If times are tough on you then acknowledge it. Don’t act tough, your employees probably would feel better to know that others are feeling what they are. They may also be more willing to share themselves.
As a part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Are Helping To Promote The Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing David Galownia.
David excels at propelling Slingshot towards their goals and oversees the strategic direction of the company. He’s been described as ‘intense, driven, caring, and passionate’ both at work and play. At work, he enjoys watching his team explore, imagine, and reinvent to do the best by their clients. At play, he drives Karts at insanely high speeds and scares his wife half to death. It’s all or nothing. Which means he gives it all.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Sure! I took a bit of an odd path to get here. When I was young, the career paths that interested me were race car driver, Navy Seal, Fighter jet pilot, or Architect. A far cry from a tech company owner but not as far as you might think. For me, it was important that I could do something that required a bit of daring, allowed me to be creative, and offered independence. Being a business owner had all three of those things.
I came about tech when I was pursuing a career in earnest driving race cars. Long story short I did not make it but I had to create a website for my sponsors along the way. I learned to do this by myself and really enjoyed the process. At this point I had dropped out of college to pursue racing full time but decided to go back, this time fully focused on learning software. When I graduated, I immediately started Slingshot and here we are today, 15 years later.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When my company was early in it’s consultancy there were just two of us, both owning half the business. We were doing work with a client and got a huge opportunity. It was too big for us. The client wanted us to do the work but we couldn’t in good conscience take the work so we said no. There would have been any number of things we could do to handle the work but none that we thought that would allow us to do the work at a level we’d be satisfied with.
The client was insistent so we found a way where we could do a small part of the work and do that very well. They weren’t interested but still wanted us to do all of it! Finally we surmised there was a way to do it but we needed 2 other individuals who we knew well and together all four of us could execute at the level we’d feel good about it. The only problem was that these individuals were working jobs and we’d need to hire them. We decided we couldn’t risk their livelihood unless we could at least pay them for a full year after the job.
We went back to that client with an outrageous price but with a straight face. We told them the situation and said this was the ONLY way in which we would do that work. They pushed us hard to negotiate, to use contractors we didn’t know. We did not budge an inch and in the end they said yes.
I believe to this day they said yes because the lengths we went through to get that deal. They knew we could be counted on to deliver and the price we were asking was worth that. From that day forward I realized there is no such thing as a crazy offer and that I didn’t need to compromise my own values to succeed in business in fact quite the opposite, it would be a differentiator.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think it’s important to remember why you did things to begin with, and check in with yourself on a regular basis to make sure that passion still applies. If it doesn’t that’s OK, As an owner you can change things. Don’t be afraid to shift the entire direction of your company if it’s not aligning with your passion. Even if your company is doing great, it has to be doing great for you. As a leader, your mood and passion will trickle down to the entire culture. People will know if you’re not into it anymore.
People may tell you not to change things if it’s going well, it’s too risky. Risk has two sides, doing something and it failing. Doing nothing… and burning out or going out of business. You must always push as the owner to be better. That is HARD. If your business doesn’t align with your passion then your chances of sustained success are very slim.
The second thing I would say is delegate. As an owner, stick to your strengths, delegate things you’re not good at but also things you do NOT enjoy. Little things can drag you down, don’t let it.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
To me culture starts with loving what you do and acting with integrity. Trust your employees and they will respond. But you have to make sure that when you hire you are hiring people with those same traits. That’s when it becomes culture. ALWAYS hire with culture in mind. If you’re in a pinch and need someone now, it can be tempting to compromise, but if you value culture and understand the power it has in your company’s success then you cannot. Find another way.
Secondly culture is something that has to be continually re-enforced. Do you want an office of fun? Then do fun things, regularly. Do you want an office of openness? Then ask your employees often what they think, encourage them to speak up, hold events where everyone is encouraged to speak their mind.
Every value you want culturally has to be enforced on a regular basis for it to become culture.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” — Nelson Mendela
When I was in college, I was studying architecture and I really enjoyed it. However I knew I had a bigger dream at that time. I wanted to race cars for a living. I let myself be talked into going to school instead of focusing everything I had into what I wanted most. Perhaps it was the momentum of society that led me down that road, pressure from parents, but ultimately it was my choice to attend school and it was a mistake. One day after a stressful presentation it all hit me at once, why was I here? It was such a powerful moment of clarity. I decided that night I was dropping out. I told my parents the next day. It wasn’t a discussion. I didn’t have to say much they could see my mind was made up. I had no idea how I was going to accomplish what I wanted I just knew that nothing else mattered if I didn’t give it a shot.
Ultimately, I dedicated myself to that passion for a couple years but in the end found it wasn’t my ultimate path, but it did lead me to where I am now and it changed how I lived my life from that point forward. I would follow my dreams, no exceptions.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about five steps or initiatives you have taken to help improve or optimize your employees mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think one of the best things you can do regarding mental health is acknowledge it. Acknowledge the situation we’re in. Relax expectations and seek to be more understanding as a leader more than ever. This is hard on all of us. Give others a break. Give yourSELF a break. I think verbalizing this is a first step. Other things we’ve done at Slingshot are to encourage people to take breaks, time off, vacation, etc. With the pandemic there may be less we can do but that doesn’t mean you should drop your vacation time and work instead. Take the time off when you feel yourself burning out.
Regarding COVID, I think it’s important as well not to force anyone into anything they are uncomfortable with. At Slingshot we started very early on with work in the office only if you’re comfortable. Most people elected to work from home and that’s fine. We’re also not requiring people to be in the office anytime soon. We have held some in-person meetings but those are 100% optional.
Also realize people handle stress and difficult situations in different ways and at different levels. Some employees are hurting more than others. Give slack and patience. These times are unprecedented.
Another thing we’ve done in this time is stay connected. We’ve implemented weekly zoom calls where people share what they’re working on and usually something personally that’s going on in their lives. It’s not the same as being in an office and walking over to someone and talking to them but it is something. We’ve also done occasional socially distanced outdoor lunches. These have generally been very well received. It’s been obvious people are happy to see one another outside a Zoom call.
Lastly I would say is as a leader to be vulnerable. If times are tough on you then acknowledge it. Don’t act tough, your employees probably would feel better to know that others are feeling what they are. They may also be more willing to share themselves.
What you are doing is wonderful, but sadly it is not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
I’d like to see more people just openly talk about the human aspect of business. Being vulnerable yourself and sharing your own struggles is a start. Share also your stories of what you’re doing that has worked. Participate in discussions and talk openly with other leaders.
From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues ? Can you explain?
I wish more than anything people would drop the tough guy attitude and be more vulnerable and open with their own struggles. Chances are if you’re feeling something someone else is as well but maybe they don’t know it. Knowing you’re not alone makes everything so much more bearable. It also starts conversations and gives a better understanding of the problem we’re facing. It’s a shame sometimes culturally that in this country that boorish arrogant attitudes are equated with strength. Real strength in my opinion comes from sincerity. Those people who are who they are and share not just the good but the bad and ugly have real strength. It also makes them relatable and easier for us to see ourselves able to attain what they have.
Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?
I’m a strong advocate for healthy eating and exercise. That doesn’t mean you have to be a nutrition expert or spend 10 hours a week working out. Wherever you are now, take one step forward. Can you cut out one unhealthy snack a week? Find time to take a walk every other day? Once a week? Healthy habits can be small and still be beneficial. Don’t start big, start with something super small and attainable and then build momentum. Give yourself 30 days to turn an idea to a habit and then add one more thing. Pick the easiest first, then add things that may be a little harder over time.
Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?
Personally I’ve been doing a lot of walking, maybe 5–6 miles a week. I listen to music and let myself think. No typing, answering emails, looking online. Just being alone with your thoughts and away from distractions can be refreshing. I”m also a big advocate for changing the scenery. If you’ve just had a negative meeting or feeling while in your office, go to a different room in your house for a minute, work from there. Hobbies to me are big as well. Find a hobby you love so much that it’s hard to think of anything but that while you’re doing it. If you have issues and negative feelings around work, family, etc, a hobby can be a way to put it all aside and just enjoy life for a moment.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I love Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. The things I loved about that were that Nike was a company that truly embodied their now famous slogs “Just do it”. They talk over and over about tough situations that did not deter them from moving forward. I can relate to the jump first think later attitude. If you want something, you have to START. It’s easy to psyche yourself out and make things way more complicated then they need to be instead of just going after it. Additionally their culture was one of hustle, substance, and no frills. If they needed something it didn’t matter what it was they just got it done.
My other takeaway was that Phil convinced his parents to travel the world instead of putting that money towards college. I think that’s amazing. We all value “real life education” but how many people actually put their money where their mouth is. Investing in traveling the world is exactly that, a huge investment that paid amazing dividends. I would encourage everyone to take the path less traveled. It’s way more interesting.
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. 🙂
I think there are a lot of great movements already. As individuals we always want to do things our way but maybe we could spend a moment lifting others up? Chances are if you have a cause someone else already does and they’ve devoted their life to it. If you want to help then find that person and give them support by offering up your unique skills ,perspective, and influence. I think if you have influence and are looking for a cause perhaps you’re not the best to start that movement. Going for a cause it’s not an area where competition makes a whole lot of sense.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
My LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-galownia-9202211/. That’s the best way to find out things I’m up to. Also, follow my company Slingshot at www.yslingshot.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!