I’ve worked for a variety of companies in my career and all of them put me in the center of entrepreneurial organizations—TV news, two locally businesses, a non-profit, and three privately owned consulting firms. Entrepreneurial in that the organizations sought creative ways to bring in new sources of revenue, provided growth opportunities to employees who raised their hands, and were ever evolving.
I can remember when John Cabot Ishon had his accounting team teach me the difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable. I remember my sense of pride when I took on the DC tax office — and won the refund back for Sue Stolov’s company. The nonprofit reinforced the importance of a detailed budget. While three consulting firms connected the cause and effect of high-quality work with life-long customers and the constant use of “we” rather than “I.” Each opportunity showed me business elements to run and grow an organization from a financial perspective. My volunteer work, especially with the Junior League of Northern Virginia, taught me the people-side of a business: recruiting, diversity, onboarding, inclusion, training, mentoring, and advocating. Plus, a focus on building connection to support retention.
Most recently, I established and grew a change management and communications practice into a 60+-person team with $10.5M in annual sales. While I built it in tandem with my leadership team and my name was on the top of the org chart … it wasn’t “mine.” It wasn’t mine simply because it was Grant Thornton on all the contracts but because somewhere in my career journey, I learned that leaders are simply guardians. I think this leadership tenant took hold in the Junior League of Northern Virginia when a wise board member told me that as soon as I ever took a leadership position the first thing I should do is find my replacement. I do this this at the start of every work project or volunteer role 20 years later.
As a guardian it’s easier for leaders to:
– Understand they are not a permanent fixture and succession planning is essential
– Focus on building strong managers and convert them into servant leaders through targeted opportunities
– Seek collaboration rather than validation
– Make sure they leave their endeavor better than how they found it (financially, programmatically, culturally) through a long-term plan with flexibility and empowered people
– Remember it’s not about self but service to others – their firm, their team, their client
As a guardian of the firm’s federal Business Change Enablement practice (change, comms, training and culture), the news of Grant Thornton’s acquisition was way less stressful. As a guardian, it’s not about me losing anything in the deal but rather how to transition the people in the practice so it’s even better in its new home. Being a guardian gives me purpose in the change rather than a worrisome myopic lens. A guardian state of mind also gives me space to see opportunities that lay ahead that need my skills, passion, and support.
Being a guardian leader enables me to work from a sense of betterment: protect what is good and address what can be better for both the work and the people doing it. Ultimately, leading to better, lasting outcomes for all.