“Five Steps That Someone Can Take To Become More Resilient” with Fotis Georgiadis & Trevor Croghan

I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement. In this interview series, […]

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I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement.

In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Trevor Croghan.

Third generation educator Trevor Croghan dedicated five years to middle school teaching and coaching sports in the San Francisco Bay Area before entering the business world. In 2013, he co-founded One Workplace Learning Environments — a group dedicated to designing and implementing dynamic spaces for teaching and learning. Trevor now leads four divisions across the One Workplace enterprise, the nation’s largest and most innovative organization delivering workplace solutions. Over the last decade, Trevor has consulted and collaborated on projects with IDEO, the Stanford d.school, UC Berkeley and the Office of the First Lady of the United States. Trevor received his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from the University of Montana and an EMBA from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

Icome from a long line of educators and athletic coaches. My father and grandfather were both educational leaders and competitive swim coaches. I grew up in classrooms and on pool decks watching my family teach, coach and lead. We lived in Hayward, CA, which is one of the most diverse communities in the country. These early experiences shaped my view on family, community and leadership. My path to college was through athletics. I spent five years in Montana pursuing my history degree and teaching credential, playing football and exploring wild and remote areas of the Rocky Mountains.

Returning to the Bay Area, I joined the “family business” as a middle school teacher and high school coach. Five great years later, my experience developing young people motivated me to seek new challenges and opportunities to drive impact in education at scale. I joined One Workplace as the first education-focused salesperson and consultant in 2007.

One Workplace was the first firm in our industry to recognize a growth opportunity in education, though personally the first few years in that professional transition were rough. I felt deep guilt for leaving the family legacy in education to pursue a capitalistic endeavor. But after a few failures and lots of learning, we identified and developed a dynamic need for a different approach to learning environments and a set of services that resonated with some of the leading schools and universities in Northern California.

In 2013, I co-founded One Workplace Learning Environments, a small team focused on designing dynamic spaces for teaching and learning that is now a standalone division within the company, and the most talented education-focused group of its kind in the industry. Currently, I lead several similar divisions across the One Workplace organization and spend a lot of my time identifying opportunities and developing new offerings to serve our customers.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

In 2016, our team collaborated on an education-focused initiative at IDEO called The Teachers Guild. This collaboration was neither a paid engagement nor tied to any revenue opportunity. We joined because we enjoyed spending time with the smart, purpose-driven people involved in the project. With almost zero notice, we were invited to join a presentation with the IDEO team in Washington, DC. We hopped on a plane the next day and found ourselves in a room at the White House with educational thinkers and leaders from across the country collaborating with Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” team.

This engagement led to connections with leading organizations and an opportunity to have a seat at the table with leaders shaping the national discourse in getting young people from underserved communities to and through college. The key takeaway from the experience was my realization that some of the most impactful partnerships in my professional career were forged by diving in based on the quality of people involved, not the immediately evident business opportunity.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One Workplace is a 90-year-old, family-owned company, and we’re also a wildly entrepreneurial and innovative organization. Our founder, Elmo Ferrari, started by delivering books and office supplies to customers in downtown San Jose on a bicycle. He’d end every delivery with the simple question “What else can I do for you?” Over the years, that question has led the company to continually evolve to meet our customers’ needs, adding solutions and services. It also allowed One Workplace to grow, innovate in our industry and become a leader in the market. And we recognize how fortunate we are to be operating in the heart of Silicon Valley, working with some of the world’s leading innovators. One Workplace has been able to thrive because of this winning combination of the company’s humble beginnings, authentic commitment to service, entrepreneurial spirit and partners who challenge us.

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’m deeply grateful to Jan Hahn, a true friend and mentor. Jan was a consummate professional, and a veteran leader in our industry. While not an educator, she saw the potential for our company in the education vertical market and went on a search for someone with the passion, background and skillset to build upon. Jan saw something special in me and invested in a young educator with absolutely no business experience. She committed personal time and resources to “show me the ropes” and mold some pretty rough clay into a solid business professional.

After working together for several years to validate our model and build our business plan and strategy, Jan became very ill. She had to step back from the business to focus on her health. One Workplace Learning Environments launched with Jan on the sidelines. Over a two year period, we started, failed early, found our footing and ultimately began to experience some success. During all this, Jan was fighting for her health and unable to fully participate in the realization of her concept which was crushing to her and to me. Sadly, Jan succumbed to her illness, but I hold her in my heart and try to lead in ways that would make her proud.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I love this topic.

Resilience is an essential element of leadership and one that has deep personal meaning. I define resilience as the absolute refusal to be thwarted by the roadblocks and setbacks you’ll invariably encounter on any meaningful journey. In the face of 100 reasons why something is impossible to achieve, resilient leaders continue to pursue the ideas they believe in and thrive in the face of adversity.

I’ve seen common traits in the most resilient people I know. First, they are not entitled. They realize anything worth doing is going to involve hard work and they welcome the challenge. They are willing to put in the work and expect adversity. Early setbacks serve as motivation instead of discouragement.

Encountering adversity is an indication that you’re on the way to building something great! Lesser leaders abandon the journey at that point. The ability to stare adversity in the face and overcome obstacles is what separates the wheat from the chaff. The ability to anticipate adversity, and to confront and overcome it, is a hallmark of resilience and great leadership.

Resilience is a painful muscle to develop, but those who exercise it are primed for success.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

My first thought is my cousin and goddaughter, Korrine Croghan. She was born on my 16th birthday, and we had a special bond from the very beginning. We often spent time together and deeply enjoyed one another. When she was 14, Korrine was diagnosed with Choriocarcinoma, a rare pediatric cancer. She battled the disease bravely, always stared it straight in the face. As the cancer progressed and she endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, her grit and positivity inspired everyone around her. Her struggle with cancer brought together not only our family but her greater community.

Unfortunately, we lost Korrine after a 10-month battle — the most heartbreaking moment of my life. Strong to the very end, she lived life with determination and a heart full of joy. We keep her spirit alive through a nonprofit organization called Team KC, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support families of pediatric cancer patients. Korrine is with me always and I still miss her immensely.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

My early years with One Workplace were marked by a series of unsuccessful endeavors. First, I joined the company on the front edge of the financial crisis — not a good time for a career pivot into sales. By the time my onboarding was complete, the market for our products and services was anemic. In the absence of a deep skill set or an established customer base, my strategy was to look for opportunities in the environment I was most familiar with and passionate about: public K-12 education. The commonly held belief in our industry at the time was that there was no market for innovative learning environments in public K-12. It was a commodity-driven, low-bid environment. Schools were primarily buying cheap, bullet-proof chair-desk combos and lining them up in rows facing the front of the classroom.

That affordable, uninspired model had been in place for the better part of a century, heavily influenced by factory production settings. When I began engaging with school districts and pitching the idea of a dynamically different approach to classroom design, I was laughed out of the room. It didn’t help that the ideas I was espousing were about 30% more expensive than the norm — generally a non-starter in education. Though I had a lot of support internally, most in the company viewed the endeavor as a fool’s errand.

Early results of the endeavor proved the doubters correct. I failed repeatedly and had very little to show after almost 2 years of effort. But then a funny thing happened — the more I learned about and pitched innovative learning environments, the more convinced I became that schools desperately needed to reimagine their physical spaces. Bringing this concept to Bay Area schools became a singular focus that I refused to abandon.

Everything changed when I elevated my conversations to the highest levels of leadership in a school district. I found a few Superintendents looking to drive dynamic change in their learning spaces and willing to experiment with pilot spaces. We implemented, iterated and measured. The results were stunning, and the projects started flowing. Today we have a thriving and profitable practice in K-12 that is serving hundreds of thousands of teachers and students.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

In our education practice, the summer season is madness. Most schools that implement large classroom projects work within a three-month window between June and August. Seventy-five percent of our volume comes in those months. One of the most challenging aspects of our work is coordinating massive product shipments with manufacturers located across the globe.

In 2016, we were planning for our largest project to date: a district-wide classroom project that involved hundreds of classrooms. As installation approached, we began getting signals that our primary supplier was having manufacturing challenges. The situation deteriorated over the summer to the point that it became apparent that the supplier was going to significantly miss delivery deadlines. To compound the issue, the district had recycled all their old classroom furniture. The classrooms were empty and the first day of school was approaching.

My conversation with the Superintendent of that district letting him know the classrooms would not be ready for school was one of the most difficult of my career. He trusted us and staked his reputation on our project. I felt like a failure and had a deep sense of shame around the situation. But leaving the district without furniture was simply not an option.

We engaged with some of our largest corporate customers to borrow tens of thousands of tables and chairs from their storage facilities. We delivered these items to the district at no cost and were able to open school with furniture in every room. Almost 2 months later, the new items arrived, and we completed a dynamic refresh in every classroom.

Our relationship with the district actually improved as a result of this near-catastrophic situation. The Superintendent appreciated our honesty, communication and creative problem-solving. The district went on to become our largest customer over the next several years and a source of countless referrals.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

During my sophomore year in high school, my mother fell into a deep depression. For the better part of a year, she was bedridden and unable to function. She was in such a dark place that she attempted to take her own life. She survived the attempt, but this was the most challenging period of my young life.

Through this experience, I learned several important lessons. First, depression is real and can be devastating. Taking care of yourself is paramount. You can’t be good for anyone else unless you are good to yourself. I also came to realize that almost everyone is dealing with a challenge that is often invisible, even when all seems well externally. Many of the people we encounter every day are fighting a silent battle that we never see.

Today my mother is strong and vibrant. She is an incredible grandmother and a pillar in her community. She is forthright about her battle with depression and spends a lot of time mentoring other women through her church and in the recovery community. Seeing her take mental illness head-on and learn to thrive has been an inspiration to me. I love and admire my mom’s resilience and I’m grateful for her presence in my life.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Anticipate Adversity. The first step in the pursuit of anything meaningful is to expect the journey to come with challenges. If it was easy, someone else would already have done it.

2. Fill Your Tank. Prepare yourself physically, mentally and emotionally for your journey. Strength in these areas is key to resilience. Take care of yourself and stay sharp along the way. It’s amazing how much impact good sleep and regular exercise can have on your ability to navigate adversity.

3. Get a “Personal Board of Directors.” Surround yourself with strong people with skills that fill your gaps. Associate with people smarter than you. Seek truth-tellers who care enough about you to call you on your bullshit. A team like this will keep you honest and act as your rudder in rough waters.

4. Roll with The Punches. When you get knocked down the first time, bounce back up with a smile and renewed determination. Identify the reasons you faltered and fill those gaps. There’s nothing more discouraging to someone trying to defeat you than when their best punch fails to knock you out.

5. Give Generously. This one might seem out of place, but I think it is an essential element of resilience. Generosity is energy-giving. It allows you to step outside of yourself, develop empathy and focus on the needs of others. Your giving can come in the form of time, skills or resources. Give more than you think you can, and you’ll be surprised by the strength it returns.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

I’d spark a movement to get people outside while they are learning and working. I’m a huge believer in the restorative power of the outdoors. Fresh air and natural light are an abundantly available resource that could radically improve people’s experiences if spaces were thoughtfully designed to handle the challenges associated with being outside.

With today’s reality of questioning how we will safely gather in large groups indoors, we have an amazing opportunity to reimagine how outdoor spaces can become an integral part of the working, learning and healing experience. We’re thinking about this idea a lot right now and looking for organizations willing to explore creative ways to come together outside of traditional four-walled settings.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂

I’m a huge fan of Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce, and would love to share a meal with him. I admire the culture he has developed within his organization and his leadership. Mark is committed to using his platform and personal wealth as tools to drive impact in causes he is passionate about. I aspire to reach levels of influence and success that will allow me to give generously and drive change in similar ways.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m pretty active on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trevor-croghan-9866b32/

My Instagram handle is @trevcrog

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on an important topic. I really enjoyed the conversation.

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