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It Starts with Trust: Earning the Right to Lead People with Rich Nickel

Rich NickelIt Starts with Trust: Earning the Right to Lead People with Rich Nickel, President and CEO of Education Forward Arizona, is an experienced leader who knows the value of developing and empowering others. His corporate and nonprofit background has taught him that you have to earn the right to lead people, and that starts with setting them up for success and then offering strong support.

In this episode, Rich shares his insights on maintaining a deep understanding of the day-to-day business of your organization, even when your role often has you facing externally. Along the way, you’ll hear how to build trusting two-way relationships with your team and learn about the power of getting an outside perspective on your leadership.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Confidently make decisions and then adjust when necessary
  • A leader’s role is often external facing, cultivating and maintaining relationships internally to make sure you stay up to date on what’s happening in your organization
  • Build a support structure of team members and outside coaches that you can rely on for perspective and guidance

Things to listen for:

  • [04:15] Lightning round with Rich
  • [08:37] Tying work to the mission
  • [14:02] Understanding how to support rather than supervise
  • [21:22] Empowering and trusting your people
  • [29:29] Encouraging employee growth internally and externally
  • [35:45] Craig’s takeaways

Rich‘s Transcript

[00:00:00] Craig: Joe came into my office, shut the door, looked at me and said Everyone is taking their lead from you. You’ve done a great job so far, but you kind of lost it in there today. Everyone is looking to you.

This is Executive Evolution. I’m Craig Anderson and my mission is to equip accidental leaders like me with the confidence, competence, and calm to level up their leadership.

There was a time in my career when I was leading a division of a Fortune 500 company. And as these things sometimes happen, fortune 500 companies get into fights over things. And my team was at the center of it for a period of time that seemed like months, but was really just a few weeks. We were pulled back and forth between two Fortune 500 companies, each wanting us to do certain things, each waiting for us to make a decision.

And I led a team of 70 people and they were all looking to me for how they should act, how they should feel, how they should be dealing with this situation we found ourselves in and I began to feel the pressure. I was worried. That if I told them to do something, I might get into some sort of legal trouble.

So I was very cautious, but I tried to be optimistic. I tried to be supportive and I tried to keep the team informed. And one day that all came crashing in on a conference call and frankly, I lost my cool. And that’s when one of my direct reports, who was both a friend and, and a mentor, pulled me aside and told me, the team is gonna take their cue from you.

They are going to follow you. They are going to behave as you indicate to them the right behavior is. So you need to be strong for the team. And I took that to heart. It was a tough lesson, but we made it through and both I and the team were stronger. Today on the Executive Evolution Podcast, I’m talking with the president and c e O of Education Forward Arizona Rich Nickel.

Rich has a great story today about what it is evolving into a leadership role, how when you first get into that role, you don’t really understand what it is you’re walking into. But he also talks about how your team’s looking to you to make decisions and to set the tone for the organization and to help them see that there is a way forward.

So let’s dive in right now and listen to Rich’s executive evolution.

before we jump in, could you just tell everybody a bit about your current role, where you’re at right now? We’ll talk more about the details later, but just so everybody has some context.

[00:02:43] Rich Nickel: Sure thing. I, um, currently am the president and CEO at an organization called Education Forward Arizona. we are a statewide nonprofit here in Arizona that started 15 years ago as the Arizona College Scholarship Foundation with about three people. Today we have about 40 team members and we provide, several components, to the state here.

One of those is. Trying to be the voice of education in the state, and particularly providing voice for those in the state who probably feel like they don’t have enough voice when it comes to education. So there’s a lot of advocacy and policy, Then also, we have a big communication shop, so we’re not only marketing the.

But we’re also, taking this voice, to the masses and to the state through that. And last, but certainly not least, we’re a pretty large program provider here in the state, mostly around those key transition points between high school and going to college or a post-secondary path of your choosing and then being successful once you get there and getting into your career.

that’s what we’re doing in the state we continue to evolve, from really that, young company 15 years ago into, a company with about 40 people on staff today doing work all over, Arizona.

[00:04:02] Craig: That’s That’s great, and I think you may be the first not-for-profit leader that we’ve interviewed on the podcast, so I think that’ll be an interesting perspective as we drive through. So, great. are you ready to jump into the lightning round questions?

[00:04:16] Rich Nickel: Uh, sure thing.

[00:04:17] Craig: All right, What is the best leadership book you have ever read?

[00:04:21] Rich Nickel: So I’ll start by being a little contrarian on this one. Craig, I’m not a big believer in leadership books

[00:04:28] Craig:

[00:04:28] Rich Nickel: Most of what I’ve learned about leadership, I’ve learned in two ways. One is by, working with people who I think are great leaders and then really taking things that they do, things they say things I’ve learned from them, and some of this is internal and some is external, and turning that into my own style.

There are some books though that I have read, I, I litter and can read and, and. , you know, if I can get one thing out of a book, I think that’s great. one book that I got more than one thing out of was the speed of trust. And it’s probably cause of my old days being in sales management. But this idea of.

Trust in building confidence through trust and trusted advisor Relationships was always an important part of the way that I did business and really just the way I wanted to be seen as a trusted partner, somebody that people could rely on. So I would say speed of trust by, Covey is probably the book that kind of stands out most when I’m thinking

about particular leadership issues, and most of the time it starts with trust. both in your, capabilities, your character, things of that nature and just kind of earning the right with people

[00:05:38] Craig: to lead them. And a lot of that is really built on their trust in you.

[00:05:43] Rich Nickel: being able to perform, plus having integrity. and those two things together, you know, I think can take you a long.

[00:05:50] Craig: and, and I think it’s interesting when you say that Rich, when you, on both things you’ve talked about here about having great leaders is you and I, full disclosure, used to work together way back when, and we had a great boss named Lynn Ross, who I think not only developed in both of us, the importance of trust as a leader, but really in developing people and helping people grow and giving them the opportunity to grow.

So it’s interesting as I tie those two things,

[00:06:14] Rich Nickel: Lynn Ross is definitely one of the people I think of when I try to model some of the leadership style, especially, the ability to be direct and have difficult conversations without making them personal and also just the accountability level that a leader must have for their own actions and also the performance of the organization.

And I learned some of that from Lynn.

[00:06:38] Craig: Yeah. Yeah. Kind of funny how we go back. Gosh, that’s like 20 years at this point. Okay, and maybe this will be the same answer, but we’ll ask it. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:06:49] Rich Nickel: As I, you know, I think about this sometimes too, and I’m not a person that traditionally has been attracted to athletes or movie stars. And I guess the same thing is kind of true when it comes to a leadership crush. but again, I do think about people that are leading in the world right now. and one of the folks I’m really paying attention to is Alamar, Zelensky, the Ukrainian leader.

And I’m probably not the only one, but I will tell you that, you know, that person seems to be not the kind of leader I am, but kind of started leading from the same place, which is probably didn’t really think about themselves as a leader.

[00:07:27] Craig: Really thought about themselves more as a perform. , and has kind of grown the leadership skills really just based on their character and style that they had and then in a situation that gives this tremendous opportunity to lead.

[00:07:42] Rich Nickel: And he is, um, seems to be the type of leader that I would love to be, which is connected, knowledgeable, personable. , easy to follow, but serious, and certainly passionate and caring about the people and the organization, in this case, his country that he’s leading. So I think right now, that’s probably the person I’m paying the most attention to as far as leadership, style and, and character.

like I said, I’m probably not.

[00:08:12] Craig: in that, uh, outlook, either.

Yeah, he very much is what, I call, and we talked about before, you know about that accidental leader. I didn’t set out to be a leader. I didn’t really have that on my life goal list. But here I am and I’m gonna step up to the challenge, and maybe I don’t have all the skills and talents, but I care and I wanna work hard and I care about the people and the outcome, and that’s sounds like probably part of your story as we get into it here in a few.

all right. And the last one, in 10 words or less, how do you define leadership?

[00:08:43] Rich Nickel: In 10 words or less, Craig, I would say leadership is the ability to make hard decisions and be totally accountable.

[00:08:55] Craig: Love it.

[00:08:56] Rich Nickel: around you mostly and also to the mission of the organization.

[00:09:02] Craig: Love it. And I wonder Rich, for you, because you’ve obviously worked in your past on the for profit side, but the not-for-profit was the mission so clearly aligned with what you do every day. How do you find that difference for leading that team with a mission?

[00:09:17] Rich Nickel: I am one of the lucky ones, Craig, that I got to take a lot of the experience I had in a corporate world where I worked with universities and colleges literally all over the country, where I learned how to hustle and build trust with partners and people in search of solutions mostly that they needed, not necessarily products, all the.

and then I was able to transfer that almost directly into becoming a nonprofit leader in the education finance space. As we think about our mission here in Arizona, which is really to improve the education outcomes and to improve the narrative around education and the value of education, what it can do for the state and for individuals. You know, I was able to tie my work in the mission together and now using it. I think first of all, you know, that becomes kind of number one on this decision making rubric. So if we’re exploring, a new opportunity, let’s say maybe a new program we want to put in a high school or a new advocacy academy that we want to build, the first part of the rubric really is, does it fit into our mission?

And then we think about how much effort it takes and what the margin is. And, you know, some of these things we typically would think about what the impact is. So this idea of being really mission driven and impact driven is a little different than just, helping people solve things for the benefit of them and us.

but it does really clarify, what you’re doing and how you make decisions, which actually in a lot of cases it makes it easier to lead,

[00:10:52] Craig: because you have that clear North star, to look at before anything else happens.

Yeah, that is, and I’ve run teams in both. And having that, as you said, that single lens that helps you clarify just such a upfront clarification on your decisions is huge. and I think that’s one thing that clients I work with is to say, really, let’s get in. Even if you are a for-profit, what’s the mission?

Why do you exist? Because it makes it so much easier to f to make every other decision down the road. And it’s hard. A lot of people don’t think of mission that.

[00:11:26] Rich Nickel: I think you’re right. Mission can be a little nebulous in some ways. I think in some ways that’s actually good because you do wanna give yourself room to operate. And that’s one of the things that as I came in from kind of really a business guy. To a nonprofit leader, one of the things I realize is that nonprofit leadership needs a little more business thinking around it.

So this ability, like you said, to tie these together, really think about mission, but then also be opportunistic and entrepreneurial along the way. Was something that some folks had to get used to, that I became a leader of. but I will tell you, I’m, it’s, it’s a challenge on its own.

It’s just as challenging, as being a nonprofit leader, as it was being a corporate leader, because at the end of the day, it’s really meeting your own expectations and the expectations of those around you. And that doesn’t change. And also, we’re a business here

and a friend of mine who also is a, a leader in the state used to always say, remember, rich, no margin, no mission.

And so it’s kind of the same thinking, you know, of, of how we might have thought about things in the corporate world just for a slightly different, outcome and reason.

[00:12:42] Craig: Perfect. All right, so now let’s get into our next segment. Let’s go back Rich. what was your first leadership role that you ever had?

[00:12:52] Rich Nickel: I’d say my first leadership role of consequence or kind of official leadership role was probably at the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority. I remember back then, Craig, I was 29 years old. I had just become a branch manager and that structure, that was when you kind of officially became a leader. In a funny aside, I remember that I had a goal that I would make $30,000 by the time I was 30 and today, but that was 26 years ago, Craig. So, you know, and that branch manager position got me there, right? I was able to finally make 30,000 I was in charge of, and this is part of the leadership learning, supervising managing, over 30 people at 29 years.

in a state agency. but it got me to my goal of making $30,000 by the time I was 30 years old. it was probably a terrific experience for where I am now. but being thrown into that at 29 years old and having 30 some state employee. reporting to you, which was kind of what the leadership meant in a lot of ways at that time.

and in that role was, uh, certainly something I wasn’t ready for

[00:14:02] Craig: what surprised you the most? So you probably went in thinking, well, I wanna make 30 grand and I want to be a leader. And now I’ve gotten there, it’s like, whoa, I didn’t see this coming. What were the big surprises?

[00:14:13] Rich Nickel: Yeah. It’s like a dog catches car. Right? And, uh, so I think the, the biggest surprise to me, was how much support even competent employees needed or perceived they need, and how unwilling people were to take initiative and make decisions, which was frustrating to me.

[00:14:38] Craig: I think maybe cause you know, whether it was through team sports I was involved in, or, cause I had two parents who, were pretty high performing but not overly educated, who took a lot of initiative.

[00:14:52] Rich Nickel: it just seemed, didn’t seem natural to me. so those are probably the two things that surprised me the most. Just the amount of time it took really to support. Employees that were good and their perceptions of kind of what they could and could not do,

on their own. And even as I talk to folks today, and I work with students often, and one of the things I talk about is kind of the top five kind of leadership characteristics they should be thinking about is number one on that.

is being unafraid to make a decision when you’re a young leader.

[00:15:33] Craig: Doesn’t mean you’re not thoughtful, doesn’t mean you don’t consider the options, but at some point in time, you have to prove that you’re willing to make a decision and move forward, and then you have to be accountable for it.

[00:15:48] Rich Nickel: Now, hopefully you have somebody leading you.

Who also understands that that is the role and that can help if there is, a decision that doesn’t go quite as you think, and doesn’t, punish you for that or, break your confidence that you might have had that it took to make that decision in the first place. And so that’s, uh, that’s one of the things I talk to a lot about when I’m talking about leadership is just its ability to assess situations.

Make decisions and own those decisions. As a young leader,

[00:16:22] Craig: so 30 people all reporting to you. That’s, that’s a lot. And it sounds like people who needed a lot of guidance, we’ll say, how did you figure out to balance the time commitment of that? Running into that?

[00:16:37] Rich Nickel: I actually wasn’t very good at it, Craig, honestly, structurally it was set up to where I think I had. five or six people directly reporting to me. But in a small agency like that, everybody, if you’re the boss and you’re kind of the one that can help people, the hierarchy is only marginally effective.

So I had five or six people that I could hold accountable for the, production of the place, but I wasn’t that great at balancing it really. so I ended up spending most of my time supervising people. Solving problems, doing paperwork instead of leading. And I didn’t really realize it at the time.

and also the other thing that I did frankly is, because I knew quickly that I didn’t actually love it. , I retreated a little at first. and I think I see this in some leaders is where they kind of get where they think they want to go and they have a lot of energy around that. And then they start dealing with the reality what they’re into.

[00:17:44] Craig: And sometimes I think it causes a retreat. And I think that happened to me in some ways. so I kind of got to where I thought I wanted to go. Wasn’t that great at. , spent a lot of time doing things. It just seemed really kind of marginal.

And so the kind of the leadership component of it kind of took a backseat for a while.

[00:18:02] Rich Nickel: And I probably didn’t regain that until, I was in my mid thirties or or late thirties. like you said, when you and I in our, in our mid thirties or young thirties were really leading teams that were high performing teams, and that’s really when I think I became a leader.

[00:18:17] Craig: it’s interesting because you characterized it before as the dog that caught the car, and then you wonder, the dog’s gotta figure out what to do with it, and suddenly you catch it and you’re like, oh man, all these people are looking to me. I don’t necessarily have every answer for ’em, and it can feel almost overwhelming.

[00:18:32] Rich Nickel: That’s the thing I hear from a lot of clients is just, you know, I got. and man, these people are asking me for stuff all day and I’m exhausted by it. I didn’t think it was gonna be like this , you know? That’s the challenge. No, I, I think that’s right.

[00:18:47] Craig: and I would be remiss if I didn’t find out your other four top five leadership characteristics,

[00:18:54] Rich Nickel: they’re mostly all characteristics.

You know, it’s about decision making. It’s about being accountable. It’s about being passionate. It’s about making good decisions with your. And then it’s also about continuing to, to learn and evolve. And so, that’s generally probably the entire, the entire list is really brought, brought more around characteristics and less around competencies.

[00:19:19] Craig: so that’s, that’s kind of how I think about leadership really.

No, that’s that’s actually a great list. And I was just reading something the other day that said, going back to your first point about don’t be afraid to make a decision that’s one of the core leadership presence failures is to be afraid to make a decision and. . maybe you saw this then, or you even see this now in leaders, is we’re overwhelmed with so much data and so much information now, it almost makes it harder to make a decision back in, when you were talking about back in the day, we really have all this data.

So you just kind of took a swing and then adjusted.

[00:19:53] Rich Nickel: Yeah. I think that’s interesting. You know, as I talked to some folks about this, and especially young folks, how I try to frame it is, how do you take a leadership position and, it’s not a leadership position as in a leadership role. It’s like, how do you personally take a leadership position on an issue or an opportunity?

Like what is the position a leader would take in that case? . And I think when people start thinking about it like that, then they can compare themselves and how they’re doing things to how other people have done things. But this idea of taking a leadership position on hard issues or on opportunities that come to you or on decisions that need to be made, for me, helps it frame it.

and you know, I probably don’t think about it as much as I used to. Hopefully it’s helping folks I talk to about this, really think about how they can think about things in the moment. what would somebody do? Who is a great leader here,

[00:20:52] Craig: even if you’re not a great leader yet,


[00:20:55] Rich Nickel: you know? But if, if you can just answer that question in the moment, you probably know what other great leaders might do here.

that’s not a bad place to start.

[00:21:01] Craig: Yeah. I mean, and that’s it. Take the risk, make the decision and if it’s wrong, react, don’t stick to a bad decision just outta some, you know, well, I made it and now I gotta figure it out. that’s really the key is make the decision, cuz that’s what your team wants. They just want to know the way.

[00:21:19] Rich Nickel: That’s all they ask,


[00:21:22] Craig: All right. Well now let’s fast forward to today. So you started out with five direct reports, 30 people on the team. Here you are with a, big portfolio, 40 people working for you, a huge missional impact. When you think about the lessons you learned then how has that impacted how you’re leading this team today?

[00:21:42] Rich Nickel: I think it’s had a tremendous impact and I probably don’t think about it as much as I actually should, but I know I’m a different leader today than I was. 30 years ago when I probably, or 27 years ago when I first started. And I think the impact that it’s had on me as a leader is that it almost gave me a list of two don’ts as much as it did the two dos in some ways.

So number one, I do understand now almost what you just said a little earlier, is that really what people are looking for in a leader is somebody to lead them. But more somebody to support them while also empowering them. When I first started, I thought support was really me just doing things and then telling them what to do,

[00:22:34] Craig: or helping them solve all their problems. What I know now is that it all starts really with empowerment and making sure that the people that report to you. , the people that see you as a leader, understand that they are empowered and that you’re going to support them and you’re going to help them, and you’re going to, sometimes be an enabler and you’re sometimes going to be, a cautionary tell.

[00:23:02] Rich Nickel: I didn’t know that in the beginning and shouldn’t have known that probably. , but now I understand that. I think the other thing is making time to lead is important. So you know, my role today is as much external as it is internal, and actually should probably even be more external. The most value I can add to organization today is by representing the organization in a way that makes people want to work with us.

That puts us in that position of trusted. that shows that we are passionate about what we’re doing. And so that’s kind of the competency side of that. But also what it does, it makes it clear inside that I’m not going to be here to solve your problems for you every day. And probably one of my favorite, although I, it, it sounds a little snarky, you know?

And one of my favorite sayings for my folks is that, if I have to solve all your problems for you, I don’t really need you. And I try not to say that often because the, the point is very clear, right? It’s like, we try to hire talented people and we want those people to act like they’re talented, act confident, be secure, that they’re here, feel supported.

and believe me, that was taught to me by somebody else when I, started bringing one problem after another. instead of, thinking about how to solve those problems or providing options

[00:24:28] Craig: and recommendations, I was just handing it over to somebody or putting it in their lap and making it their problem.

[00:24:36] Rich Nickel: So we talk a lot about that here too, and I didn’t understand that at first. So that’s probably the biggest takeaways is that, you have to empower people, you have to trust them, and then you have to support them.

[00:24:47] Craig: and you’re right, you know, especially in your role, right? if you’re up at the top of the organization, you need to be out into the future. You need to be out among the customers and the stakeholders and the clients.

[00:24:58] Rich Nickel: right?

[00:24:59] Craig: you’ve got to train your team to kind of say, here’s roughly the box.

[00:25:04] Rich Nickel: Stay in there and even if you wanna get outta the box, let’s talk about it. But here’s the thing, I need you guys to be able to do things because if you’re constantly chasing me down, I’m spending all my time on 15 minute conversations, distracted

when you bring people in or move people up into those higher level leadership positions, how do you communicate that to them?

[00:25:22] Craig: what are the kind of pep talks and leadership talks you’re given to your team?

[00:25:27] Rich Nickel: Some of it is very direct and to the point at the very beginning. Which is to say, I trust you and if I didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I need for you to believe that I’m also gonna be supportive of you. You know, most people know by that time that you know, I’m not the guy who yells and screams.

I’m not yell and screaming if something’s going great, but you know, I’m not a yeller, screamer, I’m not a one of those. Like I know everything type. , when it comes to the business or leadership. So most people I think, take me at my word when I tell them that I trust them and that I’ll support them if they make decisions.

So really just trying to have that kind of of conversation up front and also just to lay out the expectations. And I think the more clearly you lay out the expectations and the objectives that are in pursuit of your. I also think that provides the framework or the box, like you said, for people to make decisions in so they feel good about that.

but then I think it also, it often takes, some encouragement along the way. it takes some level setting along the way and taking opportunities when people may not work in the same way that you’re wanting to do. if somebody comes in and says, I have this problem. what should I do?

it’s taking the opportunity to say, well, you know, it’d be great if you had a couple of recommendations. you know this situation better than I do. You know, go back, think about it a little bit, come back with some options about what you’re thinking, and then let’s have a conversation about it.

[00:27:03] Craig: And a lot of times that will kind of reinvigorate that conversation or, you know, it’s the hint they need to go like, oh yeah, this is something that I need to really be more thoughtful about.

Now the flip side, and when I talk to people about the importance of kind of trusting their team and letting things happen, they say, well, that’s great, but how am I gonna stay on top of things? how am I gonna know what’s going on if I don’t spend all my time in the organization? How have you found the ability with this building trust in the team and giving this opportunity to the team?

How do you stay on top of the day-to-day things that are going on or the things that are important?

[00:27:38] Rich Nickel: having one person in the organization that I can totally trust and rely on most of the time at a very senior level, either a chief of staff type person or a chief operating officer type person that I know that if I got hit by a bus or if I went to Hawaii and decided not to come, that, you know, they, and it’s, it’s that easy to think about that they could run the place, until the board decided what they needed to do, right?

And so I think having that one person is important. But the other thing I believe in still is, just constant communication and small bites, but also in an organized fashion. So no matter how external I am, with my key people, , I still have set prioritized weekly meetings to make sure that we’re, touching base on the day-to-day effectiveness of what we’re doing, the financial situation of the organization, key issues that they’re working on, things I need to be aware of.

And I also, and sometimes I think this is still a weakness I have, but I believe in it so much that I have a hard time letting. I try to be the most responsive person that any of my team deals with on a daily basis. And for me, that’s always been part of building my reputation as somebody that can be trusted and accountable.

And internally it’s important also. I’m responsive. I think sometimes maybe to. Uh, demise because I wanna respond fast too, right? But I think, uh, if I had to give myself a piece of advice, it would be sometimes a slow down.

because in the quest to be responsive internally and externally, sometimes you don’t get the opportunity to think about things as much as you should before providing, uh, direction.

[00:29:33] Craig: Yeah. That opportunity to be thoughtful when instead you’re trying to be quick. okay, so this is the last question. So let’s take all the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of Rich at whatever age you are today. We won’t tell. Go back to 29 year old Rich who’s sitting there with 30 people who’s starting to.

Because it’s all a lot. What’s the one piece of advice you would give him if you could go back and share it with him right now?

[00:30:01] Rich Nickel: I think the one piece of advice I would say is find somebody that you can talk about that with who models the type of leader you think you want to be, and whether that’s a person, an an organization, that has a leadership program, whether that’s one person in your life, regardless of who it.

Who you want to model your style after, whether it’s going and taking a class, whether it’s being part of a management program, you have to find some way to share that and to get advice. Because on your own you can almost never self correct, especially when you don’t have much experience. And so it would be, at this point, you know the smart thing for me to have done back then.

would’ve been as soon as I recognize that and just try instead of trying to solve it myself, and then kind of getting into the cycle where, I was having self-doubt would’ve been to talk to somebody and actually get some help in becoming a better leader, and a better manager of people, instead of just relying on my instincts.

so that’s what I would tell people now and in my organization. One of the things I will, certainly invest in people on is leadership development at the appropriate times in their careers and becoming especially part of the community through leadership

[00:31:30] Craig: Mm-hmm.

[00:31:30] Rich Nickel: because for me, I think that’s always a really important piece of a, of a person’s professional development, is also being part of the community in which they. and that community can take on a lot of different faces. and then investing in, opportunities for those folks to become part of that community and also hear from community leaders, along the way,

[00:31:53] Craig: Yeah, so really getting into that leadership community and then finding that one person or program that has no interest other than your growth and success as a leader.

[00:32:03] Rich Nickel: And I think the other thing I would say is, As a leader now. And what I didn’t know back then, you know, when I was 29, I was afraid of losing people.

[00:32:13] Craig: I take a totally different view on it now, and there’s been a lot of turnover and being a nonprofit leader has been hard in the last two years, because of the way the labor market has evolved.

[00:32:25] Rich Nickel: And for those who might be listening that don’t understand how, nonprofits work, a lot of times, you sign. To perform services through a grant, and you have a budget that you make at a point in time. If the labor market evolves suddenly and all of a sudden you have to hire people at a much different level than you thought you might have to when you initially made that budget.

There’s only limited opportunity. To reprice the grant. So if you’re not careful, you can actually end up, at zero or, or losing, on that grant. So it’s an especially tough part cause you can’t just build it back into future pricing, right. Or to price a product kind of on demand. so it adds a little bit of, during times like this makes it hard.

Back to the point though, I’m not afraid to lose people today as a matter of. Folks who are progressing in their career, I tell them almost without exception, that they should be very selfish about their growth, and about making decisions that impact them and their families. And then I try to be supportive of that and walk that talk.

Cause I do believe that, you cannot make people stay who don’t wanna stay. you can’t make people happy. if they should be happy in another situation and there’s just diminishing return on that type of thinking. what we think about now is how do we build employees that when they leave us and they’re in the field, maybe doing something similar, that they are still part of our family and they’re part of our team and they’re talking.

Education the way we want them to talk about it. They’re working on issues and policy and advocacy that we, support. And so really just broadening the network at that point. that’s another big lesson is that, you know, support people in their decisions and in their growth, even if that might seem at the time to your own demise.

[00:34:28] Craig: No, that’s a great point. And, and going back to some of those times when we were together in the student loan space, it was just a terrifying thought that somebody would leave and you would just, you know, almost spiral if somebody left. And what can we do? What can we do? In many ways, if you look back on it, letting your employees grow either internally or externally and moving ’em on is really the best thing for everybody.

You don’t want people who stag. You want people who grow and sometimes the result of that growth is they’re gonna get a great opportunity and you never know when those paths will cross again. But I remember the terror of people leaving and it was real, so That’s great. All right, well Rich, if people wanna learn more about Education Forward, Arizona follow you, what are the best places for them to to find you?

[00:35:13] Rich Nickel: so I’m not hard to find. Uh, you certainly can start at our website, which is, education I’m also fairly active on Twitter and LinkedIn. some combination of rich nickel on all of those in Arizona. I’ll probably get you where you. Want to be and if somebody wants to see my, uh, kids and my wife and hear me brag about all the cool things that we do, uh, travel adventures and things of that nature, they can always hit Facebook.

[00:35:42] Craig:

As always on the Executive Evolution Podcast, I like to break down our interviews into some of the key lessons around those leadership competencies of confidence, confidence, and calm. And there’s a lot of great examples of these in Rich’s story around the area of confidence. What Rich pointed out is it’s important for leaders to make a decision.

They are, your team is looking to you to make that decision. They’re gonna pull from your strength in that decision. When you wait too long to make decisions, that’s when confusion arises in your organization. So one of the things I work with my clients on, and you heard clearly from Rich, is making that decision, adjust if you need to, but get those decisions made.

Don’t let them linger. In the area of competence, one of the things that Rich pointed out, and I think it’s so important cuz I see it so often in clients and I have to encourage them to move in this direction, is make time to lead, Get in front of your teams, have the one-to-ones with your direct reports.

That’s how you stay in touch with what’s going on in the organization because as rich also noted in the area of competence, when you are the leader of the organization, your role sometimes can be very external, but you can’t lose track of what’s going on in the business. And by cultivating and making the time for good relationships and productive one-to-ones with your direct reports, you can stay on top of things without spending all your time working in the business.

And finally in the area of Calm, rich talked about the importance that he found in having a support person around him He didn’t have that early on in his career, and he builds that in now. So he has those support structures, and I’ve talked about that quite a bit on this podcast and on my blog, that get people around you who can support you, whether that be a strong team of direct.

A mentor, a coach, or a group of peers, those are the things that will help keep you calm and help keep things into perspective as you move through leading your organization.

A common challenge for leaders is holding difficult conversations. I built an entire section into my leadership training program around this topic, but I see so many leaders struggling with it that I’ve.

Added on a monthly free training around how to hold difficult conversations. So if you would like to be part of that training, you can find more slash masterclass. Thanks for listening. And remember, the leaders aren’t born, they’re made, and you can go from accidental leader to greatest of all time leader.

It just takes confidence, confidence and calm. See you next time on Executive Evolution.