Leslie English: When leaders close themselves off to their own growth, you usually see dysfunction
Leslie English President/Owner Dale Carnegie Training of CNY
By Stan Linhorst | firstname.lastname@example.org
Leslie English is president and owner of the Dale Carnegie Training franchise in Central New York. The franchise, one of more than 2,500 worldwide, covers 22 counties.
She bought the franchise in September 2013 and has grown it to 10 employees.
Give me the elevator speech about Dale Carnegie Training.
Dale Carnegie develops people so they may achieve results personally and professionally.
That's succinct and to the point. (Laughs)
We practice that a lot. (Laughs)
Tell me about the company. Did it start when Dale Carnegie wrote his book?
The book was published in 1936. The first class was held in 1912, with Dale Carnegie teaching at the YMCA in Harlem. Carnegie noticed businessmen were having difficulty with public speaking. That was their biggest fear, and it posed a challenge to their success.
So he put a program together, advertised it, and he had over 200 people appear at the Y for a class to become better public speakers.
He was a strong student of leadership. In his classes, he would listen and watch how people gained enthusiastic cooperation, how their leadership skills stood apart, why they were so successful, why people followed them. He would jot things down, like this particular person uses someone's name all the time or this person was a good listener or this person took the other person's situation into consideration.
By 1936, he had all these notes, all of which were reminders to himself of principles to practice. After a lot of urging, he wrote the book, "How to Win Friends and Influence People." It's been on the best-seller list ever since.
When did the company, Dale Carnegie Training, start?
It really started in 1912 when he began his classes. Interest grew, so what he did is personally train a group of instructors. They started moving outward. Upon his passing, his wife, Dorothy Carnegie, took the company globally.
So, who influenced you in developing your leadership abilities?
A little bit of everybody along the way. Three specific leaders come to mind. Two were from Dale Carnegie and one was my first boss when I worked in physical therapy.
All three were great role models, demonstrating that people are the most important piece of any success.
One of the things I really enjoy doing is observing people. I like to watch what they do and what they don't do. I can see what they put in and what comes from it. I'm able to see the results. The observation helps me understand what I should do and why.
Over the years, there have been a lot people that I've had the honor of working for and with. I've taken a little bit from each person.
I've watched someone who was good at envisioning the future, communicating a clear and detailed picture and inspiring people to go for it. I watched people that were good in meetings negotiate their point without arousing resentment from others. It is possible to have a positive interaction and not agree.
Tell me about your leadership style and how you get things done.
I am definitely not a micro-manager. I like to create the vision, clear goals that are achievable and then support people so that they may use their creativity and skills to accomplish them.
I like the Jack Welch philosophy: Surround yourself with people that know 10 times more than you do and get out of their way.
What tips would you give a new leader?
Be strong in risk taking, presentation ability, people skills, listening and stress management.
These are so intertwined.
We do not work in silos. Your ability to engage people, gain willing cooperation from people, be a good listener and coach is extremely important.
You have to be absolutely self-aware. I've yet to see a leader that's perfect. A successful leader knows that. They are open to figuring out what they need to move to the next level.
Some individuals look at themselves and think: "I'm at high level therefore I'm done growing." "My communication skills are great." Or "I do a lot of presentations so I must be great giving them."
When they've closed themselves off to their own continuous growth, you usually see dysfunction and failure. They're not inspiring their people to grow. That can really bring you down a difficult and arduous path.
A leader must continually be self-aware and open to growth, especially for themselves.
You cannot be rigid. Over the last five years, we saw tremendous, rapid change. A lot of businesses were not able to survive, and a lot of that is based upon the leadership — the leadership was not open to being flexible or creative.
When you are too rigid, you become stuck and when that occurs success will pass you by.
How do you go about changing an organization and its culture to succeed in a new environment?
Change, especially culture change, comes from the top. The president/owner has to clearly envision what the new culture is like, communicate strongly to their direct reports and hold them accountable for sharing it with their teams.
They must consistently practice what they are preaching and have patience. It doesn't happen overnight. Without that commitment and buy-in and inspiration, it will not happen.
The other thing is that it has to be a consistent message that's supported in every single leader throughout the organization. When you get to a certain position, whether you're a manager or a supervisor or an EVP, or a president, you're in a fishbowl. People are watching you all the time. They watch to see how you handle things. You are a role model, and they are learning from you.
A favorite quote of mine is: "We judge ourselves by our intentions. Others judge us by our actions."
What is needed to spark innovation in an organization? Similarly, what does it take to think like an entrepreneur?
Innovation occurs in an organization when individuals are given the proper environment and ability to participate. You cannot have leaders that refuse to look at their teams for ideas. How they handle the sharing of those ideas is also critical as they can shut down the flow simply by how they respond to someone sharing an idea.
Sometimes people don't understand the direct impact they have to a company's success. And so, an effective leader will communicate that to them often.
Another critical area is that they don't think that their ideas matter because they've never been asked. So when they are asked, they are eager to share them and they have great ideas. When people feel a sense of ownership and empowerment, they will behave as if the business is their own.
What is your advice for anyone trying to tackle something difficult to do, in business or in our community?
Listen to the voice of the customer. You have to gain buy-in from whoever is affected by the change.
Listen for understanding when they speak. They will tell you how to gain that buy-in if you are listening for understanding.
Finally, do what you say you are going to do. Don't over-promise and under-deliver.
What career advice would you give someone graduating from college?
Take advantage of any and all opportunities presented to you. You never know where your next learning tip or opportunity may come from. Understand that it's a stepping stone to something better.
Don't think you know it all because none of us do. Be open-minded to all things.
The other day, a senior in college told me: I'm not going to work for anybody when I get out of college. I'm just going to have my own business.
And I thought: That's not really the best way to start. That's not really the best attitude to have. From the manner in which he stated this, I knew this would be a "role model" that thought too much of himself and not enough of others.
You can learn so much from others. Take advantage of that. Take those tools; put them in your toolbox and when you are ready to use them, apply them with great enthusiasm and optimism for what you can create and how you will inspire others.
"CNY Conversations" feature Q&A interviews with local citizens about leadership, success, and innovation. The conversations are condensed and edited. They also run regularly on Sunday in The Post-Standard's Business section. To suggest a person for CNY Conversations, contact Stan Linhorst at email@example.com.