Leadership + People: Episode 35 - Reed Laws - Part 1 of 2
In this episode Reed Laws tells stories from his time as a young leader at Your Employment Solutions, and the lessons he learned about patience and allowing others to take the lead. And how to make important changes with staff and clients that will allow company evolution and growth.
- How a patient mentor allowed Laws to learn from his mistakes [03:57]
- What mistakes in not following protocols and trusting in the systems resulted in near bankruptcy [06:34]
- Through patient correcting, a mentor helped Laws move forward demonstrate a new way of leading [09:53]
- The need to find the humility to accept that you don’t have to be, and wont be the best at everything, not even close to the best [11:37]
- Know your place in the orchestra and in your seat or at the front leading. Don’t attempt to do both [15:31]
- A good employee in the wrong position limits potential growth but there are ways to handle that [16:58]
- Treat people fairly and do the right things and you will be paid back; just not necessaily with money [21:30]
None of note
This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: May 8th, 2018
Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies. And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.
JL: Today on the show, we’ve got Reed Laws.
Reed Laws “And so what I’ve learned along the way is, I was in the way. And as soon as I captured ‘come on Reed. Bow out. Let someone who can really do this take over’. Is when success started happening. Not just success monetarily wise. That did happen too. But success as a leader. And recognizing where you’re good and where you’re not.”
00:49 JL: Reed, thanks for making time.
REED LAWS: Yes. Thank you.
00:54 JL: So for people who don’t know Your Employment Solutions, give us the elevator pitch.
REED LAWS: Okay. Your Employment Solutions is a staffing agency that caters to the light industrial arts of industries and administrative. So your office, your clerical entry level. And I guess on the industrial side it’s your manufacturing and production warehouse type jobs out there. So what happens is we’re marriage counselors… or not marriage counselors. It would be a relationship. We bond them together. As we find clients who need workers. We go out and find the workers who meet the client’s need. And after the clients test drive them for a little bit, they get to decide if they want to keep the individual or not.
01:43 JL: Do I understand you guys have been doing this for about 23 years now? Does that sound about right?
REED LAWS: 1996 is when I was hired on. Yes. That’s close.
01:52 JL: And how long have you been the president then?
REED LAWS: Since 1999.
A Patient Mentor
01:57 JL: Okay. Well, you know, a show here, you know, the show’s obviously called Leadership and People. There’s a lot of different ways we can go on that. One of the ones we like to start with a lot of times is, a leader maybe someone early in your career or somebody that you still look up to? Is there somebody who comes to mind of the kind who embodies the leadership characteristics that you admire?
REED LAWS: Yes. It’s a local guy. He’s out of Centerville. When I first started here at YES, I’m 21 years old but by the time I buy the company I’m 24 years old. And I have, not only do I have little business experience but I have zero leadership experience. Outside of your friends and growing up, that type of thing. His name is David Riley. And at the time he is the CEO of Pro Image Sports. Pro Image Sports is a sporting goods outfit that has, I don’t know, 150 stores around the country where you go buy Jazz hats or your team hat and hoodies and any novelty of your favorite NBA. And he was really involved with my success and leadership early. And his demeanor is what taught me, that I would watch really closely is, he was as firm as it took, but at the same time recognized that I was a rookie. You couldn’t push too hard but you could push hard enough without breaking me. I would just mimic and listen to him. And he knows how to make a crowd laugh and at the same time make a crowd listen to him intently. It’s just everything about him would just bleed leadership. So I did everything I possibly could to suck all of that up, and mimic him as much as I could with my own style of course.
03:57 JL: Yeah. It’s interesting that kind of balance beam of how do you walk in the middle of all of that. When you think about maybe some of the rest of us that would like to become more like that, I mean you having him model those traits for you, what kind of advice do you have for us?
REED LAWS: First word that came to mind is patience. Good leaders understand that every individual has something magnificent to bring to themselfs or corporation or group of people, nonprofits. And the goal is from a leader, is how do you tap into all that, all that value that they have to offer. How do you bring that out for them to showcase. I think far too often it’s ‘I’m the leader. Do as I say’. Rather than ‘Do what you’re good at’. Not even do as I do. He didn’t expect me to do what he did. We were in different industries, so I couldn’t. But he did expect the best out of me and he did challenge… he challenged everything. He challenged my thought process. Why would I collect this way? Or why would I talk to a client this way? Why would I want to bring a new client on? What value do they bring? And it just opened up my mind of, man, there’s a whole lot that goes into this rather than just putting a dollar on the bottom line. What’s the value going to bring in 10 years from now, 20 years from now. Not even dollar, but for you. So I think the impact was simply, he was super patient but he did challenge everything.
A Mentor’s Approach Dealing with Mistakes
05:33 JL: Yeah. It’s interesting how most of us get ahead earlier in our careers by being efficient by getting stuff done yesterday. And a lot of times by being that individual performer, right. And then when we get one day blessed with, you are now a leader. Whether that’s a promotion. Whether that’s starting your own business. However that happens, right. Then all a sudden the game becomes all about what you can get other people to do. It seems like a lot of us, especially maybe the more ambitious folks have that maybe that intensity to get it done yesterday. Do you have any stories of things that while he was direct with you, here’s a specific time or here’s an example of being patient with you being a rookie?
REED LAWS: Yes and this is going to be super embarrassing especially since anybody and everybody can hear this.
06:34 JL: [Laughs]
REED LAWS: Sometimes the learning which you should not do by being patient is far more valuable than the other way around. Early or as I was a rookie as you stated, I was in charge, not only as leadership but collecting money. We were a much smaller company at the time. And I, everybody knows cash is fleeing and you need that money to move the company forward. Well one of my good buddies was one of my clients. He was my buddy before he was even one of our clients. But over a few years he became one of our clients. Well they had payment terms and they exhausted their first round of, they didn’t pay me on time. In other words they were late or didn’t pay me at all. They had come to me and said ‘Reed what’s going on here?’ My rebuttal to him simply was ‘Look he’s my buddy. I know we’re going to get the money. Trust the system’, type of deal. And he said okay. Well my buddy didn’t pay the next time around. So now we are a month behind and that equated to almost the amount that it came to nearly put us into bankruptcy less than a year after I bought the company. We, Dave bought the company with me. There are 4 owners. Dave is one of the 4 owners. It nearly put us into bankruptcy. So that whole American Dream was slipping through my fingers so quickly. We did dig out of that. And it took time, meaning years. But the lesson learned there was I don’t think dave would intentionally say ‘hey let’s put this company near bankruptcy to give Reed a lesson’. I think it was more he trusted me. But I didn’t trust the system. I didn’t follow protocols. And that one leadership lesson and being patient with me after it happened made one… A: does he rake me over the coals and say, ‘what did you do?’ Or B: do you sit down and say ‘there’s nothing we can do about it now. Let’s move forward. Let’s discuss patiently what happened and what are the repercussions’. That one incident alone was pretty much… I can’t… That one always comes to the top of my head. That is the most vivid. I can still have emotion about that but the way he handled said, that’s the type of leader I want to be.
Methods of Correction
09:14 JL: You know it’s interesting here we are 22 years later and that’s still so front and center for you. Makes me think about that Dale Carnegie story of John Rockefeller had somebody take a bunch of their money down to South America trying to do a deal and he lost 50% of it. And when he got back he was just sweating bullets of what it was going to be like to see the boss. The richest man in the world. And what Rockefeller says is ‘I’m sure glad you were able to save 50% of that. Sometimes we don’t do that well upstairs’.
REED LAWS: Yeah.
09:53 JL: And like, this kid is probably beating himself up enough already. Right? Isn’t that the kind of guy that you want to do well for instead of resenting for raking you over the coals.
REED LAWS: I think he understood, much like your analogy, the butt kickings had already been done. And I don’t think about it much anymore. It’s a great story and it was a great lesson learned. But there is nothing he could have said or done that I hadn’t already accomplished myself and a bunch more than that times 10. I think he recognized that this was an opportunity to, you know, to make or break this guy with the decisions he made. And thankfully he did it that way. And I’m not quite sure what would have happened. I’ve got pretty thick skin, but I was vulnerable at this stage. And thank goodness he was able to understand that. Teach me a different way. So yeah.
10:56 JL: Well you think about, even if it wouldn’t have been terrible he probably would have missed that chance to earn that undying love from you. You know what I mean, that extra commitment that he gained by, you know. He probably had some feelings about it. But being willing to bite his tongue, right?…
REED LAWS: His might have been; why did I hire this guy. And my feelings were why did he hire this guy. Yeah. [laughs]
11:25 JL: [laughs]
REED LAWS: Yeah, sure some of that was there.
11:26 JL: Yeah. Thinking about your own leadership and you know being the president, you said since ‘99 what is that? 19 years now?
REED LAWS: Hmmmhm.
11:37 JL: What are some of the lesson you wish you would have learned earlier along that path?
Get Out of the Way
REED LAWS: You know what? I’ve got again one of these that comes to my mind quickly. For whatever reason, in the beginning, I had to be the best at everything. Because as a leader you feel like what you do is, ‘Hey! Watch how I take out the trash. I’m the leader. I do it the best. I do it most efficient. And look at my timeliness.’ Something silly like that. I didn’t even want people vacuuming, because I could vacuum. I didn’t want people collecting money because I could collect better. I had better relationships. I didn’t want people cutting paychecks because I could stuff envelopes faster than the rest of them. I could use the 10 key. And as time goes on with a leader, I started to recognize and it… Talk about a big dose of reality and humility check. As I started to realize that not only was I not good at those, I was nowhere near the best. Not even close. The company didn’t start growing or succeeding until I could put my pride aside and say; oh my gosh my daughter or my partner may have had someone who worked for us and they could just run circles around all of us. Any you pick it… I’ve got departments now that are run by leaders that truly believe. And man, they are passionate about their department and I can’t even touch what they can do. And so what I’ve learned along the way is; I was in the way. And as soon as I captured ‘Come on Reed. Bow out. Let somebody who can really do this take over’. Is when success started happening. Not just success monetarily wise. That did happen too. But success as a leader and recognizing where you’re good and where you are not. So I think that’s my best example of what have I learned along the way.
13:34 JL: Why do you think, why do you think there are so many temptations for leaders not to let go? Why do you think… we all hate being micromanaged. Why do you think we are so tempted to micromanage?
REED LAWS: I think you’re letting go is a good question. For me the hardest thing for me about letting go is admitting that you’re not needed. It’s an admission of not only are you not need but somebody is more capable. And not that it’s just somebody but tons of people can do it. So this thing that you’ve been holding on to, is an admission. The second one that came to my mind is when you start a company and you grow and you’re wearing every single hat. And you work that hard, it’s like you’re holding this baby, and you’re handing it to somebody else expecting them to raise and teach the way you would. It’s yours. You created this thing and then put it in somebody else’s hand and have the same faith that they would do it the way that you would have. I think that’s why we do that. That’s why….And as we become stronger and better leaders our leadership starts to strengthen. We realize that’s not the case. But, yeah. I’m hoping that answers your questions why do we tend to do that.
14:58 JL: Yeah. I’m thinking about that transition because specifically on the entrepreneurial side, so many of us start a business in something that we’re good at ourselves. And it’s almost like you know, we’re good at playing the violin so we start an orchestra. Right? And it sounds like what you’re talking about is you know, the primary role of the leader is to be the guy upfront waving the wand around. Not sitting in the chairs playing the violin or the oboe.
REED LAWS: Yeah. That’s exactly right.
15:31 JL: Any advice for folks who are maybe struggling to let go of the violin and just stand up at the front full time?
REED LAWS: Yeah. Well I don’t know how well the advice would be taken, but for me is if you are a great violin player than be a great violin player and know your spot. If you can’t get out of the way. And you can’t lead and be upfront at the same time, you’ve got to make a decisions. So if you want to be a leader, you’ve got to trust in your team. And that’s where I failed in the beginning too is that’s why I didn’t hand it over. And why it hurt my feelings that they could do the job better than I can is I didn’t trust them. And- but again over time it… things cleared up and I saw a different perspective. But if you don’t trust your people then why do you have them there. I just had a really hard time in the beginning stages. And I would admit even today sometimes. Do I have the right people? Are they in the right place? Do I trust them? And so I’m still working on how do I become a better leader, or how do I trust someone I don’t know well. I don’t have years of experience with. All I’m going off is referells or some words written on a piece of paper. Not sure that for me at this point it hasn’t completely gone away but it certainly has gotten better.
The Right People in the Right Places
16:58 JL: Yeah. You know a topic that’s been discussed like crazy but so many of us in leaderships positions are still not good at it, so it’s probably worth re-discussing is; so you know that time you finally have to start coming face to face with the thing you’ve been trying to ignore. The staff member that you like as a person is not the right fit and you need to make a change. And, you know, so many leaders talk about how many of the mistakes were prolonging it and letting it drag out. Any thoughts about how to help us make the change once we know it needs to happen, instead of under the guise of being nice or for whatever reason; avoiding conflict, letting it drag on even after we know someone isn’t the right one for that position.
REED LAWS: Right. So you’re saying we’ve hired somebody that you thought was going to do the job for whatever particular area. You had a really good relationship with them and so maybe that helped make your decision only to find out that at some point of time it was the wrong choice. So you have to confront them.
18:20 JL: Yeah. Or the industry or the company changes so much that the position just isn’t the same any more, but you still like them.
REED LAWS: Both of those have happened. So let’s start with the first because I have worked with individuals here, some of them are still here some of them aren’t; that the company has outgrown their ability. At one point it was perfect. They could handle it. But as we started to grow it became too much. And the expertise outgrew them as well. I don’t know if I have any advice or this secret sauce that fixes it for anybody. But those are the scenarios that you have to loot at the big picture. And I’m not good very good at a lot of things, but I think this one, very good at doing. You have to look at the whole. Right now we have 35 full time staff members. And you say; is this one staff member worth possibly hurting the other 34? Are the other 34 talking about him? Or can you believe he is in that spot. But you have to look at it from a long term perspective, not just that one individual. But at the same time say ‘okay he has done some good things for us. He shows that he is dedicated. He is on time. He is punctual. And man does he or she try really hard. Where is a place we could put them because they have value.’ And find a place for them. There are times we have even created a positions because this person has so much to offer. It’s just that the other position outgrew them. We have also done that with clients themselves. So it has nothing to do with internal, but as the company shifted. The hardest thing that you ever have to do is to go to one of your clients and say; ‘we are bowing out for these reasons’. ‘Hey, we’ve worked together for 10 years but I don’t think our relationship is very good anymore.’ Most of the time I think people would say that something’s gone sour; they haven’t paid their bills. I have got to tell you we have gone to some; that it was no longer a good marriage any more. They always paid their bills on time. Some of them it was our own fault. We couldn’t deliver what we had promised them. So we have to have the integrity to go to them and say; ‘do you remember this conversation?’ They say yes or no if they remember it. ‘Look this is what I promised you. I’m having a hard time delivering this product to you. Can we talk about it? Is it me? Are you part of the problem?’ We’ve had some of those happen as well. Sometimes you dump them. And sometimes you get to move forward because you had the transparent conversation. I think those constantly happen through evolution of the company, through growth, through change in strategy, maybe change in environment a little bit. But i don’t know if that ever goes away. But I think it’s something that you need to handle quickly. But you do it softly and you care for the person. And sometime money seems to run people’s decisions rather than really what should run them which is people, relationships, long term thinking. Long term thoughts like that.
Payback is Inevitable, but not Monetarily
21:30 JL: I love, and I know we are closing in on the end of part one of the episode here. I really love the way you framed that. It does seem like the temptation, when you think about money and the short term, is to keep limping by or to maybe ignore the fact that we realize the fact that we are not really firing on all cylinders, right. But it’s like, having some faith that doing the right thing for the right reason at the right time, will always be better for the long term maybe. I don’t know. Would you say it different than that?
REED LAWS: I would … if it’s not alluded to monetary, then I would agree with your statement. But sometimes when you think long term it’s, you know, this is going to payback. And it doesn’t always payback with dollars. It can payback with a myriad of other things. Yeah. I think your comment is fine. And would agree with it. But it doesn’t always mean money. Someway somehow doing the right thing, treating people fairly always pays back.
22:37 JL: Yeah. Pays in self respect. Pays in you know, employees following the example you set. There’s all sorts of ways it can get paid back, right.
REED LAWS: Sure. Yeah. Exactly.
22:48 JL: Yeah. I love it. I think that’s a great place to end for part one. Everybody please tune into our next episode. We are going to keep hearing what Reed has learned in this career of his. Thanks.
REED LAWS: Thank you.