Krista Endsley of LINQ: “Communicate, communicate, communicate”

Communicate, communicate, communicate.As leaders, we sometimes feel like we communicate a lot. We have all-hands meetings, newsletters, meetings, etc… What I didn’t realize is that, no matter how much we communicate, people digest communication in different ways. Some like the written word. Others prefer video or live broadcasts — some weekly and others quarterly. It always seemed […]

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Communicate, communicate, communicate.
As leaders, we sometimes feel like we communicate a lot. We have all-hands meetings, newsletters, meetings, etc… What I didn’t realize is that, no matter how much we communicate, people digest communication in different ways. Some like the written word. Others prefer video or live broadcasts — some weekly and others quarterly. It always seemed as if I was communicating enough, but it never failed that communication was never ranked as successful as I thought it should on the quarterly employee survey. Lesson learned: communicate early, often and in different ways.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Krista Endsley.

Krista Endsley is the CEO of LINQ, the fastest growing software solution and support provider that enables K-12 school administrators with an advanced suite of financial, administration, and nutrition solutions. With Krista’s leadership, the dedicated LINQ team is making schools stronger across the U.S. through a common commitment to the success of school district professionals and the families they serve.

Prior to taking the helm at LINQ, Krista served as the CEO for Abila and Cantata Health. She has over 20 years of experience in successfully leading teams through building and enhancing brands in the software industry. Krista’s leadership blends analytical acuity with a warmth and determination to foster emergent talent, leadership and creativity in every individual.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! 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?

Thank you, Candice. It’s great to be with you. Backstory… Well, that goes back a bit! I actually decided at the age of 12 that I wanted to be a CEO…someday… And, since experiencing that revelation, I always strived to make leadership decisions and take actions that keep me and my teammates on a successful trajectory.

Professionally, I believe it is more powerful to focus on a goal by sharing the vision with a team of trusted people — build the team, vest the vision, and empower individuals to achieve what we need to. I was fortunate to join a little company called Best Software in 2001 after spending about 10 years in the software industry. That decision was pivotal.

Best Software was owned by Sage Software, a large, public company based in the U.K. During my first seven years there, we grew in the US to over 1B dollars as I built a portfolio of product lines into a successful division, and my career accelerated. While at Best Software, I enjoyed strong mentors, had numerous opportunities to prove my capabilities, and was given exposure to some of the most talented software leaders in the world.

After running larger divisions and becoming a Sr. VP and GM, it was then a natural career progression that my next responsibilities would lead me to serve as a CEO. I realized this opportunity when I helped to divest a division that I was running to a private equity investor. That division became Abila, where I spent the next four years.

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

Hmm… Well, I recently started my journey with LINQ and, I have to say, starting a new job during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic has been very interesting. Beginning a leadership role at an organization is exhilarating and challenging in the best of times, but those feelings are magnified in the current business climate.

The LINQ home office is based in Wilmington, NC and I work remotely from Austin, TX, so it was extremely important to me that the entire organization aligned around a company culture of inclusivity, transparency and accountability. While I have led remote teams in the past, working from home is a new concept for many at LINQ. So, I push myself and the company’s leadership team to lead by example. This includes things like staying offline when using PTO, over communicating at all times, and really owning your work.

Since I joined the company, we’ve had two huge mergers that have led to incredible growth. LINQ works with school districts all across the U.S. Because of the pandemic, we have truly had to innovate our solution to meet the needs of schools today and beyond. It has been an eye-opening experience leading a company of talented, hardworking individuals through scary and uncharted territory. School districts are our greatest inspiration; they strive to care, educate, and feed students on a daily basis regardless. We owe it to them as a software provider to make their lives easier.

Under normal circumstances, my best stories involve customers.

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 am the first person to recognize that I couldn’t accomplish any success without help, guidance and encouragement. I have had many supporters, mentors and people that have guided and encouraged me throughout my career.

One remarkable person stands out: Himanshu Palsule, an executive at Sage. Himanshu insisted on hiring me even though the hiring manager told him, “Krista has a lack of relevant experience.”

Yet, from that day on I believe Himanshu saw something in me. He gave me opportunities to grow, and I worked as hard as I could to justify his confidence. I learned so many valuable things about leadership from him, but the most important is a well-advised requirement to connect with everyone, regardless of who they are and always to be a humble servant.

Twenty years later, Himanshu is now the President of a large software company, and we are still friends and colleagues. I will always be grateful for the opportunities he gave me and the lessons I learned from him.

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?

Yes, get moving! I am not a marathon runner, power lifter or competitive athlete, nor will I ever be. However, the mental release of a daily workout, whether it is a ride to awesome music on my Peloton or lifting weights, is enough of a release to keep me mentally balanced, alert and ready for anything. Exercise has pulled me out of some dark times, and I am grateful I have the ability to move every day.

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?

First and foremost, leadership is about leading by example and being a role model. By providing this at the executive team level, the rest of the organization is more likely to feel included, heard and represented. This makes for a more engaged workforce, longer tenures and better results.

Secondly, it has been proven that organizations with diverse leadership teams bring better collaboration, communication and ultimately better results. Diverse thinking, experiences and approaches make a team stronger, able to solve more complex problems and innovate.

There have been multiple studies that have proven that companies with diverse teams produce, on average, higher revenue growth and profitability. Even knowing this, there is still work that needs to be done to help close the diversity gap in leadership, particularly in technology.

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.

Again, at LINQ we do our best to lead by example. And as an example of this, we are pleased to be the exclusive sponsor of the School Nutrition Association’s inaugural “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Series” of seminars.

Our team continues to grow by bringing together and integrating the best brands serving the K-12 industry, and those brands are defined by the people behind them. We are the K12 industry’s best friend, because our diverse team and corporate culture reflect the community that we serve.

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 should inspire, empower and create an environment in which a broad and diverse group of team members thrive.

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

As a CEO, one of the biggest myths is that you have all the right answers. I commonly tell people that I don’t have a magic answer book — this isn’t me testing you.

The core of my job as CEO is to create an environment where the smartest, most ambitious people in the industry want to work. Software companies make intellectual property — not cars or widgets. Our biggest asset is the talent we have on the team. And if I can attract and retain the most talented people who do have the answers, we will be successful.

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

Unconscious (and sometimes conscious) bias. The fact is that both the technology and private equity sectors are dominated by men. It is human nature to identify with what is familiar to you, and I have seen this manifested throughout my career.

Once in the past, a firm reached out to me for a role and noted they had trouble finding qualified women to fill positions. They put me through twelve interviews in two different states only to call me a week later to say they were going to “stick with the model they already had in place.” It was well-known internally that this so-called model was not working for them as the lack of diversity was preventing them from expanding their portfolio.

Unconscious bias changes the lens through which people view strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. Bias makes one commonly lean toward what is familiar or what has worked in the past without considering how important differences are in the workplace.

Different types of communication styles, viewpoints and experiences are all incredibly valuable in creating a successful team and organization.

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

I thought my actual job would put me in control, there is nothing further from the truth. The most important job I have is to create a place where smart, ambitions, innovative and creative people want to work. Then, I must give them the inspiration and empowerment to reach our goals while getting out of the way to let them do what they were hired to 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?

Three things come to mind when I think about successful executives that I know: curiosity, emotional intelligence, and being authentic.

As an executive you don’t have all of the answers, so the most important qualities to have is curiosity. Ask questions, explore options, and view issues, solutions and opportunities from different perspectives.

Secondly, be self-aware and develop emotional intelligence. As an executive, your team looks to you when something happens, bad news is delivered, or a tough decision needs to be made. You must be able to process your thoughts and respond appropriately and thoughtfully, not viscerally, which is often the first instinct. Also, exploring emotional intelligence allows us to understand our triggers, the things that bother us as individuals and keep us up at night; by understanding these emotions we find more peace when handling stress.

Being your authentic self is critical as an executive. You will never do everything right in everyone’s eyes. There will be people you can’t win over no matter how hard you try. However, if you are being your authentic self and being transparent about who you are, you and others will recognize that you are being the best leader you can be.

Someone who is over emotional, not willing to be curious and listen — someone who feels like they have the answer already — won’t make a great executive in my experience. When I think back to the managers that I learned the most from, it was the ones that I didn’t want to be anything like. And these managers all had similar qualities: they were over emotional, insecure, and felt the need to micromanage. Each of them thought they had the right answers and didn’t need to explore someone else’s opinions.

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

I would and do tell other women leaders that they deserve to be a leader as much or more than anyone else. Female leaders work harder to climb the ladder and any self-doubt is normal and natural — don’t succumb to it.

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

I have two daughters, and sometimes it feels as if they get to walk through every door I had to push open.

Someone once told me that as I become more influential in my role, it is my duty to use that influence to make the world a better place. I have never forgotten that advice and try to make a difference every day. I never turn down the opportunity to mentor, guide or listen to someone who is seeking advice. I love to give opportunities to others, just as I was afforded, to prove one can thrive in a new role.

I also have a passion for nonprofits. I have volunteered and given to nonprofits my entire career. In the past few years, I have done this more formally, as part of Social Venture Partners and Mission Capital, helping nonprofits have a bigger impact in the world. Last year I joined the board of Allies Against Slavery, a nonprofit using technology to provide dignity and freedom to everyone by identifying victims of sex trafficking and stopping sex trafficking. This has been incredibly rewarding.

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

  1. Bad news doesn’t get better with age. 
    During my second board meeting as a first-time CEO, I sprang it on my board that we were going to miss our revenue number by a great deal, something not so unusual after being acquired. However, what was unusual was having a CEO that waited until it was too late for the board to step in, prepare, or help the situation. I learned in that moment that we were on the same team and trying to accomplish the same goal. It wasn’t up to me to hold out important information — such a huge rookie mistake. I now share often and transparently.
  2. Words are important. 
    Shortly after taking over a large division, I walked into the company holiday party and innocently mentioned that I wish people had on name tags. This statement was, of course, overheard and was noted in an employee survey months later. An employee commented that “the new GM didn’t even want to learn our names.” As executives, CEOs and leaders, we often forget that we are not just colleagues. Our words have weight and that the words we use are important.
  3. Transparency is powerful.
    Providing transparency to employees is critical in closing the communication gap. At LINQ, we hold an all-hands meeting every Monday. During the meeting we share updates, news, wins and the status of the business. This is a great way to continually connect and engage the teams, and close a gap. This is especially paramount during a time when we need to find new ways to interact with each other and collaborate as a team.
  4. Doing the right thing isn’t always easy, but it’s right.
    Leaders have to make critical and tough decisions that aren’t always easy, but often necessary. Understanding that doing the right thing for the larger team and company is the right thing to do, even if results in a single person or product line is being impacted.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
    As leaders, we sometimes feel like we communicate a lot. We have all-hands meetings, newsletters, meetings, etc… What I didn’t realize is that, no matter how much we communicate, people digest communication in different ways. Some like the written word. Others prefer video or live broadcasts — some weekly and others quarterly. It always seemed as if I was communicating enough, but it never failed that communication was never ranked as successful as I thought it should on the quarterly employee survey. Lesson learned: communicate early, often and in different ways.

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 want everyone to share positivity and to assume positive intent from others. We all have our unique perspectives, and one of the hardest things to do is put yourself in someone else’s situation. Imagine if we simply assumed that everyone we interact with in a single day had good reason for acting as they do. Our partners, children, family, strangers, a reckless driver, a rude shopper. Having empathy for everyone who crosses your path and turning negativity into positivity just for a moment…all those moments will add up to a more positive world.

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

“Always ask for what you want and don’t assume the people around you know your aspirations.” I have lived this my entire life, but it hasn’t always been easy. Asking for what you want is scary sometimes. I had a situation in 2005 when I was given the opportunity to be the general manager for a 20M dollars division of Sage. Prior to that I had been running smaller divisions and I was not given the title of VP, like my colleagues in similar positions.

I took a deep breath and said accepted, taking the position under one condition: that I was given the promotion to a VP. The job warranted it and I felt that I deserved it. Most importantly though, had I taken the job and remained a Director, I would have felt taken advantage of and I could only blame myself if I let that happen. As scary as it was to take this stand, it was important and these small steps over time add up to changes that make a big difference.

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

Barack Obama. He is a thoughtful leader that stepped into a role as the first black man to be the President of the US. This took courage for himself and his family to break ground that had never been broken before. He did this with kindness and grace, despite the hate he had to contend with. He showed the world what true leadership could look like. For this, I admire him greatly and could learn so much from him.

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

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