Leading by example can be as simple as admitting failure

Posted on Categories Brandonomics, Core Values, Purpose, Savage Thinking

Bethany Andell talks to Laura Richardson of Frazer about how she leads by example. Laura explains how as a leader you cannot be afraid to open up about failure, as it leads to trust.

How does a true leader encourage culture and purpose during times of tremendous growth? It’s about role-modeling. Laura Richardson, CEO of Frazer, a designer/manufacturer of emergency medical service vehicles, continues her visit with Bethany Andell.

Bethany:  Welcome to this edition Brandonomics, an inside look at purpose-led companies and their strategies.  I’m Bethany Andell, President of Savage Brands, and today’s guest is Laura Richardson, CEO of Frazer.  Frazer is a builder of emergency vehicles most known for their mobile stroke units and clinics as well as if you’ve ever seen a City of Houston ambulance running around this town they probably built it.

Laura:  Thank you, I appreciate it.  It’s nice to be here.

Bethany:  So we’ve talked about purpose and we talked about your culture.  And of course, we’ve got a set of 6 values that are very unique to you which I just love, love, love.  And we also talked a little bit about how, you know, purpose is in how you hire or values are in how you train and in your performance reviews; but I’m looking at you.  It’s your company and we always talk about role modeling and tone from the top or however you want to say it, so how do you show up at work every day and make sure that everyone is seeing you live these values or not?

Laura:  Obviously I don’t show up and live them 100% every day, none of us do.  Luckily we’re very good at pointing that out to each other and that’s important.  I mean that’s part of one of our values – Don’t Fear Failure, Own It.  So what I tell our leadership team and our managers and our supervisors is nobody gives a rat’s rear end what I say or what they say, they only care what we do because what I do says much more about my values than what I say.  So if those two conflict with each other, then the employees are going to notice that.

I grew up around this company so for me failure wasn’t really “you did this wrong” or “you did this right”, it was more of a course correction.  So I’m trying to travel on this path and when we get off the line not get too far off and get back on quickly.  For the don’t fear failure I put on my don’t fear failure t-shirt a couple months ago and we had a company update meeting and I wore it and turned around and told everyone one of the failures that I had.  And it wasn’t just a minor failure that was to teach a lesson, it was something that genuinely employees had asked for and I dropped the ball on it.  And I wanted everyone to know this is what happened and here is what I’m going to do to fix it.  And we did fix it, but that was only half of it.  This was around our performance reviews so I went back again with the same t-shirt on an said while we caught up I now recognize that the performance reviews that some of you received weren’t really maybe worth the paper they were on and so we’re actively working to change that now.

So I think if so many leaders don’t want to say what it is that they do wrong every single day.  Once you do and you make that okay then people begin to open up and they’re not afraid of what happens.  I’ve seen our President send emails out to the entire company here’s what I messed up on.  I mean it’s just a normal part of our vernacular so it doesn’t seem odd.

Bethany:  One of your values is We All We Got, which feels very familial and more in it together and it’s nice that you’ve got this culture that it’s kind of proven out daily that you’re all in it together.

Laura:  Yeah, and if you listen to all of our core values they do sort of overlap.  And we’re no longer a small, family-owned business, but we’re an entrepreneurial company with a great culture and with these amazing employees.  And the employees are the ones who show and live our culture every single day.  It’s not what I say and it’s not what I do, it’s what the folks who are out there really building these units and putting them together, what they believe and what they buy in to and we have phenomenal employees.

Bethany:  It wasn’t terribly long ago that you actually went through the process of defining your values, so did you have to have some sort of self-awareness that evolved like oh wait, I’m not living this behavior, I’m contradicting myself?

Laura:  We do team reviews and we also team hire.  A while ago we would hire basically on skillset, maybe 95% on skillset, 5% on values, whatever those values were.  But now I would say we’re closer maybe to 50/50 or even 60/40.  There are a lot of skills that you can teach, but as far as the cultural fit, that’s something different.  And who am I to come in and if you’re on the line welding and if I come in and say you’re going to have to work next to this person I don’t want to make that decision, I want the team to say this is someone I want to be here.  And then that team is really going to be accountable for making sure that person is successful.

Bethany:  And it sounds like they are doing it.

Laura:  They are.  Yes, they’re doing it every single day; absolutely.

Bethany:  So the big question is would you hire yourself?

Laura:  Would I hire myself?  Sure thing, absolutely!  I don’t know if my leadership team would.  It’s a great team.

Bethany:  Depends on the day.

Laura:  Depends on the day.  I mean I learn so much every single day and I learn from the employees.  And here’s something that’s interesting, what we think as leaders of the company that our employees want and what they actually want, sometimes there’s a huge chasm there and that’s something that I’ve realized lately that I need to do a better job of listening to what they need and making sure that I align with that.

Bethany:  Well you’ll be held accountable to that because they will be watching that, so there you go.

Laura:  Absolutely and now it’s on video.

Bethany:  Well thanks for coming back, I always love my conversations with you and we’ll be together soon.

Laura:  Appreciate it, thanks.

Bethany:  That concludes this edition of Brandonomics and we will see you next time.  Thanks.

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