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Leadership Lessons: Embody Authentic Coachability

Rich Razgaitis, CEO and co-founder of FloWater

There's no one "right" way to lead a business. Today's leaders have a lot of wisdom to impart about managing the modern workforce, because each one approaches leadership in his or her own unique way. Every week, Business News Daily will share a leadership lesson from a successful business owner or executive.

  • The leader: Rich Razgaitis, CEO and co-founder of FloWater
  • Time in current position: 3 years
  • Rich's philosophy: "Authentic coachability requires effort by the leader to be on the receiving end of it, from anyone in the organization."

Author and motivational speaker Charlie "Tremendous" Jones once said, "You'll be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read."

It's one of my favorite quotes, and applies to my own personal experience. I've had some amazing mentors, from the CEO of Avon to Fortune 500 execs, a governor, and various venture capitalists. Yet a substantial amount of my leadership philosophy is gleaned from reading great authors, or everyday people I've met along the way — including a lot of incredible teammates. 

Authentic coachability really requires extreme effort by the leader to be on the receiving end of it — from anyone in the organization. I've found coachability among the most vital attributes in an organization, culturally and individually. Too often, executives get defensive, and this unwillingness to be challenged simply cascades downward. To me, there are few things more inspiring towards the effort of personal development than hearing the CEO say, "You know what? You're right, I've got to get better at that."

Lessons learned

Do the right thing. My commencement speaker for my undergrad program was Mitch Daniels (who later became a mentor). At the time Mitch was a pharmaceutical exec, and  later became Governor of Indiana. After he spoke, I asked him, "What's the single best piece of advice you could give me as I start out my career? He answered, "This is easy. With every decision, first always do the right thing."

Leverage your intuition. Years ago I worked for Stuart Ochiltree, former CEO of Avon. He pulled me aside at my six-month review and provided one observation: "You question your intuition too often. You've got great intuition but you have to allow yourself to trust it." It was, perhaps, the best advice I've ever received. Using data is vital with many business decisions, but there are many times when you simply have to call it — and that's where intuition comes into play. 

Be the pacesetter. A major part of the temperature and tenacity of an organization is set by the CEO. At another early point in my career I was the VP of sales and marketing at a NYC-based startup, working for a terrific CEO, Stephen Haimowitz. More often than not, our days ended well past midnight, yet I can't ever remember leaving the office before him. He set the pace for that entire company, and created an obsessive focus on delighting customers, which permeated —and inspired — all of us. 

Ask the right questions. My first stint as a president was in my late 20s, and in year two I was prepping for due diligence on an overseas acquisition. Prior to leaving, I called my mentor and board member Paul Rohner, former CFO and treasurer of Searle (now part of Pfizer). He asked me, "Are you ready?" I replied confidently that I had four pages of questions, at which point he abruptly cut me off and said, "You don't need four pages of questions! I'm asking if you have the right four questions." With the combination of a fast organizational pace, limitless opportunities, and many people, thinking about the right questions is essential to success.  

Edited for length and clarity by Nicole Taylor.