What differentiates the most successful leaders from others? It’s not just one attribute that helps them be effective. However, there are a handful of traits that are increasing in their importance. I cover these traits in my book, High Velocity Hiring, one of which is practical humility. I had a chance recently to discuss this and other important details of being a leader with Lesa Francis, President and CEO of Supplemental Health Care.
Scott: You’ve had a successful career as an executive in several companies. To what do you attribute your success?
Lesa: There are certainly many factors that have helped me in my career. Some aspects came from personal experience and others from a business perspective.
On a personal level, the fact that I have had a strong work ethic my entire life has served me well. I am also fortunate to be surrounded by a great support system—my husband and family. As a result, I did not have to make a choice between having a family and furthering my career.
In business, I have had some fabulous mentors throughout my career. Several were in the early days when I needed their example and direction most. Those relationships molded me into the type of leader I am today. I have also been fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly talented teams at every company where I have had the privilege of leading. I firmly believe in the saying, “hire people as good or better than you and you will succeed.” Following that advice has certainly been key to my success.
Scott: I’ve heard you say that you see yourself as an executive, not a “female executive.” Why is that important?
Lesa: In a work setting, I rarely think about my gender. I’ve worked with many great leaders both male and female and I’ve never felt that their gender had anything to do with their success or their impact of being a mentor to me. My feeling is the less you pay attention to being male or female in your job, the less impact it will have on your career. I’ve often had someone else point out to me that I was the only female in the room and I sincerely had not noticed. My experience has been that if you do not let a perceived difference get in the way of how you view yourself, others won’t either.
Scott: You have a trait I refer to as “practical humility.” CEO’s with practical humility hold people responsible for doing their part while remaining compassionate as a leader. How has your practical humility helped you in each of your executive roles?
Lesa: I like that phrase “practical humility” because it describes how I want to be viewed as a leader. I am sincerely grateful for my success and career. I do realize that I may not necessarily be smarter or more talented than others, I have just had bosses that trusted me and allowed me to take on more and more responsibility and I am eternally grateful for their belief in me. I think when you are truly grateful and humble you know you need to work hard, be dedicated, treat people fairly, and be open to feedback in order to be successful. I think people are drawn to leaders that appreciate them and make them feel valued. I think the best leaders know they can’t do it all and need talented people on their teams in order to reach their goals.
Scott: Many organizations appreciate their staffing providers, and lots of staffing firms have positive experiences with the organizations they serve. But there’s also a growing group of organizations and staffing firms that have formed even better relationships—relationships that have eliminated all complaints on both sides. How have they done this? They’ve formed partnerships based upon mutuality: A belief that, for the relationship to succeed, each party must get its needs met. The organization gets the talent it needs when it’s needed. The staffing provider is equitably compensated for the value it provides. Both meet expectations that make the partnership work. As an executive, what steps have you taken to help build more customer relationships with this kind of mutuality?
Lesa: I believe that mutually beneficial relationships start with listening. Taking the time to listen to your customer and understand their goals and the demands of their business is the foundation of a powerful and positive partnership. Once you understand what is motivating their expectations and actions, it is easier to create solutions that will provide value. However, I also think that real partnerships come from being confident enough to discuss and challenge expectations that are not reasonable. I personally have seen many examples where companies in the staffing industry will say yes to everything the customer wants even if they don’t think they can perform and then fail to deliver. I have found that if I discuss barriers and produce data to support a concern, customers will actually respect me more. I have always encouraged individuals I have worked with to have the courage to be honest about expectations with their customers. I have developed some of my longest, most rewarding customer relationships by not necessarily telling them what they wanted to hear, but by giving them honest feedback, which they needed to hear.
Lesa was just named to the 2017 Staffing 100, a list of the most influential leaders in staffing. The company she leads, Supplemental Health Care, was founded in 1984 and was originally created to give healthcare organizations access to traveling psychiatric and operating room nurses and technicians. Since that time, they’ve continued to expand their service and geographic footprint. Today, through a network of more than 60 local offices in major markets across the U.S. and four national divisions (Travel Nursing, Travel Allied, Supplemental Physicians, and Advanced Practice), they place a variety of nursing, therapy and imaging, physician, and physician assistant professionals in facilities from coast-to-coast.