In the late 80s, when I was a young professional eager to make my mark in the tech industry, I was excited to be working on a high-value client account. One Friday before Labor Day weekend, I was happy to send off a big report before the holiday. That happiness turned to panic after I realized I had sent out a spreadsheet with wrong information. But it was too late. The report was gone. I was beside myself and couldn’t sleep all weekend. I knew I screwed up and was dreading going into my boss, a leader who prized accountability above all else. Come Monday morning, with a knot in my stomach, I went in and blurted out, “I really messed up.” Can you guess what my boss said? “It’s OK. We’ll take care of it. I have your back.”
We can all think back over our careers and recall a time (or two) when we made a mistake at work. Often, we can remember minute details and even conjure up the feelings of panic that accompanied the realization of our mistake. That’s the kind of impact those stressful situations can have, which is also why they can become such great learning experiences. Clearly, I was fortunate to have a great boss early in my career from whom I could learn important leadership lessons, like the need to hold yourself and others accountable, and the wisdom to accept imperfection in yourself and your team.
But learning doesn’t stop once you reach the top of the org chart. In his book, “Good Leaders Learn,” Gerard Seijts, the Executive Director of the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at the Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario, profiles high-level executives on the importance of being life-long learners. It is a philosophy I also ascribe to.
As I have grown in leadership roles, I have found my learning comes not just from those above me, but from those below and beside me. At Any Lab Test Now, I have taken to heart the old adage about good leaders surrounding themselves with great minds.
Learning from Employees
Like many CEOs, I love the big ideas, the grand vision, the new initiative. And I love that I have a very intelligent, process-oriented team that holds me accountable and forces me to slow down and think through things, so we can make sure our plans are executable. They force me to be a better communicator and I am constantly learning from them.
My employees have also taught me to take chances on people with complementary skill sets, even if they haven’t held the position I’m hiring for before. I recently hired a former high school Spanish teacher to be our Director of Training and Implementation. Not only has she educated us on different learning styles (auditory, visual, tactile), she uses the skills she honed teaching high school students and does a phenomenal job training and communicating with our franchisees in a way that makes us all work better as a team.
Learning from Franchisees
I consider myself fortunate to be able to draw on the amazing well of innovation and expertise that comes with each Any Lab Test Now franchisee. There are 112 franchisees. That’s 112 people who have invested in this company and are committed to making their business the best it can be. Some of our owners are sales-oriented, some are process-oriented. They are all boots on the ground and not only give great feedback on what is and is not working in the field, but bring new ideas to the table that might not percolate inside the walls of the home office. At this moment, a franchisee is testing a new telemedicine platform he brought to the table. One day soon, all our locations may get to benefit from this great idea. Our regional and national meetings are downright inspirational when franchisees come together to share experiences, best practices, and new ideas. I always come away energized by something new I’ve learned.
Learning from Peers
I can remember the first time I heard Cheryl Bachelder speak. It was at the International Franchise Association (IFA) Annual Convention in 2014. The former CEO of AFC Enterprises, the parent company of Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen, got up on stage and asked a room full of franchisors, “Who is our customer?” She went on to give a fabulous franchisee-centric speech that made the case for treating employees and franchisees as your most prized customers. Cheryl’s stories highlighting the virtues of servant leadership resonated with me. When I became CEO of Any Lab Test Now, just two months after hearing her speak, it was her example I wanted to emulate. I have adopted the message she espouses in her book, “Dare to Serve: How to Drive Superior Results While Serving Others,” in our organization. It is helpful and inspiring to find peer leaders in the work world from whom I can continue to learn and grow. The bonus is that I get the chance to pay it forward through my own mentoring relationships.
Your ability to learn and grow as a leader is only limited by you and those with whom you surround yourself. I choose to surround myself with the best and brightest, learn from them, pass it on, and enjoy the ride, as we all rise with the tide.