Overcoming Adversity

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving.”

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

We can and will overcome adversity. In fact, it is that very adversity that can provide us with strength and power we need to reach our goals, to achieve new heights, and to live a more meaningful life. Simply put, this is the message I want to convey today.

This past year has been a true testament to this point. A worldwide pandemic, quarantines, economic shut downs, disrupted holidays – any one of these is enough adversity for any of us to weather. Collectively, they reflect one of the most challenging years of a lifetime for many of us.

For me, this adversity has hit far too close to home lately. I’ve seen far too many family and friends hit with the repercussions of this virus – dealing with sickness, lost employment and business challenges. In fact, I myself spent the week of Christmas alone in the hospital dealing with challenging health complications.

Add to that the social and political challenges surrounding the election. Never before have I seen such division in our country. Friendships lost; families torn apart. Regardless of your political or social positions, this divisiveness will become far more difficult than the pandemic if not addressed quickly.

As if the macro challenges of last year weren’t enough, I’m seeing a number of those close to me dealing with other personal struggles. Strokes, cancer, death. It’s enough to stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. I pray every night for all of those dealing with these difficult and personal situations.

I know we were all anxious to turn the page to 2021 in the hope that we would start to see some improvement to the challenges of last year. Sadly, 2021 is off to a rough start. Although it’s nothing that we as a country and people can’t overcome, it’s another hit to our psyche as the struggles continue.

It is in this context that I offer this message – we can and will overcome this adversity. Life will not only return to its normal course, but it will be better on the other side. Lessons will be learned. But so too will silver linings appear. New opportunities will emerge. New perspectives gained. New practices will be embraced.

Many of us will find an appreciation for the things we once took for granted. Health, family, relationships. Others will reflect on what’s important and what’s not and will make decisions that result in a more prosperous and enjoyable life.

But we can only do so if we turn and address the challenges head on. We must look them straight in the eye and face them directly and with purpose. The consequences of this adversity can be used as strength to overcome them. It will take courage, grace, forgiveness, determination, and frankly, a lot of leaning on those around you – but it can be done.

Remember that hopeful feeling we all had when we turned the page to 2021? Remember the things that you wanted to achieve both personally and professionally as you approached the New Year? In many aspects, the events of last year made us battle tested – and dare I say battle ready – for the challenges that we will continue to face in the near term. However, if I learned anything last year, it was that there are many things in life that are out of our control. The best that I can do, and what I hope for all of you, is to not lose sight of that determination to embark on this year with the promise of brighter days ahead.

I love the metaphors offered in the quotes above by Dr. Martin Luther King. Appropriate to be celebrating his legacy this month by reflecting on the wisdom he left us with. He understood the challenges of facing and overcoming adversity. He knew that it would not happen overnight, that it would be a struggle, and that it would take determination and perseverance to overcome. But he also knew what was on the other side. The promised land.

Let’s all dig deep, press forward, and make this happen. We can and will overcome this adversity – even if it takes crawling.

No One Gets What They Deserve

“Don’t focus on what you think you deserve; Take aim at what you are willing to earn” – David Goggins

Recently a friend of mine suggested I read a book called “Can’t Hurt Me” written by David Goggins. His book is a story of heartache and triumph, chronicling the challenges he had to overcome as a poor African American child with an abusive father and an abused mother, overcoming poverty, racism, a learning disorder, obesity, and a congenital heart condition to become one of the most successful veterans and athletes in the world.

To be fair, when I agreed to read the book, I didn’t expect to gain lessons that I could apply to my own life. Frankly, I thought it was just another entertaining book about the strength, grit, and determination of our military, and in particular the Navy SEALs. I thought I might read another heartbreaking while inspiring story of his time served as a SEAL in defense of our country, much like the book “Lone Survivor”. Boy was I wrong. The book and its lessons were far more impactful than that.

What’s interesting about this book is that he makes no apologies or excuses for his background and the challenges he had to overcome to become the man he is today. Instead, he gives insight into the thought process and mental fortitude he developed to overcome those challenges. Some examples:

• He grew up as an abused child – mentally, and physically. For any one of us, that would have been enough to throw in the towel and blame failures on this setback. Instead, he and his mother dug deep and found a way to escape and start a new life.

• As a high school student with a learning disorder, he realized late in his junior year that in order to graduate and enroll in the military, he not only had to bring up his grades, but had to pass a difficult enrollment exam. He found a way to overcome his learning disorder through sheer will, determination, and hard work.

• As a recruit for the Navy SEALs, he was 100 lbs over the weight limit for his height. In a 3 month period of time, he dropped enough weight to qualify and enroll in BUDS training.

• David had to endure the brutal conditions of Navy SEAL BUDS training not once, but three times because of injuries that forced him out before graduation.

This is just a sample of the stories he tells in the book. And to be fair, he gives you the full detail – as ugly as it is. What makes his story amazing is how he learned to unlock his own potential not through inspiration or motivation, but through sheer determination – a fanatical commitment to suffering whatever is necessary to earn the rewards of those efforts.

I’m fairly certain that the entirety of my readership are not aspiring Navy SEALs. Or even ultra marathoners. Most of you are just like me – hard working, determined individuals trying to make their mark in this world we live in. And if you read this blog, you no doubt have ambitions around being successful in your life – whether that’s your job, your health, your marriage, your family, your friends, or any number of achievements that define who you are and what you want to be.

But how many of us do exactly the opposite of David Goggins? We spend all our emotional energy reliving the mistakes, challenges, and setbacks of the past – allowing it to define who we are today? Placing boundaries, restrictions, or limitations on our ambitions because we just don’t think we can get where we truly want to be.

Worse, how many of us believe that the system is rigged – stacked against us in a no win situation? That our background – ethnic, economic, abusive, etc – are to blame for our failures? How many of us use that as a yardstick for what we achieve?

On the other hand, how many of us feel we are somehow entitled to success – as if it’s a God given right? We deserve that beautiful house, that luxury car, that fat bank account, right? We deserve that promotion at work because we have been here longer than they have. Or because we have more experience? Or a better education?

Well I have news for you. Wake up and smell the coffee. You get what you earn, not what you deserve. There is no replacement for determination, fortitude, grit, persistence, perseverance, hard work, and some good old-fashioned suffering.

Take it from David Goggins – if you want success, go earn it!

Hispanic Heritage Month – An Interview w/ Nina Vaca

“[My family] had faith that if they worked toward their goals, they could achieve them. So, I grew up believing that if I wanted to do something, I needed to work to achieve it… and I would” – Nina Vaca

For this edition of Leading Wright, I’m going to shake it up a bit. As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought it appropriate to recognize and feature a successful Latino leader – providing insight to a leadership approach and perspective different than my own. That’s the beauty of diversity isn’t it? Different backgrounds, different experiences, and different perspectives provide the fundamental building blocks for new ideas and approaches to solving the challenges we all face in leadership.

With that, I asked a fellow business leader, successful entrepreneur, and good friend of mine – Nina Vaca – to join me in writing this message by sharing some of her thoughts and insights on the secrets of her success, the importance of diversity in the business community, and what advice she can offer to those aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs to help them achieve similar success.

Nina is both an accomplished leader and a fierce advocate for the Hispanic community. Born in Quito, Ecuador, she and her family immigrated to California early in her youth before eventually taking permanent residence in Texas. Her academic career includes an undergraduate degree at Texas State University, and a number of executive education programs at several prestigious schools – Harvard Business School, Tuck School of Business, and Kellogg School of Management. She also holds honorary degrees from Northwood University, Mary Mount University, and Berkeley College.

Nina is the founder and Chair/CEO of Pinnacle Group (a direct competitor of my own Genuent). She and her leadership team have led Pinnacle on a tremendous growth curve, including recognition as one of the fastest growing Women Owned Businesses in 2015 and again in 2018. She also serves as one of the few Latinas on the boards of publicly traded companies, & has dedicated much of her time to empowering women and minorities and expanding their opportunities.

Her background not only includes success in business, but also an active role in the promotion of women and Hispanics in business and leadership. In 2014, Vaca was appointed by the White House as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship to help inspire entrepreneurs worldwide. Last year, she was also elected as a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a Henry Crown Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

A passionate advocate for higher education, Vaca supports many organizations helping grow the next generation of global leaders, including through programs like Pinnacle Group Academic WorldQuest and Dallas ISD/Dallas Community College District’s P-TECH program. She has also spent two decades raising scholarship funds for minority students through the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Law School Yes We Can, and the Nina Vaca Foundation, among many others.

Vaca was named an EY Entrepreneur of the Year and has been called one of the country’s 100 most intriguing entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs. She has also been named one of the top 101 Most Influential Latinos in America by Latino Leaders Magazine for over a decade.
Impressed enough yet? Good. Now let’s hear directly from Nina.

Kip:
So Nina, tell us a little about yourself – your background and your journey.

Nina:
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and my dream was always to grow a business that no one would want to leave while supporting my family.

Pinnacle’s evolution and astronomical growth is the result of fearless approach to overcoming challenges and intense focus on two core values: delivering impeccable service to clients and putting people at the heart of everything Pinnacle does.

Some of the important early lessons are the same lessons that still apply today – you must be able to adapt to changing circumstances – the current pandemic is a perfect example, but another early example was 9/11 which happened after we were in business for less than 5 years, and then again the Great Recession in 2008-2009 – each time we’ve had to reinvent the business based on what customers need now.

Kip:
You have achieved amazing success – entrepreneur, public company board member, philanthropic leader – What has been the secret of your success?

Nina:
When I started my own business, I wish I had known that I was not alone and in fact belonged to something much larger than myself or my company. I had become a part of the American economic engine. I didn’t yet understand everything that I was capable of achieving until I started working on the business, not just in the business.

Being an entrepreneur is extremely hard work. It’s time consuming, risky, frustrating, and, sometimes, downright terrifying. But it’s also the most rewarding work you can do. So, to put yourself through all of the tough things that come along with entrepreneurship, you better have a really solid reason why.

Kip:
As a female Latino entrepreneur, you can appreciate the importance of diversity. Can you give us your thoughts on the importance of diversity for corporate America?

Nina:
As a Latina entrepreneur, I am living proof of the ways that immigrants can make positive contributions to this country. I’ve been blessed many times to be the first Latina at the table, but I don’t want to be the only Latina.

For me, true success is opening doors for others and expanding opportunities for women and minorities in business. I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to invest in people and what motivates me is helping the next generation to reach even greater heights than we ever dreamed.

As a business leader, I have seen firsthand how diversity and inclusion fosters a more creative and innovative workforce. These benefits translate into improved bottom line performance for companies, which has been studied and reported on by McKinsey and others for several years.

Kip:
For aspiring future leaders, what advice would you give them?

Nina:
Surround yourself with people who truly want to be successful. After all, no one accomplishes anything alone, in business or in life. Look for groups, like councils and chambers, who can share experiences and wisdom with you.

Mentorship is another invaluable tool on the journey to success. Find someone to guide and push you to achieve greater.

Understand the realities of your situation and what you’re facing, both in terms of business impacts and the significant personal impacts this is having on your team.

And finally, leaders must respond, not react. This means taking the time necessary to gain perspective and be thoughtful in setting a course before taking action.

Amazing insight from a Latino leader who has not only achieved professional success in business but has a clear and impactful history of giving back to the community and helping others in their own personal path to success. I’m grateful she was willing to share her thoughts here on Leading Wright.

It’s Time to Embrace Change?

“Its not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change”  – Charles Darwin

“Adjusting to the new norm”. Are you as tired of hearing this new phrase as I am? If you are, I have good news for you. There is no new norm. And I certainly wouldn’t spend time adjusting to THIS new norm, because if this year has taught us anything, it’s that the “norm” can and will change in an instant.

Maybe the better term to use is “Adjusting to constant change”. That certainly seems more appropriate for this year, and if my intuition is right, this won’t be limited to 2020. I suspect the only constant we will have for the foreseeable future IS change. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Continue reading

Relationships Matter

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business”  –  Scott Stratten

It seems lately that my leadership blog has overwhelmingly been impacted by the impact of COVID. My last four posts have started with a paragraph referencing the impact this pandemic has had on both my own approach to leadership and my guidance to others. On the one hand, it’s a shame this has become the norm for us. On the other hand, the experiences we have gained are so profound I find myself compelled to write about them. Stay with me again as I share continued insights gained as a result of this new norm.

Many of you know I manage a company called Genuent. At Genuent, we are in the people business. We provide our clients technical talent across a broad spectrum – including newly experienced as well as those with years of expertise. Our product is our people, both the consultants we place on assignment and the Genuent team that works closely with our clients and consultants to ensure the right technical and cultural fit. In other words, we have no inventory, no production lines, and our assets walk out the door every evening (well, in this new norm, they walk from their home office downstairs to their families).

When I first joined the company, I met with members of the leadership team to ask the question – what makes us “Genuent”. Overwhelmingly I received the same answer – “we care about the people we serve and the people we place”. Time and time again I got this answer, followed by a simple phrase – “our relationships matter to us”. So it wasn’t hard to make the stretch to shift our branding from “Innovative Workforce Solutions” to “Relationships Matter”. If that is what made us who we are, we should declare it to the world, right?

Now let me tie this back to COVID. Along with so many other businesses forced to work under a new paradigm, shifting to a remote work environment where we were isolated from meeting our clients and consultants in person proved to be a challenge we had yet to face. And for a business built on relationships, we had long held the belief that those local, in person meetings were integral to our success. Now that we were completely unable to meet with our clients in person, critical to our focus on relationship building, we wondered what impact it might have on our company.

The answer surprised us all. In fact, we found that it was the quality of those relationships that mattered. If we had built them over time based on trust, respect, and a willingness to do the right thing, distance would not prevent them from holding strong. In fact, we found that it was those very relationships that truly mattered when it came to operating in this new paradigm. Video, audio, and even email communications sufficed so long as the relationships were foundationally strong.

We’ve recently launched a new initiative across the entirety of the company. We call it “Your Relationships Matter”, and its targeted to operational support staff that support our business development and recruiting/consultant management team members. The premise is simple – why not leverage their relationships to help improve our business. And two weeks in to the effort, we have already generated 9 new leads that were otherwise overlooked before. If we are going to live our purpose as a company, it was important for everyone to be invested in this effort…everyone working for a common goal.

If you want to build a business on relationships, be in the business of building relationships. A simple yet profound statement that is the basis of our business, and has proven to be the key attribute that is allowing us to navigate these difficult times.

Are you simply building a business, or are you building relationships that will ultimately build the business for you?

Trust me when I say – Relationships Matter.

Trust Matters

“When the trust level gets high enough, people transcend apparent limits, discovering new and awesome abilities of which they were previously unaware.” – David Armistead

This past week I had the opportunity to set aside a few days’ time to spend with my executive leadership team. It has been months since the COVID virus forced us all in to operating under a new paradigm, and we had spent the majority of that time in crisis mode working through the numerous issues we were facing as a result. We all felt it was time to step back from the daily battles we have faced and reflect on our efforts throughout the crisis. I thought I would share some of those reflections and our biggest take away – Trust matters.

As a staffing company, this crisis presented one of the worst scenarios we could imagine. That is largely because in economic downturns, our clients will often cut temporary workers first before cutting their own staff. We are able to navigate these downturns largely through diversification of the industries we service. But in a crisis like this, all industries uniformly suffer. So it hit us hard and fast, and it was painful. Continue reading

Focus on what’s important

“Life is like a camera – just focus on what’s important and capture the good times, develop from the negatives, and if things don’t work out, take another shot” – Ziad K. Abdelnour

One of my fellow Genuent team members, Casey Landers, shared this quote with the company recently as part of our new Daily Inspirations messaging. We implemented this process to help our fellow team members as they navigated through the current COVID crisis. Our thinking was simple – sharing our favorite quotes and inspirations might produce just the right message, at the right time, for at least one member of the team. And that alone would make it worth the effort.

Little did I know the right message at the right time for at least one member of the team would be me! I have to say, when I saw this message, I was struck by how profound it was. While it is an amazing message to carry for a lifetime, it is, for many of us, the right message at JUST the right time. It puts the entirety of this COVID crisis and the challenges we all face navigating it in JUST the right perspective. And in my traditional way, I would love to share with you what I took from it. Continue reading

What You Learn in a Low Tide

“Just because the Tide is low doesn’t mean there is less water in the ocean” – Seth Godin

In my most recent leadership blog, I shared a message about surviving the storm. That post was shared on March 5th, before all of this COVID madness hit us. Little did I know the lesson would be so relevant today as we find ourselves in unchartered waters navigating one of the worst social, economic, and medical crises of our time. Truly a surreal moment for all of us.

In that article, I shared how relieved I felt to have reached the safety of the harbor. Most times the harbor is a safe place. But, in the crisis we now face, the harbor doesn’t feel so safe. Metaphorically speaking, it seems the tide is out, and we find ourselves in a much different predicament than the storm we’ve been navigating.

With no water in the harbor, the dangers that lurk below the surface are all around us. Sunken ships once 20 feet below now tower above the water. Pilings, rocks, and other debris are now clear obstacles we previously never concerned ourselves with – obstacles that prove increasingly difficult to navigate. Continue reading