I started Verde Energy Efficiency Experts over 9 years ago. This past year, I decided I needed some help and support around leadership. While I was a firefighter for over 10 years and had some great role models for leadership, running a growing company is a different animal altogether.
I enrolled in the Junto Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership in early 2019, with coursework and mentorship around leadership for entrepreneurs. I write this about midway through the program. I have learned a lot to date and have found the experience important. I hope that the team sees the hard work I have put in to change and improve. I have put myself outside of my comfort zone in many ways in order to improve Verde.
While I have been making a lot of changes around feedback to others, a more direct communication style, and sharing my vision more often, this post is about a single experience I had a few months ago.
Dragon Boat Race 2019
Verde participated in the Dragon Boat race fundraiser for Project: Vision – a local nonprofit focused on improving literacy and opportunities in the community. I raced on the team with Jen Panattoni from Verde, along with about 16 other community and board members of Project: Vision.
I have been leading a company so long, that it was quite amazing to sit back and be a member of a team without leadership responsibility. While I do end up in leadership roles often in my life, I love being a member of a team and just contributing. It was refreshing, and reminds me that I need to do this more often. It makes you more powerful to lead, when you are finding ways to be led at times.
Working Together as a Team
The boat has a lot of interesting quirks to it, but the most interesting was that the entire row team had to work together. If just one oar was off, it meant that the person rowing could actually be slowing down the boat. You could feel when someone around you was off, whether by knocking into their oar or the rhythm and movement of the boat feeling off.
In order to achieve this, you would look ahead and watch the person in the front of the boat on the opposite side. There are 9 or so rows of pairs of rowers, each row watching the lead person on the other side. The two leaders looked at each other, so they could stay aligned.
It was this aspect of teamwork that struck me so deeply – I find our own team often struggles with what is the right answer. In fact, I have often been the type of leader that is not around, off selling or engaging with clients. This can mean that my vision can get changed, if there is a domineering person around more often that feels we should do things differently. The boat, and a company, needs to have the vision and directly clear to follow or it will not move in the same direction.
Vision – Implementer
I currently operate my business under the visionary/implementer model. It works for us, especially as it allows me to continue to be out in front of clients and not in the office.
Visionary: This person needs a lot of unstructured time and ability to be off in creative modes. My creative mode is working with clients on their goals for energy efficiency, and I enjoy all the different varieties of clients and programs that we work for. This keeps me on my toes and challenges me.
Implementer: This person does the heavy lifting and execution of the visionary. They often love the consistency and challenge of detailed work, bring a vision to life. At Verde, this is our CFO/COO Tim Smith. What is amazing about Tim is that he will challenge me on ideas, saying when and where he thinks the vision needs adjustments. However, he always supports my vision, even when he doesn’t agree. This is the key to a great implementer – both leaders are aligned.
Back to our boat work – I think our company operates like a Dragon Boat. Tim and I are in the front, each with very different sides of our boat. I lead the sales team, and am the visionary. Tim leads the operations and installation team, which executes on my vision. We row the boat together, looking at each other to stay in lockstep. My hope is that each of the team members has access to look ahead and see us, following our intentions and actions.
Staying on Course
There have been many times in my past 9 years at Verde that it has not felt completely aligned. I felt torn – really wanting everyone to feel their voices heard, and not wanting to be a domineering leader. This can lead to lots of different directions, and not having a unified vision or strategy.
Today, I understand the true importance of going in the same direction. All oars hitting the water at the same time in one direction will get there faster and stronger, than a few out of sync. Our company is no different – we all need to hit our roles and communication with one direction in mind. Even if my vision is not perfect or the direction is not 100% ideal, it is better to have one direction than multiple.
The vision must be clear and communicated. There must be room to discuss and be heard, but that does not require vision changing.