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“Focus on your strengths” With Jason Hartman & Jackie Donovan

I would love to inspire a movement that helps people achieve their potential. A movement that helps them believe in themselves. Focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Imagine the good that would come from this! Predictive Index has been such a wonderful tool to help the entire Firm work towards achieving their potential. […]

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I would love to inspire a movement that helps people achieve their potential. A movement that helps them believe in themselves. Focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Imagine the good that would come from this! Predictive Index has been such a wonderful tool to help the entire Firm work towards achieving their potential. From top to bottom. The leaders learn how to better understand themselves and those that report to them. People get coached in the appropriate way to help them be more engaged and motivated to go above and beyond what they thought possible. If Predictive Index could be used in schools, sports teams, companies, boards of directors, etc. it would help people understand each other regardless of background, education, and experience.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jackie Donovan, Chief Operating Officer at Pond Lehocky Giordano.

Jackie Donovan is the Chief Operating Officer at Pond Lehocky Giordano. She has held that position since 2012. Before that, she served as the firm’s Office Manager/Administrator from its opening in 2010. Under her watch Pond Lehocky Giordano has become one of Pennsylvania’s largest workers’ compensation in Pennsylvania. Jackie is a proud former D1 athlete.

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?

Ioriginally wanted to attend law school. I had a connection to the firm and was interested in getting some legal experience. Through my personal connection I was hired as a legal assistant and lucky enough to start working for Sam Pond. He believed in me, coached me, and pushed me to be my best. When he and the other partners started Pond Lehocky Giordano I was offered the opportunity to switch to the business side of the law firm. That is where I fell in love with management and operations. I loved figuring out processes, tweaking them and making things as efficient as possible. This isn’t typical of law firms but that’s what makes our firm different — the thought leadership that comes from the top! Further, I was able to get back to being a leader. Starting young, allowed me to learn a lot of mistakes early and continue to grow over the years. Leading is my passion so this was clearly a match.

While I can be bit too direct, I find I do an okay job managing people. Further, I get a lot of joy out of working with and managing human beings. Operations is not just about building or improving a process. It’s about creating high performing teams. Without high performing teams, the process isn’t entirely what you envisioned. Therefore, they work hand in glove.

Shawn Lehocky, our Chief Strategy Officer, has opened my eyes to love the technology side of operations. How technology can take an already efficient process and improve it or eliminate it through automation. Finding ways for employees to focus on more important tasks via technology brings me a lot of joy in a nerdy way.

In terms of my attraction to the executive role, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I believed I should be in that role. Anytime I approach anything with passion, my goal is to be the best I can possibly be. I’ve never been a role player or someone to sit back and do my job. I like to have my voice heard. I love to lead. I love to see my ideas executed. Therefore, being at the executive level is clearly something I was going to continue to strive for until I reached that level.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

At the risk of sounding cliché, the transition to remote work at the beginning of the pandemic was by far one of the most interesting things to happen to me since I began leading the company. While we were aware of the impending pandemic, the time to make plans and decisions happened quickly, as it did for the rest of the country. As a firm that does not have a history of remote work, there was much to be done operationally in preparation for the entire firm to transition to working remotely.

At the executive level, we were uncertain what was ahead and how much of an impact it would have on incoming work. Further, it was uncertain what level of slow down would come to fruition and what impact that would have on inventory, capacity, cash flow, etc. It was a new challenge that I found interesting to navigate with some of the smartest people I know. The team came together and was able to accomplish a nearly seamless transition to remote work. In addition, it was especially rewarding to see one of our biggest departments transition to an entirely new workflow in an effort to streamline the operation during quarantine. Just when I thought I had seen it all!

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 thought I wanted to be a lawyer when I first started working in the legal industry. I always knew I was meant to be working at a law firm, but I didn’t realize how much I could make a difference working as a female executive. I still make mistakes, but I hire and surround myself with intelligent people who also care about our mission. It’s funny to think of the different paths a career might take someone.

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?

While there are quite a few to thank, none are more important than my parents. They laid the foundation and cultivated who I am today. They exemplified work ethic, a healthy dose of common sense and household full of unconditional love and equality. When I say equality, my mother often drove the family car and mowed the lawn. It was only weird when I saw only fathers doing these things in my friend’s families.

I have Sam Pond to thank. He saw something in me early on in my career and has paved the path towards the position I’m in today. He has always made me feel like my voice is welcomed and heard. He has pushed me better than any coach and has helped me grow in countless ways as a business person and leader.

I have to thank my coaches over the years as well. Many of whom were women. One in particular was once the best lacrosse player in the world (Yes, I said the world). These women not only made me feel that my competitive fire was normal, it was badass. It made me proud of a characteristic that is really the driving force behind much of my success.

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 put the best interests of the firm or company first. They let that be their compass in all decisions. Often times, this means making very difficult decisions. An executive must have the guts to make hard decisions in order to always do what is best for the firm or company.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I’d like to dispel the myth that executives aren’t worried about the staff, that they don’t understand their day to day or understand what’s going on in the trenches. At Pond Lehocky Giordano, our executives are aware that if our employees aren’t happy that the firm will not thrive. We don’t pretend to care, rather it is something we take very seriously.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I think women need to have a louder voice, a bit more confidence, less emotion. I am fortunate that with our team, this is not an issue. We are proud that our executive team is 50% female and was originally only female. However, I do think our set up is rare and unique, and female leadership is lacking in other companies.

My biggest challenge is being a working mother. It is difficult to find equal time to be the COO of the Donovan’s and the COO of Pond Lehocky Girodano. There must be sacrifices on both ends and sometimes the decision making in those sacrifices can be gut wrenching.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Early on I was very hands on. As I grew into my role, I was afforded the opportunity to grow an operations specific team. As a kudos to the Partnership, allowing your leadership team to build an operations team is very forward-thinking. At this point, the people on this team know a lot more than I do about the Firm’s operations. It took a lot of personal growth to let go of the control and to trust the really bright people around me. My job went from hands on to more of a global view and coaching. I had to learn to think bigger picture and push my team to their personal potential, question their thought process, teach others to manage their teams. I love the job now for all of its new challenges.

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?

While this isn’t a specific trait, you have to be willing to put the job first. As an executive you had a duty to do what is best for the firm or company. Sometimes this means making the hard sacrifice of putting the job before family. You can never settle. Question the status quo. You must continue to strive to be better than yesterday. That expectation goes for yourself and your teams. You can’t be surface level. You have to drive your team to perform and drive them to push their teams to perform. When they don’t, you have to be someone who is going to let that person know. You have to be someone who can push to get the most of out of your people and push them to get the most out of theirs. That’s why leadership is key at the executive level. Without this coaching, you can see how much of the management would fall apart in a trickle-down fashion.

You have to be willing to set the example. If your job requires it, you have to have a presence. You have to be able to see big picture and know how to run the enterprise. As a COO, you can’t be solely focused on the operation and not see that you might have excess capacity due to a change in call volume or inventory levels. You need to understand what implications that might have on expenses and return on investment of that department.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Understand who your people are. Not just personally, but how they work and what motivates them. Not every person is created equal. Know what makes people tick so that you can get the most out of them. It’s your job, but will also help your team to thrive.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Not enough. However, I hope I’ve helped some members of my team grow and learn. I take a personal interest in the growth of my people. I don’t hoard my lessons and experiences; I teach them in hopes they don’t make the same mistakes. Further, I want to see them grow personally and within the firm. See people flourish is my greatest joy.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

In no particular order:

  1. Know the definition of mental toughness and check your emotions at the door.
  2. Never let them see you sweat.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. They make you smarter and stronger.
  4. Laugh at yourself. A lot.
  5. Appearance matters. I do not care if you’re in jeans. But looking professional is part your image that drives first and lasting impressions.

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 love to inspire a movement that helps people achieve their potential. A movement that helps them believe in themselves. Focus on their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. Imagine the good that would come from this! Predictive Index has been such a wonderful tool to help the entire Firm work towards achieving their potential. From top to bottom. The leaders learn how to better understand themselves and those that report to them. People get coached in the appropriate way to help them be more engaged and motivated to go above and beyond what they thought possible. If Predictive Index could be used in schools, sports teams, companies, boards of directors, etc. it would help people understand each other regardless of background, education, and experience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Being confident and believing in your own self-worth is necessary to achieving your potential.” — Sheryl Sandberg

I’ve learned that women, even intelligent and confident women, often doubt their self-worth. The inability to BELIEVE you are not only capable, but worthy is one of the biggest hurdles I’ve seen women face in my career and personal life. While the support of others you respect is incredibly encouraging, you must truly believe deep down in your self-worth. That is one of the keystones of success.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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