Your business is not your identity. It’s just a business. When your product or service is you, rejection can be particularly painful. Realizing that it’s just business and nothing more than a numbers game helps you stay more objective. Your business is part of your identity. It is not your identity. It’s easy when you own a business to tie your self-worth to the success of the business, but they are not the same. Make sure you are investing time in other areas of your life that will fill your cup. Your resume and eulogy should not be the same thing.
As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne Grady.
Anne is a two-time TEDx speaker, and a leading expert on resilience and leadership. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets, including Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fast Company and Inc. magazines, CNN, ESPN, and FOX Business. She is the bestselling author of 52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work, and Strong Enough: Choosing Courage, Resilience, and Triumph.
Grady started studying the brain and neurodevelopment to find answers while searching for treatment options for her son, Evan, who suffers from severe mental illness and autism. After being diagnosed with an avocado-sized tumor in her salivary gland in 2014, she had to lean on the tools she learned with her son to help her through this difficult time. Now, she wants to help others cultivate the habits and skills to build strength and live life on purpose through the science-based approach of Mind Over Moment.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?
I am goal-oriented and have had a strategic plan for my life since I was a freshman in high school. No, I was not one of the popular kids. I was the president of my debate team and took theater arts. I was that kid. By the time I was in college, I thought I had it pretty dialed in. I was going to go to college, get a master’s degree, and find Prince Charming. I was going to marry him at the age of 26, have my first child at 28, and my second child at 32. I was going to have dogs. Cute ones. I wanted a nice home with a white picket fence in a beautiful neighborhood. I wanted happily ever after.
I thought I was doing everything right. I went to college, got a master’s degree, got married at 26, had my first child at 28. I thought I had mastered adulting.
While I worked in the corporate world, I quickly realized that more than money or title, I valued autonomy and flexibility. I decided to quit my job as the director of training at a large resort, and with 3,000 dollars in savings and a pantry full of Spam and Ramen Noodles, I thought it would be the perfect time to begin a consulting career (insert sarcasm here).
I found a small consulting firm (one person) who was willing to take me under his wing to train and mentor me. I didn’t receive an income or benefits, so I was basically running my own business, but I had a lot of moral support and mentorship.
I provided training and development sessions on communication and leadership, facilitated strategic planning sessions, and consulted on employee engagement and workplace culture.
Then, my whole world fell apart.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
My very first year into consulting, I got pregnant. I had only been married for a couple of years, and thanks to a special on Oprah, where women who put off having children because of their careers could no longer get pregnant, I decided there was no time like the present. Thanks a lot, Oprah.
I had a very tumultuous pregnancy and an even harder delivery. Immediately, I knew something wasn’t right. My son Evan cried 20 hours a day, my husband left, and I found myself as a single mother trying to balance a new career with no income and a new baby. I was exhausted, I had horrible postpartum depression, and I couldn’t see a way out. I absolutely felt like giving up, in every way, but I knew I had to keep going.
I couldn’t get any answers or help for my son, and he continued to escalate. He tried to kill me at the age of three with a pair of scissors. By the time he was four years old, he was on his first antipsychotic.
When Evan was in the second grade, I got a call from his teacher. She said, “Anne, Evan has punched a hole in the sheet rock and tried to strangle himself, he has threatened to kill two students, and he has dislocated a teacher’s fingers. If you can’t be here in the next 10 minutes, we will have to call the police. Evan was seven years old.
I had been terrified to start my own business, but after living at the Ronald McDonald House for two-months while Evan underwent inpatient psychiatric treatment, I figured if I could do that, I could figure it out.
One of my strengths, and often weaknesses, is my unwillingness to give up. I was going to find a way to make this work and quitting was not an option.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I was in my first leadership role as the director of training and development at a large resort. Celebrities regularly visited, and there was a strict no fraternizing policy. One day, Matthew McConaughey was at the resort for a golf tournament. I am a HUGE fan.
There was a restaurant attached to the men’s locker room, and the gentleman who worked there knew about my Matthew obsession. While Matthew was eating lunch, my co-worker snuck me into the restaurant and seated me with Matthew McConaughey! I was speechless and sat there with a huge dumb grin on my face. I got an autograph, and Matthew thanked me for my smile (I am still blushing).
After lunch, I was so giddy, and I told one of my colleagues what had happened. Shortly after, I received an email from this colleague addressed to all resort staff saying, “It has come to my attention that one of our managers has broken our no fraternization policy, and she will be dismissed immediately.”
My heart sank, and my eyes filled with tears. I ran into my boss’ office apologizing profusely, begging to keep my job. She had absolutely NO idea what I was talking about. Apparently, my co-worker played a joke and created a separate email address that was just slightly different from the email address that went to all of the staff.
I totally outed myself! My boss would have had no idea. Thankfully everyone, including me, had a great laugh (and I still have the autograph!)
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story? I think what makes us stand out is our authenticity, humor, and willingness to tackle the tough stuff while being honest about how difficult it is. Some authors and speakers sugarcoat their message and appear as they have it all figured out. Our team is full of humans. We aren’t perfect, we are perfectly flawed, and our message resonates with people.
When Evan was in his first hospitalization, I shared the reality of our situation. Laughter, tears, and the horrible mullet haircut I got from the volunteer hairdresser at the Ronald McDonald House.
In 2014 Evan was hospitalized again, and I was diagnosed with a tumor in my salivary gland. Surgery resulted in facial paralysis, a scratched cornea, eye surgery, and six weeks of radiation. In the middle of all of it, I fell down the stairs, breaking my foot in four places.
When my face was paralyzed, I was terrified to speak in front of groups. I drooled, I had a speech impediment, and my eye couldn’t close (I looked like a lizard). Evan walked in one day when I was crying and said, “Mom, if you are going to teach people to be strong, you have to show them that you are too.” So, I finished my pity party and started speaking, drool and all.
Being authentic is the only way I know how to be. I am relatable, and I think people appreciate that.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I have heard many of my colleagues say, “I’m afraid of…”. I would encourage them to know that a little fear is a good thing. If you’re not afraid, you aren’t pushing yourself to meet your capabilities. Sometimes you have unforeseen circumstances, and you have to be able to pivot on a dime. It’s not easy, and it can be scary, but that is when growth happens. You can’t achieve strength without struggle.
A more tactical piece of advice would be to diversify your offerings. You may be a “speaker”, but what else are you doing to generate income. The ability to be an effective trainer and facilitator is a very targeted skillset, but it is one that will serve you well. If you can facilitate conversations around applying information, and help people leverage their own natural strengths, you become an indispensable resource.
In addition, what books, digital products, and other services can you offer so that you have other sources of revenue? If the answer is none, it is time to start expanding your skillset.
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?
I am grateful for so many people who have traveled this journey with me. I have had some incredible mentors, friends, and supporters.
More than anyone in my life, my husband Jay has been my best friend, business partner, and an incredible father to our two kids. When I was diagnosed with a tumor, I was in a tough spot and couldn’t manage the business by myself. We weren’t at the point yet where we could hire a team, so Jay stepped in and literally became the VP of Everything (that’s his real title). I would not be where I am without him.
Then, I had an opportunity to build an incredible team of amazing people. They are the life blood of this company, and their strengths compliment my weaknesses. No one can create a great business without support.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
A good company is one that provides a service or product that solves a problem. A great company is one that makes a positive difference in the world while doing it. For us, that means being a staunch advocate for mental health.
A good company will figure out the “what” and the “how”. A great company has a strong “why”, a purpose and north star that guides strategy and decision making. Without this purpose, it’s easy for the tail to wag the dog. Having a strong reason why you are bringing your product, service, or solution to the world allows you to make all of your decisions with that in mind. It allows a company to be strategic instead of reactive.
In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that leaders of great companies have a combination of indomitable will and humility. Good companies might have a leader that highlights their successes, but great companies have leaders that know they couldn’t have those successes without the help of a great team.
Companies with great leaders can withstand the test of time because they bring out the best in others and dig into difficult situations, using challenge as a catalyst for growth.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know your “why”. The “what” you do and “how” you do it are important, but without the foundation of understanding why you are doing it, you will never get to great. Our mission is to give people the tools and strategies to live their best life and the inspiration to put those lessons into practice. Our “Why” is bringing mental health and well-being to the forefront as a must have, not nice to have. You can’t live your best life if you don’t make mental, physical, and emotional well-being a priority.
- Stay humble. It’s easy to let success go to your head. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that everything can change in a split second. True success is knowing that you are no better than anyone else, and that everyone has unique and special gifts to bring to the world. Surround yourself with people who share that philosophy and have strengths to offset your weaknesses. Humble leaders credit others for their success, but they also take ownership of failures.
- Your business is not your identity. It’s just a business. When your product or service is you, rejection can be particularly painful. Realizing that it’s just business and nothing more than a numbers game helps you stay more objective. Your business is part of your identity. It is not your identity. It’s easy when you own a business to tie your self-worth to the success of the business, but they are not the same. Make sure you are investing time in other areas of your life that will fill your cup. Your resume and eulogy should not be the same thing.
- Be easy to work with. There is plenty of competition, and while your business might offer a great solution, if you’re difficult to work with, you will never take your business from good to great. This doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover, but it does mean that the customer or client shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to work with you. Be flexible and willing to adapt when needed.
- Work on your business, not in your business. It’s easy to get caught up in minutia and the trees, losing sight of the forest. This doesn’t mean that you are free from the daily grind, but it does mean that you are more likely to succeed if you focus on strategy instead of reactivity.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
This goes back to getting clear on your “why”. It’s not just purpose-driven businesses that are successful. You need purpose driven people working in and on that business. The research is clear, doing good for others makes you feel better in the process. If you can do good for others and make money in the process, even better. We donate a portion of all of our book proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Central Texas. It feels good to know that you are doing more than just making money.
Why are you doing what you are doing? We need money to survive, but at the end of the day, there will be no Brinks truck following your Hearse. If you don’t lead with purpose and have a business with a purpose, your success will be short lived.
What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Success is wonderful, but it can lead to complacency. We got to a point in our business where the phone just rang and leads just rolled in. COVID required us to get hungry again and go back to basics. Cultivating relationships, making sales calls, and networking take time, but it’s time well-spent. I often hear people say, “I don’t have time to do that”. The reason you can’t is the reason you need to.
The other side of this is knowing that growth isn’t always the goal. What do you want for your life? If you want a lifestyle business where you have time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, maybe staying where you are isn’t such a bad thing. We live in a society where more seems better. More likes, more followers, more products, more money, etc. Get clear on what it is you really want. If it’s growth, then you have to think and behave in ways that will get you those results.
I have been guilty of comparing my success with the success of others. The problem is that you never know what’s going on under the hood of someone else’s car. Someone else might have more customers, but for all you know, they are buried in debt.
More importantly, redefine success. Growth doesn’t necessarily have to mean money. Growth means that you learn important lessons and continue to get smarter. Are you more focused on being the best or getting better? The goal should be a better version of yourself tomorrow than you are today. That is real success.
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?
It’s all about getting back to basics and letting results drive you instead of ego. All businesses have ups and downs, and you need the downs to appreciate the ups. Sales and profitability are nothing more than a numbers game. When I started out, I made over 100 cold calls a day. As I grew the business, I spent less time on sales and more time on delivery. When COVID hit, I put my sales hat back on.
Don’t be afraid to go back to what helped you become successful in the first place. IQ is important, but grit and emotional intelligence are what are required for long-term success. Dig in, get your hands dirty, and do the work. You can spend time complaining that you don’t have business, or you can put your nose to the grindstone and create it. If you’re not generating revenue with your current products and services, develop new and creative ways to offset that. Use down time to think strategically so that when things turn around, you are ready to tackle challenges head on.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Sales. I spent so much time developing skills and acquiring knowledge, I forgot that if you have no one to sell that to, all the skills and smarts won’t matter. Many have the philosophy that “if you build it, they will come”. While this may be true for a product, if you are selling a service like training or speaking, there are times where you have to get the client first and then build the solution that will best help them.
If you view sales as sleazy, you have already lost. My mentor once said, “if you had the cure for cancer, you would want everyone to know about it, and you wouldn’t feel sleazy for sharing it”. Your product or service might not cure cancer, but it does solve a problem. You have to believe that your solution is worth promoting, knowing that it will help people. Your faith in your solution has to be more important than the fear of rejection. Selling isn’t sleazy. It is sharing your solution with the world.
As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Relationships mean everything. While you might not close or convert every opportunity, you never know when a relationship will yield great results, both personally and professionally. Rather than treat people like a number, truly get to know them. What are their challenges, struggles and goals?
I have found the best way to convert a visit into a sale is to be a trusted advisor. You are there to help your customer. Sometimes you will be the best solution and sometimes you won’t. Letting people know this is key. When you can tell someone that you’d love to work with them but think “x” might be a better fit, you build trust and credibility. You might not win the business right then and there, but it will come back tenfold.
Be honest about what you can and can’t deliver. I would much rather under promise and over deliver than disappoint because I couldn’t do what I said I would.
Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
This was incredibly challenging for me when I started this business. When people asked for my “elevator pitch”, I could never summarize or capture what we did in one or two sentences. Mostly, I think it was because I was trying to be everything to everyone.
When I realized that I could use my experiences to help people become a better version of themselves, things became very clear.
When someone thinks about you and your business, what adjectives do you want them to use to describe you? When clients say that we are authentic, real, funny, and insightful, I know we have done our job well.
You can’t have a clear brand if you are trying to please everyone all the time. Get clear on who you are and what you stand for. For example, some “motivational speakers” put themselves on a pedestal, explaining that they used to be where you were until they learned how to ____ (fill in the blank). The problem with that approach is that we are all human, and when you inevitably falter, you destroy your credibility.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I am on this journey alongside you. I have had to learn to truly practice what I teach, and I’ll be honest, it doesn’t work 100% of the time. I can teach mindfulness, gratitude, and self-care, but there are days I screw it up. There are days I complain, forget to practice gratitude, and fail to stay present. I am on the journey alongside my audience. Somedays we get it right. Other days we give ourselves grace and move on.
Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
This is such a great question, and I’ll answer it with another question. How do you want people to feel after they have engaged with you or your company? Emotion trumps logic every time. Yes, you have to achieve targets, numbers, and KPIs, but how do you want your customer or audience to feel?
I want my audiences and clients to feel uplifted. I want them to believe in themselves. I want them to know that it’s the small incremental changes that bring about big results. That comes through in everything that we do. If we make a mistake, we own it, and if we fail to deliver, we don’t charge (thankfully that hasn’t happened yet).
If you claim that your goal is a satisfied customer but are then difficult to work with, are you really accomplishing your goal? Instead of focusing on being right, the goal of a great service experience is to get it right.
What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Social media can be wonderful. It helps to spread your message, educate, and inspire…if it is I argument that only serves to tarnish their reputation. I think that as long as you are using social media for the right reasons, it will serve you well. When your goal becomes to tell other people they are wrong, you have entered a power struggle, and the second you enter a power struggle, you’ve already lost.
If you aren’t lifting people up, educating, or helping, it doesn’t belong on social media.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I haven’t just seen it, I’ve done it. It’s tempting to want to do everything yourself. At one point I was the trainer, speaker, author, marketing team, finance department, IT, and more. I ended up not doing any of those things well because I was spread too thin.
It’s scary to relinquish control, trust me, I know. It’s also necessary for growth and success.
I’ve also seen leaders that take all the credit. If there is a mistake, they place blame, and if there is success, they own it. We are all human and sh*t happens. If you are the CEO, the buck starts and stops with you. Share the wins, own the losses, and keep on truckin’.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
1 in 5 adults and children will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime. If you are fortunate enough to not to be one of these people, you know someone who is. To grow as a society, we have to make mental health, well-being, and resilience a priority.
People are afraid to talk about mental illness because it has a stigma attached to it. My goal is to start a mental health conversation and movement that takes away that shame and helps people build their strength and resilience.
Resilience is not a personality trait or a genetic gift. It is a set of habits and skills that can be proactively cultivated. The fact that you are reading this proves you have survived the worst thing that has ever happened to you. You are resilient by nature.
We can only be resilient when we make mental health a priority, and unfortunately, right now, we aren’t there yet. My goal is to change that.
How can our readers further follow you online?
www.annegradygroup.com and @annegradygroup across all social channels.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
Thank you for sharing this message!