Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts on leadership. First things first, though I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Joey: I grew up in rural North Carolina on a farm. I often use the story of my little league baseball team to illustrate how small my community was. We only had 8 players, so we had to take an out every 9 batters. We also played in a field where the outfield ended, and the crops began similar to Field of Dreams.
Like most kids that grew up on an active farm, I spent much of my childhood into college working on the farm. I also enjoyed being an entrepreneur and started mowing grass on the weekends for neighbors. One of my proudest moments was when I saved enough money to buy an old riding lawn mower. That helped me to “scale faster”, which really just allowed me to pick up an additional yard to mow and make a little more money.
Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Joey: Out of college, I went to work at Ernst & Young, LLP. It was a Big 5 accounting firm and was an incredible experience. I loved the people and the work, but it was not something I was genuinely passionate about.
I was newly married and my wife was beginning medical school. She is / was an avid marathoner. She took a job at the local Fleet Feet store mainly for the employee discount. She always spent more than she ever made. One day I realized that Fleet Feet was much bigger than just the one local store in Carrboro.
The brand was relatively small at the time, and there were only a handful of employees. I, however, was sold. I loved the idea of turning my personal passion into a profession. After almost two years of interviewing they finally took a chance on me.
Once you set your sights on a goal, you have to be persistent and consistent if you want to succeed. To truly be great at something you have to be determined and focused on reaching your goals. I could have easily have walked away from Fleet Feet multiple times during the lengthy interview process, but I never relented and the rest, as you say, is history.
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?
Joey: One thing I have been working on this year is listening. Listening, I mean truly listening, is really hard to do and is often an Achilles heel for a leader.
Most people think they listen on a scale of 0 to 10 at a 7 or 8 but they are really a 2. Often people are more concerned with what they are going to say next versus listening to what you are saying, so they miss the majority of what you said.
I am not perfect. I am practicing several simple exercises to improve this quality myself. For example, if I’m in a meeting, I am all in and listening. If I know I can’t be completely present, I’ll ask to move the meeting. Phone turned off, watch not synced, so it is not beeping with text alerts, etc., and keeping a journal with notes from conversations.
Taking it one step further, I’m also working on being a better question asker. Meaning, if I am meeting with one of my direct reports and they are telling me about a problem, I am asking open-ended questions to understand their logic, not to interrogate. Most people can think more clearly when talking out loud, so I want to continually push our team to learn and be better thinkers and listeners. They know the answer, but sometimes they just need to talk it thru with someone before getting there.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Joey: Toe the Line: I often feel sometimes the higher you go in organizations, the further away from the end customer you get. I am a firm believer that you should get into your business and pretend you are the customer. View the world thru their eyes. What improvements would you make? We are in the business to serve and make the lives of our customers easier. If we don’t put ourselves in their position, how can we understand what they really want?
Give Back: We are all fortunate to be in the position we are in. At Fleet Feet, we do well so that we can do good. We want to be part of our local communities and leave it in a better place than where we found it. It does not have to be fancy or professional. For instance, after the hurricane in Houston last year, we created a simple graphic and started collecting shoes for Houston. There was no elaborate campaign, just a graphic and a few social media posts. We received tens of thousands pair of shoes for those that had lost homes in the hurricane.
The best investment with the highest ROI will always be an investment in yourself. Warren Buffet often says this when someone asks him what the best investment you can make is. I am believer. To be a great leader, you have to continually learn and want to improve. You need to invest in yourself to expand your knowledge, sharpen your skills and enhance your abilities.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Joey: When I worked at Ernst & Young, one of the partners always used to say, “It is not brain surgery. No one is going to die.” The point is, mistakes will happen. Own your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Do not be afraid to discuss them so that others will also learn from them. Do not hide them or try to cover them up.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Joey: I have been fortunate that over the years, several individuals have taken the time to really help and guide me. It was not in their job description or a company requirement, but they did it anyway. We all need to spend time with the next generation of leaders and worker, whether it’s mentoring someone or just sitting down and having conversations about work, life and career aspirations.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Joey: The obvious one is running. It is one of the reasons I started at Fleet Feet – the opportunity to turn a personal passion into a profession. Running is a central part of my life both personally and professionally.
I truly believe in the power of running, and I can often be heard saying that Running Changes Everything. Running provides the type of challenges and triumphs that build character out of those who do it. Perhaps more poignantly, running serves as the perfect metaphor for life, where it’s better to look ahead than look back, where the results you get out of it depend on the hard work you put into it, and that that adversity and struggles faced along the way only make the victories and finish lines that much sweeter.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Joey: Life is short. Find something you are passionate about and then find a way to make that your career. When you love and are passionate about what you do, it is exciting to come to work and face the challenges of the day.