In my journey through the highs and lows of the business world, I've encountered numerous challenges that have tested my resilience, adaptability, and vision. My experiences have not just shaped me into the leader I am today, but also offered invaluable lessons that I believe are crucial for any aspiring business leader or CEO. Leadership is important while navigating through calm waters, but it's most critical while steering through the turbulent seas and inevitable storms of business with unwavering resolve. In sharing the four main lessons I’ve learned and the key elements of my leadership style, I hope to inspire and guide others in developing and enhancing their own approach to leadership.
Lesson 1: Building Resilience, the Foundation of Strong Leadership
In my early days as a leader, the landscape was often uncertain and challenging. I quickly learned that resilience isn't just a characteristic; it's a skill that anyone with interest and grit can develop. Facing fear and adversity head-on, remaining agile and adapting to new situations, and learning from failures were key steps in my journey. I realized that each challenge was an opportunity to strengthen my resolve and enhance my leadership capabilities as a CEO.
One of the pivotal moments in my career was transitioning from a stable government role as a W2 employee to launching my own business, blazing a trail to become an entrepreneur. This leap required not only a change in mindset but also a resilient spirit to face the unknowns of entrepreneurship. I had zero background in building or starting a business, so I had to learn from the ground up. The experience taught me that resilience in leadership isn't about the fear of the unknown and avoiding failure; it's about embracing it as a part of the growth process. Each setback I have faced along the way was a lesson in disguise, pushing me to innovate, adapt, and emerge stronger.
Lesson 2: Navigating Chaos with Agility and Vision
As a leader, I've often found myself at the helm during times of profound change and uncertainty. In these moments, the ability to navigate chaos with agility and vision has been crucial. I learned that agility in leadership is more than just quick reactions; it's about anticipating changes, adapting strategies, and leading teams through transitions and/or crisis effectively. Do I get it perfect? No, but who does? What is important is leveraging each lesson along the way and surrounding myself with a smart team to partner with me to navigate the terrain together.
My time in both government and business has taught me the importance of having a clear vision. It acts as a compass, guiding decisions and actions, especially when the path ahead is clouded by uncertainty. This vision, coupled with the ability to pivot and adapt, has been instrumental in navigating through tumultuous periods. Serving government clients introduces a whole new set of chaos and challenges, and believe me, I wouldn't trade it for the world. The government clients I collaborate with are among the most dedicated, loyal, and hardworking professionals I know. Despite the internal and external pressures they confront, which often appear insurmountable, we come together as a team to face problems head-on, solve issues, and collectively grow.
In one instance of uncertainty, during the early days of AvantGarde, the market was volatile, and the rules of the game were constantly changing. It was my vision for what the company could become and the agility to adapt to market needs that allowed us to thrive. In these times, a leader must be a beacon of stability for their team, making bold decisions, and inspiring confidence in the face of uncertainty. Today AG is thriving and growing as a multi-faceted 130+ person consulting practice. I for one am grateful for an amazing management and leadership team that loves AG and loves our employees and serves our clients well.
Lesson 3: Determination and Ethical Leadership in Business
In my career, determination has been the bedrock of my success. It's not just about the drive to achieve goals but also about persisting through setbacks and maintaining integrity. Ethical leadership has been a non-negotiable aspect of my journey. It's about doing the right thing, even when it's not the easy thing, and this principle has guided my decisions and actions throughout my career.
In the world of business, especially when leading a company, ethical dilemmas are inevitable. I have faced situations where the easier path might not have been the right one. In these moments, my commitment to ethical leadership has been tested, but it's also been reinforced. I firmly believe that true success in business comes not just from financial achievements, but from building a legacy of integrity.
For example, in the early stages of building AvantGarde, we faced decisions that could have compromised our values for short-term gains. It was my determination to uphold our ethical standards that steered us away from these pitfalls. This approach not only built trust with our clients and employees but also set a strong foundation for long-term success. Ethical leadership, combined with determination, creates a powerful formula for sustainable success and a positive impact on the business community. I have also been known to “fire” clients and step away when a toxic environment is affecting our team’s ability to perform or be successful in their assignments. In FY23 for example, I stepped away from a long-term 6-year multimillion-dollar contract because, following a client leadership change, our team was being mistreated and undervalued. The workplace climate impeded their ability to succeed. One AG team member put it aptly by saying “RC, we see you say what you mean and mean what you say in living your AG values, even if it means your bottom line is affected. Thank you for standing up for us”. This voice rings over and over in my head. We do the right thing always and the right things will come our way in the long term.
Lesson 4: Extending Leadership Beyond the Boardroom: Community and Societal Impact
Leadership for me has never been confined to the boardroom. True leadership extends into the community and society at large. It's about using our influence, resources, and skills to make a broader impact. My commitment to societal welfare and community involvement is a direct extension of my business leadership.
In my journey, I have consistently sought to contribute to society, not just through my business, but also through various community initiatives including through our family non-profit work at LaunchPad. These efforts are not separate from my business ethos; rather, they are intertwined. They reflect a belief that businesses have a responsibility to contribute positively to the community and society. This approach has not only been fulfilling to me on a personal level but has also enriched our company culture, fostering a sense of purpose and responsibility among our team members.
This is perhaps most relevant in my involvement in programs supporting underprivileged youth and inner-city families has been an integral part of my life, especially my signature initiative the Girls of Legacy. These efforts mirror the values we uphold in my company - integrity, responsibility, and a commitment to positive change. By extending our leadership beyond business operations, we can create a ripple effect of positive change, influencing not just our immediate circle but the broader community and society. To learn more about AG’s initiatives to give back, visit our philanthropy page: https://www.avantgarde4usa.com/news/categories/philanthropy
A Call to Lead with Purpose and Resolve
Overall, my journey in business leadership has been a testament to the power of leading with resolve. It's about more than just achieving business objectives or making money; it's about creating a legacy of resilience, striving every day for ethical conduct, and making a difference where we live in societal impact. I encourage you, as business leaders and trailblazers in your respective fields, to reflect on your own leadership journey. How can you incorporate these principles into your approach?
Leading with resolve means embracing challenges as opportunities for growth, adapting with agility in the face of change, and upholding ethical standards even when it's challenging. It's also about recognizing that our responsibilities extend beyond profit margins to the communities and societies we are a part of.
As you navigate the complexities of the business world, remember that your leadership can be a catalyst for positive change. Whether you're steering a startup or a large corporation or even a volunteer program, the principles of resilience, ethical leadership, and societal contribution remain universally applicable. Let's commit to leading not just with our minds, but with our hearts and conscience, for a more sustainable and impactful future in the business world.