Honesty is most important — You want to build your reputation on integrity not deceit. If you are honest, all these other leadership lessons I mention above will fall into place. Example, be honest when saying no…tell whoever it is you have too much and thank them for the opportunity. Communication, it won’t help anyone beating around the bush. Be upfront and honest in your communication to provide effective and efficient conversations. Listen and provide honest feedback. Honesty in my profession is paramount. If I am not honest, then I am not doing my job. People are relying on me to give fair honest advice and that is what drives me to do my best every day.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Paal. Elizabeth is a financial planner with Heritage Financial Consultants in Hunt Valley MD offering comprehensive financial planning services through Lincoln Financial Advisors, a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor.
I’ve always been a planner. After graduating college, I was looking for what I wanted to do. Asking a 22 year old what they want to do with the next 40–50 years is a big question… I envy those that know immediately what they want to do. I knew my strengths and I used these to help guide me to where I am. I remember after graduating I was sitting down with a friend and looking over a budget worksheet so she could determine how much she could afford in rent. It was natural to me to review a budget to figure out how much one could afford, because these types of processes were drilled into me from a young age by my mom. My mom is also in the financial planning industry and today we work together as a mother-daughter financial planning team. If you asked me 15 years ago if I would be in the financial services field, I would probably look at you with a blank stare, but after making this decision to join her 8 years ago, I have not looked back. I was able to take what I loved and my strengths and put them into my everyday career.
Funniest mistake…I’m going to take a different spin on this one and say looking back now I can laugh about it but at the time I remember being so hard on myself it wasn’t funny. That is learning that not everyone is going to like me and not everyone is going to agree with my leadership approach and style. I remember letting someone put me down in my mid-20s when I was leading a committee and I let that person get under my skin and I second guessed my work. That was a big lesson for me and I remember my mom telling me that while I cannot please everyone, I just need to do what I think is best for the group. Being a leader isn’t easy, and people will try to put you down, but as long as you always put others needs in front of your own, you are moving in the right direction. I had to learn to grow tough skin, and have confidence in myself that I was doing a good job. People will always try to put you down, but remember you got to where you are for your hard work.
Our tag line for Heritage is “Work Hard, Play Hard, Make a Difference”. Most companies work hard and then go celebrate, but how many make it a priority to “Make a Difference”? We make it a priority to give back to our community, not only as individuals but as a team. Each year, our team does a day of service together. We actually close the office that day to do this. At our annual retreat, we look at which charity we want to work with that year. Last year, we chose to pick United Way of Central Maryland’s Project Homeless Connect. Our team was matched with individuals facing homelessness. We worked with them individually to introduce them to service providers that they needed (i.e. IDs, housing assistance, job searches, to even the most basic of care, such as hair-cuts to feet-washing). It was a very humbling experience and each team member was able to walk away with a different perspective, but at the end of the day, we all agreed that we made a difference in someone’s life that day and were so blessed to have the opportunity to learn from them.
Currently we are working on that hot new topic…millennials. You know since we are such an interesting breed of human apparently? In all seriousness, we are spending a lot of time addressing intergenerational financial planning with respect to millennials and baby boomers, since they are the largest group/generation and the finances of these two generations are often intertwined. We are helping people by breaking the misconceptions about the other generation, by ways of working, living, and breathing in an intergenerational office with my mom daily. We are helping to educate the other generations about our own, what makes us tick, what frustrates us, etc. and our hope is that we can provide a more efficient and respectful environment with this knowledge.
Allow your team time for innovation. I recently spoke on a Panel with other millennials and heard a friend speak about how millennial’s curiosity is their strength and I could not agree more I would challenge female leaders, as well as all leaders, to allow your team to explore and be open to new ideas. Not all ideas will be attainable, but it will open the door to a new viewpoint. This will create an environment of empowerment and appreciation that many team members are looking for.
Listen to your team members and be their advocate. If there is an issue, listen to them and allow them to tell their frustrations. It will help with the communication and frustrations that can easily develop in an organization and help alleviate a toxic environment. I always encourage an open door policy.
I’ve been very fortunate to of been mentored by my mom in my career. Not many of us can say they could work with their parents, nor do many people want to work with their parents, but for me, who knows me better than my own mom and knows where and when I can be pushed to be a better leader. As I alluded to earlier, upon graduating college and trying to figure out my place in the working world, my mom gave me the opportunity to work on her team. She gave me opportunity after opportunity to develop not only academically but also personally. She has encouraged me through various accreditations, such as my CFP, and she has supported me with my decision to get more involved in the community by leading various young professional groups. She has taught me to not take on too much at once, which otherwise I would have done a long time ago, and to focus my energy on one thing at a time and do it with perfection. I honestly would not be where I am today without her by my side the entire time.
I have been very fortunate in my upbringing and my career thus far. It is something that people sometimes overlook and take for granted. For me, alongside my career in financial planning, I spend a great deal of time giving back to the Baltimore community. You never know if it could happen to you, but if something happened and I needed the help from others, I would only hope that my community would be there to support me. I first joined the United Way’s Emerging Leaders Program in 2013 as a member, I am now not only the Chair of the group, which consists of 1,500 members in the greater Baltimore area, but also sit on the United Way’s Board of Directors. Those of you not familiar with the United Way, they are a great organization, they are the largest privately funded non-profit in the world working with communities across the country and throughout the world. There are so many great organizations out there that it’s too hard for me to focus in on just one, but with UW I am able to narrow in on family stability and the best non-profits in the area are getting the support needed. I try to put myself in my community member’s shoes and remember that anyone can fall on hard times, but you need those around you to help you get back on your feet.
The world has so much hate and violence these days. Every day, challenge yourself to do 1 good deed for the day. If everyone did this daily, imagine what we could see change.
“To know that even one life has breathed easier because I have lived. That is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. I love this quote because it applies to so much of my life, both professionally and personally. Professionally, I like to think that I am making a difference in someone’s life financially and that they are able to sleep at night knowing that they are in a good financial place or are on track to be there. Personally, my work with various non-profits in the area, are helping make other people’s lives easier, either by picking food for food banks, assembling supply kits for shelters or even just giving someone homeless on the street a bottle of water and a protein bar.
Oprah Winfrey. She is a woman that people can look up to. She stands up for what she believes in. She encompasses it all…career success, philanthropist, fighter, survivor, role model for young women around the world. She has accomplished so much and I would just love to sit with her and ask, how did you do it and what advice would you give to me?