John Gillett of Foresite Technology Solutions: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader…

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John Gillett of Foresite Technology Solutions: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Lead by example, being first in line to make sacrifices. Roll up your sleeves when necessary to show an equal commitment to driving the purpose of the business, and always show the utmost respect and professionalism to each and every staff member.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing John Gillett.

John Gillett is the CEO of Foresite Technologies and has more than 27 years of experience in the technology and construction industry. He has a lifelong passion for technology, with a particular focus on software development. Over the course of his career he has raised more than $20 million in capital from Venture and Private equity firms while also providing the vision and guidance for the development of three commercial software applications.

Starting his entrepreneurial career in 1996 with his first startup, John realized his love for technology and its ability to transform markets. With the rise of the Internet in the early 90s, he hopped on to the start-up bandwagon with his first business, a translation and localization company focused on developing technology to decrease the costs of translation while delivering high-quality translations. $8 million of venture funding and a dotcom implosion later, the business became a footnote in history. In spite of the painful lessons learned, John’s passion for entrepreneurism was cemented — and he’s never looked back. Since then, he has built businesses in the construction and education space, always looking for ways to apply technology in exciting new ways transform markets for the better.

Today, John works in the construction industry, applying his passion for disruptive, transformative technologies to a host of industry challenges, including supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, job site safety and compliance with an ever more complex web of regulations. Each day he is inspired by the understanding that his industry is building the American dream: homeownership. And he’s driven by the understanding that the need to nurture a stable industry that brings homeownership to as many individuals as possible has never been greater.

John lives in San Diego, California with his wife, Heidi and is the father of two young adults.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?

I have 19 years of experience in the residential homebuilding space, mostly in new construction. I am also the CEO of QualityBuilt, a third party inspection company for residential new construction. Prior to that, I was President of a different inspection company called Energy Inspectors, which grew from 3 to 200 employees during my time there. Through these experiences I saw how overwhelming the impact of the industry was and how much room there was to improve it, which led me to start Foresite.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

My first job out of college was with a UNIX server distributor. The Internet was growing fast and UNIX servers were the backbone powering it. As I sat at my desk, full of confidence and brimming with enthusiasm for my new job, I received my first email. This was back when emails were fairly new, with AOL and bulletin board services being the dominant domain for electronic communications. The email was from my boss, the controller for the company. It was exciting to receive a communication from someone so important and I immediately began typing my response and excitedly pressed send. Within a minute, I could hear a stomping coming down the hall, leading to a crescendo right outside of my cubicle. The next words I heard have never left my head: “John, you never send emails in all caps, the reader sees that as you yelling at them”. It was not the best first impression, but it was a very memorable moment.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My wife. Being an entrepreneur is hard, being married to an entrepreneur is harder. My wife, Heidi, has been a combination cheerleader, taskmaster, and psychologist to me my whole career. When you have someone in your life who believes in you, who brings out the best in you and who never gives up on you, even when you have given up on yourself, you keep them close and count yourself lucky.

Starting a business requires capital, and at 27 years old, just a few years out of college, capital was not something that Heidi and I had. But I was determined to start my own business and Heidi supported my efforts, even when I converted the second bedroom of our apartment into our corporate headquarters and, over the course of the next 6 months, filled that space with 4 individuals, with 2 parked in the closet. Before Heidi had even gotten out of the shower most mornings, we would have the first of our team members show up. Hair up in a towel, Heidi would always greet them with a smile, offer them some breakfast and then go back to getting ready for her day. When we needed more cash for the business, I made the ill-advised decision to apply and receive 11 credit cards. Forty-thousand dollars of credit later, we were off to the races….

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

The homebuilding industry is an amazing place to work because our clients literally enable the “American Dream”: homeownership. Our vision is to help the building industry bring this dream to a greater percentage of the American public and along the way help to create an industry that attracts great talent, creates long-term careers and builds homes that are sustainable, durable and high-quality.

Today we are working to achieve these goals by leveraging technology to meet the industry where it is: in the field. Whether it’s job site safety, regulatory compliance or gross profit management, we’ve got the solution to help our clients create successful outcomes.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Dealing with the past year’s inflation and convincing a team of professionals that, for the first time in their careers, inflation is a real threat and we will need to adjust our business to respond was certainly a challenge. Late in the fall of 2021, I began to communicate my concerns to our leadership about the increases in inflation, but these concerns largely fell on deaf ears. The team was professional, intelligent, and very experienced at their jobs, but this was an animal they had never seen before. It was not helpful that our own government was positioning the inflationary pressures as transient and reassuring everyone that they would soon dissipate. But failure to respond quickly to the increasing cost pressures would have resulted in significant damage to our business. To change the mindset of our team was no small feat. I personally oversaw the creation of multiple new reports to illuminate the impact inflation was having on our business; I sent over news article after news article highlighting the direction and impact inflation was having on the economy; and I personally lead the meetings to put together our plan of altering our business to counteract the impacts of inflation over a multi-month period. I would love to say that leadership is about telling your staff to go do things and then watching as those things get done. But that is not the case. Leadership requires persuasion, diplomacy, patience, and at times the willingness to do what others won’t in order to lead the way.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

In the spring of 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, my long-term business partner and I separated. Nineteen years of working together is a long time and while it had not been easy, I never imagined it ending the way it did. I found myself full of doubts and questioning my next steps forward. Fortunately, I found no such doubts plaguing my wife, my family or, as the calls began to come in, many of the individuals in the industry whom I had worked with for all of those years. It was at this point that I recognized that it wasn’t just a career I was creating over all of those years, it was a family, a family of individuals with shared character traits, including hard-work, honesty, humbleness, and integrity. The possibility to make a meaningful difference for the industry that I work in, the people I work with and the customers we support provides an endless supply of motivation to me each and every day.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

I have found many valuable nuggets of wisdom in John Maxwell’s books. I have benefited repeatedly from his advice on the importance of the meeting before the meeting.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

To communicate a clear path forward and to execute without hesitation.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Provide a purpose that the team believes in and is willing to commit their efforts to. But it is not enough to communicate this purpose, the individuals you lead have to believe that you are genuine. This is accomplished by staying true to the purpose even when it may result in personal or business sacrifices, including the loss of income, staff, and customers.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

Over the course of my career, I have lived by the belief that difficult news should be delivered early and often. Most challenges can be overcome if you have a fully engaged team and they have all of the available information to make decisions. Too often leaders and their teams make the mistake of withholding information from a client, believing they can solve the problem or make it go away without it being noticed. This rarely works out and more often results in the loss of trust by your team member or customer, trust that can take years to earn back, if ever.

This leads to another saying that I live by: “The best of relationships are formed in the worst of times.” When your team members or customers are dealing with their greatest struggles, a little help can go a long way to creating a lasting partnership and often friendship. In business, leaders take the concept of partnerships seriously, working hard to not be a fair-weather friend, and instead showing their commitment, even when it is very costly to them.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

Good leaders thrive on unpredictability, recognizing that most of their competitors will fail to put in the effort to create a plan, motivate their team and communicate a vision forward during these times. For those leaders who put in the work, unpredictable times represent an opportunity to grow market share, deepen customer relationships and create loyalty among team members that money could never buy.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

Make yourself invaluable. Salespeople should become sales consultants, customer support should become customer success specialists, and all members of the team should be aligned to the customer’s priorities. When your top business priority is the customer’s priorities, you will always find yourself needed.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Failing to modernize during good times, resulting in bloated, labor-intensive processes that are difficult to scale down without significant degradation in the quality of the delivered product.

Being slow to recognize changing market conditions, resulting in highly reactive decisions that create fear and uncertainty in the staff and result in a distracted business that struggles to provide good service to their customers.

Being overly cautious on managing financial results, leading to missed opportunities to grow market share and position the company for greater success as stability sets in.

Worrying too much about how difficult decisions, such as cutting staff, will be perceived, resulting in slow decision making that often ensures the negative outcomes the company was worried about.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Make a plan and execute, but as new information comes in, don’t hesitate to adjust the plan.

Communicate transparently to all staff, providing clarity on how the business is going to operate through these times.

Ensure that the company has a purpose, beyond financial returns, for operating, one that is viewed by team members as worthy of committing their time and effort to.

Lead by example, being first in line to make sacrifices. Roll up your sleeves when necessary to show an equal commitment to driving the purpose of the business, and always show the utmost respect and professionalism to each and every staff member.

Seek out growth opportunities

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Doing the right thing can never be the wrong thing.”

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can keep up with us through our company site and LinkedIn:

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

John Gillett of Foresite Technology Solutions: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.