Transformational Leadership: Share The Vision By Embodying It
For Katy Lesser, running a health food store called Healthy Living translates into more than providing organic food. It means nurturing a healthy dynamic business system in which employees, customers, and suppliers all prosper in a community heavily serviced by competitors. For Katy, success is rewarded on a deep level by seeing her staff full-?lled and keeping her customers happy.
I’ve got a bunch of people who are happy to be going to work, who know about sharing space with other people, who are respectful to their fellow workers. That’s a huge thing that’s going out into the Burlington community.”
Keenly aware of the importance of her role as the leader of her organization, Katy has found a compelling way to share her vision – not by memo, bulletin board or staff meetings (although all of those tools are used), but by simply being the message itself. “For years, my main job was building up a culture of community, sharing, trust and respect, one in which there’s a willingness to do whatever it takes to make the machine of the business run,” says Katy. “And over the years, a culture developed. I still spend a lot of time everyday walking around the store just being with my staff. This is not just hanging out and doing nothing. This is creating another way to communicate with people. People who come to work for us already know that we’re a community. They want to work here because of that.”
This practice has sustained a remarkably low turnover with many of the young adults who are attracted to working at Healthy Living. Many stay on for years and become trained managers. “Even if I’m just spending a couple of minutes with them, I really try to connect. I really try to listen and to get at least one interesting idea out of them and let them know how grateful I am for that idea.”
This practice didn’t come easily. Like most entrepreneurs, Katy faced a major challenge in recognizing the need for her to trust her staff. But by doing so, she’s learned that trust keeps innovation alive. “I go with their ideas a lot of the time. I ask them for help. If I want a staff that grows, one that’s happy and expressive, I’m going to have to let people make mistakes. And that’s really hard for me. I’m so speedy and prone to just rushing in and fixing everything. So I’ve learned over the years to wait. Waiting is powerful. There are people who do things better than I do. What a revelation!”
Even with her success, Katy eventually tapped Roundstone to help her team develop concrete practices for expanding trust and partnership: “I needed a language and a structure for what I knew about transformation,” says Katy. “It really is very helpful for us to have shared strategies and a common conversation about results, service, action and possibilities.”
Katy sent three of her managers to Roundstone’s Team Skills & Coaching Program and six others to an introductory Roundstone training. She personally completed the Roundstone Leadership Program and Roundstone’s Consultant Training Program.
Does Katy see herself as a transformational leader? “Oh, that sounds so presumptuous. I think I’m a beginner all the time,” she says. “Continuing to believe that I’m a beginner is really a freedom for me. It sets me free to not get stuck in every day, to use every day to move on.”