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Don’t Be Afraid to Crash with Melissa St. John

“If you’ve not crashed, you’re not driving fast enough.” Those words of wisdom come from Lyn St. James, a professional race car driver and motivational speaker.

In this episode, our guest, Melissa St. John, CEO and Owner of Relocation Strategies, explains how she took that concept and applied it to her leadership journey. Many leaders are held back by the fear that they might not be qualified enough to lead and resort to playing it safe. But as Melissa shares her story of becoming a leader for the first time—when she bought the company she’s currently led for almost 17 years—she reminds us you can always lean on the experience of others and the power of questions to overcome any challenge as a leader.

Listen to discover why you shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes or “crash” as you navigate each new turn your leadership journey presents.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t be afraid to take the leap into leadership – that’s where your confidence will grow
  • Prioritize your well-being, get enough sleep, and create a calm physical space to manage stress
  • Prioritize your well-being, get enough sleep, and create a calm physical space to manage stress

Things to listen for:

  • [03:44] Lightning round with Melissa
  • [09:08] How fun changes work
  • [11:27] Firing someone for the first time
  • [14:39] Seeking mentorship and asking a lot of questions
  • [21:51] “Don’t be afraid to crash”
  • [24:58] Craig’s takeaways

Melissa’s Transcript:


[00:00:00] Craig: My boss called me inside her office and she sat me down. I thought for sure I was going to get fired. Hopefully I thought I’ll just get reprimanded or written up. But she looked at me and she said, what are you doing this weekend? And I told her and she said, that’s why. You have more patience here.
Welcome to Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson. After spending 25 plus years in corporate America, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way. I created this podcast so you don’t have to. When I was young, not even in a leadership role, I had to learn a lot of lessons the hard way and a lot of frustrations because I couldn’t get people to see things or do things the way I wanted or thought they should be done and I would get really frustrated and one day that frustration boiled over and I got sent up to the principal’s office up to see my boss.
And she could have dressed me down. She could have written me up. She could have done a lot of things, but she saw the potential that I had and instead chose that moment as an opportunity to mentor me to grow as both an employee and as a potential future leader. And when she sat me down and asked me what I was doing over the weekend and told me, that’s your why, that’s why you’re here.
You’re here because it gives you the opportunity to do other things. And it really helped put work into perspective. And today in our interview with Melissa St. John, the CEO of Relocation Strategies, she talks about how she builds fun into both her workplace and her leadership. So let’s jump in and hear the story of Melissa’s executive evolution.
[00:01:48] Craig P: Melissa, welcome to the executive evolution podcast. I’m so glad you could join us
[00:01:53] Melissa St John: Well, thank you, Craig. I’m so happy to be here.
[00:01:57] Craig P: before we jump in, Melissa, you know, we’ve had a lot ofconversations leading up to this and you have so many things going on, but at the core, you are the owner of relocation strategies. And can you just tell us a bit about what that does what your business is?
[00:02:11] Melissa St John: Sure. Especially in these hybrid times with workplaces not being full. We are helping corporations with reimagining their space. So, so many people are working from home and they have different needs now. if someone were to go into the office, they might not even want to. To have an office, they may just want to have touchdown space, phone booth space, a social hub space.
So people are really shedding. Space right now, we’re seeing shrinkage with office space. So we just moved a Frost Brown Todd from five floors to two. So do the math. People are not coming in as much. So that’s what we want to do is help people re imagine their workplace.
[00:02:54] Craig P: Fantastic. And it’s so interesting. just, as a sidebar, you know,five years ago, we were just talking about making great spaces and we were so focused on all these concepts and everything’s just changed over the last few years. for reasons, but still such an amazing turn
that we’ve all faced.
[00:03:10] Melissa St John: And everybody has to accommodate and they have to adjust. And I know that there’s employers out there that they want to mandate people come in every day. And there are people that are not going to do that. definitely, we’re in interesting times with the workforce shortages and obviously everyone has different preferences for working, so it’s definitely interesting times.
[00:03:34] Craig P: Well, Melissa, we always like to start out with kind of our three big questions in our lightning round. So are you ready to jump
[00:03:42] Melissa St John: I am,
[00:03:43] Craig P: Excellent. Okay. Question number one. What is the greatest leadership book you have ever read?
[00:03:50] Melissa St John: I am not a reader and I’m going to tell you I am a conference junkie. I go to every conference that I can possibly go to. And so when I go to the Indiana Conference for Women, I get to hear from leaders from all over the world, that are absolutely unbelievable.
And I would say the best lesson I learned was from Arianna Huffington on getting sleep because you can’t do anything if you’re not sleeping and all of us who think they can live off two hours of sleep. You are not correct.
[00:04:25] Craig P: And thing that’s so interesting about that in that topic, right? For leaders is it’s being in charge and running a business It’s not just physically tiring. It’s emotionally tiring and mentally tiring. And if you’re not coming in at your best and you’re not aware of things that are going to make you at your best, you are going to suffer and you’re not going to be able to execute.
[00:04:45] Melissa St John: Absolutely. really don’t think I realized it until I heard her say it on stage. If you’re not getting enough sleep, it is like you’re operating heavy machinery under the influence.
You’re just not thinking clearly. You cannot make good decisions.
[00:05:00] Craig P: Fair enough. All right.
Well, let’s take question number two. Who is your leadership
[00:05:08] Melissa St John: Anita Barnett, who was my very first boss at CSO Architects and Interiors, Absolutely. My leadership crush. And the reason I say that is because you can see her fingerprints all over me as to how I lead my people now, because I worked there for eight years.
And learned more than any book or any conference that I ever would have known that I did from that woman.
[00:05:35] Craig P: What was the big thing that really resonated with you? I’m sure there were lots of lessons over eight years, but if you could pinpoint like the one thing that really brings her into focus is the crush.
What was it?
[00:05:46] Melissa St John: Well, I’ve been known to be a little excitable I don’t want to say the word sporadic, but I get excited I’m a high D on the disc profile and she had this way of her calmness and the way that she would treat people, the way she would approach people. So if she had a new project for me, she put it on a platter and she brought it to me like it was a big juicy steak.
It was the way she would say, Melissa, I have something for you. And she would never dictate. She would never say this needs to be done by this time. It was always the way she packaged it with this beautiful bow and the most beautiful wrapping paper. Because it’s the way it’s presented, so I would say her presentation skills, her light touch on anything she would explain, or mentor, or even discipline, it would be the way she would say it.
And I have never forgotten that, and I use that every day with my clients and with my staff.
[00:06:55] Craig P: I love that. Yeah, just that she found a way to just communicate in a way to you. That was just relevant and meaningful and
focused. It sounds
like yeah.
[00:07:04] Melissa St John: Well, very thoughtfully,
I think. in a manner that would just make you feel this was the perfect assignment for in the way that she just described it and the way she was excited about it and the way she, made sure that I could fit it in my schedule. And she was just such a caring, thoughtful.
sensitive, authentic boss.
[00:07:33] Craig P: perfect. Yeah. So now that makes this question interesting to me is how would you define leadership?
[00:07:41] Melissa St John: her name comes to my mind because again, everything that I just explained, I take what I learned from her and then I use my own style with communication and what I have, but I’m not saying she didn’t have, but what I insert. Is fun and fun is actually in one of our core values at relocation strategies, because if we’re not having fun.
Then why are we here? I love to incorporate fun. And so again, with the way she would explain things, the way that it would be presented, I always try to think, how can we have fun doing this? just all different types of ways. But, when I sent out a survey to my team, one of the things I was most pleased about was, we did kind of a word wall, and they had to pick some words to put in the word wall.
And every one of my people had picked fun and I think it’s because I just want to make this a fun place and it’s not, dreary coming in doing the same things over and over. It’s like, how can we make it fun? I just introduced. Movement Mondays, and so whenever we have a staff meeting, I go around the room every Monday, I’ve been doing this for like 10 weeks now, and I say, Julie, what’s the movement for Movement Mondays?
Is it arms? Is it legs? And so she did arm circles, and we did it for 10 minutes, and we all laughed, but it’s to get people moving, and I learned that by going to a wellness conference.
[00:09:03] Craig P: you know, when you think about what that does for the team, where does that make a difference for how everybody
shows up?
[00:09:10] Melissa St John: Because they laugh when you laugh, you’re releasing endorphins when people are happy, they work harder. When people are upset, when people feel demeaned, when people feel dictated to. They are not working hard, they are distracted. They almost feel rebellious that they wanna do something different.
They put it off just like when your mother said to clean your room and you said, you know what? Instead, I’m gonna go down the hall and I’m gonna play with my brother. it’s all psychological and let’s just say this, I was raised by a shrink, so I know very clearly if you can psychologically all be on the same page.
Everybody’s happier, everybody rises, everybody’s more productive, your employees are more engaged. It is proven fun in the workplace is a huge benefit to the bottom line, period.
[00:10:06] Craig P: so all this kind of ties together as I started thinking about your story and we go back, you talked about that first role with CSO architects, but what was your first real leadership role where you were in that role?
[00:10:18] Melissa St John: I have never been a leader until I came to Relocation Strategies and my boss at the time said to me, Do you want to buy my company? My 25 year old company and I literally just stopped in my tracks and I said Absolutely. Yes. Yes.
Yes, and you know what? I had no idea what the price was. We figured it out We valued the company, but I had worked with him and I knew that I loved what I did And so anyway day, whatever it was that I bought the company and I’m leading everyone I have no leadership Training whatsoever, except for what I had mentored under leaders over me, but, I’ve owned relocation strategies for 16 years and I had no leadership training.
So that was my first day of really being a leader and having employees. but I’d never done it before. So it was definitely something I had to learn leadership skills for sure.
[00:11:16] Craig P: what was that like? Cause suddenly you’re, a employee, you’re, you’ve got maybe some people working for you, but now you’ve got the whole team, you’ve got the whole business, and now everything is about you. Whereas you used to just come to work every day. So What were some of the first things you had to tell yourself or convince yourself or teach yourself?
To lead this business.
[00:11:37] Melissa St John: So I guess I want to tell you a quick story. I Navo national association of women business owners. And I look to them as because I would go to meetings and I would say, you know, how do you do this? And literally I remember Judy Montgomery would say to me in Navajo, she would say, Oh, well, we have a strategic planning meeting every.
six months and this is the agenda and she shared it with me. I’ve never been in a strategic planning meeting in my whole career. I was never included with upper management I was a worker. So I had to ask for help. how do you do this? And they would tell me. but I will say. The worst leadership moment in my early, early career was when I had to fire my first person.
I had never done that. I didn’t know how to do it. I was petrified. My blood pressure went off the charts because I got myself so upset, but it was performance driven.
This person was absolutely not performing and she was doing my books and I actually had a lawyer who’s a friend of mine. He said. Oh, Melissa. He goes, this isn’t good. She’s in three classes. That could sue you. So she was a different color. She was a woman over 40 and she also had a different religion than I did, which she could say all three.
I was discriminating against her. And I literally broke down into tears and I said, I don’t know what to do. And so I went to my Nabo sisters and I said, who knows what I should do? And so I immediately hired an HR consultant, which we didn’t have anyone in HR at my small company. And I hired this person, they walked me through it.
They were with me. I offered her a, compensation plan and it was all wonderful. It all worked out swimmingly. But I had no clue what I was doing. it was petrifying.
[00:13:36] Craig P: yeah. I was going to say, how did that feel for you and what was the impact? Cause a lot of leaders who are younger, who are listening to this, haven’t had to do that yet.You talked about getting all this help, but there’s a mindset piece to say I’m ready. How did you go through that journey in your head of saying I’m ready to do this big thing?
[00:13:53] Melissa St John: the way I got my mindset around it was having that coaching of someone who had done it before, who literally said, if you give her a severance package, if you do this, if I’m with you, if you have a checklist of all the things that you need to ask for. And, you know, we’re also going to ask her to sign this document that she’s not holding you accountable for anything in order to get the severance package.
So once all those things started to make sense to me, I felt I can do this. and quite honestly, she was in the room with me by my side because I was petrified, but yeah, it took some time for me to get her. Where I needed to be mentally and get it done. But yeah, I remember that very vividly as being one of the worst days of my leadership career ever.
[00:14:39] Craig P: Yeah, so that’s a big early leadership lesson to learn is how to do those things. when you think back to that time, you know, 15, 20 years ago, When you think about how you performed, what were some of the other big takeaways for you
[00:14:51] Melissa St John: want to say that I, did a lot of things right. And I think it’s because I just asked a lot of questions. And I did get a mentor, it was a gentleman and, he met with me once a month for three years. that would be one of my highest advice, is to have a mentor who is dedicated to you.
And it was very interesting because at the end of our session. He said to me, I really didn’t do a whole lot. And I said, what do you mean you didn’t do a whole lot? He said, you had so many questions and yes, I answered your questions. He goes, but I think you knew the answers to everything, but it was your confidence.
you needed someone to listen. Being a leader, you’re alone. you second guess yourself because you’re not sure if you’re making the right decision or not. So it’s really having a confidant or a mentor that you can bounce ideas and you have an agreement and you just say, Hey, if I bounce these off you, can you bounce off me?
even a colleague. So those were my Navajo, fellow women business owners, but this mentor, we signed confidentiality agreements.
so in terms of like, what did I do really wrong that I wish that I hadn’t? and I guess nothing’s really coming to mind that I would have done differently because I just really dug and found the right people, the right, support to get me to where I am now, which is, going on 17 years of ownership.
[00:16:20] Craig P:
Yeah. And I think that’s such a big takeaway. Cause one of the things I find a lot with new leaders is they’ve been put into this, and sometimes people get promoted into these roles and because they were promoted, they don’t want to ask questions because well, certainly they wouldn’t have given me the job if they didn’t think I could do it.
And what I hear in your story was no, you press the help button and you found the people who could help you be that a coach, be that mentors, be that, yeah. friends and who also were similarly situated and you asked a lot of questions and the big takeaway is as a result. You don’t have a lot of regrets because you got
the help you
that feels like the big takeaway.
[00:16:56] Melissa St John: I just don’t have anything blaring that, Oh, I did this terrible thing because just wouldn’t let myself fail. couldn’t do it. And so I was so determined to find the answers. I know that every one of your listeners have heard this before, and I’m sure people are sick of hearing it, You know, the top five people that you’re surrounding yourself with, you will become them.
But I surrounded myself with successful leaders who I trusted and I became them
a little bit of each one of them, asking questions and what do you think? And, I had a group of ladies, there were four of us and we met once a month for three years, these three
other colleagues of mine, business owners.
we would just come to those meetings and say what are you dealing with right now? So I definitely think leaders, no matter if it’s a big company, small company, they have to have a peer group that they can talk things through and feel safe
And then obviously coaches like yourself, who are amazing because you’ve been in situations that A lot of people may not have been. So maybe I’m with a young business owner and they don’t know. And this person doesn’t know. Well, you bring a coach in who says, I’ve seen this situation a hundred times.
[00:18:09] Craig P: Yeah. I say that a lot. It seems to people is, I know this feels like the first time anyone’s ever faced this, but it’s really just the first time you have. So let’s talk through what that looks like.
[00:18:19] Melissa St John: Absolutely. just think the more people. Can connect maybe there’s chat rooms that you can be on, again being raised by a shrink It’s called talk therapy because a lot of times the Psychologist is just nodding their head because you’re just getting it out and you’re like not sure how to solve it But when my mentor would say Melissa, you’re really solving most of your problems because I’m just nodding my head
[00:18:41] Craig P: Yeah. And so, you know, usually now I would pivot towards, let’s talk about your current leadership role, but it’s all kind of one leadership role. But the one thing I know from our conversations is you’ve made such a point at this point in your career with a successful business, with all the work you’ve done over the last several years of how much you’re giving back and all your volunteer work That you’re doing with different associations.
And now speaking, what are some of the ways that you as a successful leader see it’s important for you to give back to other
leaders today?
[00:19:11] Melissa St John: when I was younger, I didn’t have any female role models that helped me with business. I mean, yes, I had a mother, my mother was a school teacher. And when I asked her about buying my business that I have now, she was my biggest naysayer. She said, absolutely not.
It’s too risky. Don’t do it. She gave me the big thumbs down. And so in terms of when I say I didn’t have any female business role models, I want to be that for the younger women, for the younger generation. I love mentoring young people, not just women, but men. And so. today, just did career day over at Fishers High School it was 45 minutes, but again, just talking about my career, my path, what’s my advice, what I’ve done.
I would have eaten that alive if I could have had the opportunity to hear somebody speak like myself when I was that age and I would have been asking questions, but they didn’t have that for me at my age. So, I want to fill that gap, help the younger generation, and again, a part of my speaking I took an eight month course it’s called Heroic Public Speaking.
They’re out of New Jersey, and the couple that put this class together, they have Masters in Fine Arts, from Harvard. And so they’ve been in theater, they do coaching for keynotes, they do coaching for TED Talks. So I went out there, Craig, a total of six times and got on stage and got critiqued. my speaking, I love, love to give back and donate,to women’s groups, to young groups, but just to talk about how important it is to combine your strengths with your passion to love your career.
If we all loved our careers a little more, we would be happier as human beings, but so many people don’t love their career . So how do you do that? So I feel like. my five pillars that I have that I talk about are so essential for young people to understand. I didn’t even get my strengths tested until three years ago.
I didn’t even know what they were, but now that I know what they are and I know what my team’s strengths are, we can all help each other do what we’re good at and love it.
[00:21:28] Craig P: yeah. so an interesting point. And a lot of times we talk about what’s the advice you’d give to your younger self, but I think for you. When you’re out talking to these groups and talking to these younger leaders who are kind of, you know, a lot of things you hear today is, Oh, well, you know, I just got to take whatever job I can get because I got to earn money.
And, I’m afraid to take that leap because what if it doesn’t work out kind of like your mother was to you, don’t take that leap. That’ll be a disaster. what is the piece of advice you would have for people who are looking to take that leap into leadership or to try to take that leap into what looks scary to them?
What’s your piece of advice for them based on your experience
and journey?
[00:22:07] Melissa St John: So I’m going to give a quote, Lyn St. James. She is my role model. I go to the Indy 500 every year and when I very first saw her come out to the field and she was the only woman, this is her quote, if you’ve not crashed, you’re not driving fast enough. So I’m telling everyone out there listening, don’t be afraid to crash.
if you feel in your gut. That you want to go for a promotion, if you feel in your gut you want to break off and start your own business, don’t be afraid to crash. It’s okay to crash because if you never crash, you’re never going to win. You’re going to just drive slow like a turtle and oh yeah, I’m really safe.
But that is my motto. I met Lynn St. James in person. I told her that I quote her all the time because it’s on a post it on my computer. If you haven’t crashed, you’re not driving fast enough. You have to do things that scare you. I know everybody’s heard that, but it is so worth it. And if you ask me, would I do it all over again with my mom telling me no, no, no, don’t do it.
Don’t do it. I would do it all over again, 10 times. Because I have so loved my career and I knew that deep in my bones. I knew it in my soul, in my gut, in my heart. I knew it when he asked me if I wanted to buy this business that I worked for him and I already knew what it was. I didn’t even hesitate and maybe that’s stupidity because I didn’t know the price, but I knew that he was a good man and we would figure it out.
We’d come up with an agreement, but the time has just flown by. if you want something, you go for it and don’t be afraid to crash. Crashing is not a bad thing.
[00:24:00] Craig P: Well, Melissa, this was great. Thank you for sharing your story of your executive evolution over your period of time and the way you’re given back to all the young people today in the community. If people want to learn more about you or find you, where are the best places for them to find
[00:24:14] Melissa St John: So, I am on LinkedIn, Melissa St. John Relocation Strategies, I post a lot of stuff. our website is relocationstrategies. com. Anyone out there that needs any assistance with speaking, I make contributions. I do it pro bono. I also have charged for it if it’s a large organization, but I definitely love giving back it is definitely something that I’m at a place in my life that just 100 percent interested in doing right now.
[00:24:46] Craig P: Perfect. Well, we will drop all the links to that in the show notes. Melissa, thank you for being part of the executive evolution
podcast. Thank
you so
much. Thanks, Melissa, for that great story of your executive evolution. There was so much to unpack there with what she’s done since taking that leap, buying her own business and being thrust into a leadership role. And I want to focus. As always on the three key takeaways in the areas of confidence, competence and calm in our discussion with Melissa today and in the area of confidence really where she closed the idea of don’t be afraid to crash when you’re not afraid to crash when you.
Finally do even crash. Now, you know what it’s like, and it’s not so scary anymore. So don’t be afraid to take that leap. That’s what builds your confidence is to take that leap and just push yourself and to do that thing you’re scared of doing, because that’s where your confidence will flow from as a leader.
In the area of competence, Melissa didn’t know what she was doing as she came out of the gate as a leader of her company. So she went out and built herself a network of mentors and coaches who helped her quickly develop her leadership competence. She knew where she was deficient. She had great self awareness.
Even though a lot of her deficiency was just a lack of experience. She went out and leaned on experience in her network. And that is what helps you develop your competence. And in the area of calm, it’s such a simple thing, but it’s something we don’t always think of is, are we in the right physical space?
She talked about, are you getting enough sleep? Are you doing those things that are going to help you manage the stress of being in the leadership role? So those are the key three lessons from our interview with Melissa today. Remember. You can go from becoming an accidental leader to the greatest of all time leader.
All it takes is leaning into your confidence, competence, and calm. See you next week on executive evolution.