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 Stacy Janiak.
As managing partner and chief growth officer of Deloitte US, Stacy leads a client portfolio of over $18B, bringing the breadth of Deloitte’s service capabilities and assets to the market to accelerate growth while delivering bold, integrated, digitally-enabled business solutions, services and insights for Deloitte’s clients. She is also a member of the US Executive Committee and Deloitte’s Global Board of Directors. Stacy was recognized in 2018 as a Woman with Impact by the Women’s Business Development Council. She is passionate about mentoring, developing the next generation of leaders and advancing inclusive leadership in the workplace. Stacy serves as a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, The Executives’ Club of Chicago, New Profit, and the US Chamber of Commerce. Stacy also serves on the Board of Trustees of her alma mater, DePaul University.
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 graduated from high school in the late 80s in Kentucky with a simple goal of finding a career where I wouldn’t need to live paycheck to paycheck. I had the great opportunity to attend DePaul University with a scholarship. I loved the fabulous, urban environment and the fast-paced city and was fortunate to get invited into their honors accounting program. I didn’t know anything about accounting, but found I had an aptitude for it and really got to understand it while working in the school’s internal audit department. That is where I became enamored with the problem-solving and people aspects of being an auditor. It was exciting, as a student, to be given free rein to help make the organization better while working with and learning from professionals who were decades into their own careers. I loved that challenge and appreciated that opportunity even at a young age.
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?
My first audit experience! This was pre-laptop, which tells you how long ago it was. I had completed a set of working papers, ensuring that I addressed all of my supervisor’s feedback very diligently. When I was finished, I threw away her feedback notes and submitted the updated version to her. She immediately asked where her original feedback was and I had to sheepishly go pull it out of the trash, un-crumple it and hand it back to her. It was a learning experience, to say the least. From that day on, I learned to clarify expectations at the outset of a project — a practice that is still helpful today when working with clients. I also learned that the best training is on-the-job training and it’s important to both give and receive that throughout your career.
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?
Such a difficult question. There are too many people to count! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my parents; I’m so incredibly grateful to them for the values they instilled in me from an early age. My mom is a polio survivor and taught me the meaning of resilience and perseverance. My dad was a mailman who was dedicated to the people on his daily route; he taught me the importance of relationships and giving 110 percent no matter the task.
At Deloitte, I had one supervisor in particular, Tim McCarty, who was the first to really see more in me than what I saw in myself. He consistently pushed me outside my comfort zone and made me see what I was capable of by giving me a string of stretch assignments that both scared me and boosted my confidence. On one occasion, we were heading to an important meeting and I was prepared to deliver my specific slides as part of the presentation. As we were walking to the meeting, he turned to me and said, “You’re doing the whole presentation. I have confidence in you.” Looking back, I was extremely nervous (and wanted to kill him!) but that moment truly propelled me forward and enabled me to get comfortable in my abilities — even if I didn’t think I was ready. I’m immensely grateful for his early mentorship and sponsorship.
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?
I’m glad you brought up purpose as it has become such an important topic. I believe purpose is the essential DNA of a business, laying the foundation for the system of values that defines a company’s reason for being and should direct every strategic decision across the organization. When an organization is driven by purpose, its values are instilled in the very fabric of the business, guiding it through times of prosperity and enabling it to recover and thrive more quickly in times of crisis. And for me, this past year has really shown the power of purpose as a driving force and the new heights it can help us reach for the greater good.
Since its early days, Deloitte has been a purpose-led organization. It was founded in 1845 and we’ve been making an impact that matters ever since. Our founder, William Welch Deloitte, understood the value of service and the power of connection as way to grow. His legacy of service has endured throughout our 175+ year history — helping our clients realize their ambitions, making a positive difference in society and maximizing the success of our people. This drive continues to fuel the community and humanity that run deep through our every action at Deloitte.
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 think 2020 was truly a watershed year with the COVID-19 pandemic and a spotlight being focused on systemic racism and inequality. Both placed unexpected pressures on businesses, the economy, and society as a whole. And personally, like so many other leaders, it challenged me in many new and different ways.
Early in the pandemic, Deloitte wrote a piece on resilient leadership that has served as a guide for me these past 17 months:
- Lead with empathy; this softer side of leadership is so impactful during challenging times.
- Meet the crisis head on but remain optimistic and look for opportunities amidst the challenges.
- Move quickly and with courage. It can be hard to let imperfections show but you’ll almost always come across as more authentic.
- Own the narrative from the start and be transparent; it builds trust during critical times.
- Stay focused on the horizon and anticipate the innovations that will define tomorrow.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
While I never considered giving up, there certainly have been days that have tested me personally and professionally. For me, the ultimate goal of helping others — clients, colleagues, family and friends — to be successful, to be heard, and to be valued is really what sustains my drive as both a person and a leader.
Overall, I get energized and inspired by problem solving. Every day presents me with something new to tackle and instead of feeling dragged down by this, I find motivation in it. I love the opportunity to be creative and innovative!
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
For me, it’s all about resilience. 2020 was certainly a lesson in the importance of resilience as all leaders alike were steering their companies through a profound period of uncertainty as well as economic and social change. Resiliency compels you to ask yourself what kind of leader you can be. It encourages you to remain optimistic and seek out the opportunities hidden in times of crisis. Leader resilience is an absolute requirement and will continue to be the driving force behind business recovery and the roadmap to future growth and prosperity.
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 times of uncertainty, communication (and many times, overcommunication) with your people is really key. Staying transparent, checking in often, listening and asking for feedback are all important and essential ways to build trust and gauge morale.
And it’s important to keep in mind that your team feeds off your energy. You don’t have to be “on” all the time, especially when under duress, but you have to be conscious of it and bring your best as much as possible. You need to be able to inspire them, support them during the uncertainty and help them accomplish their goals by helping them grow.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Communicating difficult news is never easy. Ultimately, you want to do it in a way that helps build trust by showing empathy and honesty. I like to stick to a few core tenets:
- Be transparent. Over the course of my career, I have always found that the greatest leaders are transparent, showing vulnerability and openness.
- Be timely. I believe delivering difficult news is best done quickly and swiftly. Waiting too long often breeds confusion and eats away at the trust you’ve worked so hard to build.
- Be authentic. It lends to your credibility and helps you acknowledge the current challenges while outlining a path forward in a thoughtful and caring way.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Planning for the future — a future that is constantly changing — has never been more challenging for leaders than it is right now. At the outset, I like to approach planning with the facts known to be true at the time. From there, I build scenarios that are flexible and can be refined and revised based on new or changing circumstances. While it’s impossible to plan for all outcomes, I’ve found its much simpler to alter an existing plan than to create a new one on the fly. Leaders need to be flexible and use uncertainty as an opportunity to be dynamic in a constantly changing environment.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet Lieutenant General Nadja West at a Deloitte event. Lieutenant General West is the 44th Army Surgeon General and the former Commanding General of US Army Medical Command. She is truly an inspirational leader that has demonstrated real resilience throughout her career. In our conversation, she said something that really resonated with me — “Don’t forget what you are for.”
My number one principle of leadership is to stay true to your purpose. I think this principle is especially poignant this year as organizations and leaders have had to rely on their sense of purpose…their values…in leading their companies through challenging times. However, staying true to your purpose is much bigger than that — it guides you through times of prosperity and propels you during times of challenge and crisis.
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 we have all made mistakes over the last year but I’m a strong believer in how they help make us stronger and more resilient leaders. However, more generally, I have seen businesses make these commons mistakes during difficult times:
- Failure to act or anticipate. This relates to businesses that underestimate the extent of the crisis at the outset and are unwilling to consider and plan for all significant risks. Ultimately, this can inhibit the necessary preventative actions to protect your business, people and customers.
- Inability to change course. As a crisis unfolds, the ability to change or pivot from your original course is crucial. Businesses that are reluctant to change their approach until they face significant impact will often fare much worse in the long-term. Flexibility is key.
- Hyper-focus on cost versus impact. Crises inevitably will breed unplanned, and often times significant, costs. Businesses that fail to appreciate how important it is to make smart investment decisions around readiness and resilience are failing to see how they will future-proof their businesses in the long-term.
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?
There is inherent value in stewardship in business — putting the needs of your client and others first — but this is especially true in challenging times. When the economy is in a difficult place, it helps to remember the old aphorism, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When we commit to lead our organizations for the benefit of all stakeholders, not just shareholders, we create long-term value that stretches beyond the walls of the organization. For me, this comes in the form of financial stewardship and investment within your business, with your customers and with your people.
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 have always been a firm believer that in the face of great challenges, leaders have the ability to create even greater opportunities.
- Live and lead by your values. It’s so important not to lose sight of your values and vision during times of crisis. And now, as we look at how and when we return to workplaces, staying true to your values and sense of purpose will pave the way to a successful future.
- Use crisis as an opportunity for positive change. One of the greatest things to come out of 2020 is this heightened sense of community and greater purpose. In the last year, I’ve been inspired by the positive change we have seen on a whole host of issues ranging from diversity and equity to climate change.
- Learn from your mistakes. No leader is perfect. I believe we learn from our mistakes and they ultimately make us stronger and more resilient. Coming into this pandemic, I think we all struggled with the right decisions given constantly evolving data and information. However, through some hard lessons and adaptation, we have emerged stronger and smarter.
- Challenge your own thinking. Its so important to bring in new and fresh perspectives to constantly challenge your thinking and push you to be a better leader. I like to surround myself with a team that can do that for me on a daily basis and I often expand my circle with people who think differently than I do so that ideas can be constructively challenged and improved upon.
- Connect with your people and your customers. During times of crisis, it’s so important to connect with your people and your customers to deepen those relationships on a human level. In fact, recent research from Deloitte Digital found that organizations and leaders need to take even greater steps to become more human in order to build trust. I believe the virtual environment has really enabled me to build that trust and engage with my teams on a more intimate level. I have also created stronger bonds with so many of my customers by working with them on their most significant business challenges while showing compassion and empathy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things,” by Leonardo da Vinci is a personal favorite.
It’s actually in my home office and it’s a nice reminder to be active and think about where you should be, who you should be with and what you need to do to make that impact happen. You have to make change happen and you have to be the one to do it.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I regularly post content across both my LinkedIn and Twitter platforms. That is likely the fastest way to follow my work and perspectives on topics that I am most passionate about including mentoring, developing the next generation of leaders and advancing inclusive leadership in the workplace.