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 Gia Lacqua.
Gia is an organizational, cultural, and leadership transformationalist. She is a Certified Professional Coach, entrepreneur, consultant, board member, and former business executive.
As the Founder and Chief Empowerment Officer of elivate, a boutique coaching firm, Gia serves as a catalyst for change. She supports organizational clients by evolving the leadership model, and company culture to lead in the new now. Fueled by her passion for helping others actualize their fullest potential, she works with high achievers to unlock their next level of success.
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?
Absolutely! I spent 20-years in the biopharmaceutical industry supporting world-class businesses and iconic brands, dedicated to serving the needs of patients. My corporate experience resides in business ethics and integrity, risk management, change enablement, diversity and inclusion, and organizational excellence. I have spent most of my career leading companies and teams through strategic change, integration, and cultural transformation.
What I came to discover over the years was my passion for helping people and organizations overcome challenges and grow through change. I’ve tapped into this passion and in 2019, I founded elivate. elivate is a boutique empowerment coaching firm that serves as a catalyst for change. We support individuals and organizations in realizing and unlocking their fullest potential to power growth. We partner with high performing organizations to evolve the leadership model and organizational culture to reach the next level of success.
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?
I was 26 years old, and I just started a new job. My best friend suggested we go out for “a drink” the Sunday night before I was scheduled to go on a business trip. It was one of those nights where one drink turns into two…or four. The next morning, all I could feel was my head pounding, and regret. I managed to pull myself together and make it to the airport on time. I met my new boss at the gate. He could immediately tell that I was “under the weather.” We boarded the plane. Thankfully, we were several rows apart. I was never so happy to see the air sickness bag (also known as the barf bag) they provide in the seat pocket. Fortunately, he had a great sense of humor. When we landed and got off the plane, he turned to me and asked if I wanted to go grab a drink. Lessons learned: plan accordingly; and maybe it was time to give up Sunday drinking.
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 am very fortunate to have worked with, and learned from some fantastic leaders, incredible colleagues, and wonderful mentors along the way. Many of them saw things in me that I was not able to see in myself at the time. They encouraged me to embrace new challenges, and supported me in my career growth, and for that I am very grateful.
Soon after I started elivate, I started working with an amazing professional coach who supports me personally and professionally. She has been instrumental in helping me, a fellow female entrepreneur, build out my business. I wouldn’t be who, or where I am today without her. In my own moments of uncertainty, fear, and self-doubt (because we ALL have them), she is there to remind me of who I am, what I am capable of, and the clients who are in need of my services.
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?
Our purpose is simple; to serve as a catalyst for growth to maximize our client’s potential. Our purpose is fueled by our passion to empower individuals and organizations as they move from where they are to where they want to be. In fact, our coaching model is built upon three pillars: identify your purpose, pursue your passion, and elivate your potential.
Our vision is to redefine the leadership model. We are living in a state of continuous disruptive, rapid, and unpredictable change. The strategies that succeeded in the past, won’t be the keys to success in the future. We are committed to more than leadership development. We are passionate about leadership evolution. Today’s leaders need more than the latest book on leadership, or a training course to adapt to the new now. elivate provides leadership coaching and developmental experiences to drive behavior change and mindset shifts.
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?
Having led teams through several large-scale mergers, mid- and small-sized acquisitions, and reorganizations, communication and trust are key. More specifically, the rapport that you build with people during the good times are what you draw upon during the challenging times. Personal connection has always been an important value to me. I spend a lot of time investing in relationships and getting to know colleagues on a deeper level. It’s important for leaders to recognize, especially in today’s environment, it’s not just about the work. It’s about supporting your people holistically; it’s about breaking down the barriers that we all establish over time to protect ourselves. Even when I didn’t “have the time,” I made the time and the space to help people process what was happening, and to support them in working through their challenges. When a leader can create a safe environment where people feel comfortable taking down their figurative walls, to be vulnerable, the term “team” takes on a whole new meaning. Supporting people through the ups and downs became such a predominant part of my job that one day I walked into my office to find that my team redecorated. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they added a couch. From then on instead of saying, “my door is always open,” I would say, “my couch is always available.”
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Simply put, my motivation is my desire to help others. For me, it’s not about what kept me going, it’s who kept me going me going during the most difficult times.
My children are my greatest gifts, and source of inspiration. They inspire me with their creativity, their joy, their eternal optimism, and their unconditional love. They push me to my limits (in more than one way), and they inspire me to be a better person every day. I want them to know what it looks like firsthand to overcome challenges, even when they seem insurmountable. I want them to know that they are capable of doing anything they can dream, and that they have the ability to create change in the world.
My team was also a constant source of inspiration. I couldn’t look at them without seeing the commitment, dedication, perseverance, passion, and creative energy that they brought to the table every single day. They made it nearly impossible to give up. I was determined to identify the best way to lead my team through the turbulent times, to help them grow, and come out even stronger on the other side.
I am a firm believer in leading by example. If I gave up, what message would I be sending?
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Leaders need to show up. By that, I don’t just mean that you should physically go into the office (although that may help). It’s easy for leaders to walk the halls, take a coffee break, hold departmental meetings, and attend a lunch or happy hour with the team when things are going well. A leader’s true character can be seen during times of stress.
During times of uncertainty, leaders need to have a strong presence and maintain an open dialogue, even when there’s no new information to share. That may sound counterintuitive. Let me explain.
Being attuned to your team during the turbulent times is critical. Attunement is about understanding the individual needs and perspectives of your team members. It’s about knowing when to lead, and when to listen. It’s about ensuring that people feel connected and showing them that you care. People want to be seen, heard, and emotionally felt, particularly during hardship.
On the surface, it’s easy to think the role of a leader during challenging times is to give speeches and send emails to boost morale and to keep people motivated and engaged. Of course, there is a time and place for that, but the reality is, leaders need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. They need to learn how to deal with the raw emotions that people are experiencing in real time, how to handle the human discomfort that surfaces, to embrace the universe of unknowns, and to help others overcome their professional challenges, and personal struggles. It certainly isn’t the easy part of the job, but it is often the most powerful.
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?
Serve your team and maintain a people-first mindset. Change is the only constant. Leaders need to help their teams to focus on what they can control and embrace and adapt to what they can’t. Take the time to understand their individual needs. Coach and empower them to grow through change. Identify the areas where they can have the greatest short-term impact. Equally as important, acknowledge the uncertainties that are outside of your control. It is human nature to fear the unknown. Help your team to counter that fear with curiosity and creativity.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Be real. People want honest, direct, candid, and timely communication. Withholding information when it’s unnecessary, sugar-coating bad news, and communicating in dribs and drabs is typically not effective. It can undermine your credibility and erode the trust that people place in you as their leader.
It’s important to provide regular updates as you’re able. Remember to balance the negative with the positive and give people an appropriate forum to voice their questions and concerns.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Embrace adaptability and adopt a growth mindset. Organizations needs leaders who are committed to professional development and personal growth to keep up with the pace of today’s environment and evolve in an uncertain and ambiguous world. Leaders need to maintain a strong vision and establish high level goals, but they need to maintain a flexible framework to achieve those goals. They need to be agile, adaptable, curious, and open to new possibilities.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Stay true to your core values. Values are the bedrock of your culture.
Culture is the personality of your organization. It is defined by your ways of working. In other words, it’s how an organization gets things done. Values must be connected to behaviors that embody your culture.
Change is here to stay. There will be times when you need to shift the strategy, adapt your approach, revise your goals, adjust your targets, and even make changes to the team in response to the rapidly evolving environment.
Your organization’s core values drive the behavior of your people, which is particularly important during turbulent times. Values keep people grounded and focused on what is important, so they don’t waiver when faced with difficult decisions. It helps them to stay true to the organization’s principles.
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?
- Complacency. It’s easy for companies who have historically achieved success to get stuck in old ways of working. They may tend to do things the way they’ve always been done, replicating a model that has worked in the past, and therefore can be reluctant or slow to change. The business environment has dramatically changed, and we need to acknowledge that old ways of working may not serve us in the new world.
- Loss of focus. During times of stress, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the different needs and priorities. This can lead to resources, most importantly, people being stretched too thin. It can also result in hyper-activity, without results. It’s important to prioritize your needs and focus on the one or two critical things that will move the needle.
- Not putting people first. Remember to invest if your people. During challenging times, it’s easy to get caught up in the strategy, and numbers, and singularly focused on the customer or client. When we lose focus of our people, they can become demotivated and disengaged, which can lead to more problems. Focus your energy on the people who are executing that strategy, moving those numbers, and serving the customer or client.
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?
First, focus on your why. What’s your purpose? Why do you do the work that you do? Leaders who are adept at leading teams through change know that it is imperative to maintain a strong sense of purpose, and they connect people to that purpose. The focus on the customer or client and their underlying need is what continues to drive momentum and growth, even during a difficult economy.
Second, focus on your people. It’s easy to become preoccupied with the external environment, however, leaders must invest as much, if not more resources internally by supporting their people during turbulent times.
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.
- Build your capacity for mental agility. Mental agility is the ability to look at a situation from multiple perspectives and think creatively and flexibly. To be able to adjust and respond to new situations. Leaders must maintain an adaptive mindset to keep pace with today’s rapidly changing environment. Instead of solving a problem by looking at best practices within your industry, try looking at the solution from the lens of a different industry.
- Cultivate intellectual curiosity. Be willing to admit that you don’t have all the answers. None of us do. Demonstrate humility and confidence by maintaining an open mind, and endless curiosity. Maintain a growth mindset. When leading a meeting, specifically ask for dissenting opinions. Give others a voice. Instead of saying, “does anyone disagree?” say, “I’d like to hear from those who have a different perspective.” You are more likely to get a response that will stimulate thinking.
- Foster psychological safety. Create an environment where everyone is valued and heard. One where difficult and candid conversations are welcomed. This requires empathetic listening, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and interpersonal acceptance. Psychological safety is the bedrock of agility and innovation. Admit and embrace your own mistakes. Instead of saying, “what can WE do differently next time?” say, “in hindsight, I did not make the best decision, but what can we collectively learn from this experience?”
- Lead authentically. There is an unprecedented demand for more human leadership. Be true to who you are and embody your values. Leaders who can demonstrate authenticity are able to foster more collaborative, and more cohesive teams. Ensure your words and actions are congruent. You can say that you value work-life balance. You can even encourage your team to stop working at their designated time, but if you’re still in the office or online well beyond quitting time, your actions will speak louder than your words.
- Be courageous. We need brave leaders who will serve as change catalysts. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, confront problems head on, and address the elephant in the room. Be willing to take smart, informed risks. Do what’s right, even when it’s hard. Challenge a long-standing practice or position that no longer serves people in the way it once did. For example, many companies are re-evaluating their working schedules and working environment in a post-pandemic world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” — Albert Einstein
Every challenge in life provides an opportunity for growth. We all experience life events that serve as defining moments. It’s what you do in those moments that define who are you are and who you want to be.
Resilience is a critical life and leadership skill. Building resilience is a quality that allows us to overcome obstacles and challenges rather than being immobilized by them. It’s the ability to persist, grow and thrive in the face of adversity.
As I reflect on my journey, I think about the life lessons I took from my own challenging times, and how I drew upon them during my turbulent times as a leader. Here are a few examples:
Becoming an aunt to my premature niece.
My first niece was born 14 weeks early and came into this world weighing 1 lb., 10 oz. The doctors handed us a 200-page book listing all the complications she could experience; assuming she survived. They let us know that she would be in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for ten weeks. The situation was beyond my control. She was so tiny and fragile that I wasn’t even able to hold her, but I was there for her. Every single day. I was present, and I made sure she knew it. Sometimes I would sing to her. Other times I would read to her. Then there were times where I would talk to her. I would tell her about who and what was waiting for her in the outside world. Other days, I would just sit quietly and listen to her baby breaths and the beeping monitors. When she was born, her little eyes were still fused shut and had to be opened by the doctor. Tape was placed over her newly opened eyes to protect them, so I knew she could not see me, and I was unsure if she was able to hear me. Even though there wasn’t much I could actually “do” for her at the time, I made it my job to be there. To show up for her. To be present.
It’s the small, everyday moments that matter. Sometimes your presence is what’s needed most, and consistency is key.
(I am happy to report that my niece just finished her senior year of high school and will be starting college in the fall!)
Meeting my biological father.
I arranged a meeting with my biological father for the very first time when I was 23-years old. I didn’t show up that day trying to change history, or even with the intent of altering the course of the future. I certainly wasn’t naïve enough to think that I would be able to make sense of it all over a cobb salad in Manhattan. I was very simply focused on what I wanted to get out of our time together.
Forgiveness benefits both parties, the giver, and the receiver.
Breaking off my first engagement.
I was first engaged to be married a few years after college. When I was 24, I realized that I couldn’t go through with it and that it wasn’t the right path for me. At the time, my world and everything I knew was turned upside down, but it gave me a chance to start over.
Sometimes you need to lose yourself in order to find yourself.
Holding my daughter’s hand in the PICU.
My older daughter was in and out of the hospital. By the time she was five, she had already made multiple visits to the local emergency room for her medical condition. She was admitted twice before the age of three, once to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). It pained me that I couldn’t control what was happening inside her tiny body, but I did everything I could to control her environmental factors, to get her the best medical care, to be there for her, and teach her that no matter what life throws our way, that it would be ok, and we will manage through it together.
Focus on what you can control, maintain a positive mindset, and remember that we are stronger together.
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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!