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 David Hernandez, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at lotus823. He leads his team in catering to a diverse range of clients with a multidisciplinary approach. He established the award-winning integrated marketing agency in 2010 with his wife, Allison, and brought more than 20 years of experience to the business that supported its swift and steady growth. As a leading force at lotus823 and with a mantra rooted in strong and passionate leadership, David has brought to life his vision of creating a company culture that attracts the best people and fosters growth.
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?
Like many entrepreneurial companies, lotus823 had humble beginnings. It all started at my dining room table, where my wife, Allison, and I developed the idea of an integrated approach to marketing communications. I was working in public relations and wanted to fill the void that traditional media presented as the online world grew. Now a full-service agency, lotus823 combines traditional public relations, progressive content marketing, search engine optimization, social media, and Amazon marketing.
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?
One of the funniest mistakes I can remember was in the early phases of lotus823. We were building out a trade show promotion for a client and I was ordering metal buckets that would be filled with the brand’s product and some promotional items. Unfortunately, I was so tired that I ordered miniature buckets, the size of a teacup! When our team received them, it was like a scene from This Is Spinal Tap! Everyone laughed at how tiny and unusable they were — I must’ve turned purple. Luckily, we had time to order the correct ones and the client was none the wiser. I think one of my main takeaways from this was that I’d been trying to do too many jobs at once. I was trying to wear all of the hats in the beginning, and there were times when I surely did. But, I learned that I can’t always do it all, and there are times where mistakes are made. Now, we’ve built an amazing team at lotus823 to make decisions, collaborate and be autonomous where needed.
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’m going to follow a total cliche here, I know, but I have to thank my wife, Allison whenever I have the opportunity to. Her unique expertise and experience in business operations and HR truly brought lotus823 to life. I learned so much from her in regards to what my strengths are as a leader, and that I wanted to have a holistic, people-first approach in running our business.
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?
When we first started lotus823, I had over 20 years of experience in sales and marketing and was beginning to get into public relations. I knew that I wanted to build my own company with a foundation of collaboration, support, growth, and fun for our employees. I truly wanted to create a place where people felt recognized and comfortable enough to be creative, where their ideas were valued. In terms of business, we wanted to follow the evolving business model for our client’s needs — combining traditional public relations, progressive content marketing, search engine optimization, and social media, amongst other forms of marketing and web design. Our cross-platform approach definitely draws a group of creative professionals that builds powerful connections for our clients.
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?
The beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly a difficult time for many business owners. With a lot of uncertainty and stress in our team’s personal lives, within the world, and in business, my main priority has always been keeping my team’s spirits up. As a team that loves to be surrounded by one another in our open office setting, we encourage different ways of virtual communication like coffee breaks and happy hours with one another. We also come together on a Positivity Board chat, to keep up with everyone and share the things that make us smile. As a leader, I always want to celebrate my team’s wins and make sure that we have time to connect through fun virtual events. Having an engaged team means you have the environment for transformative work so we keep tha top of mind whether we are in our physical office or working from home.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I think that especially in today’s climate, every business owner has had doubts and uncertainties. No one has any clue what tomorrow may bring, but in some ways, that’s what motivates me the most along with my team. I push through these challenges because I see how hard my team works, and know that they have as much faith in lotus823 and their clients as I do. My team and their strong passion for what we do drives me to overcome, face bumps in the road, and maintain a positive outlook.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
It is so important to embrace the fact that things are uncertain and be open to discussing it with your team. I would say that the most critical role of a leader during challenging times is definitely maintaining a balance of support, transparency, and empathy. Giving clients and team members a safe space to share their concerns, acknowledging that things are chaotic, and providing reassurance is key in moving forward.
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?
Optimism is a quality that people respond to in a leader. Employees want a reason to come to work — a feeling of purpose. For lotus823, we find that every single day there are multiple reasons to celebrate our teams and the great work that they’re doing. Even during a pandemic, we want to show them that there is more normalcy in their lives than they might realize. One way that we do this is by boosting morale by giving each other “high-fives” in our 15five business management platform. It’s a place for celebrating select employees who were nominated by their peers for demonstrating our core values, such as helping someone out or doing great work.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
It’s important to clearly communicate and be fully transparent with my team and clients. This honesty allows you to figure out the best and most realistic way to move forward after hearing or delivering difficult news. The key to clear communication is providing as much detail where possible and allowing the team an opportunity to ask questions and to express their concerns. Hear them. It is easier to shy away from an uncomfortable conversation, but much more valuable to engage and learn what more the team may need to know and areas to focus on.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
First, it is important to fully accept that things are uncertain. It is best to carry on how you know best while being prepared for the unexpected. Second, it is even more important to have flexibility. Leaders should make plans that they can pivot to in a variety of difficult situations and be able to act fast when needed.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle by far is communication. That is the business I’m in after all! When there is a lack of communication, people make false assumptions or are left feeling more confused than relieved. It is best to leverage as many methods of communication as possible so that the team may express their concerns. Whether this is through email, an anonymous survey, or meetings.
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?
The most common mistake is miscommunication. Leaders should know how to communicate in a way that educates both their team and their clients about relevant issues. Relaying information to others within the company in a way that motivates them, rather than discourages them is key, and ensures that they won’t suffer the following pitfalls.
- Lack of praise or celebrating the team’s wins
- Not listening to other leaders within the organization, your clients, or team members
- Straying from the business’ core values or poor decision making
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?
Sticking to company values is key here. We always put our people first, whether it is a team member or a client. To quote Jim C. Collins, the author of Good to Great, “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” You need to listen and show that you truly value who you’re working with so that you may improve. This may mean dropping Facebook ads that aren’t as effective in increasing sales on a product in order to cut costs or creating a new strategy to meet the changing needs of your client in this economy. It also means surveying the new reality your clienst and potential new clients are in and finding opportunities. As I mentioned earlier, flexibility and the ability to pivot are critical as we learned this past year, your reality can change suddenly with little notice. You need to be resilient and keep your core values close if you want to grow. Great leaders can see beyond the hiccups if they utilize all the tools available to them, anticipate the next move, and keep forging on.
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.
- Know that there is no such thing as over-communication. Shifting to a virtual, work-from-home lifestyle was hard for us because we love to talk to one another and love collaborating. Online communication requires an emphasis on details, honesty, and saying exactly what you mean. Address concerns, celebrate successes and participate in conversations as much as you possibly can.
- Focus on what you can control. There is not enough time in the day to worry about everything. I like to remind myself every day of the things I’d like to work on, investing time in the things that will benefit my team and clients, and future opportunities. This puts me in the mode of taking action.
- Allow humor. Some people have different ways of coping with stress. Humor is one of the methods that we’ve found great success in. We have a Positivity Board and “Questions of the Week” dedicated to jokes, photos of our pets, and sharing funny stories. It might not seem like a huge deal, but it allows for some fun and brings us some light every day.
- Inspire and uplift your team. When leaders are confident in themselves, they’ll uplift and inspire others. Consider changing your language to sound more sure of yourself. Frame your messages in a positive way that makes your team feel confident in what they’re doing, and provide feedback along the way.
- Recognize wins. Everyone likes a little bit of recognition for their hard work and some celebration when they’ve accomplished something big. Each day, ask yourself “what is going well?” or “who did a great job today, or taught me something new?”. Share your thoughts with everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
To quote Jim C. Collins again, “when what you are deeply passionate about, what you can be best in the world at and what drives your economic engine come together, not only does your work move toward greatness, but so does your life.”
As I look back on the setbacks or roadblocks I’ve faced in the past, I know that I can reflect on them with clarity and hindsight. I see them as valuable lessons, meant to show me that what I’m doing is meaningful. When we face a difficult situation, it is sometimes hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But, for me, this quote reminds me that my passion and that of my team continue to drive me through any challenge. There is beauty in all of the hard work and in knowing that you’re contributing to something great.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can further follow my work through my LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/davidhernandezlotus823/) or by visiting lotus823.com