Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
I hope reading
7 Questions with Tonia Emery
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Tonia Emery
Name: Tonia Emery
Current title: CEO and Founder
Current organisation: Results with ACT
Tonia is currently the CEO of Results with ACT. She runs a high performance management consulting firm that focuses on Performance, Culture, and Leadership products and services. She provides strategic guidance to businesses that want to drive organizational performance through talent, transform their culture, and develop leaders that deliver on their strategy. Tonia's focus on what she calls "The Talent Trifecta" helps organizations simplify the complex people stuff so they can get better business results. Her latest release is a comprehensive online leadership development program called the Leadership Mastermind Program. This robust program tackles all 18 leadership competencies through 6 self-paced courses. After seeing so many leaders want access to learning, opportunities to develop, and performance based resources, it was time to build a program that any leader could access if they were really ready to dig in and create meaningful change as a leader.
Prior to running her own business, Tonia worked alongside the C-Suite driving organizational effectiveness. Her work spans industries including oil and gas, technology, healthcare, and retail.
Tonia holds a B.A. in Psychology, a M.S. in Counseling, and completed her PhD (ABD) work in Organizational Psychology. She is a member of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology and a member of International Society for Performance Improvement. Tonia's book "You Can't Play Follow the Leader by Yourself" will be released in fall 2021.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
As a CEO it has to be keeping up with all the changes customers are facing. Because I serve a small niche, I need to stay on top of new trends, new controversy, and new ways of delivering the most competitive services that really help my clients.
Working inside a large enterprise it's got to be people. People are complex and keeping leaders in the forefront leading the charge is often very hard because you need to execute through so many people and hope the delivery and results are consistent.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I became an executive of a large enterprise first. And that came from being at the right company at the right time. I was working for an organization whose chairman of the board was very interested in Leadership Development and making sure organizational performance was being handled with skilled expertise. So when I started there, I got a chance to build a lot of cool stuff that made an impact. And over the 8 years I was there, my career took off. I think the other thing that helped me along the way was keeping things outcome focused. In any organization, you are going to deal with politics, personalities, and processes that can get in the way of performance. I stayed focused on the work, the results, and worked hard.
Becoming a CEO of my own business kind of fell into my lap. I was relocating back to Houston and got a couple of calls to consult and do executive coaching. And it kind of exploded from there. I remember in one weekend when my kids were with their Dad I created a business plan and laid out my vision, my mission, culture, values, strategy and a 5 year product and service line. I worked insanely because I was so fired up. I wanted to make a difference in the leadership space. I think back now and that 3 days of non stop focus on the future has created the plan that I go back to all the time and tweak and re-ground myself.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Hmmm. I love this question. I feel like this is a game changing practice for high performance. My kids always say I have a plan. And I respond, "No, I always have a goal".
Because I set an intense stretch goal, I need to keep that in the forefront every morning.
I am insane about sleep. I need 7-8 hours to be a badass during the day. Time is not found, it's made. And I always make sure I don't short myself on sleep. It makes my cognitive functioning, my emotional intelligence, and my resilience what it is. So when I wake up, I always get a cup of coffee and go back into bed to think.
1. I think about the day and look at my calendar (which is crazy organized and deliberate).
2. I pick my top 3 things that I need to focus on and crush. Not the tasks (those are always way more than 3) but the top 3 outcomes. And usually I have 1 business, 1 personal and 1 self care. For instance, today was all about this interview. There were tasks behind it (reading/research, putting on makeup, thinking about the questions, etc.). Those are tasks. But the true outcome is what can I do to make this interview impact someone out there so they DO something with it. Not just enjoy it but get moved into action.
3. Then I think of the critical tasks that I need to do to get to that outcome. Strangely it's not as many as one would think.
4. And move! I get a workout in, meal prep and get after it.
5. Then at night I reflect on what went well, what didn’t and what I need to do differently tomorrow.
Having a goal, only focusing on critical tasks, and taking care of my health is how I stay intentional, attentional, and outcome focused.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The world is so confused about leadership right now. It's become a multi-billion dollar industry fueled by technology, social media, and information overload. And somehow, the simplest concepts have become a black box mystery.
I've also learned that people want leadership and something to follow. And just because someone is moving in a direction, it doesn't mean that it's the right one. People want leadership, people want to be led and directed. And if I am being truly transparent, we do not have enough strong leaders doing that.
Leadership isn't about title, rank, or how much money you have in the bank. It's about the willingness to do the hard stuff when it comes to ensuring the RIGHT performance outcomes are met. It's a delicate balance of results and relationship and whenever that balance is disrupted or swayed too far to one side, you have chaos. We are not teaching leaders enough about the performance context. We don't have alignment on why leaders exist in the first place. And without those foundational pieces, we just have leadership chaos out there.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I love to read. And I read a ton about leadership. Again, my job as a leadership expert is to stay on top of 3 things: What's being researched, what's being published and shared with the masses, and what people are calling "best practice". Reading and research is key.
One of my favorite books is Courage: The Backbone of Leadership by Gus Lee. I came across this book when I was building a leadership development program. I was partnered with an SVP of
Operations who was the lion of the organization and we started reading and researching everything on courage. We knew that couldn't make leaders courageous in a 1/2 day workshop. But we know we could get leaders uncomfortable enough to talk about the hard stuff that holds us back from being courageous.
We both went our separate ways and read the book and agreed to get it done in a week and not discuss until we finished it. When we came back together we both took away the same experience from one critical chapter that talked about the Character Matrix. This diagram discussed the difference between a good person and a courageous person. The difference between honesty and integrity. The difference between honor and courage. The difference between ethics and character. What separates those things is the river of fear. This was the basis of our workshop and year after year the workshop that leaders ranked as the most impactful to their leadership.
Courage is the ability to stand alone and ensure the right things are being done regardless of consequence. It's one of the hardest leadership competencies there is so learning what you're really afraid of and what you really are willing to stand for has changed how I lead.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Leadership in a large enterprise is a complex system. It's heavily intertwined with organizational performance and culture. So first, you build it by recognizing the complexity of that system and address all the moving pieces.
I think the second thing is to get the CEO to declare that it matters. I know we always say it starts at the top, but let's be real. If it doesn't come top down, it doesn't catch fire. The CEO is the head coach. And they and only they can make leadership a priority. That means explaining why leaders exist, it means setting the expectation of leadership behavior, it means removing bad, toxic, poor performing leaders every single time, and it means being a great leader themselves.
Then it's on to the C-Suite. They are the Assistant Coaches. And they have to line up behind the coach and move their teams to the goal line. And most importantly they also have to be good leaders.
Finally, you're ready to engage and communicate with every leader in the enterprise. That means they all matter. Anyone with boxes underneath them is in this audience. They need regular, clear direction. They need the playbook. They need the plays called out to them and they need accountability. They are a unique group of people with a heavy load on their shoulders. And every person leading people should have access to the tools to be successful. Not just the elite favorites.
And as hard as it is.... You have to get rid of the notoriously toxic leaders or every other effort you make to build leaders is mute. People see it. They are not fooled by common excuses like, they get things done or it was a political decision. Every podium speech falls on deaf ears if you don't tackle building leadership this way.
Maybe you noticed, but I didn't mention anything about HR. And that's because they are not responsible for building leadership capacity. They are part of the C-Team. They are an assistant coach with a unique job of building processes, programs, analytics, and structure to support this piece of work. But they should not be solely in charge of building leaders.
So, honor the complexity of the leadership system, start with the CEO, align with the C-Suite, and have a strong engagement and communication plan for the leadership audience.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I think seeing all this stuff in action and seeing the performance, the impact, and the transformational change. I had an opportunity to work with an amazing CEO. He is brilliant, strategic, steadfast, and extremely composed and poised.
He came in and knew what needed to change and he did it quickly. He switched out people within the first couple of weeks. He got the new group in roles and began with the basic foundational stuff: Vision, Mission, Values and Culture and within his first 120 days had the strategy to deliver. He established the performance environment, defined the new culture and what he wanted to see, and insisted people raised their leadership game. I was so lucky to be part of that journey and see him transform a culture that was toxic, siloed, and inefficient to one where people stopped weaponing information and worked together to achieve the outcomes.
And that was all in less than 6 months. I look back at that time and realize that it took one person willing to lead and do the hard stuff. Willing to establish the direction, set tough objectives, and have the courage to learn, change, and lead.