Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: I watch so many businesses operate in such a rigid way that there is no room for employees to be human. It creates a sense of rebellion on the part of the employees. As long as there is open and honest communication, they feel comfortable enough to come to you. Sometimes, there are situations that may arise, reasons why an employee is late to work or a valid reason why they might need a day off. Instead of responding out of adherence to a rigid set of rules, show grace. That doesn’t mean “anything goes,” but it means that you are able to build relationships with the people who work for you. If you are able to impart grace as an organization, it goes a long way and in response, employees tend to work harder for you because they are appreciative of your leadership and understanding.
For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber Duncan of Jackie. Amber is what some would refer to as a Serial Entrepreneur. At age 43, she continues to create and empower those around her while juggling a husband and five children. Amber has watched her success change not only her life but in the lives of those she comes in contact with. That is what it is all about for her, passing it on and giving hope to those who think they don’t have what it takes to succeed. From one of the largest debt settlement companies in the nation to Gigi’s Cupcakes, Live Training Center, Jackie and Life Proper, these are just a few of the businesses that she has on her plate today, but she isn’t done yet and says her best is yet to come.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was one of those sliding door moments for me. My husband, Ryan and I were both in the mortgage business and when the market crashed in 2008, we recognized that most people were taking out the equity in their homes and paying off credit card debt, so when that would no longer be an option, we knew it would leave a gaping problem for consumers dealing with their unsecured credit card debt. Since launching the company, National Settlement Services, I have had the privilege of helping thousands of individuals eliminate the stress brought on by credit card debt. I found it extremely rewarding. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to continue creating and have not stopped since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Probably one of the most interesting things I have had since leading the companies is the roller coaster of emotion that I have experienced throughout this journey. As someone who felt so unqualified compared to those around me, it proved true to me that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called and I am certainly living proof of that. I feel so blessed to have met so many incredible individuals who come through my doors for employment and I am grateful for each and every one of them. I have always said to myself that I will know I am at my final business, when I am sitting on the couch talking with Oprah Winfrey and I still say that today.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
It’s funny you ask. I could not be more giddy about my newest project that is due to launch in the Fall 2019, classcoach.com. There is a need in our country to provide support to students electing to do online school and the support structure is lacking, causing poor results and disconnected kids. With my desire to have my own children take classes online, I saw this as a huge missing piece and we are extremely excited to launch Class Coach as the liaison between schools and the students not only in the academic realm, but also in their physical fitness and personal development. Anything we can do to support the next generation is truly what it is about.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It is unfortunate to hear of so much unhappiness and regret from employees. I believe that each individual has to dig deep to see what it is they are passionate about and go that direction. If employees aren’t passionate about what they do, they will never truly be happy. I also feel that business owners like myself have to take responsibility for employees happiness or lack thereof. I believe in empowering those who work for me and helping them achieve their dreams and goals. We have to stop and actually show gratitude to those individuals that help us achieve our professional goals and I believe there are several business owners that lose sight of that and become disconnected from their staff which then results in unhappy employees.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
Having an unhappy employee in your workforce could be the death blow to your business. Here is why. It starts with one unhappy individual and it spreads to others and then extends out to your customer base and shows its face in productivity and profitability. While you cannot make everyone happy, one hundred percent of the time in business, the best investment you can make with your employees is investing time with each of them, one on one, to listen and create a space for authentic communication to avoid ever getting to that place. Creating this culture of open and honest communication on every level in an organization helps to squash any and all negativity in the workplace and keeps the team united toward the end goal. When heard and respected, employees will work harder and smarter for you and your organization. There is no magic trick. If they are doing a good job and being recognized, they will feel empowered, which drives them to success. When there is any negativity in a workplace, there is a direct correlation to one’s health and wellbeing. It brings on stress which is one of the biggest contributors to disease.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Hire a Company Coach: Having a company business coach not only serves the mission of the organization and overall culture, but keeps everyone connected, united and ushers in open and authentic communication within the organization.For years I have worked with Thea Sommer of Beyond Ten Coaching & Consulting. Fostering that relationship allows each company to set aside the time and space for employees to feel seen, heard and respected, which has been instrumental in the operating of my businesses.
- Team Building Days: All work aside, there is something to be said about days you are really just connecting with your staff. This allows you to see a side of your employees and learn something new about them that is outside of what they can do for you at your business. There is more to an employee than just what they can do for the organization. On that note, when you create the space to learn more about your employees, they could reveal something that has the potential to contribute to further improving your business. This might reveal a missing piece that you didn’t even know was missing. Learning more about the deep desires of your employees not only leads to them feeling valued, because they are, but it maximizes their role within your business. Employees crave being heard and they put a high price on community. The more you can invite that into your workplace, the more they love coming in, which in turn furthers the success of your business.
- Create an Inspiring Office Space. This is a second home to many, so why not make it one that is inspiring, comfortable and a place they are proud to brag about with their friends. It is an investment in your culture that pays you back dividends and your team is worth the investment. Keep it up to date and in alignment with the companies branding and mission. Repair and replace broken things and talk to your team and listen to what it is they would like to see in the space where they spend so much time.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: I watch so many businesses operate in such a rigid way that there is no room for employees to be human. It creates a sense of rebellion on the part of the employees. As long as there is open and honest communication, they feel comfortable enough to come to you. Sometimes, there are situations that may arise, reasons why an employee is late to work or a valid reason why they might need a day off. Instead of responding out of adherence to a rigid set of rules, show grace. That doesn’t mean “anything goes,” but it means that you are able to build relationships with the people who work for you. If you are able to impart grace as an organization, it goes a long way and in response, employees tend to work harder for you because they are appreciative of your leadership and understanding.
- Celebrate the Victories of your Organization with your Team: Whether it is a monetary reward or taking trips as a team, allow your employees on every level to be part of the victory of the organization. It’s easy to give a paycheck and leave it at that, but I think it’s important to remember that the only reason we get to where we are going as business owners is as a result of the work of our employees. When you make it about the team, they feel like they are a part of something great. I find that it is so important to include my team in everything that we do because it truly is a team effort.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
It starts at the top with executives, owners and entrepreneurs being willing to do the work on the ownership level. For me, that has always been having a personal business coach. I have worked for the same coach for ten years and I am still learning how to communicate, how to drive employees and how to listen. If we aren’t continuing to learn at that level, I don’t think organizations will ever change. If we are open-minded and see people for who they are, that is the one thing that could change our work culture. It’s like anything else. We must take these things one day at time. It involves being verbal about what it is we are trying to create.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I have found that for me, I always want to remain humble and approachable on every level so in order for that to happen, it is important that I never feel I am above doing something in any of my organizations. Respect from those that work for me is always something that is earned and never requested. I am all about empowering those in the organization to go after their passion and anything I can do to help them achieve that I certainly will.
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 have always believed that the favor of God has been on my life since I was a child and seeing the things I have lived through, there is no doubt that that is the case so I am so grateful to God for allowing me to do what I do. I worked for Harry Hedaya prior to partnering with he and Ryan and launching our debt settlement company. I cannot express how much of a role Harry has played in my professional career. Harry will always be my business mentor. He is patient, kind and always fair. He has taught me so much and I continue to learn from him in regards to any business questions I may have. Without a doubt we butt heads at times but that is when the magic happens. I am both thankful and grateful for Harry and his ability to see something in me that I had not seen at the time. He developed and fine tuned those skills and still does today. Everyone needs at least one great business mentor in their life and I am grateful for him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Everyone thinks they have to do something so big in order for it to be “good in the world.” One thing I have learned that I can do one small good thing a day and the impact it may have is a trickle down effect. Whether it is carving out time to meet with someone who has an idea and needs some direction or a nonprofit in Haiti who wants me to help establish a marketing plan for them, my time is the best thing I can give to those who are doing big things in the world and want some direction. Strategic planning is my gift, so using that to bring goodness to the world is the most effective thing I can do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People have two options, they are either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution.” In every situation, I say this to myself. I know that I can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution. We encounter so many obstacles on a daily basis, we have to make the most of stressful situations. That’s always been my life lesson motto is to to be part of the solution.
Another quote that comes to mind is biblical. “You reap what you sow.” As simple as it sounds. It is so true in all areas of life. You literally, without fail, will always reap what you sow. If you put in the work, the reward will come. If you treat your employees as they should be treated, their profitability will show for it. What you put in is what you get out … of everything.
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. 🙂
My main desire is to inspire those who feel they could never have their own business, or those who doubt their ability to create and lead. I hope to pour into women across the country and share my personal story in hopes it inspires and gives them hope. I launched Jackie in 2017 and while it is a boutique branded subscription box, the real mission for this company is connecting with women across the country to empower them to take the risk, pull the trigger and reach out to our group for direction and support. Most importantly, I want them to know that they ARE capable of pulling it off. I want to speak to high school aged girls and share my story and empower the next generation to think outside of the box and if they can go into the world helping others in some capacity, they will be a huge success.