Female Leaders Raising Up the Next Generation - Laura Coe
Name: Laura Coe
Title: Co-Founder & CEO
Years in franchising: 18, including my time as a franchisee
No. of units system-wide: 146
What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role? I was in my late 20s when I had my first management role. I was young and perhaps a bit intimidated since I was managing some team members who were older than I was. I would pretend to know more than I actually did. I learned early on that this was not a good idea. Members of my team caught on pretty quickly and lost a bit of respect for me. Luckily, I was able to earn back their respect and trust. My team respected me more for being human, for admitting when I needed them, and for asking for their help.
Which leadership skills were most difficult to develop? Earlier in my career, it was difficult for me to effectively delegate. Delegation is such an important leadership skill, but, unfortunately, I held on to the “It’s just easier if I do it myself” attitude longer than I should have. Although I still struggle with this from time to time, I recognize the importance of delegation at this stage of my career.
Who helped you on the way to the top? I’ve been very blessed to have many mentors and tons of support throughout my career. My family, including my parents, brother, and sister have always been incredibly supportive of my endeavors. From my passing a series of exams to become a credentialed actuary in my 20s, to starting Snapology in my late 30s, they’ve always had my back. I also had some fantastic mentors in my actuarial career and in franchising.
What was the best advice you ever got? When I was in high school looking at colleges and careers, my father gave me the advice, “Do what you love and the success will follow.” I know now that he stole that quote from someone else. Nonetheless, it was very meaningful to me—and great advice. It took me years beyond college to truly follow his advice, but ultimately I have chosen two careers so far that I have loved.
Is that different than the advice you give? I have given this same advice to both of my sons as they approached this same point in their lives. I similarly tell franchise prospects not to just buy “another job,” but to choose a business they love.
How do you mentor, and what advice do you give those you mentor? I approach each person on an individual basis based on their specific needs and where they are in their business or career. For some, my advice comes in the form of getting them to dig deeper or gain clarity on the issues they are facing. For others, I try to pull them into my network to help them benefit from different perspectives. The key is to develop a supportive relationship where we can share ideas, offer encouragement, and drive results. What I love about mentorship is that it’s always a two-way street. Even when I’m the one providing most of the advice and encouragement, I find that my mentees have so much to offer me in return.
What skill sets do you think are imperative for young women leaders? I think the skill sets imperative for leadership are identical for women and men, with the exception that women often need to overcome gender bias. Unfortunately, because more men have been in leadership roles for so long, the characteristics most often associated with strong leaders are often considered masculine. Generally speaking, it is not viewed as positively when a woman exhibits the same traits as their strong male leader counterparts. Therefore, as women develop leadership skills—including taking risks, analytical decision-making, delegating, and communicating effectively—we must be cognizant that these biases can occur and be prepared to stand firm in our leadership capabilities. No apologies are needed.
What are your leadership do’s and don’ts? I would say that the key do’s are leading by example, maintaining a positive environment, and giving credit where credit is due. The biggest don’ts are ignoring feedback and blaming others.
How did you learn to embrace risk-taking? Through an exercise in weighing the risk of not doing something against actually taking the risk. In the end, there are very few risks you take in life that can’t be undone or fixed in some way. I’ve learned that risk is not as black-and-white as it can seem initially. In approaching risk with this mindset, I’ve found it easier to have the confidence to take risks and, in some cases, the confidence to fail.
How should aspiring female leaders build allies? Seeking mentors and allies throughout your career can be a critical component of your success. It’s important to look outside of your inner circle or those you are most comfortable with to develop allies with different perspectives. It’s natural to seek and find mentors who think like you, but the true value is in finding someone who challenges your thinking and provides an alternative perspective. Allies and mentors are everywhere. Never be afraid to ask for someone’s help or guidance. Most people are flattered and thrilled to help.
How do aspiring female leaders balance patience and perseverance? In the sense that patience comes from a need to balance immediate gratification with longer-term goals, I view patience and perseverance as going hand in hand. Perseverance is a critical leadership skill and essential to entrepreneurship. It’s often not a skill that is learned, but one that is rather innate. It can be nurtured over time, but takes effort and practice as it involves the ability to learn from failures and keep trying. Many people think that success comes from avoiding failures. But the willingness to anticipate that there will be failures and the mindset to “fail forward” is what truly leads to long-term success.
What roles do education and experience play in leadership development? I find that leaders generally look at education as more than just a degree that you earn, and instead embrace all opportunities to learn. I have a robust love for learning. I thrive in an environment where I can constantly absorb the knowledge of those around me. It’s what drives me to constantly improve myself, my business, and to innovate. In terms of leadership development, I believe that experience and education frequently go together, but experience often drives stronger development. Your experiences provide more meaningful positive or negative feedback to emulate or avoid as you progress. Education is very important to development, but sometimes there is a delay in the practical use of your formal education. Your work experiences can be more impactful, and often more timely. Ultimately, every great leader needs a balance of both education and experience.
What about attitude and mindset? The right attitude and mindset are the keys to becoming an effective leader. Leaders must have mindsets that are positive, agile, growth-oriented, and inclusive. Having a healthy mindset is essential to developing confidence and self-esteem. Our mindset influences our behavior and shapes our belief in accomplishing goals, which is essential to achieving success.
Was there a time when things didn’t turn out as planned? How did you bounce back? One word: Covid. Need I say more? Covid showed no mercy on my company, Snapology. We never anticipated that schools would close, that kids wouldn’t be able to leave their houses to attend our programs. When the first school closed in the U.S. in Seattle, my company was affected, but we had a plan already in place. My leadership team had devised a full marketing strategy and had converted 60 hours of our programs to online before that school closed it doors. We were able to deploy a successful strategy to keep our 100 franchisees in business throughout Covid. I attribute our success to effective leadership driven by efficient problem-solving, decisive and swift action, collaboration, and teamwork.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned, and how has it proven invaluable? I found that there are generally two types of leaders: 1) those who surround themselves with others just like them because they think their skill set is optimal; and 2) those who understand their strengths and surround themselves with people who possess differing strengths that complement the team. It’s been invaluable to me to surround myself with a diverse team that possesses differing skill sets from mine. This structure has created my most highly effective teams and has led to accelerated business growth.
Why is it so important to give back to the next generation of leaders? The easy answer is because I’d like to retire and leave my business in good hands. However, I also believe in the “pay it forward” concept. If those ahead of me hadn’t been willing to mentor me, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I think it’s incumbent upon us all to give back at some point in our careers.
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