Anne Grady is a multi-talented business personality. She is a best-selling author, successful entrepreneur, and a two-time TEDx speaker. For the past twenty years, she has worked with a variety of organizations, from “Fortune 500 companies, associations, non-profits, government agencies, and school districts,” where she teaches them how to become resilient, and how to hone and practice their resiliency.
After experiencing significant obstacles and personal setbacks, such as her son’s diagnosis of Autism and her own diagnosis of a tumor, Anne Grady has fought back and rose to the top. Now, she wants to pay it forward to other people. She wishes to “help others cultivate the habits and skills to build strength through struggle with the science behind resilience.”
Through her experience and master’s degree in organizational communication, Anne Grady “shows people how to harness the power of resilience to break out of reactivity so they can communicate, lead, and live on purpose.” Her work has led to recognitions from several major outlets, including the Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, Inc., Fast Company, FOX Business, and CNN, among others.
Anne Grady has also written the best-selling book “52 Strategies for Life, Love & Work: Transforming Your Life One Week at a Time,” and its follow-up, “Strong Enough.” Her newest book is titled “Mind Over Moment: Harness the Power of Resilience.” She is also an advocate for mental health, and she donates a portion of her book proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Central Texas (NAMI).
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Anne Grady: I am goal-oriented and have had a strategic plan for my life since I was a freshman in high school. No, I was not one of the popular kids. I was the president of my debate team and took theater arts. I was that kid. By the time I was in college, I thought I had it pretty dialed in. I was going to go to college, get a master’s degree, and find Prince Charming. I was going to marry him at the age of 26, have my first child at 28, and my second child at 32. I was going to have dogs. Cute ones. I wanted a nice home with a white picket fence in a beautiful neighborhood. I wanted happily ever after.
I thought I was doing everything right. I went to college, got a master’s degree, got married at 26, had my first child at 28. I thought I had mastered adulting.
While I worked in the corporate world, I quickly realized that more than money or title, I valued autonomy and flexibility. I decided to quit my job as the director of training at a large resort, and with $3,000 in savings and a pantry full of Spam and Ramen Noodles, I thought it would be the perfect time to begin a consulting career (insert sarcasm here).
I found a small consulting firm (one person) who was willing to take me under his wing to train and mentor me. I didn’t receive an income or benefits, so I was basically running my own business, but I had a lot of moral support and mentorship.
I provided training and development sessions on communication and leadership, facilitated strategic planning sessions, and consulted on employee engagement and workplace culture.
Then, my whole world fell apart.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Anne Grady: My very first year into consulting, I got pregnant. I had only been married for a couple of years, and thanks to a special on Oprah, where women who put off having children because of their careers could no longer get pregnant, I decided there was no time like the present. Thanks a lot, Oprah.
I had a very tumultuous pregnancy and an even harder delivery. Immediately, I knew something wasn’t right. My son Evan cried 20 hours a day, my husband left, and I found myself as a single mother trying to balance a new career with no income and a new baby. I was exhausted, I had horrible postpartum depression, and I couldn’t see a way out. I absolutely felt like giving up, in every way, but I knew I had to keep going.
I couldn’t get any answers or help for my son, and he continued to escalate. He tried to kill me at the age of three with a pair of scissors. By the time he was four years old, he was on his first antipsychotic.
When Evan was in the second grade, I got a call from his teacher. She said, “Anne, Evan has punched a hole in the sheet rock and tried to strangle himself, he has threatened to kill two students, and he has dislocated a teacher’s fingers. If you can’t be here in the next 10 minutes, we will have to call the police. Evan was seven years old.
I had been terrified to start my own business, but after living at the Ronald McDonald House for two-months while Evan underwent inpatient psychiatric treatment, I figured if I could do that, I could figure it out.
One of my strengths, and often weaknesses, is my unwillingness to give up. I was going to find a way to make this work and quitting was not an option.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Anne Grady: I was in my first leadership role as the director of training and development at a large resort. Celebrities regularly visited, and there was a strict no fraternizing policy. One day, Matthew McConaughey was at the resort for a golf tournament. I am a HUGE fan.
There was a restaurant attached to the men’s locker room, and the gentleman who worked there knew about my Matthew obsession. While Matthew was eating lunch, my co-worker snuck me into the restaurant and seated me with Matthew McConaughey! I was speechless and sat there with a huge dumb grin on my face. I got an autograph, and Matthew thanked me for my smile (I am still blushing).
After lunch, I was so giddy, and I told one of my colleagues what had happened. Shortly after, I received an email from this colleague addressed to all resort staff saying, “It has come to my attention that one of our managers has broken our no fraternization policy, and she will be dismissed immediately.”
My heart sank, and my eyes filled with tears. I ran into my boss’ office apologizing profusely, begging to keep my job. She had absolutely NO idea what I was talking about. Apparently, my co-worker played a joke and created a separate email address that was just slightly different from the email address that went to all of the staff.
I totally outed myself! My boss would have had no idea. Thankfully everyone, including me, had a great laugh (and I still have the autograph!)
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Know your “why”. The “what” you do and “how” you do it are important, but without the foundation of understanding why you are doing it, you will never get to great. Our mission is to give people the tools and strategies to live their best life and the inspiration to put those lessons into practice. Our “Why” is bringing mental health and well-being to the forefront as a must have, not nice to have. You can’t live your best life if you don’t make mental, physical, and emotional well-being a priority.
- Stay humble. It’s easy to let success go to your head. If COVID has taught us anything, it is that everything can change in a split second. True success is knowing that you are no better than anyone else, and that everyone has unique and special gifts to bring to the world. Surround yourself with people who share that philosophy and have strengths to offset your weaknesses. Humble leaders credit others for their success, but they also take ownership of failures.
- Your business is not your identity. It’s just a business. When your product or service is you, rejection can be particularly painful. Realizing that it’s just business and nothing more than a numbers game helps you stay more objective. Your business is part of your identity. It is not your identity. It’s easy when you own a business to tie your self-worth to the success of the business, but they are not the same. Make sure you are investing time in other areas of your life that will fill your cup. Your resume and eulogy should not be the same thing.
- Be easy to work with. There is plenty of competition, and while your business might offer a great solution, if you’re difficult to work with, you will never take your business from good to great. This doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover, but it does mean that the customer or client shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to work with you. Be flexible and willing to adapt when needed.
- Work on your business, not in your business. It’s easy to get caught up in minutia and the trees, losing sight of the forest. This doesn’t mean that you are free from the daily grind, but it does mean that you are more likely to succeed if you focus on strategy instead of reactivity.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
Anne Grady: This goes back to getting clear on your “why”. It’s not just purpose-driven businesses that are successful. You need purpose driven people working in and on that business. The research is clear, doing good for others makes you feel better in the process. If you can do good for others and make money in the process, even better. We donate a portion of all of our book proceeds to the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Central Texas. It feels good to know that you are doing more than just making money.
Why are you doing what you are doing? We need money to survive, but at the end of the day, there will be no Brinks truck following your Hearse. If you don’t lead with purpose and have a business with a purpose, your success will be short lived.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
Anne Grady: Relationships mean everything. While you might not close or convert every opportunity, you never know when a relationship will yield great results, both personally and professionally. Rather than treat people like a number, truly get to know them. What are their challenges, struggles and goals?
I have found the best way to convert a visit into a sale is to be a trusted advisor. You are there to help your customer. Sometimes you will be the best solution and sometimes you won’t. Letting people know this is key. When you can tell someone that you’d love to work with them but think “x” might be a better fit, you build trust and credibility. You might not win the business right then and there, but it will come back tenfold.
Be honest about what you can and can’t deliver. I would much rather under promise and over deliver than disappoint because I couldn’t do what I said I would.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Anne Grady: This was incredibly challenging for me when I started this business. When people asked for my “elevator pitch”, I could never summarize or capture what we did in one or two sentences. Mostly, I think it was because I was trying to be everything to everyone.
When I realized that I could use my experiences to help people become a better version of themselves, things became very clear.
When someone thinks about you and your business, what adjectives do you want them to use to describe you? When clients say that we are authentic, real, funny, and insightful, I know we have done our job well.
You can’t have a clear brand if you are trying to please everyone all the time. Get clear on who you are and what you stand for. For example, some “motivational speakers” put themselves on a pedestal, explaining that they used to be where you were until they learned how to ____ (fill in the blank). The problem with that approach is that we are all human, and when you inevitably falter, you destroy your credibility.
I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I am on this journey alongside you. I have had to learn to truly practice what I teach, and I’ll be honest, it doesn’t work 100% of the time. I can teach mindfulness, gratitude, and self-care, but there are days I screw it up. There are days I complain, forget to practice gratitude, and fail to stay present. I am on the journey alongside my audience. Somedays we get it right. Other days we give ourselves grace and move on.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Anne Grady: You can find me on www.annegradygroup.com and @annegradygroup across all social channels.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
Anne Grady: Thank you for sharing this message!