As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Sanchez.
Amy Sanchez is an Executive Coach and CEO of Swim Against the Current (www.swim-against.com. She has helped hundreds of corporate leaders, from Fortune 50 companies to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, navigate important career transitions with intent and purpose so they can maximize their happiness, impact, and earning potential. Prior to coaching, in diversified senior marketing and sales roles, Amy built strategies, processes, campaigns and teams for some of the world’s most high-profile companies.
Amy holds an B.S. degree in Marketing and Psychology, an MBA degree from USC and a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) license, one of the highest coaching distinctions. She is a keynote speaker and industry thought leader, with published works in leading business publications, including Fast Company, Glassdoor, Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, and the CEO magazine.
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?
I spent the first 13 years of my career in sales and marketing for healthcare companies and loved the strategic side of formulating campaigns but it felt like something was missing. After my grandfather died and my daughter was born within three weeks of each other, I took a long, hard look at my life and realized that I was ready to pursue the dream that I had been harboring for years: apply my strategic abilities and intuitive gifts to help companies and those in positions of influence to maximize their impact in a positive way. I got my coaching license and since I opened the doors to my business, Swim Against the Current, things have taken off.
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?
In the beginning, I had a completely different image of who I would serve and how I would help people. Over time, that has evolved and now, I’ve found my sweet spot- helping corporate leaders and companies be the best version they can be. That taught me that I don’t always have to have the answer but I do need to stay open to the possibilities and learnings over time.
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?
My sister- her opinion has always meant a lot to me. When I left the security of corporate America to chase my dream of starting my own business, I struggled with a lot of personal doubts. But she was very positive and supportive and didn’t doubt my decision for a minute. That gave me the strength to continue my large and pivotal career transition and has allowed me to build the fulfilling career that I had always dreamed of, all the while having time to spend with my family while my children are young.
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?
My vision was always to high achieving corporate people clear the mental clutter that was weighing them down so they could connect with their purpose and achieve their full potential, both in business and in life. My purpose was to enable high achievers to drive positive impact. That is still my vision and my purpose to this day and when I make decisions to honor those, my business thrives and in a small way, it feels like I’m helping to make the world a better place by enabling others.
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?
My recent experience has been focused on partnering with top leaders who have been navigating some of the most challenging and rapidly changing times we’ve seen in recent history, all the while managing the personal stress in their own lives.
The ones who were good leaders before were able to successfully transition to supporting their team and driving results in a remote capacity. Those who struggled with leadership prior to the pandemic were those who had the biggest challenges when transitioning to remote leadership.
The key to success was how in tune each leader was with the needs of their team, their ability to prioritize projects, and how well they managed their own personal stress.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Many of the leaders who reached out to me for support during the pandemic (which were a lot of people) were at their wit’s end. They had dreams of quitting to relieve all the stress and tension but really wanted to think through their next move before they made a drastic decision.
Ultimately, it was at an urging of someone close to them to reach out to seek partnership. And it doesn’t take long to recreate happiness for a corporate leader. They already have the experience and drive to yield success. It’s all about clearing any mental roadblocks and destructive habits that serve no good purpose and asking the right questions to help them reconnect with their purpose to clarify their future.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
To practice self-care, to stay connected to and respond to the needs of the team, and to help set the right strategy and strategic initiatives for the company.
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?
This isn’t a quick fix that periodically becomes a priority. This requires a degree of empathy, high EQ, and the ability to make tough decisions when needed. The best way to keep a team engaged and motivated is to stay in touch with their needs, connect company motivations to personal motivations to drive results, and continuously recognize and reward good behavior.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be honest, be transparent and be optimistic. Allow time to answer questions and deliver difficult news as close to in-person as possible.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Contingency planning is key here. Companies and leaders are used to having to flex in order to meeting changes needs, even in non-COVID times. Make plans based on what you do know but create an organization that is nimble so you can quickly pivot when surprises arise and talk through what these “surprises” might be as early as possible.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
As overused as it may be, Keep Calm, Carry On, and reward good behavior. You may be constantly putting out fires which drives a lot of companies to stay task oriented. But be sure to take time to be people oriented. It’s the employees who will carry you through the hard times and keep you afloat.
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?
- Churn and burn- drive long hours, introduce lots of changes, and turn to firing (instead of other measures) when profitability suffers.
- Stay in reaction mode instead of anticipation mode
- Cease communication from leadership because there is no good news to share or a big change is coming and they don’t know how to frame the communication even though word is out.
To avoid the above, recognize and reward your people and give them breaks to recharge, move from a focus on reaction and instead to a focus on strategy and future-planning, keep up the communication through the organization and remain optimistic yet honest.
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?
Stay on top of growth trends and try to look at change as an opportunity instead of focusing on the doom and gloom. Look to generate small wins, and celebrate those, as a way to continue to motivate and inspire. Stay focused on the long game and not stuck by the short game.
Companies who are able to see the forest through the trees and pivot to seize the opportunities in the rapidly changing landscape are the ones who have been able to survive and for some, thrive.
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 most important things to consider when navigating turbulent times include:
1. Prioritizing how and where you spend your limited time to make the most impact- I’ve seen companies execute on several strategies at once with a skeleton crew and do nothing very well
2. The communication strategy to your team to keep them motivated and engaged- companies who stay connected to and engaged with employees, both through informal 1:1 conversations as well as large forums tend to do better than those who keep their employees in the dark. People are more motivated when they know what’s going on and they feel valued when they’re kept in the loop (they can also help uncover blind spots that you may not have seen)
3. How to manage the stress and demands of your role so you operate at your peak- I’ve been working with a CMO whose boss, the CEO, gets stressed and then picks apart her strategy and criticizes her decisions. Not only is that unproductive, it’s demotivating and although she’s one of the top marketing people in the area, she’s starting to respond to the numerous recruiting calls she gets weekly because she’s pulling 60-hour work weeks, driving great results, and not being supported by her boss.
4. Make sure you have the infrastructure to support the changes that you are making — I recently worked with a client who was hired to oversee talent acquisition and shortly after starting, it became clear that the company had major operational gaps and was continuing to expand despite the absence of sound infrastructure. Turnover was at an alarming high and customers’ frustrations were mounting. Leadership tried to hire one person to bridge the gap but didn’t realize that it needed to slow down and do an entire operational overhaul or they would inevitably collapse. It’s important for companies to slow down and understand the details required to support large changes.
5. Recognize and appreciate the people who work for you and celebrate small wins- time and again, it’s the companies who are taking the time to show appreciate for their employees and the extra hours they are putting in that maintain the lowest turnover and the highest productivity. This isn’t just about recognizing people in the form of financial rewards and gifts but it’s also about supporting them in their career goals and publicly recognizing people for their efforts.
Ignoring any of the above can leave a company navigating turbulent times up a creek without a paddle. But nailing the above can turn a turbulent time into a golden opportunity.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.-Ralph Waldo Emerson
I always turn to this quote when the situation around me feels overwhelming or hopeless. It reminds me that I always have choices and reconnects me to my top values. Through this mental reset and tending to my needs in time of immense stress, I always find my way out and the opportunity inevitably presents itself.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Go to my website: www.swim-against.com
Or follow me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-sanchez/