Lori Michele Leavitt | What It Takes to Maintain A Strong, Healthy Business

Unstoppable CEOPodcast

In today’s episode, we find out how and when you should pivot in order to have a breakthrough with your business, and… what it takes to build and keep a strong and healthy business. Our guest, Lori Michele Leavitt, is a growth and leadership coach who helps businesses get and stay strong.

“I think being a business owner is a wonderful thing for the right for the right person,” says Lori while reflecting on her journey and her ‘why.’

We’ll chat about pivoting, assessing where you are, making a plan, and knowing when to pivot, as well as…

  • Knowing where you should go, and the steps to get there
  • What people struggle with when it’s time to shift, and
  • What separates successful businesses from the rest

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

Adam Lean: Good leaders anticipate, poor leaders react, great leaders orchestrate change to generate extraordinary momentum and to never stop, says Lori Michele Leavitt, our guest today. We’re going to find out how and when you should pivot in order to have a breakthrough with your business and find out what it takes to build and keep a strong and healthy business. This is P is for Profit. 

Adam: Welcome to P is for Profit. My name is Adam Lean and I, along with the rest of the team here at The CFO Project are passionate about helping business owners improve the profitability of their business. My guest today is a growth and leadership coach who helps businesses get and stay strong. Lori, welcome to the show.

Lori Michele Leavitt: Thank you for having me, Adam.

Adam: Yeah, so I’m excited to jump in and find out what you do and how you help businesses. But before we dive in, tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and why you started working with business owners.

Lori’s Backstory

Lori: Okay, and why I have a business, I think being a business owner is a wonderful thing for the right person. And I got started in business after spending about 17 years in corporations. Some very, very big others, not as big, maybe from 250 million to multiple billions. And I didn’t actually entrepreneurial ship wasn’t on my mind. And yet, if I look back, I realized that the roles that I had worked, which were all financial, internal management type, analysis, reporting, etc were all somewhat entrepreneurial, and it positioned me very well to then move out on my own, which I thought would be consulting. 

Isn’t that the natural thing that you do when you’re an executive and you come out of corporate and you become a consultant> And yet what I found was I could create software, still could consult but also create software that people need, want and helped them through transitions in their business. And that’s how I got started. 

Adam: So you created software that people want, then you sold the software, essentially? What was the software? What did you create? 

Lori: Well my, the first software was when I left corporate and began consulting I knew about early background on these new regulations coming out called HIPAA, which was privacy and cert security and healthcare organizations. And although a book might say you have to have 10,000 hours of expertise or training and something to be an expert, sometimes like this regulation, it’s new to everybody. You might have expertise in the areas that are going to help you translate that to action for those who need to move on, which is what I had. 

And so and I had the discipline to go through huge regulations and then parse it out and say, how does the healthcare industry need to use it? And I wouldn’t even have thought of creating software. But I was seeing what was happening with these healthcare organizations. I mean, it was a change. It’s not, it’s a culture change. There’s compliance policies, but it was a culture change. And I had done a lot of mergers and acquisitions in my past and I’ve gone through this. Even though we never mentioned culture, it was all about, you’re good at modeling, and you’re good at negotiations. 

But I knew that the most successful understood people because people are the ones that have to act and get whatever needs to be done, be done and make those good judgment calls. And changing especially in a large organization, but any is not easy. And so the software would help them take ownership of the change that needed to happen so I could create this with my expertise. Yet when they used it, they were tracking their own progress and their own results to being compliant, and during the process, to become better at how they performed and how they worked together as well.

Adam: So you were in big corporate America, you started, you wanted to go on your own, you started creating software and selling it. And then what led from there to what you do now? And what exactly do you do now?

Lori: And I have pivoted a lot. Some not so graceful. Before I really understood that orchestrating the pivot is what you need to do, it doesn’t just happen. And sometimes things happen, right? And you have to make some change and you’ve not planned for it. So I get that, but we also can plan our pivots and orchestrate them over time. And those are the ones that go more smoothly. 

So again, my pivot was from corporate, yet from this platform of being in relatively entrepreneurial thinking on my feet, self-motivated positions within corporate into consulting, which led me to the stage and speaking and working with a lot of people in the industry. So understanding and seeing a problem, and then designing software from that because that just seems the most logical thing for me, someone in a small, running a small business, that I could offer to this. 

These large industries, healthcare industries that we’re moving toward. So I have never stopped building or creating software. I almost always try to see if I can create something that allows my guidance to go further than me, further than dollars per hour because there’s only one me. And so the software offers more. And the software can power what I do for my clients, or the software can be standalone. 

What the industry does depends on how much I can focus on software, how much I need to focus on something else is when I began for sales was a long sales process in enterprises where you needed to get around the boardroom table, and decisions were slow, slow, slow, and the marketing dollars needed to be very big. And it’s, that’s, you know, when you look forward and you say I can’t sustain this, then you need some pivot. Maybe I need to pivot to something else and then you go back to it, if that makes sense.

Adam:: So, you keep using the word pivoting. Let’s, tell me what that means. What exactly is pivoting?

What Exactly is The Pivot?

Lori: So when I say, a pivot is, any pivot is a shift. It’s a change. When it’s talked about in the startup world, it’s usually a change in strategy. We went after this market now we’re going to go after this market. When I use the word the pivot, I’m really, I’m talking about businesses and it’s more than just that person. And it’s great to use quote the pivot when it’s just one person, but especially when it’s not just you or this handful of founders. There are a lot of people that need to take place. 

You’ve probably learned by now that commanding something, someone to do something differently than they did before doesn’t work very well. Might work for a while and you might get compliance, but they’re not engaged in it. It’s not something that’s are part of. So the pivot is orchestrating change over time. Knowing a decide state you’re going toward, assessing where you are today and then taking the best next steps toward that desired state with never losing that desired state from your mind.

Adam: So coming up with an end goal in mind to where you want to pivot, or shift, or change your strategy, and then assessing where you are today and then coming up with a game plan for how to get there to bridge that gap. So how do you do that? How do you do all that?

Lori: Well, and I would say, I’ll just give you an idea of where some of the gotchas are. Oftentimes, there’s like, let’s say you run a business and you know your business really, really well. And so the first thing you approach are the things you’re doing, I need to do this differently. I need to do that differently. Oftentimes, what I find is keeping a business from growing is not just the tactical things they’re doing, but it’s how they and those around them are being. And so it takes not just saying,

Adam: Sorry, the being. What do you mean by that?

Lori: How they’re being. How they’re, for example, just to even be an entrepreneur, you really need to be okay with risk. If you’re not okay with risk, if you feel that making a misstep is a failure and you completely lose it, then you’re not going to make it as an entrepreneur.

Adam: Yeah, or you’ll be stressed out the entire time.

Lori: If you are a, if you start small, and it’s just yourself and you have no one that you’re really needing to inspire to execute toward a strategy you have, then, you know, maybe your mindset could be very fixed or very commanding, because it’s just you. But you’ll find once you have people with you that you’re not going to get the best from them by being commanding and controlling. You’re going to get the best from them if your mind shifts to being willing to grow yourself and become more as a leader and less of a micromanager. That’s a being shift. Does that make sense?

Adam: Yes, it makes sense.

Lori: And I found that in every, It doesn’t matter how big how small and most of the mergers and acquisitions or the culture changes I worked with were large, but it was that the aspect that was so off. But you’ve been in business a while the people that work with you have those thoughts running through your mind. We tried that doesn’t work. We tried that before. It didn’t work out. But what’s changed? 

The growth mindset would say, well, what’s changed? What if we did it now? What would happen? And they’d be willing to be open and talk about it. But that, we’ve done that before blocks you, or we can’t do that. Or we’ll just get busier if we do that. Or I might look foolish if I do that and it doesn’t work. All of those things will hold you back more than not having a skill to do something. 

Adam: Yeah, no, I completely agree. That’s a great way to put it. It’s your, how you think of things. And they’re, almost like you have to make a mind shift. And that trumps tactics or skill. So how does a company, a business owner know when they should pivot, or if they should pivot?

Identifying the Time to Make the Pivot

Lori: Couple things. One is that it could be that just, you have to, right? Whatever you’re doing it isn’t working, your profits aren’t there, it’s not converting to cash flow. You’re, you don’t want to go to work that day. Those are pretty obvious. 

Adam: So you sort of feel like something is missing? Something’s wrong. 

Lori: So it’s nice to see that something’s wrong. Or your accountant says, Hey, you have to do something different. Or, yes. The other is you just might feel that something isn’t right. It’s just not, I find this in some businesses that have grown, I say grown up. And they, especially when the founder is still there, and they created this, and it was fun, and it’s not fun anymore. Now what? 

Adam: So something’s got to change, which is a pivot. 

Lori: Something’s got to change. That were external. It could be the market. I pivoted from software for large enterprises to remote monitoring third world countries for water vending machines. That’s a huge pivot, right? I did that because of the banking, the financial crisis and it just was, and that the market that I was in Gartner Research, a large research firm, decided to pen a name to it just about when I was starting. 

And once they, once Gartner penned this acronym to it, all these big players wanted in. And so my, I don’t know, 500,000 a year on marketing could not match the 50 million, 500 million, thousands of feet on the ground that my competitors had. And I need to find something else where there was a need for what I did to at least get me through that time.

Adam: if a business owner knows that they need to make a change and they need a pivot and you recommended, you said earlier that they, you know, you need to take an assessment of where you are today in order to figure out where you want to be. How do you know where you should pivot? I mean, are there some tactics or tips, you know, to, if you know something needs to change and you have an idea of how to change it, how do you know where you should go? And then how do you know what steps that need to happen to get from here to there?

Lori: Right. All difficult. I’m going to describe that with three characteristics I look for when I’m inviting leaders into one of the peer groups I run. And I wish I’d had a peer group because this is where your blind spots can be uncovered by people who are as credible as you and who also care about you and don’t have another agenda. 

And so the three characteristics are courage, and part of courage isn’t just Well, you know, I made this thing and that took a lot of courage. No, vulnerability is also courage. The courage to ask someone, do you see something about me that might be part of the problem? That’s not easy and it takes courage. So courage is one. Another is tenacity. Do you, I mentioned at the start of this is that you’re if you’re not a risk-taker, don’t be an entrepreneur. If you, tenacity is the ability to continue to work through the times when it’s really, really hard towards a worthy goal. 

You’ve got to have that. You got to know that, in fact, when you’re almost done is usually the hardest part. It seems like everything in the world is going against you. And then the last one is curiosity. So if you, for some reason, have found that you’ve stopped asking why something is or why things happen to you over and over because you’re the theme and all of that? If you stop being curious, if you stopped growing, you become a no at all, then you won’t be able to pivot because changes isn’t part of you. You’re not in a growth mindset. 

So courage, tenacity and curiosity. If you’ve got those, then you can start reaching out, not only to assess what’s happening in your business, and that could be a series of questions to people who are closer to the work if it’s just you asking yourself questions, and then also assessing, where are you playing in this? And what effect are you having on whether it’s working or not working? And what are you willing to shift?

Adam: Yeah. It’s almost like you have to have a certain level of self-awareness in order to be courageous and have tenacity and curiosity. Do you find that a lot of like, a lot of people struggle with that?

Lori: One, struggle happens. Not necessarily person but it’s those who care so much about other, how others perceive them. Even leaders I’ve had in my peer group, they’ll get excited about now being a more inspirational empowering leader. And yet they’ve shown up a certain way for so many years. That just quickly changing doesn’t awfully often work. Sometimes you just have to ease into it. 

They weren’t aware of it until they sat and they listened to their peers speaking, or someone else that they, you know, trust, not someone telling them what to do, but others that are working through their issues and they can, challenges and opportunities and they see themselves in that and something nudges in them.

Adam: It makes sense. So, in your experience working with business owners and leaders, what separates successful business owners from those that just always seem to struggle?

Taking Risks and Learning From Failures is Essential

Lori: A lot of what I just said. You’re not going to be so successful if you are risk-averse, failure averse. How can you change what you started isn’t working out and then what you just are going to bold, right? You’re not going to be as successful if, I would even say that it’s hard to be successful when the purpose of you’re doing what you’re doing is only you. 

So being purposeful is that pull that pulls you through that really tough time. When I was bringing water to third world countries my reason for doing it wasn’t, I mean, I said I did it because, hey, this market wasn’t gonna work out. But there was a purpose behind it. I just can’t do more than one thing at once. It was a big thing. I wanted to bring fresh water business opportunity and technology transfer to third world countries. 

And that was my purpose. When I started peer groups here locally, which I’ve lived here a long time working with big companies before I did anything in my community. All of a sudden, I realized I want to serve the business vibrancy here in this community with businesses like this. And I personally would like to grow it to other communities like mine, because it’s so powerful. But that purpose of I’m here to help with business vibrancy, not, okay, I need to do something. What can I do is the difference. It is what’s going to pull you through those tough times. 

Adam: And if a leader or business owner has purpose or have a mission, that can stay constant. That doesn’t have to change. But the tactics are the strategy to accomplish the mission. That is where you can pivot, right? 

Lori: You’re absolutely right. I can look back and say I’ve always been, even when I was in corporate, catalyzing momentum. Always. I just hadn’t placed a phrase to it.

Adam: Let me ask you this. What’s your number one piece of advice or best piece of advice for business owners?

Find Yourself a Like-Minded Peer Group

Lori: Other than the things that I mentioned, one, and I’m sharing it because it was a gotcha for me. I mentioned I did a lot of mergers and acquisitions. I was in the position of helping with decision making, etc. I was extremely discerning for others. What I found when I started out as an entrepreneur, and it took me years and I didn’t have a peer group. I didn’t have people, bold people around me helping me with my blind spots. 

I realized that I was not being discerning with people that I felt I should give the same level of respect that I command. The partner level. Maybe someone who I was going to be aligned with and they had just received multiple millions of investment, and I trusted the investor. And the bad part of this is lots of money went through my fingers. Relegating decisions to others just, you know, someone being really confident and showing up that way. 

And maybe I thought that they cared about me or the business and I didn’t ask the tough questions for them to prove themselves because I gave trust and respect immediately. Not saying don’t do that. I’m just saying recognize that if you’re a really good person like me, you could find a way so that you are being discerning, especially with other people that you let into your circle, because it’s a small business, especially as a smaller business. The people that you have around you are going to make a huge difference on whether you succeed or fail.

Adam: Yeah, absolutely. Completely agree with you. And I love the idea of having a peer group or, you know, or at least somebody, at least one person in your corner on your side that doesn’t have an agenda other than to help you succeed.

Lori: Right. And it’s not just that they like you. Initially, I for one thing I was calling my parents. My parents are wired just like me. It’s great that we all want to stay on the high ground. But we really weren’t thinking even together with our heads together shrewdly enough, discerningly enough.

Adam: Yeah. I mean, you talk about your business problems to your friends or to your spouse or, but and they’re going to listen and they’re going to care because they like you but that’s not necessarily what you need. You need somebody that can give you objective advice and help without having your rose-colored glasses.

Lori: Right. The other thing that I would say, as we’re talking about the pivot, is to understand both sides of it. So for example, if you’re in that state where you know you need to move away from something, take the time to choose what you want to move forward toward. No both ends. If you are wanting to move towards some desired state, take the time to assess where you are right now.

Adam: So, Lori, this has been very fascinating, and I’m sure we could keep going, but, you know, but I have one last question for you. Where can people find you and learn more about the pivoting? I mean, you even wrote a book on it, called The Pivot. Where can people find you and learn more about the peer groups and whatever else you do?

Lori: Three places. So you can’t find a peer group right now it’s a selection only, but you can reach out to me. I have a website that’s under my name, lorimicheleleavitt.com. I have a site for the book, thepivotbook.com. And soon you’ll find a site for the rejuvenated performance momentum software called Aligned Momentum and it is at alignedmomentum.com. Right now you’ll just see a landing page because we’re in stealth. 

Adam: Got it. Okay. Well, we’ll put those three links in the show notes so that everybody listening can find them. Lori, thank you so much for being here and sharing your wisdom.

Lori: Welcome. I enjoyed it. 

Adam: Of course, I would like to thank Lori for being here. And if you like to see if Lori can help you with your business, of course, please reach out to her and we’ll put the three links that she mentioned in the show notes. Until then, if you could use someone to help show you how to improve the profitability in your business, just go to thecfoproject.com and click on book a call and we’d love to talk to you.