Aaron Velky of Ortus Academy

    We Spoke to Aaron Velky of Ortus Academy on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

    As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Velky an entrepreneur, writer, high-performance coach, speaker and author from Baltimore, Maryland.

    He’s the CEO of Ortus Academy, a financial intelligence company, who works with employers to offer workshops and financial education to their team/staff, specifically for Millennials, and with youth groups to help Gen Z develop money skills early. Ortus Academy was named one of Baltimore’s Top 10 Tech Companies by, and has worked with thousands of adults and young adults to help them develop a healthy relationship with money.

    He’s the CEO of FrontRunner, a coaching and retreat company that brings emotional, vulnerable, and transformational leadership training to inspire heart-led, purposeful business men and women, the author of Let Her Play, written to help parents of athletes prepare their daughters for success in the future, and a total adrenaline junky.

    Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

    As a teenager, I was an easy target. Picked on. Ridiculed. Bullied.

    But, I have always been a very focused athlete that used soccer as an escape from my pains. I got hurt my senior year, with a debilitating injury, and was told I’d never play soccer again. Doctors were wrong, in my mind. Who are they to tell me I can’t move forward?And I wasn’t really ready for division one play, honestly. But I walked on, and earned a spot because I worked harder than everyone. I knew that the only way I could ever get the attention of the coach was to be undeniably the hardest worker. So I was.And I think that showed me that I could do what others said I couldn’t if I just worked hard.I finished school in 09, with a degree in financial economics. A terrible time to graduate!!! But, I fell back on a trade, since my dad had run demolition and contracting companies since I was young. Here I was a maintenance tech on a college campus with a 4 year finance degree, 4 months after college finished, cleaning the toilets of the students. It required me to be really humble. It also set me up well — I had a really strong out of college salary and a free apartment. Financially smart. But not a ‘cool’ job.

    That led eventually to management, and no matter how much I grew professionally, with more money and more prestige, I somehow knew I would never be happy doing something meaningless — I was just showing up to work, growing the business for someone else, and doing nothing for the world.

    A turning point happened coaching youth soccer one night. I was called to it, as if fate were on the other line. It was the first time I was paid to do something I genuinely loved, and then opened up a world of possibility.Since then, I’ve been hooked on making meaning of my life. Making business purposeful.And all of what’s next sounds simple. But these ideas took years in testing and iteration before they materialized. I think from my athletics I learned the value of practice.I’m a practitioner of self-improvement and business improvement.

    Ortus Academy began in 2014. FrontRunner High Performance Coaching and Corporate Retreats started in 2017. My book came out in 2020. I began one-on-one business and mindset alignment coaching in 2018. I stuck to meaningful work! I wrote a book to help parents develop a meaningful relationship with their young athletes. I coach a handful of special entrepreneurs and artists and speak to people across the globe about building meaningful businesses and lives and by overcoming their own fears, identity and circumstances.

    And I think most of that is because I have a work ethic that burns like the olympic torch — rain, snow or shine.

    But the most meaningful thing I’ve done, that’s facilitated all this growth and change — I worked really hard on myself. I went to healers, therapists, shaman, elders and sat through the history and pain of my past to help build my present. And for anyone that wants to make a difference or change their lives, they’ve got to be willing to confront some of those things. If I held onto the pain of being bullied, which initially was a big push for me to ‘be successful’, I would be living out of some desperate hope to prove someone wrong rather than to build my own happiness. Healing that changed me.

    In the eyes of many I live a very different life. I am blessed to be able to do this work, but it has certainly not been easy to create and continues to try me daily. Designing your own life is part art and part science.

    I spent years coming up with my personal mission statement: My purpose is to uplift others through freedom, awe and artistry.I do this in a variety of ways, by saying yes to those opportunities in alignment, and no to things out of alignment.It ain’t easy, but I can tell you this path has been incredible.

    Ortus Academy, the true joy of combining impact investment with a great mission and team, and the journey of our business through pandemic changes, has taught me so much. The team has taught me so much. So as you read forward, know that much of what is below was not automatic for me. Rather, it was part of a growing, changing and evolving leadership style and practices.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

    Whew! What a large list of mistakes to share!

    Easily one of my biggest trends early on was in proofreading. The number of emails or proposals that got sent with small errors on them is huge. It took a few losses for me to find a better way. So I learned my strength was speed, but detail not so much! This also meant building a team who had different strengths, and learning to amplify mine while amplifying theirs.

    I vividly remember being laughed out of a room one time in San Francisco. I was pitching the business in a capital raise tour, so this was a group of silicon valley investors. I was on my third day of the tour, and was exhausted — having flown across the country and traveling city to city in California off little sleep and lots of preparation.

    Sometimes, when in large groups or a crowd, you want to blend in. Other times you want to stand out. I chose to stand out that day. Lavender blazer, confidence, and preparation collided well, but by the time I was done with my 6 minute hot-seat-style pitch, and got asked a question, I was toast. It frazzled me, the question, and it was a landslide down.

    And on the way out, someone in the back made a comment about my blazer, and so it started. I knew I had blown it, 3000 miles from home, but also knew that they were only laughing at one of my tactics, while seated. You learn to have a thick skin. But I can tell you it took a few hours to shake it off.

    I felt like the whole business was left in that room to be mocked. In reality, that wasn’t the case. And they were probably intrigued by the business, but not sure how to perceive me.

    I don’t think I’ll forget that.

    It’s, to this day, still great motivation. ☺

    None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

    I got connected to a guy (that I won’t name here) in 2016. Nearly quarterly, we would meet. He’s a sharp business mind, and a big investor that knows his stuff inside and out. I would ask questions, propose new plans, and share the dream with him.

    I never once asked for anything. I would offer to pay for lunches or breakfast. His wisdom was well worth the time and the money.

    People around me, especially the business people, suggested I get him enrolled as an investor. Having known him for 2 years now, it felt okay to suggest that this could align us even further.

    Flatly, he said “No.” We continued to discuss and talk, as if it had no impact on my sails.

    Each meeting thereafter, I would make the same ask. It almost became a joke.

    Finally, after nearly 3.5 years, we sat down and he said he was in. I left his office with a $50,000 check from him personally.

    At this point in our relationship, I knew he was betting on me probably more than the company. But it was still the proudest moment I’d experienced up to that point.

    Most people aren’t willing to get told ‘no’ that much, or invest that much time into someone or something without a return.

    And to date, he’s still one of my best mentors and advocates. More than what the money did, his belief in me, time and time again — to sit down for breakfast with a young kid with a dream — was the most profound thing I could have ever received.

    To have someone believe in me reshaped my own identity. It showed me that I could build a relationship with someone I thought was way out of my league, and I could provide enough value and proof that I was worth it.

    Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

    I think people can smell and intuit company purposes that are facades.

    If it’s in your company DNA, it should be present in every single thing you do and every team member. By the time you do your work, it should be left behind with your customers, too.

    Thankfully not much has changed from when we started. We wanted to build something that would impact lives, though at that point we really focused on implementing our work in schools and with young adults. Our mission statement then was all about bringing some practical learning to the world, specifically around money, and what we noticed was that the adults wanted it too.

    It took us a long time to really process to what it may have meant, but as we started to expand in our area, get more programs active in schools, and rethink where we were headed, it seemed like the thing that connected us and got us to the right people and to new customers was our philanthropic intent. Sure, the product was okay then, but our real connection was with teachers and leaders that felt this would have been valuable to them when they were young. Purpose was driving the bus.

    That mission started to evolve as we learned more. As we figured out what was working, what wasn’t, and made our first product (we made a sport out of money) into a philosophy and tested the hypothesis behind it, we started to think a little bigger. Maybe this wasn’t just for kids. Maybe this wasn’t for kids at all!

    It wasn’t long before the vision got bigger. Now, the world we imagine is full of individuals and businesses that are Financially Intelligent — making financial decisions that support their values, goals and communities because they understand their beliefs, emotions, habits, and mindset. To make this kind of thing real, you have to live it.

    Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

    I will never forget the feelings that have been a part of the last several months. Tears during phone calls, stiffened upper lips during conversations that were so raw and vulnerable, open and meaningful questions about our future capacity, and expressions of doubt and need.

    Our team shrank a little in the last few months, and even with a solid core still here, we opted to take pay cuts to extend our foundation. This meant we had to get vulnerable about our money positioning as individuals, which thankfully is our entire business. If we were going to go around touting that we could impact young adults or teams in businesses with their relationship with money, it was time we acted out our mission for ourselves.

    It’s rare to have really open talks about where you are in life. It’s hard. Sometimes scary.

    We as a team had to do it regularly, and part of leadership that I would encourage anyone to really deploy immediately, without any cost, is to listen intently. Speak last; Listen fully.

    Outside of that general insight, I try my best to lead the way I would like to be led.

    Sometimes I need something nurturing, for someone to listen and to hear me. And in other times, I need someone to push, inspire and show me my capability.

    But most of that awareness comes from watching others fail to lead well — an all-too-common reality for many.

    I can recall having almost contradictory conversations with members of the team on the same day — one needed nurturing, the other needed a push. And then another series of days where that completely flipped. We’re human.

    So my rules of leadership are usually simple, though I’m far from perfect and often mess these up:

    • The team comes first. Use “I” and “we” in the right places, and recognize that all elements of the team are critical to the others. Value is not distributed to team members unless you distribute it.
    • There is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in win. Sometimes you need to be the one to put the ball in your hand and make the bucket at the buzzer. Own that.
    • Culture starts with you. If you want the culture to be kind, then you had better be kind.
    • Watch your language. It matters. Watch how you talk about work, or overtime, or stress, or failure. People are always watching and listening and taking clues from you.
    • Learn when to speak and when to listen.
    • Letting someone else lead is a perfectly good example of leadership.
    • Not responding can be a perfectly good response to something. So can compassionate, loving listening and support. Learn what your team needs based on who they are, not what you think you’re supposed to say.
    • Play long term. Know the cost of a short term loss to a long term gain, and play to win long.

    Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

    Of course!! Nearly daily at the onset of the pandemic! I remember lots of tears being shed as I sat in my tub with the shower running over me. Head down, hands clasped, arms around my knees, hunched over. I was lost. I felt defeated.

    I don’t believe in motivation. It’s an emotion and isn’t a sustainable or reliable source for energy. I would say that a “why” is a much more powerful and consistent draw. If you understand why you do what you’re doing, you’ll be able to get through the moments of fear and challenge that inevitably come. Realistically, we’re all going to face tremendous emotional and financial hardship in business, and it’s only when you have a reason to keep going that you can. Otherwise, I would have left.

    Knowing that our work was helping others, supporting businesses and their employees and their families, it made it all worthwhile. Then as an added kick, my team has leaned on me and trusted me, and I knew I couldn’t just walk away and let them down.

    While some might call that motivation, I call it purpose.

    What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

    Be the stability your team needs.

    Pause your own emotions and create space for others to share their own.

    Take time to listen. Check in. Ask questions. Take off the work mantle and be a human for others.

    Be transparent. Know that sharing what’s happening is important, so is sharing what you’re feeling — to an extent. Remember, you’ve got to be the pillar that people lean on, not the other way around. And I believe that if you’re going to look for support, to triumph over your doubts or fears or paralysis, you should find that in areas outside your team. It’s okay to be honest and say you don’t have it figured out. But your team shouldn’t field phone calls when you’re at the moment of truth or weakness. Find your own separate support team.

    Also, expect to get less praise, less affirmation, less appreciation when it gets tough. It’s your role to provide that for others and yourself. The rest of the team is not responsible for your mental health; you are. But you ARE responsible for the mental health, or at least a positive contribution to it, of your team.

    As hard as it may be, you’ve got to be the stability, knowing that does bear some cost.

    When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

    I was explaining to a friend lately that the reason I’ve been so dedicated to getting out and playing more soccer lately (the first love of my life), is because I just need a win. I need to show up and know if I’ve won or lost, and I want to compete as hard as possible, until I collapse, during that time.

    In entrepreneurship, collapse is not okay. Wins aren’t as clear. So we have to approach the game as if it’s a lot more intricate, and sometimes delicate.

    Want your team to get in the proverbial boat?

    Get out! Get out of the office! Get into nature, get into a game, get out of the zoom routine.

    Take the team or let them go on their own, but get the whole group away from the work challenges and let them focus on something else entirely. There’s lots of engagement activities you can do with the group that are digital, too. It is a valuable thing to get distance from your problems before you look back at them and assess for solutions.

    Get out in nature. Give them days off. Find ways to make their mental health a part of the conversation.

    When you’ve got a recharged team, it’s easier to inspire for sure. And when it’s time to do this, paint the picture with clarity, not with glitter. Be honest about how hard it may be, what realities you are facing, what difficulties lie ahead, and of course — what glory looks like and could do for everyone.

    Pro-Tip: inspire with why and maybe where, but not with how. The how will come when your team is all on the same page — you can all collectively mindmap, brainstorm and build together!

    What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

    My advice here. Be direct, and act quickly.

    The longer you linger, the more you’ll push the integrity of the message away.

    Countless times, hard news seems like news to think about right? Think about how to say it, think about when, or where. But if you go down this path, you’ll always find a better way to say it later, and avoid saying it when it matters.

    My best advice to leaders reading this:

    Start with, “I’m not sure how to start this conversation, but there’s some news I have to share with you all, and it is both difficult to say and perhaps going to be difficult to hear. But we’re going to get through it together.”

    If you lead with that kind of radical vulnerability, especially when the truth is you don’t know where to start, I think you’ll find that it’s pretty effective. That doesn’t mean people will leap from their seats to high five the news, it just means you’ll be respected for the way in which you handled it. At the sign of bad news, that’s often enough.

    How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

    I previously thought the word “plan” meant path.

    I believed that I had to have the path so clear, with all the waypoints outlined and depicted.

    Through the months of the pandemic, this has required some editing.

    Instead, I tend to think of the plan as the ‘possibilities.’

    It’s hard to plan without so much uncertainty, but here’s what I’ve come to realize. We are always surrounded by uncertainty. We just have had a surge of it lately, but we are always without information about the future. We feel like we can project it, or feel like it’s a steady climb there, but uncertainty is everywhere in business.

    My adaptation, and our team’s adaptation, has really come from seeing possibilities as the plan — what’s on the horizon, can we stay agile, can we be nimble, can we test cheaply, can we verify without sinking in costs, and can we say yes to opportunities and recognize the cost of doing so.

    In this way, our best asset has become our agility.

    While some organizations may struggle with this, leaders would do well to help their team by outlining where they are, where they’d like to go and the possible pathways to get there. This will help everyone understand what could change, where pivots or bumps may take place, what could get cut or pushed forward, and what is most important.

    Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

    The best thing a company can do when things get turbulent is to be transparent. Share. Be open. Be honest. Be direct. The more information you can share, the better, and what you’ll tend to see in response is that the business starts to mirror this same kind of transparency.

    It hugs you back for being brave. Employees will tell you what’s happening and what they are afraid of. They will ask you for help. They will come to you with challenges and potential ideas to solve them.

    If you hide, they too will hide. So be brave, and open the vault a bit so that they can feel like they are a part of it. Leaders know how to do so without an agenda — simply because it’s what the team needs.

    Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

    1. Pivot Fast: There’s nothing worse than knowing you should do something and waiting. You don’t need validation, you don’t need market evidence after weeks of research. Leaders in business with experience should learn to trust themselves and their gut when presented with challenges, and sometimes that means making fast decisions that aren’t easy. The longer you wait to pivot, the more costly it is.
    2. Let Go: whether it be subscriptions, software, equipment or people, you need the whole boat moving the same direction. Follow the advice above about being transparent and providing stability, but once you’ve set the vision for the future, know that not everyone has to be in for it. Most importantly, it’s key to let go of the anchors before you set sail. Letting go can be done with compassion (for example, you can hold onto a team member while you help them transition to another job), but when things get tough, the cost of holding on to the old can be deadly.
    3. Grit Wins: when the storm hits, I’ve seen mindsets go to the darkest of places. The storm will pass, but as it comes in, we leaders have to be gritty defenders. Don’t run, don’t panic — just breathe and take it one day at a time. The way you win is you make it through this and allow this challenging time to make you stronger. Keep in mind that we’re playing a long game. I know it may feel like you’re beaten down lately. Stick in the game, find the support you need, and know that you can still come back strong. You’ll be stronger for it in the end.

    Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

    This is a tough question to answer, because each business is different and each industry is. So, let me try to put a few principals into the water.

    Mind your mind. When things get tough, scarcity can take over (it did for me) and you can’t grow while you’re thinking this way. If you need to disconnect, or find a mentor or peer that can help you see again that there are opportunities available, do what you need to do. When you start seeing red, you’ll notice more red. If you start noticing opportunity, chances are you’ll capture it.

    Keep memories short term. Don’t dwell on mistakes or losses. Better yet, when people ask how things are, don’t even bring up the hardships. It keeps you in the wrong state of mind. Focus on what’s ahead and let the challenges roll off your back.

    Call all your customers. See how you can help. Ask what they need. Listen to their experiences. You can not only keep your raving fans intact, but you can nurture the relationship and come out positive if you can help solve some of their new problems. This is a great way to test your pivot, too.

    Look local. There’s lots of opportunities around you, but in an online world we tend to think really macro. Instead, look micro — your area is very likely to have opportunities, but because you’re already present there (business or personally) you’ll have an automatic sense of trust. Humans work in tribes, and local tribes in the midst of chaos are powerful.

    Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

    The below 5 items skew more towards the emotional intelligence needed by leaders to get their team to tactically overcome an obstacle. The most powerful leaders understand the need to know how, but they also value the team’s morale, rapport and trust to get them through the hardship more than any tactical could.

    Good teams will get results when things are good.Great teams make things happen in the darkest of times.

    Wear the Right Hat.

    Ever shown up to a costume or theme party and realized you dressed for the wrong event? When your team needs leadership, individually or collectively, it’s important that you have a sense of what their needs are, so that you can wear the right hat for them.

    Sometimes we all need a fearless leader, militant in their optimism and collective swagger. But there are also times for vulnerable conversation and leadership that leans towards emotional intelligence. It’s important to know your team, check in on what they need, and ask questions. Then, when it’s time to be the leader, you’ll have the right hat on.

    I made the mistake of wearing the wrong hat early into pandemic times. I was trying to motivate when what we needed was space to vent. I couldn’t have been more obstructive to the team. I had to lay down the captain hat and be the listening leader. Doing so helped tremendously, as the team felt that they could actually have open conversations about fears. There was another time to motivate, but that particular moment wasn’t it.

    Sometimes it also becomes important to live in being human. Your team may have gone through hardships financially, romantically or physically because of all these shut downs. Maybe working remotely isn’t as easy for them, or they have a hard time feeling connected.

    Be sure to look for clues as to what hat to wear. And if you pick the wrong one, you can always admit it and swap in the conversation.

    Use the Proper Language.

    As often as I can possibly be, I’m incredibly intentioned with my words. Small language changes go a long way, and I work with my coaching clients on this diligently. The difference between “you are a failure,” and “you failed,” is MILES. The same could be said for how you respond to challenges. When you’re in a leadership position and times are turbulent, your team will lean in on your language whether you know it or not. This comes from deepened self-awareness.

    Sometimes, the wrong language will invalidate someone’s feelings. Or, it will cast judgement on a situation that isn’t necessarily true. Others will make something feel like a fact, when it serves better as a question.

    These are some common things I’ve heard or have said myself, and ways to be reframed:

    Improper: “People aren’t buying.”PROPER: “We haven’t found a way to reach the right people yet.”

    Improper: “We don’t have enough money for that.”PROPER: “This isn’t a must-have or priority at the moment.”

    Improper: “We have to let people go.”PROPER: “What could we do to keep people on board, even if that means short term collective sacrifices.”

    Improper: “Don’t be afraid.”PROPER: “I know things are scary right now. I feel that too.”

    Improper: “This has been a really difficult period for us/me.”PROPER: “This has really helped us get clear and focused through the challenges”

    Meaning is Meaningless.

    As leaders, it’s our job to guide what has meaning and what doesn’t. It helps with culture, but it more directly helps us ensure that our business is moving the right direction regularly. Similar to the challenge that comes with using proper language, we have to realize that all that’s happening with and around our business is only going to have the meaning we assign it.

    How easy is it to make a trend out of an event?

    Whether a customer bails, a product fails or an employee sets sail (like the rhyme, here?), be mindful of what meaning you make of this, to you and to others. This is not the time to give something incredible gravity — it just is an event along the horizon of your business.

    It doesn’t mean your business is doomed. It doesn’t mean your product needs to be redesigned. It doesn’t mean your employees are unhappy. Those things can be evaluated, but don’t assign major meaning to something that doesn’t need it. You are in charge of what meaning things have, and when you look back at what happened, you’ll surely be better off if you realize the meaning you give things is self-assigned and therefore can be changed to fit a more positive narrative. Get coaching if you need help with this.

    I made meaning of our loss of funding. I made meaning of our customers saying that they had to cut their spending and our program sadly was one of those to go. I even created meaning of our team being afraid (as if I wasn’t also terrified). Were they not brave? Did I have to be brave for them?!

    No! Absolutely incorrect, Aaron. Bravery is simply an acknowledgement of fear, and a choice to move forward despite it. We did that, but I had to be the first one to admit I was afraid.

    It wasn’t until I stepped back, got a little distance and could decide that the meaning I assigned was detrimental and crippling to me and the business, that we started to move forward.

    It was a pandemic that shaped the world. The world didn’t suddenly attack only our business. So we changed the meaning, and the outcomes started to shift too.

    Stack the Deck.

    We are in charge of the narrative that floats with our team and within the culture. We are also in charge of creating our own momentum.

    Whatever you can do to find a positive win, do so and build. Maybe you get an email from a prospect. Celebrate it, share the news, and move forward.

    Or maybe it’s some press. Or a sale. Or a team member has a great idea.

    Celebrate them. Build off it. Make the deck taller than it may feel.

    Getting momentum back was key for us. We had worked really hard for months, and come February, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to get the funding we needed nor make the sales that might offset that drop. Time to change the tune!

    But when you lose that kind of momentum, and all you know is that things are on fire around you, you start to feel like you’re trapped.

    Taking the time to celebrate what was going well, or what we were grateful for, helped our team keep our minds fresh and our intentions forward. We started to build up momentum with all these really small wins. It gave us our confidence back. Namely, it gave me my confidence back.

    First it was a cold email. Then it was a few new subscribers. Then it was a sponsorship/partnership opportunity. Then it was a teammate’s awesome video editing project. Then it was a cool excel trick that made some processes automated.

    By the time we got through these, we felt like we could actually overcome the bigger obstacles.

    We had momentum on our side!

    Mind the Gap.

    You are not your employee. Leaders — please realize that if you’re putting in 60+ hours a week to keep things afloat, the rest of the team probably won’t and probably shouldn’t.

    Not only do they not have the same kind of stake, but they also don’t have the same kind of lifestyle. This was a hard lesson for me.

    It’s critical to understand that you and your team have different life priorities. I personally live and breathe my businesses, for better or worse. And while that’s the phase of life I’m in, that’s also a choice as an entrepreneur based on my goals as a human being.

    Not everyone on your team will want a life or a work relationship to be the same as you.Learn your team. Meet them. Ask what they want. Understand what drives them.

    And while you’re doing this, mind that there will likely be a gap. No judgements are allowed here — just listen and learn. If your team wants to spend their evenings playing mahjong and their weekends on roller coasters, great! Now — how can you support them doing that in their role and in your business? Can you let them out early some nights? Is there an incentive you can offer them related to performance that helps them live the life they want?

    I’ve learned this the hard way. From various different business ventures, including Ortus Academy, I’m learning to work hard to understand what the team wants. If they want time with their kids, then it’s my job to facilitate that.

    Does it sometimes feel like that comes at a price? Sure! But that’s what leadership is. Just because there’s a need for me to work on my weekends, that doesn’t mean everyone else should. When I finally realized this, and could see my weekend hours as the enabler of my team getting what they wanted, and ultimately helping the business the most during the week, it reframed my weekend drag into a weekend jam session.

    I was liberating my team and getting us to a better position for the week, and I would encourage other leaders to understand this.

    You don’t need to work more hours to understand this, to be clear.

    It’s simply about understanding your role, your ownership and your desires in contrast to those on the team. If you can find what drives a person, you can simultaneously support them and their dreams and give the business what it needs from them.

    Win win, but only if you mind the gap.

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    This is from the Tao Te Ching.

    “The Master can keep giving because there is no end to her wealth. She acts without expectation, succeeds without taking credit, and doesn’t think she is better than anyone else. “

    This speaks to a big part of my core being. If we give with expectation, it’s manipulation. If we consistently own the work that is supported by an ecosystem, we deny others their part in its growth. And more than ever before in my life, I’m realizing I’m not special. I might work harder, I might put more out into the world, and I might get rejected more times than I can count on my way there. But I am just a normal human, doing my absolute best just like everyone else.

    All of this stems from the idea that I already have and am enough. While this has been the greatest struggle in my life, to feel like I am enough, it has also been the greatest source of growth and my ability to lead and impact others positively, whether that be to my team, my family, my friends, or my peers.

    How can our readers further follow your work?

    There’s a few places you can find me and Ortus Academy:

    The website for financial intelligence education is

    Our instagram for our students is @WeAreMoneyClub

    To talk about Ortus Academy’s Financial Wellness program or to talk about working with your business team, email me at [email protected]

    If you want to find me personally or my other work, projects and businesses:

    My instagram is @AaronVelky

    My other company, FrontRunner Events, does alignment coaching and corporate retreats for ambitious entrepreneurs and their team. Email me for details.

    I also have a published book called Let Her Play available on Amazon. It’s practical solutions tailored towards parents of female athletes.