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 Terre Short. Terre is the author of the recently released book, The Words We Choose: Your Guide to How and Why Words Matter, which was just awarded 2020 American Book Fest finalist. This book transforms what you think in your head to align with how you feel in your heart, for the greater good of all.
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 early career was in hospitality, serving in leadership roles with Four Seasons Hotels (FSH) and then Pebble Beach Company. In 1995, I realized the lack of leadership training for middle managers and started Short Group, www.shortgroup.net, to address this need. I was a coach and consultant and as such, took on additional leadership roles. During this time, I opened Montana’s largest luxury guest ranch as GM and for 3 years I served as managing director overseeing all of the owner’s various businesses. From 2010–2019, I was called to use my leadership skills in healthcare, ultimately as a VP for the nation’s largest healthcare provider. I returned to Short Group fulltime in January 2020 and published my book in late July 2020.
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?
I have always prided myself on my financial acumen and my ability to establish budgets and tease out the story from a profit and loss statement. When I was reviewing the P&L for The Resort at Paws Up (MT luxury ranch), in the ranch operations section, I asked who “Semen” was (pronouncing it “say-men”) only to find out this was part of the stud operations. Now I understood the sales line as well as the exorbitant Fed-Ex line item expense.
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 first mentor was at FSH, Stan Bromley. Stan is legendary in the hospitality business — for many reasons. I had the honor of being a senior leader with him at two different properties. He taught me daily through his actions and words, and not all these lessons were easy ones. His elevated use of both his right and left-brain skills made him hard to keep up with. He was relentless in his attention to detail and desire to innovate. When I was the Executive Housekeeper in the middle of a major room renovation, he called me in his office and asked me, “Do you know what a frustrated leader gets?” I was quite frustrated, particularly with our facilities director and eager to learn. “Fired!” And in that moment, I learned the value of always bringing a solution along with my challenge to our discussions.
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 purpose has always been to bring out the brilliance of others. As a leader, coach, even consultant and speaker, this is my mission. I am a servant leader, perhaps from my hospitality beginnings, being of service is ingrained in my psyche. I am at my best when those around me are at their best. It brings me great joy to help others see and live their full potential. Every interaction I have is served by this purpose.
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?
When I was opening Paws Up, we faced considerable hurdles and the team was very new. They didn’t know what they didn’t know. A few years later when we opened 10 new 3500 square foot homes, we faced a similar challenge — how to get everyone pulling on the same rope. Everyday there seemed to be more unknowns and more uncertainty — about permits, contractors, supplies…the list was endless.
I led the team based on three key factors: trust, belief, and commitment. The team needed to trust me and the decisions I was making (regarding timing, resources, etc.). They needed to believe in themselves, their peers, and the process, and they needed to be fully committed to our success as a team.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I did not ever consider giving up on the commitment to get the homes open and available for the arriving guests, but I will admit to considering giving up on certain individuals. Some were requiring more of my time than others, jeopardizing the energy of all. I turned this into another challenge to overcome. What motivates me is seeking these three things: trust, belief (in self, team and process), and commitment. As a leader, I see it as my main job to work toward each of these, which indeed brings out the brilliance of others, and overcomes challenges. In the grand opening, and the opening of the 10 homes, everyone rallied, and we succeeded as a team. These days were filled with stories the individuals still talk about and feel pride in their accomplishments even today.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Communicator and listener.
The ability to lead others well is founded on the ability to communicate well. There is no way around this particularly in challenging times. Every message needs to be tied to values, representative of your mission, clear and transparent, and framed in the positive — what you can do or will do. A key component of communication is listening well. Leaders must listen to learn and to truly hear concerns so that they can continue to provide messages that serve the team.
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?
Morale is always boosted when one feels heard. Employing active listening skills is key. From what you hear, you can frame your message in a way that inspires and motivates. Listen for, and seek through powerful questions, all that is working well, all that can be celebrated. It is essential to give everyone a voice, realizing some may need to be coaxed out. Even in the toughest times, there are people, efforts, external factors that can be celebrated as wins. It is incumbent upon the leader to look for and highlight the wins. I like to say, “celebrate widely and wildly.” In difficult times, acknowledging small or incremental wins goes a long way to boost morale.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Always communicate difficult news clearly and transparently — providing as many details as possible. The leader’s challenge is to frame all news with why, and in connection with the values and mission of the organization. Keep the focus on what you can do and what is possible going forward. Sometimes this is what will be learned, how the change will eventually serve the team, the organization, and/or the customer.
Give the team an opportunity to ask questions and to express their concerns. Hear them. It is easier to shy away from an uncomfortable conversation, but much more valuable to engage and learn what more the team may need to know.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Keep moving forward. Challenging times require constant reflection, which leads to lessons learned and a consideration of how to use this information — how to pivot. Progress is never made with your head in the sand of denial. It is best to create Plan B and pivot as necessary, engaging your team as change agents who learn to anticipate unpredictability. At all times, keep the focus on the positive and what can happen. This is the time to lean on your cognitive agility and help your team see the value of this skill.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The number one principle in turbulent times is that there is no such thing as over-communicating. When there is a lack of communication, people tend to go to MSU — Make S*%+ Up. Much more energy is required to unravel false assumptions then to lead transparently with clarity. It is best to leverage various mediums (emails, texts, printed materials, videos, screen savers…etc.) and forums (department meetings, town hall meetings, open office hours, huddles, etc.). Tie messages to your mission and values and save time for active listening and asking powerful questions to assess understanding. Questions that begin with what, how, or tell me about, such as:
- What concerns you most about the information I just shared?
- How do you see this change impacting your work?
- Tell me about a challenge in the past that may have been like this one. How did you overcome it?
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 common mistakes all stem from shortcomings in communicating well. Leaders should double down on how and what they communicate with their teams and customers during difficult times. As the adage goes, “knowledge is power” and information has the ability to motivate and lessen fears. Leaders throughout the organization should be aligned on their messaging and avoid the following pitfalls.
- Lack of transparency — people will seek the answers through other channels (gossip) or make them up.
- Not enough active listening
- Not enough connection to why and the organization’s values, which should support every decision
- Lack of celebrating the wins, even smaller, incremental ones
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?
Listening is key here too. In the words of Wayne Gretzky, “Move toward where the puck is going.” Through asking powerful questions, leaders can respond by pivoting as appropriate. That may be dropping an under-utilized product to cut costs or creating a new one to meet changing needs. Get closer to the source — your customers, front-line workers, and supervisors as they often know where waste and opportunities exist.
Being a resilient leader requires an optimistic approach, one based on lessons learned from routine reflection and purposeful inquiry. Great leaders can see beyond the next hit and if they utilize all the resources available to them, they can anticipate the next play in order to keep moving forward.
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.
- Attempt to “over-communicate” — share details, be transparent, be more visible, and tie all messages to your values — to why. In healthcare, the director of the medical/surgical unit often has the largest unit, the most employees, and therefore the most balls in the air on a given day. I have worked with leaders who initially thought it impossible to huddle with their team on each shift. The excuses were many: too many priorities, patients in constant need, too many people coming and going at various times. However, in addition to emails, a briefing binder, screen savers, and layers of memos on a bulletin board, the teams seldom felt in the loop. A day can unravel in a heartbeat. Once daily huddles are implemented, the entire unit cannot fathom how they functioned without them. This is the time to celebrate wins, address concerns (supply shortages, equipment breakage, etc.) and share all meaningful information. It is the time to rally the troops and set the tone for the day.
- Celebrate the wins and focus on the positive. Everyone feels good when someone or something (a process, a long-awaited shipment, a change in timing) is celebrated. More positive than negative things happen daily or we would not move forward. Our natural inclination as leaders is to be fixers, which leads to a focus on what is broken. Focus on at least one positive every day — what is working well? Share big wins widely and wildly.
- Highlight what you can do. This may require reframing what you can’t do. 2020 was the year of reframing. In businesses worldwide, leaders learned to reframe and lead with what they can do. In many cases, these efforts are the silver linings of the year. A few examples are the uptick in positive tele-health experiences, and no more waiting rooms (patients are texted when their appointment time is up). We should be learning from every such pivot and allowing space to consider what else can be, or soon will need to be, reframed.
- Choose inspiring, uplifting words. Leaders are perceived as more confident, and able to inspire others, when they use certain words and eliminate others. Here are some limiting words: I think, just, pretty (sure, confident, certain…), if, and but. Consider the doubt you insert when you choose to lead with “I think…” “Just” is the great minimizer when used as an adverb, meaning barely, only, simply. You should be “extremely sure, very confident, incredibly certain,” not “pretty” anything. “If” casts doubt and represents vagueness. It is easily replaced with “when” in most circumstances. “But” is the grand truncator in communication. “And” is the primary replacement. It forces you to frame the second part of your message in the positive. I wrote an entire book on why and how words matter, and offer this sampling to get leaders started.
- Double down on recognition. Recognition breeds discretionary behavior, efforts that are above and beyond. In turbulent times, it can simply keep a person afloat. The key is to be very specific and tie the recognition to your values or mission. This reinforces why the person does what they do in the first place, why they tackle challenges. “Great job connecting with that customer.” is not nearly as motivating as, “Your messaging to that customer reinforced why we do what we do and how important service is to our team, I appreciate that you took the time to reach out to them.”
A practice of reflection enhances self-reflection, which is a key component of Emotional Intelligence. The beginning of the year is great time to commit to such a practice. I encourage all leaders to consider how they will weave their silver linings into the fabric of the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The capacity to learn is a gift. The ability to learn is a skill. The willingness to learn is a choice.”- Brian Herbert. Another one of my mentors, Quint Studer, taught me that even if one considers themselves to be a lifelong learner, it is important to be “coachable.” After coaching for decades, when I sought my Professional Coach Certification (PCC), I learned that there are varying degrees of coachability. When one chooses to learn, particularly more about themselves, there is no limit to their potential.
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