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 Jeannie Moravits Smith.
Jeannie Smith is America’s Leadership Advisor, who creates breakthrough experiences from the inside out, allowing her clients to increase positive intent & productivity, energy, alignment, connection, and engagement with themselves and others.
Jeannie is the founder of HR-Rx, a Leadership Mindset and Organization Development Consulting firm established in 2005. Now with over three decades of experience, Jeannie has helped thousands of leaders learn how to take charge of the catabolic thoughts and feelings that control their mindset and replace them with anabolic energy. Prior to HR-Rx, she held Executive Leadership roles at a variety of organizations. Jeannie holds certifications in Leadership Coaching, Energy Leadership, & Human Management, as well as a Master of Science degree in Human Resources.
She is the developer of PEACE, a Mindful Leadership Training and Coaching program and has shared the Fearless Women’s Summit stage multiple times with Thando Diomo. For her expertise, Jeannie has been featured in several Mindful Leader podcasts and on the Senior Stay or Go TV show.
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?
During my undergraduate study, I stumbled across several human-centric courses. Not only did I really enjoy them, but the work also came extremely easy and interesting to me. This is when I discovered my passion for being the bridge between managers and employees, as well as the bridge between problems and solutions. I spent decades as a Human Resources Leader in various companies in a variety of industries. I helped leaders build organizations, define then enhance their corporate culture, orchestrate mergers & acquisitions, and learn how to be authentically resilient. In 2004, I had an opportunity to move from San Diego to San Francisco to continue employment with a well-known software company but decided to pass as I had recently moved my Mom across county to be closer to me. Another move would not be good for her. While contemplating my next career move, I made the decision to start my own company and in 2005, founded HR-Rx.
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?
There are many mistakes I have made in my career and I have learned something from each one of them. The one that gets quite a few laughs when I tell the story and therefore perhaps the funniest is the time I was in a series of meetings with many different leaders of an organization. During what was supposed to be a quick bio-break, I decided to take the stairs instead of the elevator and got locked in the stairwell. I was not able to get out of the stairwell nor could anyone hear me trying to get their attention through the little window in the door. I did not have my phone with me and was completely out of options. The team thought either something bad happened to me in the restroom or I had ghosted them. I just sat down and laughed until an employee finally made the decision to take the stairs and discovered my locked-up self. I ended up landing the gig. The team and I laughed about it for years. Now I never let a door close behind me in a stairwell unless I have a resource, such as a key card, to get out and I always proactively communicate my plans to take the stairs. It was a great lesson learned.
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?
There are so many people from whom I learned and received help from along my career journey. One, Joey H. Langlois Jr. was not only my financial advisor and a friend, but also very much a father figure to me when my Dad was killed by a drunk driver. Joey inspired me to reach for the stars from a business perspective more so than anyone else. He and I would meet regularly, and he was always so delighted to hear of my wins. He taught me how to set up a business and educated me on who needed to be on my team to not only succeed but to thrive long term. He was a phenomenally successful businessman and respected me as a strong and influential businesswoman. Sadly, Joey’s life abruptly ended in 2014 from an untimely accident.
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 I founded HR-Rx in 2005, I had a vision to be a resource to as many leaders as I could. I wanted to make their business life easier by being able to outsource aspects of their Human Resources function to my company knowing the responsibilities would be managed with the utmost professionalism, confidentiality and that they could rely on me to be a solid business partner and to take care of all human-centric aspects of the business. My purpose was and is to partner with leaders to flip the switch on the thoughts and feelings controlling their mind so they can live connected, both personally and professionally with themselves and others. Productivity, energy, accountability, and engagement improve when humans are connected. The business of people has so many facets. I help leaders understand and prepare for the unknown. Leaders do not know what they do not know and that is often what gets them into compliance trouble, especially in California. I have always been inspired by those who let me help them be even more successful.
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?
I was the head of human resources for a software company that was experiencing high turnover and disconnect across most functional areas. We underwent a company-wide initiative to determine and develop the company culture. Culture is important to an organization because it provides consistency, order, and structure, it establishes an internal way of life, and it determines the conditions for internal effectiveness. Our goal was to create a high-performance company where our values, main processes & procedures and programs supported our core culture. We determined our core culture, captured our culture’s strengths, determined our core culture’s level of integration, and degree of wholeness and balance to ensure we built a strong, integrated culture that allowed people to really perform at their best. It was a remarkable experience and a huge success.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I most certainly did consider giving up several times. My motivation comes from the way I was raised. My Mother taught me not to give up on dreams. Things will change over the years but when you are passionate about something, giving up is not an option. My drive is sustained when I stop, take a breath followed by a break to get my head back in the game. I know that tomorrow is a new day and I always wake up ready to take on all challenges through the eyes of opportunity.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Leaders should continue to practice servant leadership during challenging times where their focus is primarily on the growth and well-being of others. It is important for leaders to share power and put the needs of others first and continue to help people develop and perform as highly as possible. Being able to remove obstacles getting in the way of individuals success is key. Leaders should ask their staff what they can do for them.
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?
During uncertain times, leaders should ask their staff questions then sit back and listen to what is being said. It is equally important to tune into what is not being said as well. Leaders should never assume that they know what thoughts others have. We should always ask questions that generate honest responses. People are honest when they feel they can trust their leader and when they feel safe that their response will not generate an adverse reaction.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Show up authentically and tell the truth when it is good news and when it is bad news. As a Human Resources professional, I have had to communicate some tough messages and have been surprised by the compliments on how the situation was handled. I have always said treating people with dignity and respect goes a long way. Timing of messages is equally as important as what is being said and how. I always communicate the “why”.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Maintaining focus and removing unnecessary complexity can help leaders make plans even when the future is so unpredictable. It is important to start working differently, change the behavior, and include a high degree of human engagement. Leaders should view priorities based on how those priorities will be executed then clarify one goal their team should focus on.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Trust is the number one principle in all successful relationships and what can help guide a company. Without trust there cannot be true connection. When staff members feel a connection to their leader, they will do whatever it takes to help them out. When there is a lack of connection, even the best intentions will be wasted. Trust others and show up in a manner to be trusted.
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 mistakes businesses make during difficult times are associated with ineffective communication. No one likes delivering tough messages, but leaders must do what is right for the business which often means making difficult decisions and communicating the good and the bad. It is always essential for leaders to be honest about the challenges the company is facing, even when they do not have all the answers or the good news. The bad news is what people need to hear directly from their leader. Another common mistake is not showing compassion and transparency. Leaders who operate with compassion and transparency during difficult times will generate greater trust and dedication by their staff. The worst of all mistakes is when businesses resist change. Accepting that change is a necessity is the best asset during difficult times. Businesses that survive the most difficult times do so because they are able to pivot as needed.
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?
Business development continues no matter what. I have a strategy I use that consists of a variety of routine procedures that are calendared and completed on a regular basis. During difficult times, it is important to learn what is most pressing to your customer. I often pick up the phone and have a conversation, facilitate meetings with a variety of leaders from a variety of organizations to discuss the most critical and timely issues and come up with solutions. Great minds think alike and bringing leaders together provides an amazing opportunity for all to succeed.
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.
To lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times, business leaders must:
- Lead with emotional intelligence to create an environment in support of the best performance from everyone on the team. I take the time to be a strong mentor and a solid support in helping others better themselves. I pride myself on being sensitive about what matters most to others. Knowing that everyone is different, I am mindful to embrace the differences and strategically leverage them to create and sustain opportunities for my client’s businesses.
- Communicate effectively and make it a regular part of the business routine. I use multiple modes of communication to ensure everyone receives key messages. I always include the why in all that I communicate. Listening is such an important part of effective communication. I create opportunities for others to talk. I ask questions and then I listen, truly listen. I also listen for what is not being said. I live the values and messages I embrace, walk the talk, share good news and bad and, especially important, I admit when I have made a mistake.
- Be authentically resilient. Our ability to thrive when things get hard depends on our resilience and the choices we make. Resilience is a function of our authenticity and attitude. I know firsthand how valuable being authentic is. It is “where the rubber meets the road…” I have been told that if you have an emergency or a crisis, you want me there. As a result of my high level of authentic resilience, I have been able to exhibit some of the most remarkable feats in short periods of time allowing for successful outcomes.
- Remain open to change. Openness to change refers to an individual’s level of acceptance and conscious awareness of the possibility that change may be needed across a range of situations and scenarios. I learned early in life that change is inevitable and when we flip our perspective to see change as a growth opportunity, change is welcomed. I played a key role in a software company acquisition; I was prepared for everything to change… and it did.
- Trust and be trusted. Organizations and work groups perform better when led by a trusted leader. Teams cannot function without trusted leadership especially during turbulent times. I live my values in relationships with colleagues, clients, and friends based on integrity. Without integrity, leaders function solo. I appreciate those who are willing to bring bad news to my attention and I am not afraid to admit my own mistakes. Those who know me would say that I always tell the truth, even if it is inconvenient. Nothing destroys trust as much as dishonesty. Being the youngest of six children and spending three successful decades in my human-centric career, I naturally hold conversations in confidence, and I do not waste my time with gossip or politics. Lastly, I publicly encourage suggestions from everyone on the team and I listen to the contributions with equal respect. The benefit of doing so not only demonstrates that everyone has value but surfaces a diverse set of viewpoints, perspectives, solutions, and trust.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You can change anything you set your mind to. It is all possible. My entire life I have been challenged with obstacles. When told by others it is impossible, I find a way to make it happen. “If there is a will, there is a way!”
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