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 TESS COX, Principal of Tess Cox & Associates LLC.
Tess Cox & Associates (TC&A) is a mother/daughter led, leadership coaching and consulting firm. Tess is Principal and a Senior Executive Leadership Coach, Consultant, Author and Non-Profit Founder with 30 years of leadership experience. TC&A offers a variety of coaching opportunities, books and online courses to support your leadership development through mindset training, effective processes of communication, decision-making capabilities, and building strong and trusting relationships.
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?
Thank you, Charlie — It is a pleasure to be a support to you and your readers. My leadership coaching journey began when I realized…”I needed help.” In my late 30’s, I was highly involved in managing my life as a wife, mother of 2 children who were very active in sports, church activities, school and social lives. I was also supporting complexity within my extended family. And I was working full-time for a non-profit with no hourly boundaries. During this time, I would say, “I was a very busy person.” Literally, I would calculate my daily 24 hours and make sure I could account for every minute that I wasn’t sleeping! Then, I faced burnout and my own need for help. This is when I began to say, “no” to opportunities or “not now, but maybe later” (knowing in my mind, I would not seize the opportunity in the future — I was still in the learning phase of what I could physically, mentally and emotionally do).
I stepped back to spend time with my internal being, in order to choose the life I wanted to create for my future, and the future of my family. Deep down, I longed for greater meaning and purpose, not just constant activity. During my “break time” from my “burnout,” I knew I needed to reflect on what was most important to me — my values. I knew I could be confident in my next steps if I was leading my life with my integrity, my strengths of empowering people, communicating with vision and clarity, and building strong relationships.
As my desires and choices began to align, I applied and was accepted into graduate school. I love to learn, and the environment to learn provided me new skills for my personal and professional growth and developing. In graduate school, I focused on leadership development, adult learning and psychology. A new journey began to unfold as opportunities to use my skill sets as an Executive Leadership Coach were realized. I am grateful for one of my Professors, Dr. Patrick Lattore, who asked me to join his business to lead and coach clients in the Tech, Medicine, Logistics and Education industries. One of our contracts was a Tech client based in New York City — we traveled the world with this company. One of my fondest memories was traveling to Singapore and coaching Executive Teams. When my professor chose to retire as our contracts ended, I began Tess Cox & Associates, LLC. It is a journey that I am deeply grateful for and proud of. We value our clients who are willing to learn leadership qualities that are strong in issues. Our company cultivates strong relationships. Our clients are influencers and lead their lives with meaning and purpose. The opportunity to support the awakening of our clients mindset to grow, develop and show up in their lives and business brings our team the greatest of joy.
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?
This is a difficult question. I am able to laugh at myself. And, at the same time, we are intentional with our Leadership Coaching Process, working with our clients and creating positive outcomes. One thing, I learned early on with our TC&A newsletter is, “our client’s really DO read our newsletters and social media.” It is important to me and our team to make sure we have “all eyes” on our material when it comes to editing our newsletters and all information that is posted on social media. During the early days of TC&A, one of my client’s pointed out a grammatical error in our newsletter. He said, “I have the right person to help you.” And, he did. We hired his recommendation to support us during a time of transition. She was amazing and we did not have further comments of “errors” from my client. I can always count on him to point out something that is grammatically incorrect or doesn’t sound quite right.
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?
As I shared earlier, Dr. Patrick Lattore was a leader and catalyst for my entry in the Executive Leadership Coaching Profession. I met Dr. Lattore when I took his “Leadership and Character Development Class” in graduate school. He valued my writing and participation in his class. When the class ended, he offered me an opportunity to work with medical professionals in Rancho Mirage, CA. I had spent most of my career in the non-profit world and I was intrigued with this new opportunity. My personality enjoys meeting new people and the medical field offered a completely new world in working to support leadership development. From there, we entered into the Tech world for a New York City based company. Again, I found this experience of meeting new and fascinating people to be life giving. This opportunity provided travel to Europe at a non-profit leadership foundation. This leadership journey provided a wonderful base for starting my own business, Tess Cox & Associates, LLC.
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?
Our purpose then and currently is to support a growth mindset for leadership; a methodology, which increases leadership capacity by instilling confidence in every leader with a mantra, “You are the Leader of yourself…first.” What does this mean? It means that every person has the choice and opportunity to:
- Lead their lives with character and values.
- Lead their work with their strengths, knowledge and expertise.
- Lead themselves by being reliable and consistent, in order to build trust with others.
- Lead themselves by creating strong relationships by staying curious about others.
- Lead themselves with confidence when the first four attributes are aligned with who they are and who they want to be.
From the beginning, we have coached with The 5 C’s of Leadership: Character, Competence, Consistency, Creativity and Confidence. This foundational learning is life changing and life giving.
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 will always lead with TC&A’s, The 5 C’s of Leadership. By following our leadership strategy with The 5 C’s of Leadership, we are able to lead ourselves through uncertain and difficult times. Our mindset is:
- Every day, we can choose to lead ourselves with integrity, honesty and being trustworthy, no matter what the situation or difficulty.
- Every day, we can choose to use our strengths and skills. Our competence builds over time. The way we process information, listen to sound counsel and make well informed decisions will find solutions to difficult situation.
- Every day, we can choose to use strong, clear and consistent communication. Our effectiveness to solve challenging issues relies on our good and healthy communication.
- Every day, the more curious we are to look for creative ways to solve issues and challenges, the better our outcomes will be.
- Every day, we know we can be confident when all four of the C’s above are in alignment with who we are, who we want to be and the core values of our company.
TC&A values our TEAM, our TIME and our CONTRIBUTIONS. We are mindful that every team member has a family and values their time with family. We structure our work environment so that our team members can find their “equilibrium” between work and family. We focus on projects that fit within our main goals and strategy for the company within a time frame that is realistic, motivating and moves us forward towards the best of outcomes.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
The quick answer is, “No, I never consider giving up.” Our TC&A clients rely on our availability, expertise and support in coaching. Being and staying consistent is a huge part of our success in our business. “Giving up” is not within our mindset. Choosing to “Grow” is our best option. Our TC&A Team has a growth mindset without trying to over extend ourselves into unrealistic territory. We are mindful of our personal energy and accomplish tasks and projects by using our energy appropriately. Self-care is a priority for our team. As we utilize our personal self-care, we find ourselves motivated to stay the course and reach new heights and goals. As the owner and visionary of TC&A, I tend to drive the company with projects and strategy. At the same time, my daughter, Chelsea Cox Gillman, leads and manages our projects and strategy. She is valuable to the organization as she manages all of the details, information and next steps for the team. Our best work is teamwork and collaboration.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role as a leader during challenging times is to be realistic, positive with empathy and grateful. It is important for leaders to address the reality of the times, situation or difficulty. The acknowledgement provides re-assurance to employees that a leader is knowledgeable of their concerns and their reality. For a leader to be positive with empathy means that a leader is not speaking “false” positivity, “everything is going to be fine.” An emotional intelligent leader will express, “we can find our way through to the other side of this challenge…”.
Appropriate empathy for employees goes a long way and employers will find greater commitment from their employee’s when they express empathy. During the 2020 and 2021 year, employees have worked under extreme circumstances. It is great leadership when leadership acknowledges reality with a positive empathy. This provides trust from employees and employer.
Being grateful is essential for all leadership. When a leader is grateful, employees will seek to do their best and rise above circumstances and challenges. A grateful and emotionally intelligent leader can lead employees in and through every challenging time. This style of leadership is a practiced and intentional skill. It begins with our 5 C’s of Leadership training.
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?
In our leadership coaching, we often ask…”Within your role and responsibility, what do you have control over?” The answer our clients give, “I only have control over my mind, how I am thinking about the person or situation and how I respond and take action.” We empower our clients to have the mindset that is going to serve them well with inspiration and motivation to grow, while staying engaged with their team.
We encourage building self-awareness with our clients, as well. The more self-aware our clients grow and develop, the more they are able to boost their own personnel morale and inspire others to boost their morale with positive energy. We support our clients to have personal check ins by asking themselves the following questions on a scale of 1–5 (1 being low and 5 being high):
- How is my energy today?
- Am I processing information accurately and within my current reality?
- Are my decisions positive and for the good of others and myself?
- Do I have enough structure to organize myself and do what I need to do?
The self-aware questions above support employees to lead themselves and to inspire themselves to be who they need to be during uncertain times and the best of times. Building our self-awareness supports our ability to lead and manage our thoughts, emotions and our actions.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
TC&A will always encourage communicating difficult news with appropriate empathy and compassion. When a leader is able to empathize with their team or customers, it builds trust with them. The best leadership response will listen, be kind and generous with empathy.
Recently, I had to provide 360 Feedback to a group of owners through a SWOT analysis. It was difficult news to communicate and give to the owners and yet, I chose to listen to how the owners were feeling about the information they were receiving from their employees and to be generous with my kindness and empathy. At the end of this difficult meeting, the ownership expressed their appreciation for my approach.
Unanimously, they communicated, “We’ve never had that deep of a dialogue before and we know it’s only going to help us to move forward with our employees.” On the one hand, I was relieved they received the information that was difficult to give and on the other hand, I thought…”Wow, there are more difficult and good conversations to come, in order to move the organization in the direction the leadership desires to go.”
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
This is a great question. At TC&A, we consider our future plans with the projects we want to provide for our clients, which may require a 2–3 year plan. Certainly, we have “dream plans” that are 5–10 years or more out. Recently, we were encouraged with a dialogue with a potential client that would need a 3–5 year plan. Our approach in making plans is based on what we are hearing from our clients and what they need. We are confident our Leadership Coaching provides a unique and beneficial experience for our clients and their employees. The outcomes for our clients is this:
- less burn out
- better employee retention
- greater opportunity for advancement
- support of the overall company goals
Throughout the uncertainty of the past two years, we have supported our clients going public, buying a new business, managing an expanding business, growing leadership within their business and building team capacity. It is a pleasure to serve and support their vision, implementation and movement forward. Even when the future is unpredictable, there is a way to continue on in business. Our clients are proof of growing within the unpredictable times.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Our “number one principle” is simple for all things and in all ways: Character is the foundation of everything we build. When a company chooses character, it will find its way through the turbulent times. Character supports using our strengths consistently, making good and positive decisions, choosing to stay in relationships and building confidence. Character is the key strategy for our business and works for any time in life — the celebratory times and the challenging times.
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 number one common mistake for businesses is to have a “fixed mindset.” A fixed mindset refuses to look at new ways of thinking, seeing and doing things. When we choose to think differently, we will invite others to share their thoughts, views and opinions to support a new mindset. When we choose to see things from a different vantage point, we will invite others to share their expertise and knowledge. When we seek to do things differently, we will choose different mindsets, habits and behaviors to support our reaching new goals and outcomes.
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?
Typically, when things are really difficult economically, we will look at where do we need to be more consistent with our strategy, systems, and ways of doing things. As I built TC&A, this was a common theme for me, as the owner of my business. I knew a strategy for our coaching process would be key. I created a coaching system that created positive and good outcomes for our clients and I supported consistent behaviors that would move the company incrementally forward.
Our team enjoys the 1 % marginal gains concept. If, we can improve daily by 1 % with our strategy, systems and ways of doing things…we will continue to progress, even when we face a difficult economy. We coach the marginal gains mindset within our leadership coaching. Our company has been on a growth path every year since we began 8 years ago. The 2020 and 2021 years have proved to be extremely high growth years for us. We are deeply grateful to support leaders and businesses. Lastly, we have chosen to be fiscally responsible and not over extend ourselves financially.
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.
As I shared above, The 5 C’s of Leadership have lead us to being stable through a difficult time, success during unprecedented time and future strategy for further client support and success.
Everything we do requires our focus to lead with our Integrity — our Character. As we utilize our individual and team strengths and Competencies, we continue to expand our opportunities to serve our clients through coaching, consulting, team building and training. Building consistency with our programs and communication is a focus for us and a priority for our success. Our ability to be and stay curious about clients supports their growth and development. We always want more and what is best for our clients. Our confidence is reliant on staying true to who we are, what we are ready and capable of doing, staying consistent, supporting strong relationships and being confident that we can bring a great experience to our clients: A leadership coaching experience that transforms their lives and their career.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is by Aristotle, which is in our book called, The Leadership Blueprint, “Choice not chance determines your destiny.” I love the opportunity to lead myself, first with my daily choices. When I make the best choices within every day, I increase the opportunities for my future to benefit my family and my business. It is a pleasure and gift in my own leadership to lead myself, first, to lead my team and to lead/serve our clients.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Website: Tess Cox & Associates
LinkedIn: Tess Cox & Associates
Facebook: Tess Cox & Associates