“The Most Valuable Leadership Lesson I Ever Learned”: Tanya Hall, CEO, Greenleaf Book Group
Listen to Episode 163:
Episode 163 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated — enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of success. On the web at BusinessAdvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thanks, Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and sitting right across from me, as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. It’s always a pleasure to join you for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio. And as always, our purpose is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders of successful companies to accelerate themselves — and their organizations — to their next level of game-changing innovation, growth, and success.
Now, Pam, one of the things we’ve noticed from our many conversations with the visionary CEOs is that they have a huge range of stories about their leadership experiences.
Pam Harper: That’s true. No two leadership stories are identical, even about the same issue or topic.
Scott Harper: That’s right.
Pam Harper: Yet they’re all valuable. In fact, it’s critical for top leadership teams to share these stories. That way they can learn from each other, apply these lessons and grow together.
Scott Harper: So to encourage you out there and your leadership teams to get started, we are taking the leadership stories that have made game-changing CEOs even wiser and turning them into an ongoing series within Growth Igniters Radio, which we call “The Most Valuable Leadership Lesson I Ever Learned.”
Pam Harper: Today our guest is someone who has become a true game-changer in the publishing industry. She is Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, who drives the company’s growth efforts and fosters a culture built around serving authors.
Pam Harper: Tanya built Greenleaf’s distribution organization from the ground up working directly with retailers and wholesalers to develop one of the fastest-growing publishing and distribution businesses in the industry.
Before joining the publishing industry, Tanya worked in digital media and as a television producer, she is herself the author of the book Ideas, Influence, and Income: Write A Book, Build Your Brand, and Lead Your Industry. She also is a columnist for Inc.com and regularly speaks at business and publishing conferences. You can read more about Tanya by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com Episode 163.
Tanya, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Tanya Hall: Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to join you.
Pam Harper: Let’s just cut to the chase here. What is the most valuable leadership lesson you ever learned?
Tanya Hall: Yeah, so it ended up being sort of a self-taught lesson. And for me, it was connecting the vision that I had for the company and how we would grow to the frontline people if you will. That is, the people in the various departments and serving on our different levels of service providing here at Greenleaf to actually bring that to life and make sure that we were all rowing in the same direction versus just having a strategy that was mapped out and sitting in the C-suite corner alone.
Scott Harper: So tell us a little bit more about that, Tanya. This actually sounds kind of familiar. We’ve heard this story before, but what was it like for you — you and your C-suite had a vision; what happened that made you realize that something needed to change?
Tanya Hall: So, my background in the company, as you’ve mentioned, was that I did a lot of the building to get us where we are. I was COO before I was CEO. And even in that position, I realized that there was something missing. There was a lot of talk about where we would go and what we could be, but there was no real operational link between that vision and how we would actually execute it. And I couldn’t really put my finger on, I knew that was the problem, but I couldn’t put my finger on how you would actually bring that down into the different departments and throughout the company as one cohesive effort. And I knew I needed to fix it when I became CEO because it also created a little grumbling like, “Oh, we have this vision. What are you going to do about it?”.
Pam Harper: How did you see it? I mean, it’s one thing to intuitively know it, but could you actually see that there were things that were happening that clearly were disconnecting from that vision?
Tanya Hall: Yeah, and I think, for example, one of them, we’ll get into some of the different vision points that I ended up mapping out for the company, but we’ve always been a really innovative, forward-thinking company and we would talk about that a lot. But at the same time, a lot of what we do from the publishing side of things is pretty traditional. We operate internally very much like a traditional publishing house as far as how a workflow takes place.
Tanya Hall: So, a good half of the company is looking at their day-to-day going, “There’s nothing visionary or innovative about this. This is exactly how we worked at Simon & Schuster when I worked there.” So there was an opportunity…
Pam Harper: So, in Acquisition, people were focused on acquisitions, and the people in Accounting and Finance were focused on their financial jobs — and that type of thing?
Tanya Hall: Very much so. And I think because as the C-suite often will do, we are focused on numbers and trying to figure out how this is all going to translate into revenue and profit. They felt a little left out of that loop and we’re understanding how their work contributed to that larger impact. And so that was the tying up of loose ends that I became very focused on resolving.
Scott Harper: So what was the key to getting your vision off the wall, so to speak, and into the hall?
Tanya Hall: Good way to put it. So, I’m blessed to have an internal brand team. It really works with a lot of our authors to help them identify their audience, their message, and really do this work at a business level. So they sat down with me and I just dumped on them. I said, “Here are all the things that I would like to accomplish as a company. Here is the vision. Here’s where I see that unfolding.” And they helped. There were just white flipboard charts everywhere. This took the better part of three days.
Tanya Hall: And at the end of it, we started to see patterns as you often will when you’re dumping something like that. And with their help, they stripped away all the business jargon that I’m admittedly guilty of using. And distilled it down into four themes that carried my vision forward. And that was like having the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders.
Pam Harper: So, was there a surprise in this? You know, a lot of times when we’re working with leadership teams, there’s a point, a critical point where people go, “Whoa, I never thought about it that way before.” Was it like that for you too?
Tanya Hall: I think the fact that we got it down to four things was a surprise, because I felt … I was overwhelmed by my own mind, I think, as I went through the process. And I just … Sometimes you’re so close to your own vision and your own thoughts, it might make perfect sense to you, but it might not. And in this case, there were little bits of it that were super clear, but there were other pieces of it that I wasn’t able to really tie back to another theme until I had some outside eyes help me really distill that down into something that made sense for everybody.
Scott Harper: Yeah. This is overcoming “the curse of knowledge,” where it’s very clear to me, but other people are going, “Huh?”
Pam Harper: That’s true. And you are right to be able to take so much that goes on in a company and distill it into four key principles. That is a huge deal. So tell us at a very high level, and we’ll go into it in detail in the second segment, what is the essence of, you refer to them as four vision principles, I believe?
Tanya Hall: That’s correct. And I call them that because they’re different than core values for instance, or even a mission statement, which tend to not change. The vision principles, as I envision them, they are mine as CEO, these belong to me. They aren’t the company’s, they’re mine. And as I said, these were the result of this three-day dump and distilling it down into conceptual themes. And for us, from a high level, we came up with four. So they create constant growth, redefine what it means to be a publisher, be the top publishing choice for thought leaders, and then at a very simple, boiled down a statement be the best, which is our people principle.
Pam Harper: Okay. Where we’re starting from here is it’s important to be able to take complexity and distill it into key principles. And by doing that it gives you a place to start to actually bring that vision to life.
Scott Harper: We have to focus.
Pam Harper: So we’re going to take a quick break, and when we come back we’ll speak more with Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group about the lesson she learned about translating exciting visions into meaningful reality. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated, where we focus on enabling visionary leaders to ignite, sustain, and boost the momentum it takes to achieve game-changing results. We’re on the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
Pam Harper: To everyone listening, welcome. We’re glad you joined us. Whether it’s because you’re a subscriber or you’ve just found us wherever you pick up your podcasts. But there is a special reason to visit GrowthIgnitersRadio.Com, this is the only way you can access all of the previous podcast episodes from the past five years.
Scott Harper: It’s also the only place you can find the unique show notes, bios and resource links specifically related to each of our podcasts. We featured award-winning CEOs, thought leaders, and best-selling authors. You can explore more by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com today.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper, that’s me, and Scott Harper. Today Scott and I are speaking with Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, about the most valuable leadership lesson she ever learned in her role as CEO. Tanya, how can people find out more about you and your book and Greenleaf?
Tanya Hall: Oh, sure. Thanks for asking. So they can learn more about Greenleaf and me and my whole staff at GreenleafBookGroup.com and then the book itself, which is Ideas, Influence And Income has its own website, IdeasInfluenceandIncome.com.
Pam Harper: And of course you can also see Tanya’s bio and other resources for this conversation by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com, episode 163. And I have to say in full disclosure that we have been clients of Greenleaf. That’s part of what inspired us to want to talk with Tanya, because it is an amazing company and we’ve been treated very well.
Tanya Hall: Thank you for saying that.
Pam Harper: That is actually just what our experience has been. So let’s talk about these four vision principles. The first principle is to create constant growth. What does that mean to you? Is it revenue, profitability? Both?
Tanya Hall: It is both and more. How we interpret any of these principles will vary, of course, from department to department within the company, but for the most part, yes, it does come back to revenue, profitability and things that help to support that. Whether that means boosting our backlist of authors, growing the number of sales outlets that we sell into, boosting the quality of authors, the number of services that we can provide for our authors. It’s growth in lots of different ways.
Pam Harper: Well, you know what’s really interesting is that this is a huge challenge. I mean, a lot of leadership teams are challenged by balancing short term growth measurements with investing in the longterm growth so that they’re continuously increasing the size and quality of what they do. So, how is it that you do this?
Tanya Hall: Well, interestingly, these principles do that because they are really supporting a longterm vision. But, as we’ll talk about in a bit, they’re broken down into more manageable short-term goals that everybody in the company contributes to. So in a way, I’ve delegated it.
Pam Harper: Okay. All right.
Scott Harper: So everybody knows what they’re supposed to do to make this happen?
Tanya Hall: Absolutely. And we have a few other exercises that we do annually that are related to innovation and efficiency, so that those types of big-picture things don’t fall to the back burner. And we have additional ways to make sure that we’re accountable for the decisions that come out of those exercises. But it all kind of works together.
Pam Harper: Right. So the important thing here on this principle is that you are focused on both short-term growth and investing in long-term growth.
Scott Harper: There’s another principle, your second one. You’ve told us, it’s to redefine what it means to be a publisher. Why is this important, especially now?
Tanya Hall: Oh, I think it’s more important than ever with the changes that have come into the publishing business, finally after hundreds of years. So I think this one for us speaks to innovation and we’ve always been a very innovative company, which starts really with our business model being a hybrid publishing model that sits in-between self-publishing and traditional publishing. That was unheard of that 20 years ago this company was started and now there are a handful of competitors out there. So it is for that reason that it’s even more important for us to continue to innovate and really think freely about what it does mean to be a publisher. Because I think for a long time in this business, money only flowed in one direction and it resulted in authors having some restrictions on their rights and ownership of things that for certain authors were very important priorities.
Pam Harper: Yes, we know this well. For our listeners who are not as familiar with publishing, is there something that we can refer them to some kind of resource to talk about what is the difference between the hybrid publisher, traditional publishing and that kind of thing?
Tanya Hall: Yeah, definitely. On the Greenleaf Book Group website, there’s a dropdown on the front page, and I believe it just says Our Model and there’s a little whiteboard video there that explains where we fit into what is typically thought of as two options, traditional and self-publishing and how we fit in the middle.
Pam Harper: So I think right here for anybody who’s not a publisher, which is about everybody, we are really saying that it’s important to be redefining what it means to be in your industry.
Tanya Hall: Definitely. And for us, that’s also an industry-specific thing where we’re constantly educating other people in publishing about what we do and why it’s still “real.” The stigma isn’t what it used to be, but people I think used to look down their nose at us because A, we weren’t in New York and B, we didn’t operate like them. And it’s very strange for someone like me who comes from a pretty deep media background where if you look at, I won’t go up on a soapbox, but if you look at the film industry and people who sell fund projects and the filmmakers are the darling of film, and yet in publishing there’s this snobbery about it. It’s just, it was very striking to me coming into this business. And so I’m passionate about educating my fellow publishing folks about the fact that this is a business model decision. It’s not better or worse, it’s just different.
Scott Harper: So you’re differentiating from the traditional publishers, and what’s kind of sometimes called the vanity press, where you get poorly written ego pieces out there.
Tanya Hall: Definitely, yes. Yep. We are neither of those things.
Pam Harper: Okay. Well, let’s move on to principle three; you talk about becoming the top publishing choice for thought leaders. Obviously, it’s a very competitive world out there as we were just saying. So what would be a brief story of how you’ve been leading to constantly improve Greenleaf’s reputation?
Tanya Hall: Yeah, and you nailed it. This is our reputation and visibility principle because so many times I’ll talk to an author who has traditionally published and it has been disappointed and they say, “God, I didn’t even realize that what you do is an option, I didn’t know about you guys.” So one example of how I’ve been working on that is the book that I wrote. For many years, my authors and friends and family would say, “Okay, you’ve been doing this for 15 years. Where’s your book?” And for the longest time I resisted because I know I watched you guys write, I know how hard it is. And I really wasn’t ready. But finally realized, it’s quite hypocritical for me to say that a book is the ultimate way to plant your flag as a thought leader and then not have done that myself.
Pam Harper: Well. I thought it was great. We talk about this in other episodes, how important it is for CEOs to publish their stories, especially their leadership stories because there’s so much to share.
Tanya Hall: Yeah. And the book has served its purpose. And it’s not only a way for me to make sure that people have a full knowledge of publishing before they get started, but it was in the airports for some time after it launched. And I had so many folks reach out to me through LinkedIn to say, “I can’t believe I found this book. I was on my way to a speaking engagement. This is great.” So it’s been a wonderful tool to support the business as well.
Scott Harper: That’s terrific. And the fourth principle I remember you said was be the best. Now, Tanya, I’ll be very frank. I’ve heard “be the best” so much. It’s like, “give me a break.” How have you shaped Greenleaf’s culture so that these words are more than just jargon, more than buzzwords?
Tanya Hall: Yeah. And I struggled with the verbs, I suppose, the words in that particular principle because you’re right, it’s overdone. But ultimately that is what we arrived at because it’s the truth. And you’re right, everybody says it. And even within publishing, there are a lot of firms that say they are author-centric but we really take it to the next degree. And it starts with hiring, of course. We look for people who are very passionate about the power of words and ideas and respectful of ideas that they don’t agree with and really see themselves as stewards of bringing these things into the world.
Tanya Hall: So, definitely hiring is the first and most important piece in that. And then we make a point to recognize, publicly recognize, the people who really exemplify that. And we do that in two cycles here at Greenleaf. So we have a monthly staff meeting where we highlight praise that comes in from clients and we tie that back to our core values. And we go around the table and we read it out loud so everybody hears somebody’s praise and we tie it back to the core values and a little round of applause, a golf clap if you will.
Tanya Hall: And then two weeks later, we have a staff huddle where we take the time to internally recognize each other for either people who are helping cross-departmentally or somebody who went above and beyond. Somebody who cleaned out the fridge without being asked to. Little things like that that just say, “You’re a good person and I appreciate what you’re doing to support me and the company.” And I think it just keeps it top of mind for everybody and reinforces the fact that it’s such a priority for us here at Greenleaf.
Scott Harper: So you bring it to life in real tangible ways. Yeah, top of mind is so important because people get bogged down in their work and I’m working here. And so that’s a terrific example, Tanya.
Tanya Hall: I was just going to add that we do mandatory professional development for every role. And then sometimes it’s hard to find classes for certain types of roles, but I think that also really comes full circle to help us develop a really well-qualified team that is appreciative of the work we do here.
Pam Harper: So it’s really clear that when you can identify the principles that are guiding your vision, and be very clear about how to make them happen, and to keep monitoring them, that it will make a difference. These are your four principles. Now, is this what it’s going to be forever or do you see this evolving over time?
Tanya Hall: Good question. So they were designed to evolve over time. To date, I have not changed these. I revisit them every year to see if I need to refresh any of them and I have not yet. I’m on the cusp of it with one of them, but I am not quite ready to pull the trigger. But I think for anybody else who’s considering adopting this as a practice in their own company, that’s an important thing to consider. Especially if you’re in a, like a startup or something that’s probably going to change its shape over time rather quickly.
Pam Harper: So principles are living and breathing, they’re not set in stone, but they definitely help in terms of bringing a vision to life. We’re going to take another quick break and when we come back, Scott and I will speak more with Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group about immediately useful ideas for listeners to develop their own vision principles. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You are listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated and we’re on the web at BusinessAdvance.com.
Pam Harper: One of the things the visionary leaders tell us is that their most valuable leadership lessons often happen during times when their focus is on accelerating game-changing results. The challenge with this is getting past the many assumptions about what is and is not happening as everyone is navigating new territory at hyper speed.
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Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. Over the last two segments, Scott and I have been speaking with Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group about the most valuable leadership lesson she ever learned in her role as the top executive. In this case about transmitting vision that originates in the C-suite throughout a company in a way that’s relevant and actionable for everyone. Tanya, how can people find out more about you, your book and Greenleaf?
Tanya Hall: The best way to do that is to visit GreenleafBookGroup.com or for the book IdeasInfluenceandIncome.com or follow me on Twitter. I’m @Tanyahall.
Pam Harper: And as I said before, you can see Tanya’s bio and other resources for this conversation by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com episode 163 and scrolling down to resources. So Tanya, this is the part of our podcast where we talk about the immediately useful next steps that listeners can use to develop, in this case, their own vision principles. Let’s take it one at a time. What would be an immediately useful idea or tip for finding the right words for your principles? You had mentioned that that was a bit of a struggle.
Tanya Hall: Yes, it definitely was. And I love the fact that you do these useful tips, by the way, as a book publisher who likes actionable content.
Scott Harper: There you go.
Tanya Hall: So, yes, I definitely struggled with that because as I said, I was a bit overwhelmed by the millions of directions my mind was moving in. So I think if you found yourself a brand consultant or even a really strong editor, like you’re looking for a developmental editor, which is somebody who’s trained to find the logic in a manuscript traditionally, but could also probably do that in this type of work. And then I would say just the way I did, just clear your schedule, don’t put a time limit on it, but dump out all of these ideas until they’re gone, until you don’t have anything left to give. And then start the work of trying to organize them into themes and letting this person drive. Letting this consultant or a freelance editor really help you see the patterns that you can’t identify because you’re too close to it.
Pam Harper: So words really do matter. Did you have to try on a lot of words?
Tanya Hall: Oh, definitely. And the words that I chose were terrible. Again, they were just so, synergy and stuff like that, that my bottom frontline people don’t care about. And it sounds jargony and they roll their eyes.
Scott Harper: Buzzword bingo…
Tanya Hall: Yeah, Yeah. And I should know better, but I do know better, but I really needed somebody again who could fine-tune that with me so that it was something that still reflected my beliefs but was very easily accessible for anybody in the company.
Scott Harper: Okay. So building on that, Tanya, let’s have an immediately useful tip for increasing ownership of the principles beyond the C-suite into the entire company.
Tanya Hall: Yeah, and this is a super important one because, without it, this exercise is meaningless. I would say the most important tip is to not define how your different divisions contribute to these principles. And that’s probably going to be hard for you. It was for me.
Scott Harper: Tell me more.
Tanya Hall: So what I’ve done is I take these principles to each division or each department, and explained thinking behind them, and then I let them take the reins in terms of how they’re going to map out over the course of a year, how they contribute to each of these principles. And I probably have my own ideas tucked away in the back of my head if they get stuck. But what happens, nine times out of 10, they come up with things I never would have dreamed of because they know their work at a deeper level than I do. And they know where, “Oh, we can fine-tune this type of report so that we have a better client experience, which helps to redefine what it means to be a publisher.” Things like that, that I would not have been able to connect the dots around.
Tanya Hall: So don’t get a little too aggressive and try to mandate how people apply these principles to their specific work, let them map it out. And then, we have quarterly check-ins where we simply use a red, green, yellow system to see how we’re tracking towards that progress.
Scott Harper: So in a nutshell, personalization and ownership build commitment.
Tanya Hall: Absolutely. And relevancy. Because if I sit here and try to talk from a content standpoint how we’re going to message around the company and make us more visible, the accounting team is going, “I don’t care. I have nothing to do with that.” So it’s super important to let them translate it into their own work and that really provides engagement and buy-in around the entire initiative.
Pam Harper: But what if you disagree with people? I mean that’s a big deal.
Tanya Hall: That is a big deal. That has come up and I think what happens, in that case, is it’s a matter of priorities; I’ll help them understand where one initiative makes a bigger impact on the business than another one that they might be really enthusiastic about. And then, it’s not saying no to something that they think is important, but it’s saying that kind of falls a little further down the chart than this other one that helps to drive revenue or as a cost-cutting initiative.
Pam Harper: So putting it in context, so that they understand all the other criteria that are involved in all the context that goes on in terms of pulling it all together. I think that’s hard but very, very important. So let’s come up with a third immediately useful idea, and this one for measuring the success of goals, supporting your principles. At some point metrics matter, right?
Tanya Hall: Absolutely. And in I think your answer is in the question, you really have to make the goals measurable. First of all, I think that’s something that people skip over sometimes, and this is again where words really matter. Be the best is such a vague principle, but when you boil it down to everybody attends one professional development seminar per quarter, everybody joins one professional networking group and participates in a webinar or whatever it may be. Those measurable type of goals are ultimately what helps to keep this on track and to make sure that we aren’t just sort of vaguely throwing spaghetti at some goals, that some big vision principle that everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, we got to do this thing.” These are very measurable and have very specific outcomes that we can track on a quarterly basis.
Scott Harper: So creating clarity about what success really looks like and what goes into it makes it easier to get there, right?
Tanya Hall: And quantifying it wherever possible. Yes.
Pam Harper: So one thing somebody could do is go back and say, “If I were to measure right now what I’m trying to bring to life, could I find the metrics to do it?” That would be an interesting idea.
Tanya Hall: It is. And that can be a big challenge in certain areas. Especially, let’s take my front desk person for instance, who is really the face of the company and the first impression maker. It’s kind of difficult for me. [inaudible 00:30:28] get a complaint. It’s difficult for me to measure how effective she is being at that sometimes. So, some roles are a little more challenging than others, but we’ve managed to get there on all of them.
Pam Harper: Well, and that’s the idea. It’s always a work in process. So we are actually at the end of this conversation, do you have some final thoughts on your most valuable leadership lesson that you ever learned that you’d like to leave us with?
Tanya Hall: I think I’d just like to underscore the fact that these are your principles and you should hold tight to them in terms of not being too swayed in a different direction. If somebody thinks it’s more important to, you know, “Let’s be more active in the community,” is one that I get and that is a big part of what we do here. But that is not part of one of my four vision principles.
So I think again, the more you remember that these are yours and you’re free to change them as the company grows and things change around your business conditions or the vision period for how the company will grow, then you can change them. But it’s your vision. You’re the one in charge and you should maintain your own ownership and accountability for those results in that way.
Pam Harper: Well, Tanya, thank you so much for being our guest today.
Tanya Hall: Oh, thank you for having me, it was my pleasure.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Tanya. And thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To get show notes and resource links for this week’s episode, go to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and select episode 163.
Pam Harper: Until next time. This is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: Wishing you continued success and leaving you with this question to share and discuss with your top leadership team.
Scott Harper: What is the most valuable leadership lesson that you have ever learned as you and your team are accelerating to your own company’s next level of success?