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Tips From the Top: One On One With Jessica Honegger

I spoke to Jessica Honegger, founder and co-CEO of Noonday Collection, about her journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Jessica: My story starts in San Antonio, Texas, where I grew up in a beautiful tight knit community. Sometimes tight knit communities have tightly woven scripts and the script for little girls in my community expected young women to follow a very specific path: a debutante party, followed by marriage, followed by life as a stay-at-home mother and wife. Despite those expectations, I always took after my Texas spitfire of a father and shared his entrepreneurial spirit – from the jewelry stands I set up to hawk my handmade wares to the summer camps I set up for younger kids when I was in junior high to earn money for a new bike.

When I traveled to Kenya at age 16, I experienced the realities of global poverty for the first time. I also met a woman who was the recipient of a microloan and was changing her reality through entrepreneurship. It was then that I first realized that business had the potential to change the world. A series of winding career moves later, including a stint training midwives in Bolivia and a gig as a house flipper, I founded Noonday Collection in 2011. Today, Noonday Collection is the world’s largest fair trade accessories brand, creating dignified work for 4,500 Artisans across the globe who craft our exclusive collection of jewelry and accessories by hand.

Noonday Collection started as an adoption fundraiser to bring my son Jack home from Rwanda. My husband Joe and I already had two biological children when we decided to grow our family through international adoption. We were still working in the real estate business when the market crashed in 2008, and we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of an expensive international adoption with several unsellable houses and mounting debt on our hands. So, naturally, it was the perfect time to launch a bold new business venture, right? Joe and I had both spent time working with Food for the Hungry in South America, and our experiences living among and learning from the rural poor solidified our desire to do something impactful with our lives. So when I found myself in need of a serious side hustle and was presented with the opportunity to sell some jewelry made by a struggling couple in Uganda, I jumped in. Soon, I was selling their products and others from across the globe in my living room faster than I could purchase them.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level

Jessica: Cast a vision. Show people that their work is about more than just putting in X hours per week. To do that, your people need to see your passion for your mission; and they need to believe it. If you’re setting off people’s BS-detectors, not practicing what you preach, it’s going to be impossible to get your team to really buy in to your vision. They might log the hours, but you’re never going to feel the ownership that comes from being all in on a shared mission.

Harness people’s intrinsic motivational forces. It can’t always be about the promotion or the pay raise. You have to make it possible for them to feel fulfilled in the ways that matter most to them, whether that’s a raise, the ability to set their own hours, having access to learning opportunities, whatever it may be. Find what those internal motivators are and harness them.

Listening is more important than being right. This is true in relationships and in business. What people want most is to be heard, and when you put your need to have things done the way you want them above your team’s need to be heard, you cause people to feel diminished, like cogs in a wheel. I know that on my CEO path, I have stumbled in this and ended up communicating “This is what I want, and that’s that” instead of “I acknowledge that you have something to bring to the table,” which in the long run is going to keep your team healthy.

Empower others. Sometimes you have to be willing for something to be 80% right and done by someone else, instead of 100% right and done by you. Leadership is about stepping aside and making space for others to step forward. It’s saying, “I’m going to withhold my power in order for someone else to exercise their power.” That might come at the expense of having it be precisely the way you wanted it, but it’s worth it because it builds team members who feel empowered to exercise their gifts.

No hallway conversations. That means that if you leave a meeting and two people who were in the meeting feel like they need to talk about the meeting alone, that’s a problem. It’s all about creating a safe space so that everyone feels they can speak up in the meeting. To your face. Having vulnerable and transparent relationships is essential in managing a strong team. You want healthy debate, and for your team to be able to push back on you. It’s all about creating that feeling of safety, so that people know they can speak honestly.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Jessica: Remember your “why”: What was the reason you got started? Keep a specific memory in your mind so when things get hard, you can recall that specific moment when you knew exactly why you were doing this.

Plan to rest. Have a healthy rhythm of work, play, and rest. If you’re going to do this for the long haul, you have to learn to prioritize rest. Write it down in your planner, block your calendar once in awhile, whatever you need to do to stay sharp.

Use your platform for good. Life is about so much more than the bottom line; prioritize people over profit, and you’ll make a much more lasting impact.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Jessica: Reading is my favorite hobby – I always have about five books stacked up on my nightstand from all different genres, and I can never stick to reading just one book at a time. I have to admit I’m a chronic skimmer—my brain just wants to take in too much information to slowly savor every page. But I absorb a lot of what I read, and my ideas are constantly being shaped and refined by what I’m currently reading. Some of my current favorites are Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame, Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness, and Shonda Rhimes’ The Year of Yes.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Jessica: Take the long view. After a period of crazy growth, we had hit a slump. We were over-inventoried and under-selling, and I was struggling to see a way out. I shared this with a friend, a successful figure in the investing world. He looked at me and said, “Take the long view. Let all of your actions now be about where you want to be years from now.” That advice shifted my mindset, and helped me realize that sometimes you need to choose short-term pains on the path to building a long-term foundation.

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