As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Kris Whitehead.
Kris Whitehead: CEO of New England Custom Remodeling, Founder of ICONIC Alliance, and Director of Executive Coaches at Break Free Academy. Kris’ mission in life is to empower tomorrow’s leaders TODAY with leadership mindset, business fundamentals, and cutting-edge marketing. Kris has helped thousands of clients find their purpose and live it fully in every aspect of their lives. Kris is a contributor to Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and many other publications sharing “HOW TO WIN, In the Trenches.” He is also a loving husband and father to 3 young adults who are making an impact on the world themselves.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
At the age of 24, I was working for a corporation about 100 hours per week. I was invited to go see a motivational speaker along with upper management, and half way through the program I looked down the row and the District Manager and I were the only ones awake. The seven other managers were completely zonked out. I was surprised because I felt this gentleman was speaking directly to me, and I couldn’t fathom why they couldn’t stay awake.
After the event, I asked the DM what the ascension path was in the company, as well as the potential pay structure.
Although I was impressed by the strong 6 figure income potential, I was taken aback when he told me he worked 6 to 7 days per week for it. I realized immediately that he worked as much as I did, albeit for more pay.
From what the speaker had just shared and the vision it created for me, I could not justify giving that much time to a company for the remainder of my working career. The money wasn’t worth it and working with others who weren’t even motivated enough to stay awake when someone was pouring into us all was extremely disturbing.
I literally began thumbing through the yellow pages, calling all real estate companies I could find to begin a lawn mowing business. By some miracle, a broker answered the phone and said he didn’t need any lawns mowed, but he did need a countertop installed. This began my career in remodeling homes.
That was 23 years ago and we run a very successful design/build company in New Hampshire and over time, I realized the extreme need for mentorship for business owners in scaling their business without being a slave to it. I have become the Director of Coaches for Executives earning 6–9 figures annually at Break Free Academy, one of the Top Personal and Professional Development Masterminds in the world. I also work one on one with clients who need a personal mentor.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Alignment is greater than Assignment. After years of being a business owner, 3 partners, and hundreds of employees, I learned about Core Values and Standard Operating Procedures. Although these definitely aren’t new concepts, I was always so busy scaling, selling, and training that I never paid either much attention at all.
I joined a mastermind group, called Apex Entourage (where I am currently the Director of Coaches for our Executive Members), and my coach spoke to me about Core Values.
I learned that there are 2 distinct personality types at the top of any business. There is the Visionary and the Integrator. My coach happened to be an integrator and I am a visionary. An integrator’s role is to systematize operations within a company.
For my coach, everything begins with Core Values. As we sat at a dinner table with 7 others, I was listening intently as he spoke about scaling a multimillion-dollar company. He began to tell me that when you get really clear on your personal and subsequently your business core values, you can find people that share a similar vision with you. You can also begin to make hiring decisions on whether that candidate has personal values that match the companies.
I learned that speaking about these values from the moment the interview begins, all the way through weekly trainings, is a way to get the entire team to march in the same direction and produce repeatable results.
This is where Alignment with values is ALWAYS more important than a skillset someone brings. It ALSO is a great reason to develop Standard Operating Procedures. If you find people whose values align, you can train them on tasks. The easiest way to train is to have SOP’s documented. We use google drive, loom videos, and Evernote to store all of our SOPs.
Many of our “How To’s” are recorded and changes are updated online, so that we are always relevant and maximizing our time. Our new hires can easily watch the videos at home and get up to speed quicker because of it too.
The MOST amazing part of implementing core values into our company culture is the “drama” began to lessen. People began to self-regulate and intuitively know what the “right thing” to do is, in almost any given situation.
For me, I began to notice that our company was creating a hive-mind, of like-minded people. Every employee speaks these values into the marketplace with their actions and words. Clients now are more comfortable because we actually attract them to us with these values.
I never would have known that something so small was the missing link to creating an effective team.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake to memory was when we first began in 1998. My partner, my wife, and I were priming and painting the interior of a home that had smoke damage due to a backed-up furnace. There was black soot all over the walls, so we had to use an oil-based primer to block the stains from coming to the surface.
It smelled awful, so we each had cleaning rags tied like a bandanna around our nose and mouths. We were all furiously working away until the homeowner returned. She asked me a question, and as I pulled the bandanna down to respond, I began giggling. I didn’t know why, but trying to answer her question seemed funny. Then my wife began to laugh, and so did my partner.
The homeowner looked at me with big eyes and said, “Ya’ll are high!” We all laughed at that too!
Well, in our stupor, I didn’t realize she thought we’d taken drugs.
I just agreed with her and she left because the fumes from the paint literally made our eyes water.
As we finished the priming, we all went outside and within minutes, we all had huge headaches. Our minds cleared, and we realized that the primer was making us stupid. We finished the work, which was for a major insurance carrier, and left the job.
To add insult to injury, the company NEVER hired us again, probably because the homeowner told them we were using drugs.
The lessons were 3-fold.
#1. Know what you’re doing and protect yourself and your employees from physical danger. Seems simple, but bad things can happen in a second, and taking time to know best practices can be a lifesaver.
#2. Communication is EVERYTHING in life and business. Assumptions can be career-enhancing, but more often are career-ending. Taking time to understand the intent behind someone’s words can save a lot of headaches (pun intended) in the future.
#3. Be willing to innovate. In this situation, they made products that we’re much less noxious than what we used. We were so focused on using the cheapest product to capitalize on profits, and it wasn’t necessary. Even though we applied top coats over the primer, I am quite sure the house smelled that way long after we were through. Sometimes, people are willing to pay more to avoid hardships…that is, if you can give them the benefit of WHY.
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 about that?
My first mentor, Lonnie Robinson. I met him online and we began a dialogue over 10 years ago. He didn’t rush me or brush me off when I was inquisitive about coaching. Instead, he took time to get to know me, what I wanted, and even helped me in a classic “go-giver” fashion.
As I implemented his training, we eventually became business partners. I owe a debt to him that money cannot repay because he showed up at a time I was really confused and scared about reinventing myself. We’ve gone on and sold millions online together, but our mentor/mentee relationship morphed into a respect for each other as individuals. It has helped me be a better husband, father, friend, and boss to those in my circles. It’s where I learned that Alignment always beats assignment, meaning who I am surrounded by influences my outcome way more than what I choose to do for a profession.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Over the years, and not just in business, I have learned that my opinion is not gospel. Just because I think something, or feel something, doesn’t make me right. Bringing people in from different cultural, socio-economic, and even religious views, gives us the power of EMPATHY.
As a team, we can assimilate other’s experiences through the stories we tell, AND witness and feel the way other’s treat us based upon our differences.
Although I believe one of our core values is to generate income for our company and all who work within it, we must also realize that we are on the FRONT LINES as an example of HOW business MUST operate. We literally teach and elevate the public as to how business and relationships are meant to be handled. Our diversity is one of our strengths because it gives us the opportunity to educate our prospects and clients that even though we are different, we can still hold values that are important to each of us individually.
We show an example of harmony where others find discord. We show empathy where others judge. We display tolerance in a world that wants to create factions.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Three of our four core values are Integrity, Information, and Innovation. I believe any society worth building must have integrity branded into the culture. The idea of doing what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it is an easily understood concept. Following up and making things right when you fail on it is another story all together. In order to have an inclusive and equitable society, we must make right on promises we fail to follow through on. I think taking it a step further and welcoming those we make commitments to, to hold us accountable for making our integrity whole when we fail is a necessary step too.
Information is simply communication. The belief and action of integrity leads to proper communication, and is the hallmark of every great interpersonal relationship I have. Being willing to communicate and letting go of assumptions allows for everyone to have a voice, feel heard, and invites growth, security, and inclusion.
Innovation, or the ability to find more efficient ways of doing anything is what humans seem preoccupied with, yet often, people are scared of change. Embracing change and letting go of preconceived notions that no longer serve efficiently, requires energetic willpower. By nature, innovation allows for the best ideas to rise to the top because of the results they produce. Where we often fail, is maintaining an “end” goal and a spirit of exploration while going through changes.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The “buck” stops with the CEO. He or she is responsible for the health and success of the group. Ideally, this requires selfless service to each of the members of the team, ensuring the objectives are met in a holistic and sustainable way.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth is the idea that employees serve the CEO. In my research, the most effective leaders are those that have a servant’s heart. Although the leader has the final call and it must be respected in order to maintain order, it doesn’t mean he/she cannot be challenged or followed blindly.
It is so easy to get lulled into a sense of entitlement, especially for power-hungry people. It is also easy to esteem someone too much who is in a powerful position. We tend to idolize celebrities and others in power positions simply because society places so much emphasis on it.
This can easily lead to striving to get “there” by any means necessary, with “there” being the highest level, and once attained, is a spot to be used, abused, and lorded over others.
The very best leaders, in my opinion, are ones who use their power to enable those on the team to thrive at their tasks and long-term objectives.
The best leaders are those who understand that VALUE is always reciprocated. Maybe not from whom it’s given, but it always is. Leaders who teach future leaders this universal principle are growing a foundation of unique individuals who will always deliver AND receive benefit far greater than a single individual’s efforts.
We call it leading from the front and it has always worked, and it always will.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I had to go through a lot of growth, personally and professionally, to be ready to run a team worthy of leading. The most surprising thing is that most people prefer to be told what to do with minimal responsibility. In order for me to have and lead a team of top talent, I have to continuously seek new ways to grow ME.
As I do focus on being the most elite version of myself, the “A” players on my team seem motivated to follow suit without much prompting.
This is in stark contrast to how I first began; cajoling, training, and motivating my team. The reward didn’t match my efforts year after year. Yet, when I began to focus on leveling myself up, which I DO have control over, I began attracting employees who were in search of how to better themselves, inside and outside of work.
Presumably not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
In order to be an executive, or leader who truly impacts and grows a team, I believe that person must be accountable and have impeccable integrity. This is so important because a lot of the work of a successful executive is building trust with their team. Trust is built because words and actions match…and your people will be watching to see how much both matter to you.
Understanding that there are often people vying for power within an organization is important too. A successful executive MUST know what responsibilities are theirs to own, even if someone else is willing to take the task(s) off of their hands. Just because it’s an area of weakness, doesn’t mean you don’t own the results as the leader. It’s as important to hear and see what isn’t being said or done, as it is to take someone’s narrative on how or why they do what they do. A clear indicator of such power plays is someone taking the authority to act autonomously WITHOUT taking the responsibility for their actions when a less than desirable result occurs.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Focusing on core values and Standard Operating Procedures is the absolute biggest bang for the effort given. SOP’s provide a road to walk down to reach a chosen destination, and Core Values teach how you will strut. Most people love knowing the guidelines to follow and MOST CEO’s don’t focus on these areas enough.
For our teams, I see these as critical tasks I must focus. This is the drum I beat on so that our soldiers are emboldened to do their tasks and know exactly HOW to march.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I invest a lot of time teaching younger entrepreneurs (and seasoned ones too) how to effectively run a business. I am so proud and fortunate to be able to run businesses, and I have learned most of my life lessons as CEO/owner of several companies.
Since 9 out of 10 businesses fail over time, I believe we all have work to do and help to offer to ensure the strength, success, and value delivered for our future generations. I utilize social media as a platform to offer advice, encouragement, and “in the trenches” experience to those who are striving to be the best they can be.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
The 5 MOST important things I wish I’d have known before I began as leader of my companies are as follows:
- Begin With The End in Mind
I wish I’d have known to dream bigger from the beginning. It’s often said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in 10.
Taking the time to understand the team you have, the dreams of individuals on the team, as well as the collective talent can begin to give you an idea of what goals and aspirations each has for a more rewarding career. Knowing from the beginning how to propel that team to new heights with a STRONG VISION for the END GOAL is how to generate maximum growth for the company and everyone they serve.
2. Be the Example You Want Others to Follow
I thought that running a company allowed me to dictate and delegate tasks I didn’t want to do. Even though that’s true, in order to be the REAL leader of your company, you have to teach individuals from INTEGRITY.
If you want your team to grow, they’re often going to need to work on their personal development. You cannot demand excellence from your team if you aren’t willing to live in excellence either. Somehow, some way, the speed of the group is always determined by the speed of the leader. If you want your team to grow, GROW YOURSELF FIRST.
3. Alignment > Assignment
I wish I would have known that it’s more important WHO is on the team than the tasks they actually do. As I’ve grown personally, I’ve seen a direct correlation to the talent we attract and KEEP inside our companies.
It’s easier to teach people who align with my personal beliefs about life the skills they need than it is to teach someone with expert level skills how to treat their fellow employees, our clients, or their community at large with integrity and decency.
4. Core Values MUST Be First
Following up on #3, the best way to attract the right talent is to focus heavily on CORE VALUES within the company. It starts with the first interview and never ever ends.
Core values has a way of aligning everyone on the team to a common cause and a direction for the well-being of our company. Along with a strong vision as a goal, the core values are the foundational blocks we utilize to make sure our ship is pointed due NORTH.
5. Develop Leaders Not Followers
Learning how to delegate and NOT micromanage would have saved me years in frustration in business. Focusing on a bottom-up feedback loop, where upper management creates communication tools to HELP our employees on the frontlines has been a game changer.
Instead of disempowering our employees by having to report to micro-managing on the next level, we encourage our employees to ask for the help they require to make their tasks more successful.
This way, everyone on the team, from the CEO down through management is involved in empowering those who produce the results our clients paid for to begin with. This has increased efficiency and empathy as our employees move up to higher level positions within our organizations.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
We’ve already started a movement, it’s called ICONIC Alliance. We are educating entrepreneurs to put PEOPLE before PROFITS. This doesn’t mean we teach people to “give it away for free” either. We elevate entrepreneurs to offer REAL WORLD value that is worth what they charge.As we find solutions and teach owners how to find their IDEAL clients, we educate them on how to find a maximum lifetime value by delivering services that exceed expectations and light the path for others to find and live in their purpose.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you help enough people get what they want, you get what you want.” -Zig Ziglar.
This is my favorite quote because I have always naturally been a giver. What I had to learn to overcome was the feeling of martyrdom from NOT receiving what I expected in return. Even though I seemed to have a strong “go-giver” muscle, I realized that my expectations led me to taking calculated risks with a return in mind, even though I fooled myself into thinking I was being magnanimous, when actually I was only manipulating others in the process.
Once I began to really dive deep into who I wanted to be, what I wanted, and trusting that I would always be provided for if I truly helped others with no expectations, the game began to change for me. It began with REAL friendships, developed into respect in business, and has finalized in having a network around me that wants to see me win as much as I help them win.
It was difficult and painful to learn that I was the cause of my own suffering, even more difficult to kill my ego, and boy has it been worth every second of the discovery process.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I am connected to and coach some of the most influential and successful entrepreneurs in the US right now, 10+ figure earners, athletes, sports icons, you name it. I don’t say this to brag, I am actually humbled beyond measure.
My hope is that if someone should be tagged, do it. If someone organically finds this and wants to connect, awesome.I appreciate the opportunity to give back to a community that’s helped me realize MY dreams of fulfillment.
I can always be reached at https://iconicalliance.com/