Sarah Beach: “Never underestimate the power of positive feedback”

Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback. I once took about 20 minutes out of my day to write a quick note of appreciation to each member of my team. I had 12 people on my team at the time, and each note was personalized with something I specifically appreciated about their work. I was […]

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Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback. I once took about 20 minutes out of my day to write a quick note of appreciation to each member of my team. I had 12 people on my team at the time, and each note was personalized with something I specifically appreciated about their work. I was blown away by their responses. Each person throughout the day stopped by my office and thanked me for the note, telling me how much they appreciated it. But it didn’t stop there. Over the next few days, I saw more smiles and positive attitudes than I had previously. My relationship also grew with each one of them. They felt valued, and it was evidently reflected in their work, their body language, and my relationship with them. All it took was 20 minutes of my time!

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Beach.

Sarah Beach is the founder and owner of Sarah Beach Consulting LLC, where she serves as a Leadership Consultant. Sarah Beach Consulting was created from a passion for leadership and a vision to develop a new generation of leaders who are self-aware and focused on the needs of the individuals they serve. Sarah offers programs to help organizations identify and close leadership gaps, as well as provide training to develop new and existing leaders. Sarah is passionate about helping people become the most effective and sought-after leaders possible.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

First, I have always loved leading people. Whether it was running for president of a school club, being captain of a sports team, mentoring students, or leading a large research department, I always felt most at home when I was leading. More importantly, I studied leadership and continually tried to improve myself as a leader along that journey. Specifically, for the last decade, I have worked in areas where there was frequent leadership changeover and restructuring. There was one year in my past career where I went through five different supervisors over the course of that year. To say I have worked with, and for, a lot of leaders in my career would be an understatement. Through working in these types of environments, I have witnessed numerous leadership styles, and I’ve seen firsthand how the success of an organization can hinge on the quality of the leadership. So, I’m incredibly passionate about helping people lead well and be the type of leaders people are seeking. Sarah Beach Consulting was born out of this passion and desire.

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

While I was working with a client, I was doing some ‘recon’ to observe the organization from the bottom up. Typically, I look out for things like team dynamics, potential new leaders, and trust of the current leadership team, but in this particular case, I ended up observing something I didn’t expect. I observed a culture of sexual harassment that needed to be addressed. Even with the best leaders in place, if you don’t address an environment of sexual harassment, then the success of your organization will suffer. I go into organizations to address leadership gaps, but I sometimes end up observing other things that could serve as barriers to the success of even the best leaders. This demonstrates just one of the reasons why I believe it is so important to immerse myself in an organization as a critical part of my consulting process.

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?

This is a silly one, but it makes me laugh when I think about it. I was headed to pitch a large proposal to a client on a very cold and snowy day. I had put on my best business attire and then thrown on my running sneakers, as I had some errands to run beforehand and didn’t want to ruin my nice shoes in the snow. As I arrived at the client’s building, I sat in my car to double-check that I had everything. Then I got out of the car and started walking up to the building. About halfway there, I looked down and saw my running sneakers! I quickly dashed back to my car and threw on my other shoes and hoped that the client wasn’t watching me. I still don’t know if they saw, but apparently I recovered from my faux pas, as we ended up working together. I have now learned to not only check to make sure I have all my papers before going in to pitch a proposal but to also check my shoes!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

One of the most important parts of my process as I come into work with a client is my intention about becoming a part of their organization before I even start to provide guidance or training. I observe before I act. Maybe that’s the scientist in me, but I think it’s a critical part of my consulting process. I not only observe a company from the top down but also from the bottom up. I make a point to meet and talk to all levels of employees. I even play with the company’s pets if they have them!

I’ve also noticed this helps people to open up more and allows me to really see the true organization. I was working with a client once in the early stages of my observations, and one of the employees seemed a bit skeptical of my presence. He asked why I was there, and I explained that I was just observing the leadership, meeting people, and learning how the organization functions. I told him that it would be silly for me to come in and think that I could help if I didn’t know anything about the organization or the people that worked there.

He nodded and said that he agreed. I could see that my response resonated with him, and he then opened up and provided some valuable insights into the company. By the way, spending the time to learn the people you are working with is one of the foundations of good leadership that I teach no matter who I work with. People want leaders who know and care about them and lead them in a way that resonates with them personally. You can’t do that unless you know them.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, I’m really excited about one project in particular. I’m working on hosting a satellite site for the upcoming Global Leadership Summit, GLS, which is an incredible conference that brings together some of the world’s most impactful leaders on one stage and enables their valuable teachings to be broadcasted in over 100 countries. I’m thrilled to bring the GLS to people that might not otherwise have access to this level of leadership insight and teaching. I believe so much in the mission of the GLS, and it has made such an impact on my life personally that it was an obvious choice for Sarah Beach Consulting to partner with this amazing event. And the opportunity to bridge a gap in access to that kind of life-changing leadership information, in my own community, is beyond exciting for me.

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

I think the best way to lead a team is to provide them with the necessary guidance, support, and resources and then let them do their job. Ideally, you’ve hired them because they are good at what they do, so let them do it. I also believe that the foundation of great leadership is to lead in a way that people need, not only in the way that you want. This goes back to the idea I mentioned earlier of knowing your team and how they work best. I’m not saying that you must know every detail of their personal lives; some people won’t even share that with you. What I am saying is to learn everyone’s personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, how they best receive information, how they handle change, how they typically handle conflict, and other things that will give you insight into what they need from their leadership. This may seem daunting, but there are many strategies you can use to discover this information by just having regular communication and interactions with your team. I teach these strategies to my clients because learning these things is incredibly important to help you lead your team well. It is time and energy well spent, and your team will feel cared for in the process.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I’ve led teams ranging anywhere from five to 150 people, and there are similar themes that always arise: communication, conflict, and change. Everywhere I have ever been or worked, communication has been identified as an area needing improvement, no matter where that place’s communication falls on the continuum of ‘good communication.’ Set a rhythm of communication for your team so they know what to expect. Then keep that communication clear, concise, and consistent. When in doubt, over-communicate and don’t assume what people know and don’t know.

There has also been conflict on any team I have ever led or even been a part of. Conflict is an inevitable, natural result of a diverse workplace and not actually a bad thing when handled well. Conflict that is well-managed can produce innovation. Think about a group of people with different personalities, strengths, and experiences coming together to solve a problem. Yes, there will be conflict and tension as they learn to work with people different from themselves, but imagine the birth of creative problem-solving that can come out of so many great minds when they work well together. Conflict that is poorly managed, however, can produce distrust, disgruntled employees, and a lack of team unity.

Change is also inevitable on a team, but everyone on your team will have a different tolerance, or comfort level, when it comes to change. Have a general sense for people’s tolerance and consider that in your strategy when rolling out change. Define what is changing, what is not changing, why the change is needed, how it will impact daily operations, and what each person’s role is in the process.

I consider these things foundational themes to leadership that are absolutely critical to managing a successful team, so spend the time in learning what your team needs and develop your skills to lead them in these areas.

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 thankful for so many people along my journey. It is really difficult to just pick one, so I will say there is a singular group of women in my life that I am incredibly grateful for. I’ve known them for about eight years and we “do life together.” We encourage each other, we laugh and cry together, we support each other, we pray together, and we have tons of fun together. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without this group of women. I also have to give a shout out to my husband, Chris, who is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He loves to see me pursuing my dreams and encourages me daily. Also, marriage teaches you a lot about how to work (and not work) well as a team, and that experience has actually come in handy when leading teams in the workplace!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I love to be able to open doors for people that deserve it but might not have the opportunity on their own. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do this through mentoring; whether it’s working with students looking to start their scientific careers or mentoring students and young adults through my local church. My husband and I are also extremely blessed to be able to sponsor six children in Ecuador through Compassion International. This sponsorship provides them with schooling, medical care, and mentorship. These children would otherwise not have the opportunity to go to school, and an education for them will unlock a whole other world of opportunities. We keep track of their progress through letters they write, and we hope to visit them all someday. For myself and my husband, giving back is essential regardless of where we are in life, so we continually try and find ways to bless others.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Listen to your people. They are probably already telling you what they need from you as a leader. I have experience with an organization where the employees, at all levels, repeatedly brought up concerns about the lack of communication from leadership. I saw individual supervisors attempt to improve communication, but the organization’s main leadership team never took the time to specifically address this concern. This went on for years, and eventually, many employees stopped giving feedback because they felt ignored. Sometimes you have to ‘read between the lines’ when employees are voicing concerns, but they are still telling you what they need. For example, an employee’s outrage when there is a change being implemented could actually be fear of the uncertainty about how their environment will change. This is where it’s important to really know your people, so you can have a sense of the real issue that might be brewing underneath the outburst.
  2. Be a trustworthy leader. I think it is getting harder to find people to really trust, and employees are feeling that tension. I take confidentiality seriously and my employees know it. On many occasions, I would have employees come to me before going to their direct supervisors in order to talk things through and have someone to bounce ideas off. I was always upfront with them about when they would need to eventually talk to their own supervisor and that there were certain things I was obligated to report, but they ultimately just needed someone they could trust. Be that trustworthy person for your employees. Gossip has no place in leadership.
  3. Don’t let problems fester on your team, if you do, then you become part of the problem. Sometimes we have tensions on our teams that we can just manage for a short time. I once had an employee who was out more than normal due to a family member with a serious illness. The team stepped up and covered that person’s work for that period of time. It put more burden on some people, but it was short term. During that time, I managed the tension by making sure no one was too overburdened and being intentional about giving praise for their extra work. On the other hand, sometimes tensions turn into problems that need to be fixed rather than just managed for a period of time. I once had a team member who was not doing his work. We tried repeatedly to provide more training and give opportunities for improvement. The rest of the team stepped up to cover the work that was not being completed. Eventually, however, it became a problem that was clearly not going to get better, and we had to let that person go. If we had kept that person, it would have completely deteriorated our team. Team morale would have sunk, the leaders would have been viewed as ineffective, and overall work would have suffered. Address the problems on your team and don’t let them fester.
  4. Continually think about developing new leaders, and don’t fall back on the idea of cloning yourself. Look out for the next leaders on your teams. You can’t stay in your position forever, and it’s never too early to develop a leader. Keep in mind that the next leader will not be a copy of you. They will have a different personality, a different perspective, and a different style. These differences, however, are not a bad thing. Remember, diversity and conflict can lead to innovation. A great way to develop new leaders while maintaining the work progress of your organization is to delegate projects to them.
  5. One time, at an organization where I led a large team, we had to change a significant process. We knew that the current process had to change and what we needed to accomplish with the new system, but we didn’t know how we were going to get there. As a way to develop my employees, I asked for volunteers for a working group to develop the new process. I had a great response, as this new process would directly impact them. (By the way, they felt valued that they were asked to be a part of creating a new process they would have to use). Once the working group was formed, we set ground rules and a vision for what needed to be accomplished. Other than that, we provided very little guidance. The working group met for a few months and went above and beyond! They not only created a new process, but they trained the rest of the organization on that new process. I got to see people step into roles they would not normally have had the chance to serve. It was a great development opportunity for those individuals, and we got our new process developed!
  6. Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback. I once took about 20 minutes out of my day to write a quick note of appreciation to each member of my team. I had 12 people on my team at the time, and each note was personalized with something I specifically appreciated about their work. I was blown away by their responses. Each person throughout the day stopped by my office and thanked me for the note, telling me how much they appreciated it. But it didn’t stop there. Over the next few days, I saw more smiles and positive attitudes than I had previously. My relationship also grew with each one of them. They felt valued, and it was evidently reflected in their work, their body language, and my relationship with them. All it took was 20 minutes of my time!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂

It would be to develop a new generation of leaders who are self-aware and focused on the needs of the individuals they serve. Can you imagine the workplace if every leader, while still being effective, focused on the people rather than a bottom line? If employees were constantly empowered to be their best selves while given grace for being human and having lives outside of work? If the bar was held high for employee performance, but each person was given the resources necessary to reach it? If leaders were self-aware and maintained integrity? I think job satisfaction and employee retention would soar. I think we would see innovation shatter ceilings. I think we would see a change in our world.

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

It’s been said by so many people in different ways throughout history, but one of my life quotes is this idea that “perfection is the enemy of progress.” I remember years ago when I first heard this quote, it resonated with me as I used to be a huge perfectionist. I was actually somewhat of an arrogant perfectionist. I thought perfectionism was the way forward and didn’t understand how anyone could give less than perfect. As I grew up, however, and life became busier, more challenging, and overall messier, my strive to be perfect caused a lot of stress and, ultimately, held me back. I remember hearing this quote and having a bit of an epiphany. It made so much sense and was very freeing for me to hear. I now strive for progress over perfection and try to find the balance between ideal and finished.

Some of the biggest 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 🙂

Wow, I’m not sure how I can possibly pick just one. There are so many leaders I look up to and have studied when forming my leadership philosophies and foundations of my company. If I had to choose just one to sit down with though, it would have to be Craig Groeschel. I would love to talk to him about his work with the Global Leadership Summit, his podcasts, his many books, and his work pastoring a large church. When it comes to leadership, he’s done it all, and I would have so many questions for him!

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