seeing you as a person and that the fact that you don’t raise your hand at any of our meetings or you seem to not be as engaged in a decision making isn’t because the person is not thinking through or actually quietly engaged in what’s going on.

Michelle Ifill: It’s just that they have a different style, a different way of emoting. The way I can tie it to my brand is that I do believe that as I was moving up in my career, those people who were the managers, those people who are senior, actually saw the care that I was giving to my teams. Not only the people who are like “under me,” but also my colleagues. Yes, a lot of people can easily manage up. I don’t need to talk about managing up. We get to a level where we understand what that means. But it’s really important to also look to the side. Look at your colleagues.

Michelle Ifill: What do they need? What are some of the things that you can do to make their jobs easier, which in turn comes back to you. Obviously, when you are pouring into your people, when you’re pouring into your team, when you’re transparent about challenges that you’re seeing, when you’re authentic about what’s going on in either the industry or specifically with the company, I always was someone who led with transparency. I just felt that give people information because it just helps with the anxiety. It helps with people not being on eggshells, not knowing what she was going to drop next. Also, when you share, guess what people share with you, and then that also makes you a stronger leader.

Paula Edgar: That is 100% true. I often talk about inclusive leadership, and I think we should see these models of leaders being like, “I’m Stoic, and this is my…” But true inclusive leadership is being a little bit vulnerable. It’s being able to say, “Hey, I’m not sure either, but we’re going to figure this out.” Or, “Yeah, I’m a little nervous as well but this is going to happen in an X way because it’s not that you have to show that you’re unbreakable, but it’s to show that we can have confidence in that. We’ll figure that pizza out, whatever it is.”

Paula Edgar: Nobody knows. I mean, when I think about in the last four years how we have had to shift as just a global world thinking we could do X, and X was going to be the way it went and then having a full pandemic and being like, “Oh, okay, we have a whole new alphabet in this life.” Yeah.

Michelle Ifill


Paula Edgar

Okay, so what mistakes have you seen when you have in your career and in the work that you’ve done about people building their brand or building their network? What’s something that you think that folks make mistakes in?

Michelle Ifill: Well, I’ll speak primarily about what I see in the legal field because that’s where I spend my pen and my space. As we know, lawyers are generally conservative. We’re not huge risk-takers. As I said, I’m an optimist. Most of us are not. We stay in our comfort zone. Even though intellectually, we have a strategy or we have a plan that we want to implement as far as transitioning to another industry or transitioning to another specific type of role, but what we do is we still stay within the same bucket of friends, colleagues, conferences, speaking events.

Michelle Ifill: We stay in the same space where we are instead of thinking, “Okay, I want to get here, so let me start doing things that’s going to put me in a position to be able to get to that next phase.” It seems very basic, but because of the fact that folks are oftentimes concerned and uncomfortable in new spaces, then that’s what holds people back. So I’m very much a believer of sort of pushing people to say, “Okay, look at the people that you’re spending your time with. Are these those that are going to help you get to that next level?” I’m not saying be only focused on who’s going to help you get somewhere. No, but what it is, is that you want to put yourself in an environment that’s going to make it easier for you to be able to reach the milestones that you’re looking for.

Paula Edgar: Oh, yes, that is so key. I started a process probably five years ago where I did an annual review of my board of directors to say who needs to go into advisory mode, whose term is ending as if it was an actual board, because, and that didn’t mean I was like, “It’s over, get out,” but it just meant that I was tapping and we were communicating and being in relationship differently. Because whether it was that they had life circumstances that made it impossible for them to be where we needed to be in the community, again, understanding that the process of life is that we all shift, that we don’t know what’s going to be coming next. But really thinking about it has been, I think, probably the most important part of how I’ve built my business, period. And how I built my support in my life, period.

Michelle Ifill: I totally agree. And you’re right, it’s both. It’s both in business and in life. People make that mistake of just sort of staying still and then wondering why things aren’t happening. Well, because you’re staying still.

Paula Edgar: Yes. Okay, so what advice do you have then, for people trying to build a brand?

Michelle Ifill: It’s funny because you use the word vulnerable, and I think that that’s a very valid piece of advice. Be willing to be open to people and share what it is that you’re looking for. What is that saying? A closed mouth doesn’t get fed. People can’t read your mind. If you take the time, and this is something that I would like to say, I do it monthly, but it’s probably quarterly, which is just write out some goals. Write out some goals. Then what you do is then you work backwards. In six months, I want to be doing x. Then each month, you come up with a strategy ahead of time as to what you need to do that month in order to six months later be exactly where it is that you say that you want to be.

Michelle Ifill: It’s very basic, but it absolutely works because thinking about the things you’re going to do aren’t going to get them done. Writing them down and then going back to them will help you to stay on track. So that is crucial. The other piece of advice I have is when I was sort of coming up with the concept of trying to figure out what my brand was, I wasn’t thinking about branding. That was not a thing 30 years ago. However, it is now. Okay, so my view is there’s really no excuse for, right now, people not being able to figure out a roadmap as to how to get where you want to. So with social media, with everything that’s at our disposal on LinkedIn and all the other platforms that exist,

Michelle Ifill: you can find the people who are doing the things you want to do, send them a connection request, ask for a coffee, do the things, be vulnerable. Reach out. Staying in your cocoon is really not going to get you where you want to be.

Paula Edgar: Oh, yes. I take that personally as advice to me. I know it’s to everybody else, but one of my goals this year has definitely been to allow myself the opportunity to get help. I’m usually in the position of helper and to accept help has been, like 2023 lesson for me was, “Okay, guess what? You can sit and receive help.” That requires vulnerability and also requires sometimes saying to somebody, “Hey, I actually need this. Can you help me in this space?” I got to tell you, again, I tie it back to my West Indian upbringing because I’m like–

Michelle Ifill: I can do it. I can do it. I can do it all.

Paula Edgar: Right, exactly. And being expected to as another older sibling as well, I get it, I’ve had to that entire time. All right, well, as we close the conversation, I want to ask you something that is important to me. What do you do for fun?

Michelle Ifill: I mean, you know this, Paula, so I’ll just explain it again, which is, I just love giving parties. I love giving parties. I love giving events. Being in the hospitality space is so perfect for me, even though I had no training in it, official training in it, but I love bringing people together. I love bringing interesting people together, and I also love sort of connecting people who can actually help each other. I love dancing. I actually am a pretty good cook, and I also love doing interior design.

Michelle Ifill: So all of these loves and actual skills that I have, have nicely coalesced in what we’ve been able to build and come to fruition at La Maison Michelle.

Paula Edgar: 100%, because I was like, “I’m going to count this to you and see if you catch it.” I love that you have been the person to say, “I’m going to design and conceptualize all of the rooms there, because when you walked me through them, I was like, “Oh, my God.” I always feel like your talent, your magic shows up in the space, and it shows up in this really bright space when you’re tapping into it. It’s so clear. I would never think to print this room, bring these prints. I would be like, “Hey, blue works for me.” That is not my skill, but it is clearly, clearly one of your skills.

Paula Edgar: And certainly putting people together. My husband still talks about that he celebrated his party, his birthday. I get it. Okay, Taj. Anyway, all right, so as we close out, I ask everybody two of the same questions. One is this, what is a unique aspect about your brand? I call it your stand by your brand moment that you will never compromise on.

Michelle Ifill: I will not compromise on being honest and transparent about what I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, in a respectful way. But I am not good at being, I don’t know, duplicitous. I’m just not. So transparency and honesty is important, huge to me. Reliable. If I say I’m going to do something, I may get it to you not necessarily exactly when it is that you would like it, but I’m there for you. So I’m reliable as a friend, as a colleague, as a boss, all the way around.

Michelle Ifill: And then quality. Quality to me is extremely important. We just had a conversation, I think, the day before yesterday about some quality control issues with a vendor. I explained the thoughts that I have that I have very high expectations of myself. Sometimes too high, I recognize that. But I also have high expectations of those people who are coming into my world and providing services to our guests and our participants. So quality, honesty, transparency.

Paula Edgar: I love that. Yeah.

Paula Edgar: I mean, quality and consistency impacts your brand. Right? Okay, so then the podcast title Branding Room Only is a play on the term standing room only. So what is that piece of magic, what is that thing about you that somebody would be standing in a room that’s packed to see you do or experience about you?

Michelle Ifill: Well, a packed room, I do have, as I said a bit earlier, the personality and pension and drive to sort of like bring my arms around a large group of people. I tend to be someone who is inquisitive of others. So people feel that I’m interested in what it is that they’re saying. I would say my special gift is camaraderie, sisterhood, and feeling emotionally connected to many people. So that would be my gift.

Paula Edgar: I think that that is a perfect way of summing up what I would be standing in the room for to be like, “What is she saying? Tell me.” All right, so first of all, I want to thank you for spending time with me and with my audience. How should people connect with you, La Maison Michelle? Tell me. Tell them what the best way is to find you.

Michelle Ifill: Okay, well, I’m around, but LinkedIn is easy. Connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love for people to actually do that. In addition, my coaching website is Very easy. Then, of course, we have the villa website where you will be able to see our retreats as well as different ways that you can engage with having a getaway to Barbados. And that’s

Paula Edgar: Fantastic. Well, all of the links will be included in the show notes. Michelle, thank you so much for spending time with me today. And everybody, make sure that you share this podcast. There were so many gems and also we should all just all meet up in Barbados. Whoever you are, wherever you are, meet me in Barbados.

Michelle Ifill: We’re going to make it happen.

Paula Edgar: That being said, bye everyone.

Michelle Ifill: All right. Thank you so much, Paula. I’ve enjoyed this.