Personally Connect With Your Team. Working with people you have a personal connection with makes the job more enjoyable. As business leaders, it can be tempting to keep the team you manage at a distance. But I’d urge you to learn about your team member’s lives outside the office. Learn something about their family. What are their interests and hobbies? These little personal insights can help you build rapport with your team members and shows you truly care about them as people.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lauren Herring. Lauren is the CEO of IMPACT Group. She propelled the company into a global career development leader. As a second-generation female business owner, Lauren is uniquely positioned to help future women leaders succeed. She is passionate about building a better world and helping people reach their career goals. Lauren serves on various boards like Boy Scouts, Washington University’s Women’s Leadership Forum, Connections to Success, which helps people in the cycle of poverty gain economic independence and St. Louis Regional Chamber, which supports the economic growth of the St. Louis community.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Lauren! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I never set out to be the CEO of IMPACT Group — or even a CEO at all! A few years after I graduated from college, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. I decided to come home to St. Louis, Missouri to be close to family during this challenging time. While here, I started helping out at the family business on various projects, and, as they say, the rest is history! Fortunately, my mom turned out fine, but if it weren’t for that health scare, I probably never would have considered joining IMPACT Group, which has led to so many great things for me in my life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I took over leadership of IMPACT Group during the Great Recession. The years that followed were very challenging because even though the recession ended, the economy didn’t pick up strongly for a number of years. During this time, I decided to invest in our future by launching a new product line that allowed us to have more strategic conversations with our clients. We now have a thriving Leadership Development practice that supports current and future leaders, and women in particular in their career. This has rounded out the services we provide to guide people through their entire career journey. This has rounded out the services we provide to guide people through their entire career journey from moving into a new role, to thriving in that role and preparing for the next, to finding the next opportunity.
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?
When I first started leading a team, I thought I had to know everything. My thought process was if I didn’t know everything, my team might think I was incompetent. Looking back, this story sounds crazy. I’ve come to realize that my team can fill the strength gaps I don’t have. I now go to them more often when I have questions or when I’m looking for feedback. This makes everyone feel appreciated, and we’ve been more productive, too.
What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
While it wasn’t my career ambition to lead a company, I became very excited about the possibility to extend my ability to make a difference as a CEO. I’m passionate about making a difference, and I can do this in so many ways now. It’s important to me to create a culture that people love being a part of since people spend so much time at work. By being happy at work, I know that people are able to translate that to the rest of their lives in positive ways. Furthermore, since we help people find and grow in their jobs, I know that our work is indeed building a better world.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As CEO, I see my role requiring me to always look at both the big picture as well as the details. I’m looking three to five years ahead (if not further out) to interpret how our industry will be changing and how we need to be prepared to lead that change. I also know that our people are the ones who will get us successfully through that future. This is why it’s important to focus on the people in the organization. The CEO role is balancing all the stakeholders of the organization — especially customers and team members — with the strategy and the execution of business.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love creating a vision and getting the organization to buy into it and eventually see it come together!
What are the downsides of being an executive?
It can be burdensome to feel the weight of the success or failure of the organization. Knowing that people’s livelihoods are depending on our success is something I take extremely seriously.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One myth that I think persists is that extroverted, charismatic traits are important for CEOs. This certainly can help when inspiring a transformational vision within a company. However, some of the most important leadership qualities for CEOs are around ongoing communication and listening, so there is definitely no formula for successful CEOs. The most important thing is to lead authentically and be clear about what works for you and follow through with that.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
One of the biggest challenges for women executives is that there aren’t enough of us. At the senior level of companies of all sizes, the number of executive women are low compared to our male counterparts, and that keeps us from seeing more female CEOs. We need to see executive leadership from all sides make a concerted effort to grow the numbers of women at all levels to see change happen over our lifetime.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I’ve learned over time that execution is critical to long-term success. I’ve always been an “ideas” person. I’ve had to work on my own execution focus, as well as bringing people into the organization to fill those gaps.
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?
It goes without saying that an executive needs to be driven. It’s also important to be flexible — any day can be interrupted at any time with great news, challenges with clients, employees or any number of other things. I love the fact that every day is different. However, if routine is important to you, and you get comfort from knowing what you can expect from one day to the other, perhaps executive leadership might not be for you.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Research has proven that women have leadership skills equal to, if not better than, their male counterparts. The advice I’d give to women or men about helping a team thrive align with IMPACT Group’s High IMPACT Leadership principles. Get to know your team — we are all people first and employees second! Help your teams to understand why their work is important and how it relates to the success of the business. Provide lots of feedback — both positive and constructive to help them grow, and recognize great work so they can stay motivated to keep giving you their all.
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?
My mom has always been my #1 role model. She started IMPACT Group based on her belief that she could make a positive difference in people’s lives. And she has absolutely done that. Also, she always made me believe that I could do anything I wanted, and because I was able to see her accomplish her dream, I knew anything was possible. Despite some of the challenges that women face in business today, I still feel that way. I get my drive and my passion for making a difference from her. I also admire her deeply for fiercely fighting breast cancer fiercely — twice — and continuing to support other women in that same situation.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At IMPACT Group, our vision is to build a better world by empowering people to find and grow great careers. I know we make the world a better place by the work we do. When people find a job the love or are able to feel successful in their role, they become better spouses, better parents and better citizens. The ripple effects are significant.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Support. When I first started, I thought I needed to have all the answers, but that’s unrealistic. Now, I regularly seek out guidance from my team and mentors. It puts my mind at ease knowing I have a team to lean on when making tough decisions.
- Career Development Never Stops. You should never stop working on yourself. It can be difficult to find time for career development, especially as a business leader, but it’s crucial to your success and the success of your company. Read books, watch webinars, attend conferences — anything that will help develop your skills to become a better leader.
- Make Time for Life. Stepping away from the office is difficult when you have a mounting to-do list, but allowing your brain and body to refuel and recharge is proven to help increase productivity. There are days when I leave the office, turn my cell phone off and don’t turn it back on for hours or even days. Disconnecting like this allows me to be so much more efficient when I get back to work. I wish someone had given me this advice years ago!
- Personally Connect With Your Team. Working with people you have a personal connection with makes the job more enjoyable. As business leaders, it can be tempting to keep the team you manage at a distance. But I’d urge you to learn about your team member’s lives outside the office. Learn something about their family. What are their interests and hobbies? These little personal insights can help you build rapport with your team members and shows you truly care about them as people.
- Highlight “Wins”.Take the time to congratulate people in the office on their “wins.” It’s a simple thing, but once you do this, you’ll find that your entire office has a more positive attitude at work. At IMPACT Group, we have a Cheers for Peers system where people can recognize colleagues who went above and beyond. It’s been a valuable team building tool and highlights work that can be linked back to our core values.
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 helping thousands of people find work every year, I know how empowering good employment can be. Despite amazing employment numbers today, there are many who still struggle with employment on a regular basis. This is in addition to the multitude of challenges that come with generational poverty, including transportation, child care, addition and many other things. It would be great to see more programs that move the needle in transforming lives from dependence to independence. I’ve been involved with Connections to Success for the last decade, and I’ve seen long-term change that happens through their programs. They have been getting national recognition for their work, and I’d love to see more of that take hold.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” — Helen Keller
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 would have loved to meet Nelson Mandela. I am inspired by his focus on progress by forgiveness, looking forward and inspiring a shared vision of a nation.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.