Female Leaders Raising Up the Next Generation - Kristen Pechacek
Name: Kristen Pechacek
Title: Chief Growth Officer
Years in franchising: 10
No. of units system-wide: 70
What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role? I wish I knew it was okay to not have all the answers. I used to hear the word “strategy” and think it was this untapped piece of code I had not yet been gifted. The reality is that a strategy is a plan. Some plans succeed and others fail. You increase your chances of succeeding with data and informed insight, but it may not work, and that is okay. The only true failure is not trying or speaking up in the first place.
Which leadership skills were most difficult to develop? Patience. This is something I will always need to work on, and it’s incredibly important. I frequently have an impulse to act quickly. I drive for answers, resolution, and results. I must remind myself to pause, establish facts, and work to understand situations before catapulting into action.
Who helped you on the way to the top? There have been countless people who have influenced my career, and I owe so much to my mentors and friends. This is a long list because I believe everyone I have worked with and connect with has helped me in some way. Even negative experiences or strained relationships have helped me to determine the type of leader I want to be. I am forever grateful to those in franchising who have provided so much guidance, support, and friendship. I am also grateful for the leadership at MassageLuXe. Our CEO, Mark Otter, has created an opportunity for me that I adore and work to do my best in.
What was the best advice you ever got? At an early age, my grandpa wrote a book to help high schoolers understand the importance of soft skills in the workplace. He taught me how to develop skill advantages such as teamwork, communication, and a solid work ethic to gain a competitive edge. He said, “Your ability to compete is the single most important factor in determining the success you will have in your work life.” While initially I took this advice as the need to compete with others, which is true at times, I now wake up asking how I can compete with myself. I want to wake up every day being better than I was yesterday.
Is that different than the advice you give? It’s not. I hope I teach and inspire the team to wake up better than they were yesterday. You should never be done making yourself better.
How do you mentor, and what advice do you give those you mentor? I am very passionate about education and mentorship. I work to give back to the franchise community. Along with my involvement in franchising, I spent several years as an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls with the goal of making an impact on today’s youth. I also serve as a board member for the Flaherty Family Foundation, which is dedicated to mentoring and providing scholarships to high-achieving students with economic need. Through the foundation, I speak to scholars in large group workshops and in one-on-one settings to give insight on how developing soft skills has helped me in my career. I often tell aspiring leaders that it’s okay to not have all the answers in every given situation. You can’t be afraid to put in the work and give it your best shot.
What skill sets do you think are imperative for young women leaders? 1) Communication: Your ability to communicate is a key characteristic of a good leader. Not only must you be good at listening and gathering feedback, it is also crucial to express ideas and share information with a variety of audiences. Along with verbal communication, work to find experience in communicating in multiple ways, such as writing and presenting. 2) Resilience: It’s imperative to recover quickly from setbacks, remain calm under pressure, and radiate persistence. Every business has adversity, and your team needs you to have a healthy balance of positivity and realism. 3) Influence: This is arguably the most important. You need to be able to build and maintain trust with your colleagues and network. You must find the right level of self-promotion and be able to rally a group around your belief or cause. This is all about your ability to build credibility and connections.
What are your leadership do’s and don’ts? Do: Have a plan; rally your people toward goals and the path to get there. Create an environment where it’s okay to fail; if your team is afraid to fail, they will stop innovating. Make time to think; quality thinking leads to quality actions. Roll up your sleeves and get on the front lines with your team; it’s not enough to just set a strategy, you must be a coach and a player. Don’t: Talk more than you listen; show that you value the opinions of your team. Micromanage; give clear boundaries and expectations, but let your team put their creativity and innovation to work to bring something to life. Place blame; when people feel safe, they build trust, cooperate, and take ownership.
How did you learn to embrace risk-taking? You must create an environment where it’s okay to fail. I recently read about a 70-20-10 approach: 70% of the time you are suggested to focus on things you know are very core to your business; 20% is where you try to push the boundaries and get into the known unknowns; and the last 10% is for the crazy, experimental stuff. Try the uncomfortable things that may lead to failure more often than success. When you do have success, it likely turns into a competitive advantage. I love this approach.
How should aspiring female leaders build allies? Be proactive. No one is going to pave the path for you in your career. It is up to you to set a goal and stick to it. Fight for yourself and what you’re capable of. The same goes for building your network. Proactively reach out to people to hear their story and share yours. Industry events are a great place to jump-start your network.
How do aspiring female leaders balance patience and perseverance? To me, this is one of the hardest things to accomplish. As a leader you will start to pick up on areas of opportunity. A good leader focuses on being aware of those opportunities daily. Whether it’s a Post-it note on your screen, a sign on your desk, or a conscious thought at the beginning of the day, work to be aware of what the appropriate balance is of patience and drive. Recognize the big picture and understand that sometimes having patience enables you to become more aware. This can lead to breakthroughs that will advance your business.
What roles do education and experience play in leadership development? I am a big believer that most of your learning and development comes from on-the-job experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need decades under your belt. Surround yourself with leaders who can share their on-the-job experience with you, and build your bank of experiences through other people, along with your own. Also, make sure you are taking everything you can from the experiences you do have. Take time to reflect on pivotal moments in your leadership and reexamine them. Ask yourself what you would do differently.
What about attitude and mindset? Your mindset is incredibly important. You don’t go into a sports game thinking you are going to lose the game. If you do, you will. Lead with conviction. Identify the purpose behind what you are doing and stay strong and decisive to fulfill that purpose. Believe in your instinct, pull your shoulders back, and never shy away from the challenge that sits in front of you.
Was there a time when things didn’t turn out as planned? How did you bounce back? Of course! If you aren’t looking back at what you have done in the past and reflecting on what you would have done differently, you aren’t learning. Things don’t turn out as planned too many times for me to count. The important thing is how you react, adapt, and reflect on those things. Make recap and reflection meetings a standard practice in your business. Just because a project is complete doesn’t mean the learning is done. Force the conversations with your teams as to what should have been done differently.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned, and how has it proven invaluable? Don’t get too comfortable. You must be flexible. If you are flexible, you will learn to embrace change, work with many different types of people, and you will be open to ideas that may advance your business. You can anticipate change and adapt in real time to match the reality of a given situation. This can happen on a macro scale when something unexpected comes up in your business, but I also use this in everyday conversations with the people I work with. A good leader flexes to the personalities, moods, and people around them. As nothing in business stays stagnant, it’s worth your time to focus on being a more flexible leader.
Why is it so important to give back to the next generation of leaders? The future of business and franchising depends on future generations, and we can’t take that lightly. The list of people who have helped to coach and mentor me is long and I want to be able to pay it forward. The more we give back, the brighter the future will look.
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