A Letter to Myself: Reflections on 5 Years Leading Choice
My dearest Heather,
It’s 2019 and you are celebrating the 5th anniversary of Choice. You’re in your 40s now and, believe me, you feel better in your own skin that you ever have. There are so many lessons to be learned, even in the short 5 years since you began this journey of building and leading a company. Since you’re still in your 30s, I thought it might be helpful for the older, wiser you to share several of my best pieces of advice for you as you travel these next few years. So, here I am, coming at you from 2019, 43 years old, 5 years into Choice with my hard-earned advice and counsel.
- What you originally intended for Choice is going to change and that’s okay. As you sit down to plan out the business and what you think your services should be, what you want to be known for, the kind of clients you’ll serve and who will be on your team, just know that it’s going to evolve and change with time. You’re going to have to learn what kind of clients you have the most successful partnerships with, what kind of employees fit your culture and which ones don’t bring value. You’ll make some missteps here. It’s okay. In year four, you take the team on a strategic planning retreat that changes the game. Clarity emerges. You develop a new mission and core values that are reflective of all the women around the table, not just your voice. That feels right to you and more inclusive. You learn that by evolving with Choice you are becoming a better teacher and leader yourself. Don’t ever be afraid of that change. You are stronger because of it and so is your company.
- What you were once really bad at becomes your hallmark. Remember how you brag to people that your number one strength is competition? When people say, “there’s no I in team,” you respond with, “but there is in WIN!” Sister, you grow so much in this area. You understand that a collaborative culture is one you want to build and lead. You want a win for one to be a win for all on your team and you don’t want that to just be lip service. You learn to embrace the competition and work with them to make each other better. You’re even hosting an event in year five of Choice that brings industry colleagues together so that iron can sharpen iron. Your mantra becomes “as women we must be allies instead of competitors.” Who would ever imagine this coming from the girl who took people out right and left as she clawed her way professionally to the top? As you sit at your 5-year Choice anniversary celebration, eating off of Mom and Nanny’s china, wearing rings from both grandmothers, you realize that those strong women of your past are helping you shape the strong women of your future. This is now what you are known for: mentoring and empowering those women who come behind you. Don’t ever forget to model well for them. They are watching, even from afar.
- Create a business around your lifestyle, not a lifestyle around your business. When you decided to start Choice, you wanted family to always be the first priority. That remains true to this day. You don’t have to sacrifice being an invested wife and mother for being a savvy, successful business leader. You can do both and you’ve proven it in these last five years. But, what you’ve come to understand even more intensely is that your work/life dynamic flows into your lifestyle. You determine what your business looks like based on the lifestyle you desire. Not the reverse. This is important, so pay attention. You don’t have to alter your lifestyle to fit your business. Once you are able to really identify the kinds of clients and partners you deliver well for, you can customize your business around that. And being the target demographic for your most successful clients helps a great deal here. Clients respect and admire that you are running your business around the quality of life you desire at home, while still serving them well.
- Listen to your gut…always. There are several times when you second-guess yourself. Every single time you do this and don’t go with your gut, you get burnt. There will be people you feel a little off on hiring for one reason or another. On paper they are great. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t offer the job, except you have this “feeling.” You go against that and it is not a smart decision. A client (or few) come along and during the acquisitions stage there are red flags. You ignore them because, well, you want to work with this person and then, guess what, it’s NOT a good partnership. Deep within you, you really know the answers to what is right for you and this company. Listen to yourself.
- Your team must be your number one priority. Early on you secure a client who will change you as a leader for the better. She teaches you to select talent and not just hire people. You develop a lengthy, arduous hiring process that some others balk at. It pays dividends when you invest the time on the front end to find just the right fit for your company culture. One hire changes your team dynamic significantly. Make those moves wisely. Also, remember the advice that Pamela told you years ago to hire better and smarter than yourself. Don’t ever be intimidated by these women. They are going to make you (and Choice) successful and known. Care for the team outside the office. Ask them about their weekend, celebrate their birthday, take them to lunch randomly, spend time with them and their families, involve them in important decisions, travel together (SIDE NOTE: you learn a great deal about each other in Mexico!). When you care for them outside of the office, they will care for you and for Choice like it is their own. You want that because Choice is a part of them too. Also, when you celebrate your 5-year anniversary dinner, you’ll go around the table and hear from each woman and their spouse individually about how Choice has changed them. Never, ever forget that moment. Cement it in your brain because it confirms that you are doing good work in this world and that your work matters.
- Your Board of Investors is critical to your success. Surround yourself with the best and strongest where you aren’t. You will find an executive coach and therapist who know every deep, dark secret from home and work. Listen to them. Believe what they say. They help you heal and they put armor on with you and go into battle. You need them and should be proud of the way they invest in you. Your CFO, attorney and mentors will all play a significant role in how well you lead and how well you respond to running a business. It takes awhile to find them. Don’t get discouraged. Some of your dearest friends who are also small business owners will share their hard-fought lessons learned so that you don’t make the same mistake. Take them to lunch regularly. Show them how grateful you are for their wisdom by doing the same for others behind you. Most importantly on your Board of Investors is Matt. Love him well. Make time with him a priority. He picks up so much slack and always makes you the star. He loves to stand behind you with you in the limelight. Be grateful. Also, reflect regularly on the fact that you own Choice because he once said, “Don’t make your next move out of fear.”
- Hard seasons will come…you’ll want to go through them again and again to get to where you ultimately land after. Right now, in 2014, Choice seems shiny and new and everything is going so well. You have a partner that you love, but ultimately lose. The dissolving partnership is a great loss for you because of the friendship lost. You can run this business on your own and will be all the stronger for it. But, grieve the loss of your friend and learn from the situation. Stress and anxiety will come. At times you’ll wonder if you can pay your staff. You figure it out. You’re not sure when the next client will come. Someone calls. God provides and you don’t believe that blindly. When you are growing, it seems so so scary. Listen to Michele when she tells you that with growth comes pain and that it’s not a bad thing to walk through that. You’ll go from building media lists and writing press releases to managing a team and doing interviews yourself. You have evolved with the business and Choice is known for the way you are leading women. Embrace that change.
- See this as your calling and not just your job. You have a passion for what you are doing and who you are doing it for. Never let that fire in your belly extinguish. Believe that you are bringing light to darkness. Some days will be hard to just get out of bed. You’ll be exhausted, mentally and physically. Know what motivates you (hint: it has to do with empowering women) and find a way to do that every single day. Work in your sweet spot 80% of the time. Be obedient to what God has called you to do. Be humbled by that privilege. Serve well.
I’m cheering for you, sis! You are going to travel a long, thorny path to get where I stand in 2019. But with every step comes more clarity, more discernment, more strength. Be grateful that you get to lead Choice and these women. Take care of your body and your soul. And nap often.
All my love,