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 Ivy Slater.
Ivy Slater is a professionally certified business coach, speaker, author and podcast host. She works with private clients and corporations to scale their businesses and implement sustainable growth practices. Her work focuses on strategic planning, communication, sales, leadership and using the power of relationships. She hosts roundtables, facilitates meetings, offers training and speaks nationwide.
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 was a dance major in college, thinking that would be my career path until a devastating injury flipped my world upside down. So, I went the traditional route and then ended up fired from my first job. This led me down a path for the next several years of working for two different women entrepreneurs, and I knew I wanted to own my own business someday. I took a job selling printing for my father’s company. It was a completely male-dominated field and women were not in sales or leadership roles back in the late 80’s. Honestly, I didn’t want to work in printing and I certainly didn’t want to work FOR my father. But, I started to learn a lot. I learned relationships I had built from my past jobs were my ticket for new clients in this field and I took the sales training from the women leaders and it set me apart from the men on the street selling printing. As my sales continued to grow, I had more confidence and asked for more responsibility. Over time, I was no longer seen as my father’s daughter. I was seen as the woman who brought in equal business, or more, to the top performers. I spearheaded merging the company solely so I could have a second child and after five years went out on my own completely as the CEO of my own company. My husband and I were traveling, dining out, going to shows and living a full life in New York City. By all society’s standards, I was successful. I had it all, right?
Then I turned 45 and went through a midlife crisis. Was I going to die a printer? It wasn’t my dream. I knew there was more to me and for the legacy I wanted to leave in this world. I had BIG ideas. My skill set was in communicating with people, encouraging them, inspiring them, giving them advice and coaching seemed like a natural path for me. I started my coaching business in 2008, giving up a massive salary and jumping into possibility with curiosity and confidence.
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?
The funniest mistake I made in my coaching business was thinking I knew how to sell a service. I came into it with the completely wrong mindset. After running a successful business, managing team members and delivering to high-level clientele, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. I never cried in my printing office, but I cried so much I had to laugh in the early days of Slater Success.
This business was emotionally different for me; it touched close to my heart. I didn’t figure out how to make money for a few years. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, I was making so little that our NYC lifestyle was in serious jeopardy. We were raising two kids in one of the most expensive cities in the world and I had to figure out a plan.
The biggest lesson I learned was that I was selling the result of great service. When I sold printing goods for 10K, I wasn’t actually selling that. I was selling top-notch service, separating myself from other vendors. When I focused on my clients’ needs and the results I could bring them by engaging with them, working their goals and being the support they desired, the money finally came in.
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 father made the biggest impact on me in business and even though he had already passed when I began Slater Success, his lessons were right there with me.
He taught me two vital things. One was to always know your numbers. He said if a business owner couldn’t get out a piece of paper at any time and rough out where they were financially without asking someone else, they were in big trouble.
He encouraged me to look for new ideas and new strategies, but then think about all the things that could go wrong. He asked me to picture a piece of cheese and each little hole I poked in it would be the problems that could arise. If it was still edible and together by the end of it, I had something with which I could move forward. Swiss cheese is great, even with all the holes.
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 to support women leaders in a business world where I felt like we fought daily for equality. The purpose was ensuring women had the ability to earn what they were worth.
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 morning of 9/11 comes to mind immediately. I was walking through Times Square, about to get a coffee and head to the office. I remember looking up at the big screen and seeing coverage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. At that moment, everything stopped. My first thought was that I knew my kids and husband were safe. My second thought was where is my team? Were they in the office yet, would anyone still be on their way? How could I keep everyone safe?
My entire team ended up at my apartment and we spent the day calling clients and connections and letting them know they could come to us if they needed a place to stay. Fast decisions and making ones when we weren’t ready defined that day. It’s something that has stuck with me as a leader, always. What also stuck with me was that taking care of people and being of service to others was what keeps business alive. No one cared about money or deals that day. We cared about each other. Our priorities would never be the same. What do our clients need? How can we support them? That became our ultimate goal. Leading during COVID-19 has been very similar. The first thing I remember doing when the lockdowns started to occur was reach out to my clients and my team. I wanted to know if they were okay, could I do anything. Human connection is a lot more important than how much money is in the bank account. Leading with your heart and gut rarely steers you wrong.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
In my 25 + years as a business owner, I have “quit” numerous times. We’ve all proclaimed, “I’m done!” And then we show back up the very next day, refreshed and ready to go. I truly believe we make a difference. We have the ability to change people’s lives. As long as I have breath and energy, I am here for it. My drive is sustained by my clients’ successes. They completely thrill me and I love being a part of their story.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Leaders need to continue to see possibility and step into opportunity. They also must execute decisions and never stay stagnant. Stop worrying and start taking action, because action is the solution.
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?
A leader should share what is possible, share positivity consistently and create a team that inspires one another. Team meetings should start with each member getting to share a story or something inspirational. Everyone should take and share. Even if the meeting is taking place on a chat, all members should have the chance to chime in.
Leaders need to encourage their team, acknowledge their successes and celebrate with them. The team should feel motivated and supported, because people show up for your company 100% when they can take ownership in the vision. Be honest with your team, tell them what is coming up in business development and share with them as you are navigating challenges and your vision for pulling through. Trust them and be a real team where you work together to find the best result.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
You need to be honest. When there is a problem, let someone know and also how you are working to resolve it. If you need to let someone go, give him or her something to work toward. Let them know the strengths and skills they brought to the team, but also why it wasn’t the right fit for your particular organization. I once received a thank you note after letting someone go and I’ve maintained strong relationships with many of my former team members.
If you need to tell a client bad news, let them know how you and your team are working the problem. Keep them in the loop if they want updates and respect their wishes if they’d rather just hear about it once the issue is solved.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Every leader must be in planning mode. We might not have all the information, but we must look at what we have and take the next step. Surrender to not knowing it all. Plan in shorter time frames and make mini-goals and mini-plans. We never saw 2020 in our 5-year plan. What can you do in the next 30, 60, 90 days and start taking the actions toward the goals. Revise plans as needed and adapt if you must. To-do lists should always be results-oriented.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The “What CAN I Do Attitude?” When I’m faced with a challenge, this is the first sentence I say to myself because there is always something I can do. It doesn’t matter if the thing you can do isn’t the ultimate solution, it will at least get you moving and taking some kind of action. Usually, the ripple effect happens and before you know it, solutions are appearing organically.
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. The Ostrich effect. Don’t bury your head in the sand and not face your problems.
2. Panicked decisions. Don’t respond from an emotional place.
3. Living in regret. Take ownership of your decisions and look forward, not back.
Avoid all of these by taking action and bringing together support from your team or mentors to brainstorm options.
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?
Pivoting. My business started out as a coaching company working with women entrepreneurs in the early stages of their businesses. When I knew financially I needed a bigger client base, I began speaking and building relationships with large organizations. Now, I coach entire corporate teams and established 6- and 7-figure businesses.
Stepping into opportunity. Even if I wasn’t ready, I took the leap many times. I spoke at the event, ran the webinar, facilitated the meeting, etc. Opportunities have led me to amazing places and to meeting fantastic resources that have all aided in my growth.
Mindset. If I want something I tell myself “it’s here and it’s done.” Then I figure out the details later. I reach out to my network and support team, remain open and willing to try new things and believe my goals are possible.
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.
1. Listen with your ears, heart and gut. There are several levels people communicate on and only some come out of their mouth. Example, I was hired by a client to work with their analytical team. The other departments were relying heavily on the data acquired by this team, but they weren’t asking the department for the numbers how they needed to ask. The analytical team felt out of the loop, when they were really the hub. It was a simple communication issue. When I introduced how to ask specific, strategic questions to gain further insight, they felt it was a game changer for their team.
2. Habits. Leaders must know their numbers and numbers tell a story. It’s not just financial numbers; it’s sales, marketing and team. You never want to be scrambling when it comes to your finances. This is information great leaders should always be on top of, along with their own self-care practices. You can’t take care of others when you are not taking care of yourself.
3. Know the strengths of your people and how to use it as a resource. Form a top-tier team and trust in them. You can’t do it alone and you need people to delegate to, brainstorm with, rely on and have on your side.
4. Be a strong decision maker and commit. Assess your options and make decisions knowing you have the ability to course correct. Indecision stops all growth for not just the leader and the team, but the entire business.
5. Relationships. Keep connecting, building, enhancing and nurturing old and new relationships. When you have those moments of needing to pull together a support team or resources, they will be at your fingertips. These relationships also give you the power to connect other people to one another and be a catalyst for introductions. That is more valuable than you’ll ever know.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A goal is a dream with a deadline.” — Napoleon Hill
You can achieve anything if you keep dreaming has always been my inner message. I’m also a big planner, and a strong believer in goals, so deadlines force me to take action and stay in motion, even when things seem impossible.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Instagram: @ivyslatersscLinkedIn: Ivy Slater
‘Her Success Story’ podcast, available on most podcast platforms