Business & Management

Leading with Grit and Grace


This book will launch on Jan 26, 2021. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

Lessons to Lead By:

The journey to organizational culture change starts with you, the leader.

Have the courage to take the road less traveled when you identify that change is necessary. Inspire personnel to solve problems while continuously improving processes. Learn from your failures, becoming more innovative and creative with each iteration. Know that life is full of adversity, but prepare to forge ahead and celebrate the successes along the way.

With a lot of determination, resilience and persistence (Grit) while leading with empathy and compassion (Grace), you will accomplish goals you once thought were unattainable. In all that you do, remember to make things better.

The Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~ Robert Frost

In October of 2013, my father-in-law called to

let me know that the CFO of his company had

left. He asked me to lead Onex, a family-owned,

50-year-old, industrial furnace service business. It’s

hard enough to take charge of a business that is doing

well, but this one was, to say the least, in disarray.

The employees were not working together as a team

and were actually pitted against one another, while

others had a “not my job” attitude. All the business

units were siloed. The previous CFO led through

fear. We were no longer the friendly “family” company

we once had been where people loved to come

to work. So, there I was, trying to build trust in a

team who had been betrayed by their former boss

and did not know me, and with a business that was

in severe financial distress, but I was motivated and

determined to figure out a way to turn the business


My road to business success was truly the road less

traveled. You see—my education was in engineering,

not in business management. Even though I had no

idea what strategies the business books would have

suggested for solving my dilemma of trying to turn

around a distressed business, my background came

through in spades, because engineering taught me to

solve a problem by knowing how to find a solution.

When I began my career, my father was quick to tell

me that just because I had a degree in engineering

that did not mean I knew more than the personnel

on the plant floor. He stressed that in order to put

my degree to work and make the textbook learning

practical, I had to ask the people on the frontlines

doing the actual work their perspectives. These individuals

very likely knew the solution to the problem

I was working on but had never before been asked by

management for their input. So, I set out to explore

on the road less traveled by identifying problems and

creating solutions.

That advice from my father proved invaluable as

I began asking these troubled employees questions

about the processes. At first, they were skeptical,

which was understandable based on their former

manager’s style. They feared I was fishing for what

they had done wrong and would berate them. I had

to convince them that this was the previous CFO’s

management style—not mine. I truly wanted to

know how we were doing things so I could understand

the jobs and the business well enough to suggest

ways we could make improvements. I started

by hanging up “think outside the box” signs on the

walls in every plant and office. I requested suggestions

on how we could make things better. When a

suggestion resulted in a process improvement or cost

savings, I gave the employee a think outside the box

trophy and a handwritten letter of gratitude—everything

was positive. My authenticity, transparency

and humility slowly allowed me to earn the trust of

my employees. The more we improved the business

by working together, the better everyone felt. We celebrated

our successes together as a team and planned

the problem we would tackle next.

What I learned was that when everyone knows

their voice is being heard and their suggestions are

considered meaningful, they speak more freely and

have pride in and loyalty to their jobs. Employers

might pay an employee for his or her hands, but

when these employees feel psychologically safe, they

give their hearts and heads as well.

My message to all business leaders is that everyone

in an organization needs and wants to

know that their work is important for the greater

good, so you should start with an attainable mission

that everyone can get behind and play a part

in achieving. This mission will drive every decision

that you make as an organization. In other words,

this mission will be your guiding light.

Know Your Why And What

Your “Why” is what gives you the passion and energy

to pursue the challenges ahead, no matter how

dire they may seem in the moment.

Several years ago, a vendor visited Onex to compare

the two companies’ synergies and see how we

could further work together. We had a PowerPoint

presentation of all our product lines and a plant tour

prepared—isn’t that what you are supposed to do?

After our presentation, the vendor asked one simple

question that changed our course as a company.

What do you want the company to be when it

grows up?

Onex had spent years saying “yes” any time a client

asked if we could do something. We had grown

opportunistically, but not strategically. There was no

mission by which to guide our decisions. The goal

was essentially, “Be everything to everyone.” Unfortunately,

when you try to do everything, you don’t do any one thing as well as you could.

And, when you are in the midst of an economic downturn, you

may find yourself with too many resources devoted

to failing product lines and not enough income.

Constructing a Mission Statement

Because the mission statement is the guide for all

of the company’s actions, it’s important to get right.

The following is the process I used to find Onex’s

mission statement:

My first stab at it was:

“Onex is committed to providing unique,
cost-effective solutions for our customers. We
aim to deliver exceptional value by producing
high-quality products, optimizing processes, and
eliminating waste in the total value stream.”

That does not make you want to be a part of the team, now does

it? This first try was just like most generic mission

statements, in that it contained lots of words that

were pretty uninspiring and stated the things a

company is supposed to be doing anyway. What I

needed was to have a heart-to-heart conversation

with my employees about what inspired them to

get out of bed each morning. In this instance, I

found Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How

Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, to be

an incredible help. In it, Sinek explains something

called the “Golden Circle” and how most companies

communicate. Everyone will tell you what he or she

does, some of them will tell you how they do it, but

very few will tell you why they do what they do.

This is important, because customer loyalty is not

built on features and benefits, but on shared beliefs

and values.

A Mission Increases Success

Knowing your mission increases your chances of

success. Here are four reasons why:

Direction: Your mission statement should be

the driving force behind everything you and your

employees do. It is the reminder of why you exist

and what you are selling.

Decisions: Following a predetermined set of

boundaries can help you quickly and confidently

make good decisions.

Strategy: Your business strategy should not follow

that of your competitors’. Their plan may work

for them, but not for you. Use your mission to help

form a healthy approach to achieving what you set

out to do.

Improvement: If you are not doing your best,

you are probably not serving your mission. Your

mission should be your standard—always work to

achieve it and more.

Every company wants its team to wake up excited

to come to work, feel safe both physically and

emotionally, and return home fulfilled by their job.

Every employee wants to know that their work is

important for the greater good of society. So, your

organization must have a mission that everyone can

get behind. Never forget that your mission is what

drives your every decision, and the reason for following

it, your “Why,” gives you and your team the

passion and energy to pursue the challenges ahead.

My new and revised mission statement for Onex

evolved into:

Make Things Better: empowered employees,
happy customers and thriving communities.

People want to know how they can help make

the world a better place. This revision was important,

because creating jobs is exciting. There’s an employment

multiplier effect, which means our mission

ultimately improves society by creating jobs and

strengthening a community’s economy. For instance,

American Certified reports that for every manufacturing

job created, there are an additional 4.6 new

support jobs created in the community, such as

grocery store clerks, teachers, and restaurant staff.

Doesn’t all that job creation feel amazing?

Reflection: Take some time to review your personal or company

mission statement. Make sure it instills in you the

energy required to forge the road ahead while navigating

the potholes in order to reach your destination.

If it doesn’t, it’s time to rethink your mission.

About the author

Ashleigh Walters and her family relocated to Erie, PA, in an attempt to revive her husband’s family’s business. Using problem-solving skills learned while earning her BS in Chemical Engineering, she changed the company culture and encourages leaders to “make things better” by improving processes. view profile

Published on December 08, 2020

20000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Business & Management