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 Rachel Graham, the Founder and CEO of Evolve and Transform. She is a business entrepreneur, leadership and development coach, and an empowering optimist. Having gone through her own personal journey as a family member of a loved one who struggled with unresolved trauma, mental health, and addiction, Rachel saw the need and opportunity to educate people, business leaders, students, and professionals to remove the stigma around addiction and compulsive behaviors (of which we all have), while encouraging individuals to find their meaning and purpose in life through their skills and individual experiences. By understanding the underlying and often limiting behaviors associated with compulsive behaviors, addiction, mental health, and trauma, individuals improve their optimal performance personally and professionally.
As a result of this personal crisis, she co-founded and currently serves in the capacity of CEO for both Healing Springs Ranch, a residential 28-bed treatment facility for addiction, and Life Works Wellness, a start-up wellness digital platform. Much of what she learned in executive development provides a strong foundation for teaching not only addiction recovery but the overall health and wellness of every individual.
She is very involved in various business organizations and has a long-standing entrepreneurial and corporate background in different segments of the healthcare industry. Her career encompasses multiple facets of the healthcare arena including; addiction treatment, coaching, managed care, and other organizations. Rachel is an active and contributing member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) and a member of the National Charity League (NCL) among other philanthropic organizations.
Rachel’s life purpose has taken her on a successful speaking journey across the globe; becoming a sought-after international speaker with phenomenal feedback to audiences of multi-Continents including North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. Rachel delivered a TEDx speech entitled “Why Addiction is Everyone’s Disease.” She has been interviewed and featured in various publications and broadcasts such as CNBC, Inc. 500, “The Misfit Entrepreneur”, “Destigmatizing Mental Health”, “How are you Helping?”, and “Coffee With Claire” just to name a few.
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?
My story began through a hardship with a loved one who was struggling with addiction and compulsive behaviors. As a result, I was able to see the deficiencies in residential treatment for addiction and was absolutely appalled. I decided that rather than fighting with the facility I would be the change that the industry desperately needed. Along with some partners, we created Healing Springs Ranch in Tioga, TX., a 28-bed co-ed residential treatment facility.
About seven years ago, I also created Evolve and Transform LLC during some of my darkest moments as a symbol of hope and something to strive toward as I tried to climb my way out of the dark hole I found myself lost in. I wasn’t sure what I would do with this business, but I knew I needed to evolve and transform to rise above the constant challenges and seismic shifts I was going through. Evolve and Transform LLC is now my speaking, coaching, and teaching platform where I share my own personal story as well as tools and education around finding meaning and purpose in one’s life after tremendous adversity.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In my very first professional leadership role, my business partner and I had a meeting with an outside lending source to explore ways to obtain additional operating capital. As I sat there and listened to the EGGREGIOUS loan terms, I stopped the lender mid-presentation and said, “What is the difference between you and a loan shark?” to which he so eloquently replied, “I wear a nicer suit.” My business partner kicked me so hard under the table and was furious with me. The next day the lender (also an entrepreneur with an innovative business idea) called me and asked me to go work for him. He said it was pretty bold to make the statement I did in the meeting and that he needed someone bold enough to help him develop and promote this new idea and service. The lesson learned is that most entrepreneurs appreciate brutal honesty and authenticity. Don’t be afraid to speak how you feel as it can lead to bigger opportunities.
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 grateful for my family’s support, honestly. I am so appreciative for the turbulent events that ensued with my loved one that undoubtably helped shine a spotlight on what I was supposed to be doing with my entrepreneurial skills. This loved one has been trying to make amends with me for many years. I finally told him that I had forgiven him a long time ago and he has given me the greatest gift one human could give another: clarity on what I needed to be devoting my life to. My entrepreneurial background combined with my life crisis created a foundation that serves families and loved ones who have found themselves in similar positions.
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 partners and I were called to the mental health/addiction industry to be a force for change given we all had personal experiences with addiction in one way or another. We are the only facility I know of that marries the mental health, trauma, and addiction aspects to treat the whole person. We focus on life coaching, life skills, the medicinal and healing quality of food, and the benefits of good quality sleep and physical movement as well. I teach a leadership development group to our clients (note they are clients and not patients) which gives me time to mentor and coach clients to help guide them toward their life’s meaning and purpose. I always say where your skill sets/talents intersect with your passion, you find purpose. Your job is to play your life game above that intersection point. I live a very purposeful life. It is not easy at all, but it is more fulfilling than any other entrepreneurial endeavor I have ever been involved in.
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?
We have continued business as usual during this pandemic as we are an essential service. I’ve really had to change my leadership game since we only have essential staff members on our campus. This has made it difficult to see/connect with others in a meaningful way. I use video conferencing a great deal. The benefit is that we can still see each other, wherein if we were in person we would be masked and six feet apart. I have more organized touch points with our team and have tried to be more communicative (maybe overly communicative in some ways). I believe having compassion and also encouraging everyone not to become paralyzed by what they see/hear in the airwaves is extremely essential as well.
One of the beauties of this pandemic is that we’ve really been able to analyze our processes and procedures to find different ways to top grade and improve our business strategy and care delivery. This has had some growing pains associated with it, but it will be amazing when everything is complete.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
YES!!!! I have a coaster on my desk that says, “Failure is not an option,” that I look at daily. We’ve had the typical start up challenges, financial challenges due to managed care, the pandemic, the crisis aspects of running a behavioral health facility (especially because we take higher acuities than other facilities), etc… Our role, as providers in the addiction and mental health environment, is often thankless. There is high burnout in this industry. It seems like just when you reach your breaking point, you get a call from an alumnus or a family member of an alum (note we call them alums if they complete our program) thanking you for saving their lives. When that happens, you dust yourself off and get moving because there are more lives you get the chance to influence or save through the program.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Patience! Patience is an absolute ingredient when managing through turbulent times. I am still learning and growing here. When I get stressed, I tend be very direct and usually need time to retreat and think about what our next step(s) should be to get the ball rolling. I constantly tell myself this is a marathon and not a sprint.
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?
As adults, we want to feel valued. One of the things I have done is interview our alums and play their videos before meetings as they share their experience at our facility and how everyone has impacted their growth and, in some cases, saved their life. There are often tears as we remember those individuals when they first arrived at our facility. Many were close to death from decades of substance (drugs and alcohol) and other compulsive and destructive behaviors. It’s amazing to see vibrant, thriving, and high functioning adults contributing to society in a very positive way.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Direct and head on! Take a high integrity approach. Most people can deal with difficult news when they feel like you have given them information timely and to the best of your ability. Admit when you do not know the answers and solicit the input from others on how to remedy the situation.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Engage the expertise of your team. Many heads are better than one, especially when we seek to navigate through difficult and sometimes unprecedented times. Flexibility is key when change is inevitable as a result of constant developments and new information. I think the biggest lesson I had to learn is to get comfortable with ambiguity, which is the anthesis of what we are taught in business school.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I believe communication among leadership and the leadership of their teams are essential during turbulent times. I think looking at your company culture and ensuring that you are walking and talking that culture creates trust.
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?
I think some of the common mistakes I have seen are:
- Allowing toxic individuals to sway the general population. I think we still live in an era wherein we allow ourselves to become emotionally “bought into” negative behaviors/actions. It’s human nature to go to “what is wrong” or a victim place vs “what is right” or “what opportunity will this difficult event create for us as an organization” creator mindset. We must challenge the toxic mindsets and move toward an empowerment and healthy dynamic.
- Create an environment based on facts vs. emotion as emotions typically escalate during difficult times.
- Recognize that this is a season of the business, and every business goes through ups/downs. Be visible.
- Top grading performance year after year is essential to management during difficult times. Talent needs change with the business landscape. Frankly, change is an essential ingredient to the life span of any business.
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?
If things are not working, I change a variable in the equation. Sometimes a simple change can have a profound yield. If that doesn’t work, I look at a complete overhaul of a process or delivery capability. I have had to accept that sometimes staying level is a win.
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.
I will count these down for you.
- Just because you are busy doesn’t mean you are productive. I used to believe early in my career that busy was better, until I realized that if it doesn’t “move the needle” for the business, it is often wasted effort and time.
- If you are unhappy, change a variable. As humans we fear change. CHANGE IS ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN in this lifetime. Sometimes small tweaks have a profound impact, so stop complaining and change something if it isn’t working for you.
- Some of the most beautiful things come out of life’s challenges. Embrace and have gratitude for life’s difficulties as they often reveal greater beauty, dimension, and purpose to our lives. I found my purpose through a devastating life shift. I am now forever grateful for the challenges I was put through. In the dark moments, I found unknown parts of me that I’ve used this to do very purposeful work.
- 5% of your employees will be loyal, 5% will be toxic. The other 90% will follow the loudest voice. As business leaders, we must realize that loyalty is conditional, and that peer influence is real. It is important to keep the toxicity out of the business because it can spread like wildfire and be highly destructive to the company culture.
- Live a purposeful life. Purpose is found at the intersection of capabilities/skills and passion. I believe we are all here for a purpose. It is up to us to figure it out. We find it when we get incredibly still, and look honestly at our skill sets then align those with the very thing that we are passionate about. I tell people that your passion is the one thing you will get up at 4 a.m. to do without the assistance of an alarm clock. The intersection of those reveals purpose.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. -Maya Angelou
I work in the healthcare service industry, so this resonated with me. I believe quality interactions and connections with people are what leave a mark on the souls of one another. People will remember the positive emotions before they will remember the details. The details fade over time, but the feelings are embedded.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow my work at: