You’ll learn as much from others about what not to do as you will what to do. I learned this from the boss I had in my first executive-level position. His poor example taught me to lead as my authentic self and hold true to my own values, rather than follow someone else’s lead.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Goldstein.
As chief human resources officer at CoolSys, Beth Goldstein has significantly contributed to the success of the company and to paving the way for women in leadership within the HVAC industry. She has been instrumental in positioning CoolSys for growth by developing a culture with employees at the center — a place where employees can work, prosper and grow throughout their entire careers. Beth actively mentors and coaches other women in a variety of disciplines and HVAC fields.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I started my career managing a territory for a fashion retailer with accountability for a significantly sized profit and loss statement. In that role, I learned how to listen to, surprise, and delight customers, how businesses make money, and how to manage people. I draw on that experience to this day. The company I worked for was growing fast and I found myself gravitating towards human resources. I was motivated by the challenge of selecting and building high-performing teams, developing leaders to grow with the company and nurturing a culture aligned with the company’s objectives. I transitioned into human resources as soon as I had an opportunity to do so, assuming throughout my career a variety of roles of increasing responsibility in fast-growing companies in the retail, healthcare services, food and beverage and industrial-services sectors.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Actually, I can’t. When you work in human resources, you encounter some of the funniest situations on the planet. Things you wouldn’t believe happen or that people do, say and believe. But that’s confidential 😊.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once sent a very confidential document to someone who shouldn’t have seen it. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it was very embarrassing, and I learned not to rush important matters.
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 about that?
I have had wonderful mentors who generously shared their wisdom and experience with me. My first manager in human resources taught me how to take initiative and be accountable for my own career. Later, I had a supervisor who expected more from me than I thought possible — he taught me to dig deep and if I felt afraid, to do it anyway.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I was surprised once to learn that a leader whom I admired for handling stressful, high stakes issues with seeming ease performed an extraordinary amount of preparation. That stuck with me and I learned to make time to prepare for any eventuality which helps me manage stress. I’m also a big believer in grounding myself with some quiet reflection time or a walk outside before deciding how to solve a difficult challenge. That helps me to maintain a clear head and present my best self.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
There is simply no better way to make impactful decisions than to ensure different perspectives are represented around the table. The most effective way to ensure diverse perspectives is a diverse and inclusive workplace. There is no substitute.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
We must seek out inclusion and diversity, purposefully enable it as opposed to expecting it to develop organically. I have changed talent-sourcing strategies to yield qualified and diverse candidates. I’ve used advisory groups to help understand and nurture a sense of belonging in under-represented groups. Changing policies and other cultural norms can go a long way towards ensuring equitability. There is no silver bullet here, every organization must commit to finding their own path. All these strategies can be effective, however, they will all fail without a commitment to seek out inclusion and diversity.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Executives harness the resources of their respective teams to deliver company strategy. They work cross-functionally to create new value for customers and other stakeholders. Executives are broad thinkers, able to see possibilities others don’t and they are able to inspire belief and action within the organization. The best executives have expansive toolkits from which to draw ideas and provoke thought, always on the lookout for ways to deliver better outcomes for all stakeholders.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
Most people consider C-Suite executives “too busy” to grab a cup of coffee with or invite to lunch. Or, “too important” to bother with a challenging problem. The reality is that C-Suite executives relish nothing more than the opportunity to hear someone else’s feedback, provide words of wisdom and generally be viewed as a regular person working towards the same goals as everyone else in the organization.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
There continues to be a higher bar for women to be equally heard in some organizations. It is still the case that women need to be more thoughtful and purposeful about the choices they make in their careers than men do. We’ve come a long way, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I didn’t think I would still be working as hard as I do!
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Executives must possess a high degree of drive, a passion to contribute and make an impact in their companies so being a self-starter who is willing and able to pave new pathways is required. Executives must be able to solve challenging problems and make difficult decisions that impact many others. That’s a significant responsibility and burden that not everyone wants to or should take on. Executives are responsible for and to their teams, and they must be able to inspire commitment and followership within their areas of responsibilities. That requires a significant amount of externally focused energy and is not usually a good match for those who draw energy from focusing on perfecting their own pursuits.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Find out what matters to your team members and colleagues and help them achieve it.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’m proud of the mentoring and coaching I’ve provided to women leaders over the course of my career. I believe the world benefits from their collective capabilities.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You’ll learn as much from others about what not to do as you will what to do. I learned this from the boss I had in my first executive-level position. His poor example taught me to lead as my authentic self and hold true to my own values, rather than follow someone else’s lead.
- Every good idea has its time. This lesson has been reinforced many times throughout my career. Timing is everything and good ideas persist!
- The most important decision you make is the people you choose to hire. Having talented, diverse people surround you makes you a better leader. I have agonized over hiring (and firing) decisions throughout my career for this reason. You are only as effective as a leader as the team you assemble.
- You can learn something from every situation, if you are in search of the lessons. Sometimes employees wait to “be developed” when every experience can be a teachable moment. It is important to pay attention to what is happening around you and reflect on what you see. Is there a lesson to be learned? Did something surprise you? Did you observe something you want to try yourself?
- Exercise and cooking are management strategies. Or, at least mine. It’s important to know what makes you feel happy, productive, and clear and do it often. When you spend your day on high stakes issues, as most executives do, making time for the things that give you joy and help you relax make you a better leader.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would start a movement to make it “cool” to tend to your mental and emotional health.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite “life lesson quote” is “Nothing is as it appears.” It reminds me not to jump to conclusions, to be curious and ask a lot of questions, and to accept that there is usually more to any given story. That lesson has never failed me.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have a private conversation with Barack Obama, whom I perceive to be an extraordinary leader. Regardless of political affiliation, President Obama faced some of the most challenging times in American history. He led with grace and confidence in the most authentic way. I’d love to talk with him about how he accomplished that. And thank him for the leadership example he set during his presidency.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.