Aspart of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Horyza.
Helen Horyza is a career development expert, award winning author, and public speaker. She is the founder of the Career Coach Entrepreneur Academy certificate program and inventor of the Elevations® career assessments. Helen has a gift for uncovering talent and directing it to achieve extraordinary results. She holds a Master of Science degree in Career Counseling from California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) and is a professionally trained coach through Coach Training International.
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?
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by what makes people tick. As a result, I studied interpersonal communication, psychology, and organizational development in college, not knowing exactly where it would lead me. I knew I wanted to be a counselor of some sort, beyond that, I was lost.
When I got to Graduate School, I discovered career development. The clouds parted and I saw my destiny clearly. I would help people determine their purpose and life’s work. Subsequently, I have spent the past thirty plus years as a career coach. It has been a broad platform allowing me to do meaningful work as an entrepreneur and in organizations, helping leaders develop their talent.
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 clearly remember (at age 29) asking the Director of the Career Center at my first job out of graduate school for help interpreting a career assessment. Mistakenly, I figured my boss would be able to help.
He was a tall, stately man with grey hair. Surly he’s a pro, I thought. I went into his office and asked for guidance. He looked up at me and said, “I don’t know anything about assessments, if you can’t figure it out, it’s your problem.” I was stunned and a bit terrified. What do I do now? I quickly called my sister on the phone. After listening to my panic for a few moments, she gave me the golden advice, “Be supportive,” she said. It seemed a bit too simplistic but I was running out of time.
A few minutes later the student walked into my office. I set aside the assessment. I focused on his accomplishments, pointed out his strengths and offered practical steps he could take to move forward academically and in his career pursuits. We did glance at the assessment, but it was the supportive feedback that make the biggest impact.
From this early experience I learned to worry less about the technical side of my work and always honor the human being in front of me. By the way, my boss was fired a few months later and I was promoted to his position.
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 biggest accomplishments have been recent ones. I authored a career assessment called Elevations, I founded the Career Coach Entrepreneur Academy certification program, and became an award-winning author. I have a mentor who showed up at my office about six years ago who has been my champion and my sparring partner through these recent achievements.
My first meeting with him was an informational interview. He came to me to learn about the career development field. I was struck by his intelligence and integrity. Intuitively, I knew we were similar in nature, but different in talents and capabilities. He has offered me invaluable advice and rock-solid support. It’s amazing how people come into your life at different stages when you least expect 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?
My vision has never wavered. It is to inspire people to reach their full potential. Every morning when I wake, before I put my feet on the floor, I reflect on my top three values which are meaningful work, helping others, and having fun. I filter my decisions through my values and my vision, keeping my business and my life on track.
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?
Founding the Career Coach Entrepreneur Academy during a pandemic was exciting and challenging. The team included my two instructors, consultants to help me launch a marketing webinar series, my CPA, graphic designer, attorney and more.
The key to my success was both passion and persistence. I was moving forward toward a long-held dream to launch a cutting-edge career coaching certification program utilizing all of my accumulated knowledge and intellectual property. Most important to team success was tapping into their expertise and giving them the autonomy to shine. Second, was consistent and ongoing communication as I developed the curriculum, built out the learning management system, and structured to live and self-study aspects of the program.
Our first cohort of students bonded with each other and grew both personally and professionally. My instructors confidently mentored the students guiding them towards ambitious goals. It has been, to date, the most rewarding achievement in my career.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Sometimes during a sleepless night, contemplating an unknown future, I wonder if I’m going to make it. I never consider giving up.
I am a fan of both persistence and patience. Most things take longer than I want them to. And, occasionally, I run into huge obstacles, financial challenges, and ridiculous learning curves making progress even harder. As I mentioned before, keeping my personal values front and center gives me resilience. I combine that with taking an accountable perspective. My and my team are committed to a policy of not blaming others and not making excuses. Accountability allows us to stay focused on problem-solving rather that counter-productive hand wringing or attacks.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The role of a leader during challenging times is to be the catalyst, channeling communication, supporting the team on a values level, and actively encouraging accountability. A consistent focus on problem-solving allows the team to stay buoyant and positive in the face of adversity.
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 rely on customized communication. I know the talent profile (values, enjoyable skills, temperament preferences and interests) of each of my team members. This allows me to encourage and support each person in the specific way that matters most to them. Additionally, being genuine, transparent, and honest builds trust in difficult times. My team knows I share as much information, as I can as quickly as I can, so they don’t get bogged down worrying about the unknowns.
Regarding inspiration, motivation, and engagement, we spend both work time and social time together. I give timely, specific and positive feedback so people know where the stand and feel appreciated. Having fun and sharing a few belly laughs also helps everyone stay on track.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Accurate, to the point, and timely.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
First, leaders and their organizations need to navigate towards work and opportunities that match both capacity and demand. As we develop our strategic plans, we consider our genius skills, the competitive landscape, and customer needs.
For example, recent polls showing that nearly 60 of middle-income Americans are considering making a career change (Source: Harris Poll-Fast Company Magazine, February 2021). This data makes us confident that our career coaching certification will thrive as people seek short-time training leading to remote work. We keep out eye on the trends and adjust as we go.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
It’s not sexy, but the number one business metric I watch during turbulent times is cash flow. Without cash, we are toast. So, the principle behind that is pay attention to the fundamentals of your business. Do not overspend or move impulsively where times are uncertain. Focus on the things you do really well and do not deviate.
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?
In the coaching and organizational consulting industry, I observed my colleagues making a range of savvy moves and mistakes. The most common mistakes were to:
- Become frozen and take a wait and see approach. This powerless perspective left a number of organizations floundering, lacking focus and drive.
- Jump at every opportunity out of fear. This left a number of business burdened with unrewarding or poorly compensated assignments, unable to strategically focus as the pandemic is lifting.
- Become resentful or resistant to new technologies and steep learning curves. I watched a lot of people tell themselves stories about being unable or unwilling to work remotely. This left them stranded as the world shifted around them.
The one thing to keep in mind is curiosity. Stay open to the possibility that there are gifts in the midst of the crisis.
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?
Self-awareness is the single most important tool a leader can draw from. Understanding your vales, and being verbal about them, allows your team to understand your motivation and what matters. Knowing your communication style, trigger points, skills strengths and capacity to deliver allows the leader to be a steady force, no matter how challenging circumstances become.
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.
- Communicate to the Needs of Others:
A keen awareness of your own communication preferences and a deeply studied understanding of how other people communicate allows you to be relevant, persuasive and connected. Under pressure, in turbulent times, it easy to assume that other people need what you need. Situational, customized communication that taps into the needs of your team and your customers makes you much more effective.
2. Operate From Your Personal Values:
I start my day thinking about my values, I have my values posted as my signature line on my emails, and I share my values with my team without hesitancy. This is a great start, but not nearly enough. Your personal values need to be the determining factor as you make difficult decisions, especially when you are under pressure. When you do this, you will show up consistently with integrity and wisdom.
3. Utilize Your Enjoyable Skills:
In uncertain and turbulent times, it may be necessary to take on tasks that drain you. This can work for a while, but over time becomes toxic. Be very clear about the skills you enjoy using. Engage in work that feeds your soul. This will give you the energy to keep going despite setbacks and uphill climbs.
4. Take an Accountable Perspective:
The level of self-responsivity you take is the measure of your success in both good times and bad. Going on the attack and throwing other members of your team under the bus is tempting. In fact, it might even be justifiable. In the end, it’s usually a self-indulgent waste of time. When leaders choose to be accountable, they free up their mind and heart to be creative and resourceful — essential survival skills during tough times.
5. Use Your Courage:
There will be a moment of truth when you have to make difficult choices. You will likely be hunting around for some guarantee of success or at least a promise that your efforts will not completely fail. Based on solid research and a gut check, you must move forward. This is brave. Demonstrations of courage will inspire your team and allow you to navigate the unknown.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”― Maya Angelou
I believe courage is the fuel for leadership excellence. I try every day to harness my courage to be the best person I can be.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Visit my website [email protected]. From there you can check out my book Elevate Your Career: Live a Life You’re Truly Proud Of, subscribe to my YouTube channel and newsletter and check out the Career Coach Entrepreneur Academy.