Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Memo To Self: Don’t Take It Personally
August 21, 2010
This interview with Lisa Price, founder and president of Carol’s Daughter, a beauty products company, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Q. Talk about some of your early leadership lessons.
A. In the beginning, I did everything. And then, as I started to add people to help me, a lot of them were family members or friends who were like family. So there wasn’t really a need to have a specific management style, per se.
But when the business changed and started to grow, we had to bring in people with more experience. For the past four or five years, I’ve been watching people who have that experience come in and bring their knowledge to us. In the beginning, you feel like they know everything. And then you find out they really don’t, and common sense makes more sense than what they’re saying sometimes.
So I sit at the table, but not necessarily at the head of the table. I feel like I’m the person in the room who’s maintaining everything. The players change, but the story stays the same. The way the company was founded stays the same. What I believe in stays the same.
So I need to be at the table to make sure that integrity stays, but I don’t need to sit at the head of the table and drive the conversation, because I may not necessarily drive it to the place that makes it profitable and makes it relevant. So I’m going to listen, but I know that I can interject if they go off track.
Q. You brought in a C.E.O., Richard Dantas, in January. What was behind that decision?
A. The C.E.O. role was kind of a responsibility that I shared with Steve Stoute, my business partner. We learned our skills are really best suited elsewhere. The day-to-day operations, supply chain, finance — they really weren’t the most effective use of our brain power and our energy.
Q. Was that a hard decision?
A. No, it wasn’t. About 20 years ago, I read a book called “Your Money or Your Life,” and it helped you equate your time into dollars and the dollars that you spend. If you’re juggling a lot of things, and you’re trying to decide whether or not you should pay someone to help you do something, then you figure out what you’re actually worth per hour and what you’d pay someone. That lesson always stayed with me.
I did something as long as it made sense for me to do it. And then, once it made sense to turn it over to someone else — either because it could get done better, or because I could spend my time making more money elsewhere — I did it. So when I have to make those transitions now, it’s not a difficult choice.
Q. Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?
A. I was a head writer’s assistant in television production, so the other writer’s assistants reported to me. And it’s not something that I was very good at, because I like to be people’s friend.
It’s not that I need everybody to like me, but I’m a very autonomous person when I work. So when someone says, “This is what I need you to do,” I focus on it, and I do it, and I don’t have to be micromanaged. I don’t get distracted. So I tend to think everybody else is like that.
And when I would come back to someone, figuring that they were done and they were only a third of the way through some work, I’d say: “What’s going on? What happened? Why aren’t you finished?” I had to learn that everybody wasn’t like me. It was good training for what I do now.
Q. So what adjustments did you make?
A. I just had to accept that I was the one who was the most uncomfortable. It took a little while for me to realize that. I was thinking that the other person is more like me, and I’m going to come and tell them that they’re not working efficiently, and they’re going to be offended.
I did it a few times, and I saw that the person appreciated the feedback, or they would say to me, “Well, I was having a hard time because I didn’t understand what this meant over here.” And then it becomes more collaborative, and you’re listening to their perspective, and we figured out a way to make it work. And the person who’s most uncomfortable is really me.
So if I can deal with being uncomfortable, then I can get past this. I had built it up in my head to be much bigger than it actually was.
Q. A lot of people don’t like uncomfortable conversations.
A. I remember one of the first people that I fired. I was so uncomfortable about doing it. And the person actually said to me, “I can’t believe it took you this long to get rid of me.” That was a really big wake-up call — to not let things go on for a long time.
My aunt taught me a really good lesson. She managed a dinner theater in Frankfurt for a number of years. And she said that some people will say, “Three strikes and you’re out.” And she said, “No one should ever get three strikes, because if they did it once, they’re going to do it again.” And sometimes a second chance is all you get. But you never get three strikes — because it’s repetitive at that point. It’s going to keep happening.
Q. What’s your philosophy of leadership?
A. I want people to feel passionate, the way that I do, and feel like they are coming to a family and coming to a place that builds them up, and not a place that tears them down. So that’s my leadership style — keeping people passionate, keeping them inspired. I love to give people feedback. I’ve learned to give negative feedback. I didn’t always like it. But I’ve learned that when you give it, instead of avoiding it, it can help the person.
Q. How do you hire?
A. I do listen for what they say about the brand. I want to know that they’re comfortable voicing their opinion, because it’s a very entrepreneurial setting, and you cannot be a corporate person who likes all the layers. You have to be able to assert yourself and make your voice heard and lead and push something. I want to know that people are comfortable multitasking.
Our head of H.R. cleans out the copy room and takes the coffee filters out of the coffee and makes sure that there’s toilet paper in the bathroom. That’s just how the company is, and those are the things that she needs to do. So you have to be confident in order to do that. That’s just the entrepreneurial environment.
Q. But how do you figure out if the person is like that from an interview?
A. When you talk to them about things that they’ve done, you drill down on what their responsibilities were. When they describe it to you, they really break it down — what they had to do, how they had to push it through. You can tell that kind of person just doesn’t go, “I can’t figure it out.”
Q. How else has your leadership style evolved?
A. I have learned to be distant without really being distant. I’m very friendly with everybody, but I would get so invested before, and if there was a transition for whatever reason, it would hurt for me to lose that person. And that discomfort is very hard to deal with, and it doesn’t really have a place in business.
So I’ve found this interesting space within myself, where I can have these really great relationships and work closely with people, but still have that distance. I feel like I’m in a place now where I can be close to you and collaborative with you, but I don’t get as emotionally attached.
Q. You’ve touched on this theme a couple of times, that you take things less personally.
A. It comes from taking things super-personally and being upset, and then getting over it and realizing that I did it to myself. People have asked me, if I’m speaking somewhere: “What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve ever overcome? And how did you do it?” My biggest obstacle is myself — being afraid, being nervous. So it’s hard sometimes to get past yourself, to just get over yourself.
And what I’ve learned, as the company has changed and different management people come and go, is that the thing that’s constant is me. I can’t control how many people come and go, necessarily. I can’t control the economy. I can’t control what beauty buyers are going to want tomorrow versus what they want today. But what I can control is me, and how I react to it and how I respond to it.
So I try not to get so caught up in what people think of me, or what someone is going to say. It still rears its ugly head every now and then. But I am my biggest obstacle, and I’m learning to get around myself and over myself and through myself. And it’s a great learning process.
One of the things that this business has taught me is that it’s made me a person I never thought I’d be. I was very much a perfectionist. And I did not like the idea of being a jack of all trades. I had to be a master of one. And I’ve learned how to do a lot of things and be O.K. with not doing all of them very well. Some things I do very well, and some things I’m not so good at. And I’ve learned that from being an entrepreneur, because I was not like that before, at all.
Q. What’s your best career advice?
A. Be open. Your way is not necessarily the only way or the right way. But while you’re open, be assertive. Because I feel like I wasn’t as assertive as I could have been in my earlier years, and I did what other people told me to do. It’s only now that I’m learning to be more assertive. So I think it’s important to find that balance between being open and listening, but also not letting someone bulldoze you into doing what they want to do.
It’s an interesting line that you have to follow. It takes a certain amount of assertiveness, but it also takes a willingness to see how the process works, and not assert your opinion into it, in order to observe and become a part of what’s going on. So it’s just finding that balance. I think you can learn a lot more that way.
Posted by tha artivist at 12:08 AM