Stepping Up Part IV: Showing Up to Support One Another
In Small Giants companies, leaders are showing up to support their team members — but leaders need support, too. As we navigate these uncertain times and position ourselves for the future, we need trusted, like-minded people we can turn to as a sounding board. The Small Giants Community is built on relationships between purpose-driven leaders, and there are countless stories of leaders positively impacting one another's organizations, often in profound and lasting ways.
Now more than ever, those relationships are proving to be an irreplaceable source of support for founders, CEOs, and emerging leaders alike. In this week's Stepping Up stories, read about the powerful relationships between leaders in the Small Giants Leadership Academy and the impact it's having on their organizations during this time.
In this installment:
Stepping up: zolman restoration
What it takes to lead a team of essential workers
“I had to really step back and evaluate our approach. I tend to think I’m invincible, and I had to come to grips with the idea that everyone has the right to feel how they feel.”
While many of us are confined to the comfort (and distractions) of our home offices, millions of essential workers are leaving their homes every day to do the hard work of keeping us safe. The team at Zolman Restoration is used to working in hazardous conditions: they are a full-service emergency restoration business specializing in fire, smoke, water, and storm restoration services. Helping people stay safe is at the core of who they are. But when they started getting requests for COVID-19 sanitization jobs, the risk felt more personal than their usual work.
“Whatever is going on in the world, our work doesn’t stop,” says Michelle Lauwers, VP of Finance at Zolman. “Our team is used to dealing with hazards, but this is different — the virus can’t just be washed off. It’s an invisible risk factor, and the fear was palpable.”
As fear and uncertainty swept through the team, Michelle found herself feeling differently. Although she understood their concerns, she isn’t a person who is easily scared away. This is the kind of work they do, and the show must go on. She thought if she led by example and the team saw her fight past her own fears, they would follow suit. For the first few days, they tried to keep things business as usual, but it was clear the team felt anything but normal. The usual chatter and playful energy of the office quieted. People stopped raising their hands to do jobs. Speculation and side conversations spread.
“You could just see it on their faces,” says Michelle. “I had to really step back and evaluate our approach. I tend to think I’m invincible, and I had to come to grips with the idea that everyone has the right to feel how they feel.”
Michelle works at Zolman with her adult son, which makes it easier for them to accept the risk involved — they don’t have to worry about bringing the virus home to other family members. But she also has the self-awareness to realize that her personal situation can’t be the decision-maker for the rest of the team. It’s a skill she’s developed as part of the Small Giants Leadership Academy, where she’s learning the principles of purpose-driven leadership. Emotional intelligence is a key leadership skill: you need to have the social awareness to realize when there’s an issue, and the empathy to understand the thoughts and feelings of others.
“I started having individual conversations with everyone,” says Michelle. “Ultimately, we decided to shift to a volunteer basis for higher risk jobs. I would present every opportunity to the team, explain the risks, and if nobody is comfortable going, the other leaders and I will go instead.”
Michelle also addressed some of their job security concerns, promising full pay for anyone who’s willing to put in the hours. If they chose not to work, they could stay home and pursue unemployment.
When the next COVID-19 sanitization job rolled around, Michelle stuck to her new policy and asked for volunteers. Nobody raised their hand. The next day, she asked again — still no one. But on the third day, one person volunteered to go. Throughout the day, people volunteered one by one until they had more people than they needed for the team.
“The job was a success, and it gets easier every time,” says Michelle. “It was important to step back and let them process and make the decision for themselves. We want them to feel safe and understand that we’re all in this together.”
Showing Up for Your Team
Even though much of her work can be done at home, Michelle comes into the office every day, because that’s where her team is. But she doesn’t stop there – Michelle also suited up and joined the team for their very first COVID-19 cleaning. Wearing a respirator mask and with gloves taped to her suit, she worked side-by-side with her team for three hours to thoroughly disinfect every corner of a condominium building.
“We looked like a bunch of Martians,” says Michelle. “We were learning together and laughing about it — it’s important that I know what they’re experiencing out there. We did a great job and the residents were so relieved. We were able to go back to the team and tell them it really wasn’t that bad — we even had fun doing it.”
Stepping Outside of Yourself
Nearly two months after their first job, the team feels safe, supported and grateful for work in these uncertain times. Michelle is shifting her focus to the future and what’s ahead for Zolman Restoration. With the support of the Small Giants Leadership Academy, she’s using this time to look at the company from a strategic standpoint.
“I tend to get so focused on being in the business when I also need to work on the business,” says Michelle. “The Leadership Academy helps me take a holistic view of the company. We’ve even adopted an onboarding and recruiting program from what I’ve learned so far.”
She’s also finding support by connecting with other leaders. The Leadership Academy provides every participant with a buddy for one-on-one peer mentorship, and she’s relying on her buddy, Roy Hernandez, to navigate the ups and downs of this crisis. They work in similar industries, and they connect bi-weekly to share experiences and offer advice.
“He’s talked me through some significant personnel challenges and offers an objective standpoint,” says Michelle. “He’s helped me tremendously.”
This is a moment when the strength of our leadership is put to the test. It’s not a time we can get through alone, and Michelle looked outside of herself to find answers. She trusted her team to rise to the occasion, and she relied on her community of like-minded leaders to offer guidance and support along the way.
“Our passion is for helping people,” says Michelle. “You don't work in this business long-term for any other reason. More than ever, we’re going back to who we are as an organization and why we exist. This is what we’re here to do.”
Stepping up: Geil Enterprises, inc.
How This Quiet Leader Became the Voice of His Organization
"It is about stepping up when others need you, having a higher purpose than yourself, and giving to others."
When Roy Hernandez, President of Geil Enterprises, Inc. has a message to get out to his team, it’s more complicated than simply calling an all-hands meeting. Geil Enterprises has four business divisions and 500+ employees out in the field in locations across California. Their employees work in security and alarm, janitorial services and sanitary supplies, all of which are deemed essential businesses. Nearly overnight, their sprawling team of security guards, alarm technicians, janitors, and administrators found themselves on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear, uncertainty and misinformation took center stage.
“Right away, it became apparent that people were scared of the unknown,” says Roy. “There was so much information floating around and so many assumptions of what the virus would mean for us. People were worried about their jobs, their health, and their safety. I quickly realized that our team members needed information and assurance of what to expect from the organization.”
Stepping Up When Others Need You
Roy is traditionally a quiet leader — it’s out of his comfort zone to be the center of attention, and vulnerability is even more uncomfortable. Roy started out with Geil Enterprises in his early twenties, working his way up the ranks from security guard to COO and eventually, he became the first non-family member to serve as president. Prior to enrolling in the Small Giants Leadership Academy, Roy didn’t have any formal leadership training, and that often led to insecurity about his ability to lead.
“I have always struggled to see myself as a leader,” says Roy. “I am a quiet person who believes in letting others lead and helping them develop. But I’ve been doing a lot of work to build my leadership, and in this moment, I felt compelled to step up and do more.”
It was mid-March, and the news around COVID-19 was changing at breakneck speed. On the evening of March 17, Roy was decompressing at home after the company’s second full day of working remotely. His mind kept returning to his team — how could he meaningfully reach out to the organization during this time? And how could he ensure that company leaders were supporting their teams in the same way?
“I do most of my mental processing and reflection at night,” says Roy. “So I just sat down and started typing out my thoughts. I wanted to send a positive message and show my appreciation to the team. It was a bit outside of my comfort zone — but the next morning, I decided to send it anyway.”
Vulnerability Is a Leadership Skill
The response was overwhelming. It still brings Roy to tears thinking about the outpouring of support and appreciation that followed. His message resonated, but more than anything, it was clear that what his team really needed was to hear from him. It became the first of a daily email series called “Good Morning from RH.”
From that moment on, Roy committed to becoming the voice of the organization, and he was no longer hesitant to be vulnerable and authentic with his team. With each message, he became more vulnerable and open with them, sharing aspects of his home life and his own personal reflections on the global pandemic. At a critical time, it inspired the team to band together instead of splitting apart. Now, he and other company leaders are committed to sharing information, educating the team, and reinforcing their culture on a daily basis.
“It’s allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and grow,” says Roy. “Every day, I transparently share my experience with the team and how I am processing the changes around us. It has set off a chain reaction of people sending positive messages to the group and offering support to one another.”
It was clear that what his team really needed was to hear from him.
Vulnerability is a crucial leadership skill, and behind-the-scenes, Roy has been doing the work to develop as a leader. He’s halfway through the Small Giants Leadership Academy, and it’s helping him build his confidence as a leader. He’s defined his personal leadership mission and values, and he has a deeper understanding of his own leadership style. He's also built close relationships with several leaders in the group. When it came time for him to show up for his team, he was prepared.
“What has been reinforced to me through this time is that being a leader is not a title,” says Roy. “It is about stepping up when others need you, having a higher purpose than yourself, and giving to others. I have never come closer to my personal mission statement than now: Create positive experiences for myself and others.”