Jennifer Tucker: “Have confidence in yourself”

In the U.S. particularly, I would want to inspire people to find common ground. Don’t get caught in talks of “what side are you on?” or hating people who are different from you. When you get caught in the nitty-gritty of “I’m this,” or “I’m that,” it can lead to breakdowns of communication. Sometimes, people […]

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In the U.S. particularly, I would want to inspire people to find common ground. Don’t get caught in talks of “what side are you on?” or hating people who are different from you. When you get caught in the nitty-gritty of “I’m this,” or “I’m that,” it can lead to breakdowns of communication. Sometimes, people get so caught up in the one thing that they don’t agree on and don’t realize that they actually agree with 70% of what they’re talking about. I want the world to get to a place where we’re all kind and fair to each other regardless of background.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Tucker.

Jennifer has been a part of Homewatch CareGivers for 18 years and was named COO in February of 2019. In addition to her work as the Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at Homewatch CareGivers, LLC, she previously worked in corporate wellness, case management, and health promotion. She brings a robust understanding of the ever-changing healthcare industry, including a Masters of Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore.

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’m a healthcare person by trade — you could say it’s my “jam.” My goal has always been to help people experience optimum well-being in their lives. Before working at Homewatch CareGivers, I was in corporate wellness at a big tech firm. However, as the firm was closing, my job was up in the air. At the time, a family member of mine was considering buying into Homewatch CareGivers, which had been family-owned for 35 years.

Before this, I had never focused on the senior population — my main focus was on helping teens and women, but it didn’t take long for me to fall into caring for the senior population. Many people lose sight of the value our elders add and the richness of their lives. I want people to see the whole person when it comes to our seniors. Seniors are doctors, teachers, parents, and friends — they are so much more than just an elder, or someone who is living with Alzheimer’s disease or someone who relies on a wheelchair to get around. The lives that they live in should be validated as they continue to age comfortably in place.

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

The most interesting aspect was related to culture. The culture established by my predecessor had impacted our franchise owners — both positively and negatively — assessing it and looking at places where we could make positive shifts was job one.

I had to find my footing in the only way I knew how — by being authentic and transparent — while offering a unique perspective and set of strengths to an already amazing team. It’s a heady sort of power to shape how this all works together, how it looks, feels, and how you can build an open and supportive culture.

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 don’t take myself too seriously, and it’s a good thing I don’t! My goofy, silly, off-kilter side often comes out in the office. Some of the things I’m known for are burning popcorn (it tastes better), struggling with plants (I do not have a green thumb), and asking obvious but important questions to ensure everyone is clear and on the same page. I have been told this makes me more approachable and authentic and allows others the space to be themselves and safe in sharing their idiosyncrasies. Being your authentic self at work, with some boundaries of course(!), can absolutely build trust and help create bonds that you must rely upon regularly in a high functioning workplace.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

First of all, I love the brand. The mission of empowering people is felt throughout the system — the brand empowers franchisees, who then empower caregivers and together empower clients, families, and referral sources. I had been in operations when I first came to Homewatch CareGivers. And, with my background in health care, I was familiar with all the players. I’m comfortable with the healthcare continuum, operations and I like seeing it all — marketing, sales, IT, etc. — and putting it all together.

I grew in and with Homewatch CareGivers. I’ve been with Homewatch CareGivers since 2002. When it came time to step into the leadership role, I didn’t know that I was ready. It is a big role, and I took it seriously. It’s a big decision to step into a C-Suite position.

It’s hard to look at your life and all the things that make it up, and decide whether you can do it all. I weighed the decision — will I have enough energy, time, and focus? My husband, children, and parents gave me the confidence I needed to move forward. They said, “You own this role, go get it.” All of my loved ones were supportive. I have a family; I’m a triathlete, and I had to decide if it would all fit. I went for it and looking back, it was a good choice.

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?

Many people think once you become an executive, boom, you’re in charge of everything, which really isn’t true. As a COO in charge of the Homewatch CareGivers brand, we are reliant on our network of franchisees to carry out the mission and uphold our brand standards; I get to help shape the culture and share what we are doing strategically and tactically as a brand.

It’s not my role to tell franchisees what to do. They are extremely capable and have incredible ideas. My goal is to be as transparent about what the brand as a whole is doing and allow them the freedom to run their own business with our support and resources. Many franchisees have fantastic ideas and leadership capabilities. But as the COO, it’s my job to listen to all the stakeholders, the leadership at our holding company (Authority Brands), the franchisees, the clients, the caregivers, and balance all of their needs.

Not all leaders have these many constituents. The role is difficult and not everyone is up for it. That said, I’ve been with Homewatch CareGivers for many years and feel I have learned how to juggle the different groups in an effective way.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I love being the final line of defense — I didn’t realize how empowering it was to have the final say and be the one that is ultimately accountable. Having the good stuff rolling my way or the negative stuff, it’s great to be able to look at it as a puzzle and work out which piece goes where and see it all come together!

There’s a synergy between all the moving parts of a company. I love problem-solving, and we have so many talented individuals on our team who constantly inspire and raise the bar. I thrive with responsibility and love working on these puzzles collaboratively and putting them all together.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

One of the things that surprised me is there really aren’t a lot of downsides. As I grew within the company, I knew what I was signing up for with this role. Granted, I knew it would be challenging, but that’s what makes life fun. Throughout my life, I was never one to sit in the comfort zone. I thrive when confronted with something that makes you think in different ways or has unconventional solutions.

The hardest but probably most important part of being in a leadership position is having difficult conversations with people. If someone has miscommunicated, if I have miscommunicated, or if I misunderstand something, I have to be committed to transparency and find where the breakdown happened. This happens on every level and no one is immune to it.

I, personally, have always been hard on myself, and the pressure can get to me. But as someone who is a “Type A,” person, I want things to go my way and will keep working to get things right. And while the tactical aspects of the job aren’t difficult, there are always the basic blocking and tackling of any difficulties that arise — be they from miscommunication or not.

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

When you look at an in-home caregiver organization, you might assume the role is making sure that franchisees are taking good care of clients and hiring great caregivers. And yes, that’s a part of the role, but not all of it. I want people to realize how important communication is to this role.

This role lives and thrives on interpersonal relationships and provides both authentic and transparent communications with everyone in the system. Surprisingly, I’d say my job is 80% communicating with everyone. That’s really the job in a nutshell.

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

Across the board, I think unconscious bias leads to some of the biggest challenges that women end up dealing with that maybe aren’t equally felt by men. Additionally, there aren’t many women in c-level positions or on boards, but the ratio has gotten better. There’s still a long way to go. Many women don’t picture themselves in these roles because there aren’t women in them currently. But, as more women make it to the top, they clear a path for the women behind them.

Initially, I was asked if I had an interest in this role and given 24 hours to decide if I wanted to pursue it. I mentioned this before, but I hesitated. Can I be a mom of two, a wife, a daughter, and engage in all of my extracurriculars? Will I be able to devote enough time to all these important people in my life? With the support of my family, I ultimately decided to move forward. I’m not sure that many men even have these concerns or thoughts. It’s a no brainer to keep moving up in an organization. In this sense, I think there are still marked differences when it comes to men and women and how they think about balancing work and family life.

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

Once I started the role, I had an epiphany that a huge amount of this role is communication. It was a big shift from what I thought the role would be before I started. Another important aspect was hitting my stride with the company culture. We had to figure out who we were, what we wanted to be, and craft a plan to get there.

With the culture defined, a company can sort out what it will be in the future. Our culture became very authentic and gave us a push to make Homewatch CareGivers not just an organization — but a great one. I spent time working closely with the team and making sure we were getting the big stuff right without compromising on quality.

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?

To be in these higher-level roles, people who have natural communication skills or have worked to better these specific skills are better set up to be leaders. These leaders have to listen — truly listen — to people. You can’t just focus on what you’re going to say next. The best ideas come from others and you have to be open to differing thoughts and opinions.

When you have the right people in the right seats, they’re set up to contribute the best that they can. Leaders have to be able to recognize talent, coach it and not be afraid of conflict to constructively build up the team’s skills. Conflict can lead to crucial conversations that then get people “unstuck” or that clear up miscommunication. The good news is these skills are learnable! By learning not to be afraid of conflict and focusing on being your authentic self, you and your team can thrive.

Skills to avoid? That’s tricky. Everyone has things to work on. To me, I’m consistently working to slow down. Anyone who can’t see the long-term effects has to make sure that they aren’t going too fast. The goal is to set up the organization for success. Are you thinking of the organization as a whole? When you slow down, you can get input from the right people and solve the problems that arise.

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

Have confidence in yourself. You need to know your history and experiences and own them! You bring a different background than everyone and should honor your thoughts and experiences. Additionally, being open to diverse perspectives opens you up to learn a lot. People who look and sound different than you can always enrich your experience. You don’t have to be afraid of differences.

I like to think of myself as having a superhero power. As a cancer survivor, I’ve had to look at the future through a pretty scary lens and this gives me a great perspective. That’s not to say that everything since has been a cake-walk, but I’m not afraid of the unknown. There’s nothing I can’t do. Yes, not everyone can be a superhero, but everyone has something that has knocked them down and they’ve gotten back up. Feel that power and use it to tap into your best self — every day.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful for helping you get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m fortunate to have had a lot of great mentors throughout my life. Starting with my family, my dad is an amazingly supportive person and has been a highly successful business leader. He never focused on the fact that I was a girl and never insinuated that I couldn’t do something because of my gender. He was always encouraging me to go, go, go, and not to settle. My mom has always given me perspective, unconditional love, and the space to let me be me.

In my first job out of college, I worked at a women’s health clinic and had an inspiring boss. She was just amazing! She came from a less-than-supportive background, had put herself through nursing school, raised a family and managed the clinic while being an amazing mentor all at once. She showed me that there’s nothing we — as women — can’t do.

Even now, Authority Brands has a great group of people who have mentored me through my role. They have given me the space to lead Homewatch CareGivers the way that I need to and have nurtured my leadership.

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

The nice thing about being an in-home caregiver organization is everything that we do every day is making the world a better place. From the top-down, we support our franchisees who then empower their caregivers to support their clients in being well and finding purpose in their lives. Sometimes our caregivers are the only contact that our clients get to have. To foster that relationship at a corporate level is a rush.

We are constantly open to feedback and feel inspired by our whole team from the clients to the caregivers and the franchisees. As we grow bigger, we just continue to spread that mindset and help more people. To me, that’s what makes the world a better place.

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

While getting advice going in is helpful, I’ve also loved figuring things out for myself. To me, you never stop growing and learning — even about yourself.

But there are a few things that I learned along the way that I would share with anyone who would be taking over my role.

  1. Listening is key! You can’t just think of what you’re going to say next. You don’t ever want to be in a situation where you come up with a great idea and don’t realize that it was just shared.
  2. Collaboration. Everyone has different strengths that add to our understanding. I’ve learned from my own experience that when you have different viewpoints, you come up with more creative solutions and get better results.
  3. Authentic and transparent communication goes a long way. When you have so many stakeholders, you have to be on top of keeping everyone in the loop.
  4. Building strong interpersonal relationships helps down the line. It can be as easy as being respectful to everyone. It always pays to be kind.
  5. Don’t be afraid! As I mentioned before, I had a moment of hesitation on whether or not to take this role. Don’t let fear stop you from taking on a challenge.

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.

In the U.S. particularly, I would want to inspire people to find common ground. Don’t get caught in talks of “what side are you on?” or hating people who are different from you. When you get caught in the nitty-gritty of “I’m this,” or “I’m that,” it can lead to breakdowns of communication. Sometimes, people get so caught up in the one thing that they don’t agree on and don’t realize that they actually agree with 70% of what they’re talking about. I want the world to get to a place where we’re all kind and fair to each other regardless of background.

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

My mom often says, “We make and create our own reality.” I love how this speaks to the malleability of our worldview. If we choose to see things in a positive light, assume good intent, look for the places where we can find common ground versus the alternatives, we will have better, more positive interactions and outcomes.

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 have always been fascinated by past U.S. presidents. When I read about the bond that Obama, Bush Jr., Jimmy Carter, or Bush Sr. share, I think about what it would be like to be in a room with all of them. They’ve experienced a great amount of power and have had some of the most incredible, humbling experiences. It’d be fascinating to see how they interact with each other.

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

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