Championing Change: Dina Readinger’s Trailblazing Leadership

Top 10 Empowering Women Leaders of the Year, 2023

“My experiences throughout my lifetime have helped me to see clearly that great leaders inspire those to join their journey,” notes Dina Readinger, the Chief Executive Officer of ACE COACHING CO. She exudes strength and inspiration, firmly believing that exceptional leaders ignite a spark in others to join them on their path of winning feats. This success encompasses pursuing personally defined goals, striving for excellence, and devising strategies for financial independence. Embracing the principles of a Servant Leader has been integral to Readinger’s lifelong pursuit of personal and professional achievements. Infused with optimism and a passion for her work, Readinger’s aspirations and steadfast commitment have distinctively earned her a place among the “Top 10 Empowering Women Leaders of 2023.”

A recurring theme in Readinger’s life is embracing opportunities, regardless of uncertainty or potential success. About three decades ago, as a single parent, she relocated for a job and later utilized experiences from a company merger to empower women. Amidst the challenges of COVID-19, she ventured into franchising. With a biology/chemistry degree from Missouri State University and nuclear medicine certification from the University of Kansas Medical Center, she initially pursued nuclear medicine, working at Ferrell-Duncan Clinic and CoxHealth. She joined GSK PLC in 1993 and had to decide whether to stay in nuclear medicine. She thrived in this career choice. Despite her accomplishments, a fourth merger ended her GSK tenure, motivating her to establish Ace Coaching. Initiatives like Diagnostic Thinking and the book “Think Differently” highlight her commitment to women’s empowerment. With an executive MBA from Washington University, Readinger, amid her active pursuits, even initiated a Zoomin Groomin mobile pet spa franchise.

Success, for Readinger, equated to consistent excellence. Her victories in sports as a youth carried over into corporate achievements, consistently aiming for the top spot. However, she realizes that seeking managerial roles posed challenges, often due to traditional expectations of women sacrificing careers for the family.

In this edition’s cover story, we will discover how Readinger’s insight envisions a more confident future for women and charts a path to fostering collaboration and leadership in the ever-evolving landscape.

Inherited Lessons

Dina Readinger’s life journey has been intertwined with her persistent faith. Like many leaders, her personal experiences have shaped her unique qualities.

Growing up in a middle-class family with hardworking parents, the young Readinger recognized that parental experiences can profoundly impact adult leadership. Her mother’s compliance due to the distress of an abusive father and her father’s submission formed their responses. Anxiety, inherited through generations, influenced this woman leader to seek perfection, driven by a fear of disappointment.

Readinger grappled with conflict resolution and self-comparison when transitioning to leadership roles. She recognized that personal triggers become vital for effective leadership. Addressing the blind spot of how one’s background affects one’s leadership skills is critical.

A consequential shift occurred when Readinger realized her own beliefs hindered progress. Becoming a mother of twins at forty-two, she challenged norms. The epiphany that leadership and family were not mutually exclusive empowered her to strive for both.

As a mother of four, Readinger acknowledges the intricate challenges of parenthood, asserting that it often surpasses the demands of corporate leadership. She perceives leadership decisions as products of personal experiences, beliefs, and trepidations, making them inherently subjective. Readinger highlights the importance of delving into cavernous critical thinking to enhance leadership effectiveness by unveiling the subconscious factors influencing decisions.

Embracing Servant Leadership for High-Performing Teams and Growth

Understanding the power of influence transformed Readinger’s career trajectory. She observed that, as a result of pressure to perform, many women downplay their impact. She, however, negotiated for her preferred future without compromising on what she deserved.

Dina Redinger asserts: “What I enjoyed the most during my career was leading teams of people.” 

She further highlights the potency of Servant-based Leadership and counters misconceptions that label this approach overly lenient. She advocates that it is rooted in respect and a genuine desire for others’ triumphs. This style entails engaging in difficult conversations and providing support during tough times, conveying care and actionable insights for improvement. Unselfishness toward top performers encourages leaders to support their objectives through individualized growth plans, building a culture that promotes innovation. Readinger underscores the importance of careful listening as an essential investment.

Pursuing Dreams, Navigating Challenges, and Nurturing Guidance

Dina Readinger’s journey has been characterized by tenacity and adaptability from her childhood aspiration. A naturally talented athlete, Readinger worked tirelessly to secure starting positions in volleyball, fuelling her dream of representing the U.S. Olympic volleyball team. However, her path took a turn when she realized that marine biology, once a cherished ambition, might not offer the financial stability she sought. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in biology and chemistry, she ventured into nuclear medicine technology, pioneering the establishment of the first nuclear cardiology lab in the Midwest.

In 1993, Readinger confronted a climactic choice, transitioning from the pharmaceutical industry’s stability to uncertainty, symbolized by a relocation to St. Louis following an acquisition. Despite initial trepidation, this leap proved advantageous. Remaining steadfast in her pursuit of excellence, Readinger founded ACE Coaching Company and Diagnostic Thinking after retiring from a long corporate career. Fueled by her experiences navigating mergers and acquisitions, these ventures aimed to empower leaders and tackle the pervasive issue of “broken thinking” in corporate America.

Her journey took a new turn when she crossed paths with Sharon Weinstein during the COVID pandemic. Sharing a background in healthcare, they found their experiences and leadership approaches remarkably aligned. Together, they’ve harnessed their synergies to coach high-performing leaders across industries, embodying the spirit of transformation and collaboration.

Overcoming Challenges and The Learnings

Readinger underlines: “My biggest limitations for any human are centered around self-belief, the narrative that creates or destroys strategies for moving forward.”

She stresses that women should defy constraints and embrace their potential to shatter self-imposed barriers of hopelessness and fear.

Throughout her life, Readinger confronted formidable challenges: from being a single mother of two to leaving a marriage with minimal resources, becoming a defining moment. In the face of adversity, she strategically sought resources. Driven to transcend any situation, she formulated meticulous plans, marked milestones, and prioritized her children’s well-being to navigate ‘unsettling’ circumstances.

Empowering Female Leaders Through Mutual Support

Dina emphasizes the value of female leaders bestowing the gift of self-empowerment upon one another, a sentiment she encapsulates as “Pay it forward if you will.” It entails creating a nurturing and secure environment where women collaboratively explore their thought processes, devoid of judgment for potential missteps, and aid each other in overcoming obstacles. In this space, the focus is on addressing the right challenges at the opportune moments, a practice that yields prospects, as substantiated by women’s experiences across diverse nations. The complexity lies in the human tendency to be swayed by past experiences, making it challenging to discern the optimal problems to tackle amidst heightened stress. Readinger’s insight accentuates the potential of supportive networks in catalyzing personal and collective growth among female leaders.

ACE Coaching Company’s Impactful Journey and Transition Under Dina Readinger

Founded in 2015 following Dina Readinger’s tenure at GlaxoSmithKline, ACE Coaching Company embodies an “accountability culture and reaching extraordinary goals.” Drawing on her insightful experience at GlaxoSmithKline, where she weathered the challenges of four mergers and acquisitions (M&A), Readinger recognized the often-ineffective nature of such transitions within large companies that lead to talent loss. Based on her observation and experience, she remarks: “The key lesson for any leader… don’t be stuck in mandates. You may lose your best people.” ACE Coaching Company was born to help companies retain their high-performing staff during these climacteric times.

One of the most gratifying achievements for Readinger came through her work with Wallis Oil Companies’ acquisition of U Gas Dirt Cheap in 2016. As the two family-owned oil businesses prepared to merge, her coaching intervention was pivotal. Working closely with Rachel Andreasen, the CEO of Wallis Companies, Readinger crafted an employee retention coaching program aimed at nurturing high-performing teams within Wallace Oil Company post-acquisition of U Gas Dirt Cheap. Amid the M&A’s well-documented 70% failure rate, the transition process was meticulously designed to retain their exceptional gas station managers for six months post-merger.

The principles of Tuckman’s ‘norming, storming, and transforming’ were palpable during this transition as Readinger coached the leaders within the company. Eighteen carefully selected individuals, representing their peers’ sentiments for change, became conduits for transformative connections. Despite the hurdles, out of the 65 managers involved in the acquisition, only one was lost within the first six months due to a policy conflict. According to Rachel, this exceptional outcome left a lasting impact on both companies, marking the acquisition as one of the smoothest and most successful in the history of Wallace Companies, a testament to Readinger’s expertise.

Navigating Business Setbacks Through Evolved Leadership

Business challenges often stem from organizational culture. Antiquated top-down leadership is no longer effective. A well-versed specialist, Dina Readinger feels that today’s workforce seeks value, safety, and the chance to voice ideas and challenge leaders. Elevating contributors to leadership roles doesn’t guarantee success; leading requires a unique skill set. Self-awareness is vital to inspire and lead. In new ventures, relying on more knowledgeable hires is essential for growth and learning.

Elucidating further, Readinger shares that regardless of the organization’s size, whether a corporate giant or a small franchise, leaders must possess the ability to pose pertinent inquiries. Identifying opportunities for profound connections and grasping individuals’ motivations equip leaders with the apt perspective to effectively recognize personal sources of inspiration.

Additionally, she emphasizes her commitment to helping people achieve success in their personal and professional spheres. She says that Servant Leadership is inclusive and extends to peers in the same market, diverse businesses, and various avenues surpassing the limits of an organization.

Readinger’s Impactful Contributions to Women’s Leadership

Amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dina Readinger’s profound contributions to women in leadership emerged as a beacon of opportunity. Relocating her family to Springfield, Missouri, after a 25-year stint in St. Louis, she seized a pivotal chance to collaborate with the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA). A significant connection with Bonnie Lapin, a prominent figure within HBA, led to discussions about Readinger’s pioneering endeavour, Diagnostic Thinking. This innovative venture aimed to facilitate the advancement of women in small groups.

The transformative potential of Diagnostic Thinking resonated globally, finding resonance in companies like Roche, J&J, Baxter, and IQVIA. In particular, the program’s influence was monumental within IQVIA’s Women’s Leadership initiatives in India. There, women who had grappled with self-doubt and apprehension emerged transformed, embracing the challenge to go out-of-the-box and claim leadership roles.

The hallmark of this endeavour was the realization that the “Broken Thinking” phenomenon permeates across borders, afflicting women with shared struggles. The magic lay in Readinger’s approach, which empowered women to tackle these mental obstacles.

The program’s impact was profound, with 80% of participants ascending the corporate ladder within a year. Their newfound confidence translated into a harmonious work-life balance and heightened overall contentment.

Readinger and Sharon Weinstein, through Diagnostic Thinking, collaborate with marketers, publishers, and networks to advance their company, sharing ideas and cultivating a culture of innovation. The book Think Differently is an outcome of this dynamic duo’s collab. It is a compendium of 18 strategies emboldening women’s progress. Melding personal anecdotes from women worldwide with practical frameworks, the book guides to nurturing deeper thought processes and pioneering neural pathways to achievement.

Dina and Sharon’s forthcoming book, slated for release in January 2024, spotlights a critical challenge: mending a post-pandemic healthcare sector plagued by upheaval. Their insightful interviews with nurse leaders will shape a collective narrative to fix fractured healthcare systems.

Forging Pathways of Confidence and Inclusion for Tomorrow’s Women

Dina Readinger holds a hopeful vision for women worldwide—a future where they can harness the art of shaping their desired destinies with newfound confidence regardless of appearance or origin. Recognizing the potency within, she urges women to congregate in intimate groups, jointly sculpting business and personal strategies. Collaborating with organizations, these small clusters engender the inclusive programs sought after. Challenges like disparities and retention issues necessitate a novel approach—fostering inclusion through diagnostic thinking groups. External facilitators guide these transformative dialogues, often hindered by leader stress and personal agendas. This transformative strategy, evident in the 2016 Wallis Oil Company M&A, unlocks effective problem-solving.

She adds, “Next-generation women are going to have to be more confident in how they approach challenges, conflicts, negotiations and develop strategies that are pulling from all sorts of thinking processes whether that’s with looking at new AI-driven data, or being able better evaluate the risk of every decision is going to be critical for every woman leader going forward.”

The challenge, however, lies in post-COVID organizational leadership. Many emerging leaders embody the post-pandemic ethos, reshaping work dynamics.

Franchise Success Blueprint Inspired by Servant-Based Leadership

Readinger’s career-long philosophy of servant-based leadership underpins her franchise triumph. Zoomin Groomin’s prosperity, driven by a pandemic-induced surge in demand for mobile pet grooming, resonates with her approach. As the seventh franchisee in Springfield, Missouri, she now boasts an expanded fleet of three mobile vans. Additionally, serving as an area developer for Northwest Arkansas and Kansas City, Missouri, she aspires to share her success formula with fellow franchisees venturing into this booming industry.

Preceding Achievements

Before founding ACE Coaching Company, Dina Readinger reflects on two remarkable milestones. She steered a premier oncology team to ascend the ranks, securing a prime position on the leaderboard. However, her ultimate triumph came in 2015 when she gracefully walked away from a beloved career atop the leaderboard. The zenith of her achievements was not solely her personal ascent but the gratifying journey of leading others to the pinnacle alongside her.

Striking a balance: Dina Readinger’s Versatility

“My first aha moment was when I was sitting with a peer manager of mine, talking about the vision for my future as a leader and realizing that I could have a healthy family life too,” says Readinger. Her experience mirrored the evolving roles of women in the 1970s: navigating expectations while aiming for leadership, overcoming the gender pay gap, required negotiation skills and asserting personal influence to seize opportunities.

Pursuing equilibrium in her personal and professional spheres is demanding for Dina Readinger. As a seasoned professional, she faces formidable challenges daily, seeking the elusive balance while relishing every moment. The crucial hours between five and 9 a.m. serve as the prime time for ACE Coaching Company and Diagnostic Thinking, allowing her focused dedication to these pursuits. Coaching calls and the intricate operations of Zoomin Groomin, her franchise venture, consume subsequent hours.

Steering the initial year as a startup franchise presents immense hurdles. Achieving breakeven and positive cash flow is paramount. With three vans and a team of six groomers and support staff, Readinger orchestrates daily operations, enhances processes, tackles supply chain intricacies, and ensures groomer retention and customer loyalty.

Readinger’s next move is to dedicate less time to day-to-day operations and more to spreading the businesses. It’s an exciting time because they’ve reached the point where they can begin to hire new people to help the franchise expand its team. Amid extended and strenuous days, she deliberately carves out moments to unwind, acknowledging that the first year’s tightrope walk is gruelling, stating, “I am a work in progress.”

Dina Readinger’s Vision: Catalyst for Change

The CEO, Dina Readinger, is resolute in her mission with ACE Coaching Company, alongside accomplished partner Sharon Weinstein, to propel Diagnostic Thinking to new heights. Sharon, a multifaceted influencer, author, speaker, and coach, amplifies their efforts to revolutionize healthcare. Their shared aspiration is to imprint lasting change.

Looking ahead, Readinger’s purpose centers on effecting impactful societal shifts. She underscores the necessity of nurturing innovative thinking among leaders, enabling them to address core challenges timely, retain top talent, and achieve anticipated success.

On a personal level, Readinger yearns to invest quality time in cherished relationships—family, grandchildren, friends, and their beloved dog, Lyla. She remains dedicated to fortifying Zoomin Groomin’s value, fostering enhanced retirements, and leveraging Diagnostic Thinking’s potential to mend the ailing healthcare landscape, driving transformative social change.

Message for Aspiring Women Leaders

The CEO of ACE Coaching Company imparts a crucial message to future women leaders: the journey can’t be traversed alone. She advises recognizing the potential harm of subconscious self-sabotage of aspirations and desires. Establishing nurturing spaces based on love and respect is paramount—a platform to question perceptions, beliefs, and narratives, uncovering truths obscured by deep-seated fears.

Dina Readinger, a guiding force, advocates three essential leadership skills for women’s career success, urging early adoption. Firstly, mastering influential presence, as people hire through influence, not just talent. Secondly, embracing self-improvement as the ultimate benchmark, detached from comparisons. Thirdly, debunking the myth of perfectionism refraining from empowering its illusion. Lastly, she encourages them to possess these three skills with a heart to ‘pay it forward.’ The ethos of “Give to give, not to get” yields enduring rewards.