I interviewed Becky Hendrix, Executive Director for Professional Care Services. I recently had the honor of interviewing someone in our community who has had more than twenty years of leadership experience in our community. The interview ended up taking much longer than I expected because I was so influenced by what she had to say, I did not want to miss anything. Mrs. Becky Hendrix started her career as a CPA back in the 80’s for the World Color Press. Her leadership abilities were quickly realized, and she was promoted to head CPA. From there she moved on to the Professional Care Service where she remained for fifteen years serving as a CPA, and finally working her way up to the Executive Director. Becky was in charge of over 187 employees. My conversation with Becky took a direction that I did not expect. She attributes her success to the leadership traits that she has learned over the years, and quoted many of the very ideas and theories almost verbatim from our class lecture. That was an incredible experience to witness firsthand how these traits become behaviors and practices.
Throughout the course of our interview, Becky laid out the history of her leadership experience, and pointed out how she has learned many of her characteristics from watching other people. Becky heavily noted how leadership and management styles have made a drastic change over the last 30 years from the “my way, or the highway” (Hendrix) approach, to a servant leadership approach. Mrs. Hendrix recalled a plaque that use to hang in her bosses office in the 80’s that read “Beatings and hangings will continue until morale improves!” That was the strategy that was used back then, but disregarded the lingering question of “Why” in the eyes of the employees.
Becky provided me with a great analogy that explained the concept of putting a screw into a board with a hammer. “You can drive a Screw into a board with a hammer, and it will go in; however, both she screw and the board will end up forever damaged and the board will eventually wiggle loose.” (Hendrix) Short term results can be achieved through toxic leadership, but long term goals will almost always fail. Throughout her experience with Professional Care Services, Becky noticed that approach being used, and vowed to change it within her area of leadership. She attributes her success to that very idea.
Strong interpersonal skills are one of the most important characteristics she outlined for me. By that, she means “take time to be kind” (Hendrix). To achieve positive results out of the people in which she works with, Becky “turned her division upside down” (Hendrix) or transitioned to a servant leadership philosophy. She wanted her employees to feel like the president of the company was someone who not only cared about them and their concerns, but wanted to be someone who they could come to with any problems or ideas they have. “Seek first to understand before you try to be understood.” (Hendrix) By taking time through charismatic leadership to be kind to her employees, and being empathetic toward their work and personal lives, Becky was able to achieve above average results out of average people.
The ability to “shut up and listen” is a key trait one must have to be a good leader. I asked her if she thought that by being friendly to her employees, and getting to know them personally interfered with her ability to delegate. Becky responded by stating that if you are firm but fair, honest and straight forward with people at all times, you will in turn commandeer respect from your employees which will provide both parties the necessary tools to excel in their respective positions. One must beware, however, of being insincere, because everyone will see right through you and lose all respect. One must lead by example and be constantly and actively aware on a daily basis that everyone is watching the leaders and modeling their actions after yours. “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care” (Hendrix).
Another key trait that Becky noted was that leaders are the ones who are willing to “get up and try it.” When she was in her infant stage of leadership, she volunteered to run the store, for one of the managers. “She just threw me the keys and walked out the door! I was scared to death, but willing to give it a shot! Yeah, I made some mistakes but I also learned how to keep from making them again.” (Hendrix) Leadership is a series of conquering fears and taking on challenges regardless if you have all of the answers. Your mindset must be one of “I think I can fix that” (Hendrix). She closed the discussion on leadership traits and skills with a quote from one of her favorite authors, Zig Ziglar. “If you want to get all you can out of life, you must first help others to get all they can out of life” (Hendrix).
I told Mrs. Hendrix that she had given me some great insight as to what traits and skills were necessary to being a leader among women, but wanted to know more. For me really get an idea of how these ideas and theories can be put into practice, I needed to know how one goes about actually doing these things while being in a high workload-high stress position on a daily basis. Becky stated that it all starts with the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. Take time to stop and think about each comment that you make. People will remember the things that you say and the way they perceive you. Always make a conscious effort wear a smile on your face (even if you don’t feel like it) when dealing with others. When you are in a position of authority, people will naturally fear you, and model your emotions.
If you want to employees to be happy, simply act happy around them. Secondly, one must make it a point to address others by name at least twice in every conversation. Becky requires every one of the part time employees in her organization to wear a name tag so that she can remember their names and something about them. This is very difficult to do however when you have over 187 people working on your team. For that reason one must use their resources. Becky required her managers to know some personal details about each employee that worked in their store. They would hold special team building events outside of work such as an evening out on the town. When Becky makes a visit to a store, she would first brief herself with the manager about the employees who worked there.
She would want to know who was doing well, and a little about their personal lives. She would then go to those people and praise them in front of their co-workers. A good strategy to use is to always praise in groups, and criticize in private. (Hendrix) When dealing with problematic employees, many managers unknowingly work around them for fear of having to deal with their complaints. When this occurs, the leader is actually rewarding the bad employee, and punishing the good employees by making them do the other persons work. This causes the good employees to slack off and learn to complain in order to get what they want. “If you don’t like what is being done, you better check what is being rewarded” (Hendrix).
Another Key practice Becky discussed was the power of questioning. During our interview, Becky performed a card trick to prove a point. She had selected the 6 of diamonds and laid it face down on the desk without my knowledge. She then told me that I was going to figure out what the solution to the problem was (what card was on the desk). She began to ask me a series of questions that caused me to rule out various suites and numbers of cards. I was astonished to find out that after only a few questions, I had figured out what card was on the desk. It made me feel like I had rationally come up with the solution on my own, thus making me feel important about my accomplishment. Rather than criticize others, ask them questions to make them realize on their own what mistakes they are making and how to improve upon them (Hendrix).
Finally, I wanted to know how she got to the level of understanding that she has achieved as a leader. From the standpoint of a student interested in becoming a leader, how do you get from point A to Point B? Mrs. Hendrix pointed out that you must take time to develop a clearly defined and concise personal mission statement. Furthermore, you must look at it each and every day and think about how you can utilize it in every situation. “You must learn to become a student of people, and be able to effectively communicate your visions and goals to others” (Hendrix). One can begin by taking initiative in their own environment may it be work, school, social groups or any other situation you have the opportunity to stand up and be a leader. Be willing to accept the fact that you will fail at times.
“One who is willing to attempt leadership and fails is better than one who never tried at all.” (Hendrix). Listen to what others have to say, and encourage them to provide their input. Never criticize their ideas no matter how bad they may sound to you. This will prevent others from providing feedback that is crucial to your personal development as a leader. Most of all, Becky left me with the idea that leaders must have character and honesty. Leaders are born from the heart, not created or placed into their roles. Always act as a servant to others and listen to what they have to say. Toxic and Tyrannical leadership will spread like wildfire and destroy everything in its path. “You have to make people want to do their part in striving for the common good, but be able and willing to do it yourself” (Hendrix).
Hendrix, Becky. Executive Director Ashley Vance. 17 October 2014.