Melissa Kaan of Summit Facility Solutions On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Stay Optimistic — It may seem cliché, but you are the example that must be set. You must believe in everyone else so they can believe in you and the company. Live your life like that — manifest!
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 Melissa Kaan.
Melissa Kaan is the Vice President of Business Development as well as a developing Principal for Summit Facility Solutions. She has over a decade of experience in facility management, focusing her skillset on a multitude of things including operations management, construction project management, sales, marketing, program management design, and process implementation. She spends her free time with family and friends. She is a volunteer for the North Patchogue Fire Department in the Ladies Auxiliary to help her local community, and works with the Faris Foundation. She believes laughter is the best way to combat difficult times, and has worked tirelessly to empower her team and herself. She resides in Patchogue, NY and you can reach out to her here.
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 started in facilities the way most people do — accidentally. I believe it was a Craigslist ad that I responded to for a dispatching coordinator and was hooked pretty immediately. As an art student waiting tables, I knew I wanted something steadier and with more opportunity — painting was never going to pay my bills! But then, I loved the constant challenges that the nature of the work brings. I have always said to my teams that this industry is based in negativity, so it’s up to you to find your victories in everything you do. Once I started really working in all the different trades, I made it my mission to prove my value — any chance I had to be a part of a conversation, to learn something new, I took it. The hunger for knowledge has always been a part of my life — I can’t even get through a television show without google — and that has served me well. I’ll never assume I’ve learned it all — that’s usually when you’re done for. Being able to work with some amazing people in various companies helped me constantly, and I believe those incredible collaborations are the reason I’m where I am today.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started on my first major remodeling project, I didn’t realize you had to submit change orders during the process, and not during the punch. Is a 20K unknown change order funny? My client didn’t seem to think so! And what did I learn? Don’t think you know what you’re doing all the time — everyone makes mistakes. You have a team of people around you to help for a reason — let them!
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?
I have so many people to thank! But can I use this question to be corny? It’s my husband, Michael. Every time I wanted to try something new, go in a different direction, take a risk — he would support it 100%. When we met, I knew very little about myself and what I wanted to do, and when I took the chance in this industry and decided I loved it enough to want to grow within it, he had my back no matter what. Late nights, weekends working or traveling — keeping our family going while I was at trade shows networking and learning — he supported it all. I remember I was running individual coordinator training for a company and I was putting in 12–14 hour days for over two weeks. Every night at 6pm, he would bring dinner to me in my office — it took the pressure off and allowed me to go all in so I could be the best version of myself at work. Having a great support system in your private life, no matter who that is, is such a wonderful thing to have on your journey to becoming who you are in business. But never forget to give that support right back. All relationships are two-way streets, no matter the nature of them.
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?
Summit Facility Solutions was founded in 2018 as primarily a janitorial company. I was invited on to develop their maintenance and construction programs. What attracted me to the team was their overall messaging — empower your people, and you’ll succeed. Happiness breeds productivity. It’s such a simple thing! Their purpose was to take the problem away from their clients, and develop actual partnerships — removing the pressure of having the be transactional and just allowing great work to be done together — that’s a vision I knew I wanted to be a part of expanding. I’m very fortunate to be on such an amazing team with such real, purpose-driven people.
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?
I think the pandemic truly illuminated leaders during difficult times — for better or worse. For me, I learned to lean into the team. Never say the words “it’s not my job.” During the quarantine period of Covid, with all of the major shutdowns and store closings and uncertainty, working as an aggregator started to feel like a “nice to have”, not a “need to have.” I think everyone was scared and furloughs were happening all over. I remember saying to my CEO that I felt very responsible to sell — it taught me that departmentally, one does not exist without the other. People were depending on me to do my job so they could come back to theirs. It was an immense amount of pressure, but it was inspiring to take the reigns and come through. I would jump in and help book calls — going back to my coordinating roots — and my team was grateful for the help and the calm demeanor I aimed to keep. It really showed me that if you want someone to flourish, show them the methods and the behaviors that will get them there. Be the type of team member that you would want to lead.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I’m a determined person. I don’t believe in giving up — I don’t walk away from something unless I know I’ve left it all on the field. The motivation must come from within. I always try to remember that you cannot teach people how to care — but you can teach them how not to. And that sustains me — I don’t ever want anyone on my team to feel like they need to look for an exit strategy.
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’m a pretty avid reader, but I would have to say The Art of Caring Leadership. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a seminar about leadership hosted by the author, Heather Younger, and she was astounding. Listening to her words and her energy really motivated me — I always knew I wanted to lead, but it was after listening to her and reading her book that I realized I didn’t want to lead by saying “We’re all a family here.” The reason is, you can’t choose your family, but you do choose where you work. I want to foster a community of people that want to work with me, and it has to start with how I approach each and every situation — that’s the way to create a tribe.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Navigating all of the perspectives. Every moment that happens in a person’s life is deeply personal to them, and you can be empathetic, compassionate, sympathetic — you can be all the things that your team needs you to be. But you must remember that the perspective is different for every single person, and then you must adapt your responses and your behaviors to that — no one is the same. And understanding that and working with that is to me, the key to truly effective leadership.
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?
Listen! The best ideas aren’t always yours just because you are the boss. Empower your team to do their best so that they are constantly coming to the table as thought leaders. I want every person working with me to take my job. And I want to give them the tools to do exactly that, so we can all continue to grow and excel. Having knowledge does not give you power, so don’t hold it so close to the vest. Making people feel heard is nice but listening and taking action on it — that’s the best way to boost morale. Can you honor every single person’s ask? No, but that’s a larger part of life, not just work. If anyone has perfected that — let me know! But what you can do is truly value each person’s input, feedback, questions, and concerns and try to find a way to direct that into a solution together. Stay humble and on the level with your team. You’ll all be happier for it.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Tell the truth, but back it up with a solution. I had a wonderful boss in a prior life advise me when I was panicking about a job that was going south. I had told him that I didn’t know what to tell the client and I wasn’t sure what to do next. He patted my shoulder and simply said — “Just tell them. We are not professional liars.” I got on the phone and with all the compassion I could muster, I told them exactly what had gone wrong and what I thought was best to fix the problem. Was it my favorite conversation? Not even close. But it took me to a place with my client where they stopped being a deal I was negotiating, and they started being a partner that I bonded with. Now that I can present potential solutions, we can work together for the best option and both be happy with the outcome. It completely changed how I do business.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Protect your business by investing it in when the future is unpredictable — and that means investing in the people.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I feel like there is an emerging theme here! Focus on your people. That’s the only thing in the end that will matter. The world is constantly in flux, and so are people, and so is business, and commerce. You name it — it’s changing. Set expectations that are manageable for your team and stick to them. On the flip side of that coin, allow your team the latitude to explore — you’ll find the best talent is just waiting for a podium. You can worry about your profits, you can worry about your partners, you can worry about your deadlines. Those things will all be there — if you have a business, you will always have those functions of operations. What you won’t have, is the talent, unless you grant them the agency to own their futures at your company.
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?
First, is putting profits first. It’s very easy to worry about your bottom line — and it’s important, you cannot have a business without profits — but if you put money before all other things, then that becomes your key driver — and greed has never been a steppingstone to success.
Secondly, operating from a place of panic. When you allow yourself to react emotionally first in business — you will always have regret. You must put your heart and soul in what you do — that creates passion — but be careful to think before you act. Consider the perspectives of the others that are struggling alongside you — how are you culpable in the creation of the turbulence? And more importantly, how are you going to demonstrate the solution or the end goal if you’re the one waving the white flag? Breathe!
Finally, accountability. Never point the finger away from yourself. Take your responsibility and show some grace. Everyone — clients, partners, employees — deserves their grace.
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.
- Engage your team right away — never make them feel like they are waiting for a shoe to drop — keep your team informed so it eliminates the fear of the unknown.
- Remain accessible — don’t close your office door, don’t put your phone on do not disturb. Answer the zoom call. Respond to the Slack message. During turbulent times, your team needs to feel like they can count on you — and if you aren’t around, how can they?
- Foster your talent — I’ve had plenty of jobs that weren’t the right fit for me — or maybe they were but then I hit a ceiling or grew out of my position. Always make sure that you are giving the right tools to your people — not everyone stays, not everyone should stay. But giving each individual the opportunity to shine during tough times will show keeping the team inspired and engaged.
- Delegate, Don’t Dictate — Your team members are being paid for their job — let them do it. Micromanaging is the kiss of death for many — there are plenty of internet memes that say people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses — and these are in constant circulation for a reason.
- Stay Optimistic — It may seem cliché, but you are the example that must be set. You must believe in everyone else so they can believe in you and the company. Live your life like that — manifest!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is tough — motivational quotes are great, right? Based on my journey though, the twists and turns, both personally and professionally, I would have to choose a John Lennon (or Alan Saunders, depending on who you ask) quote — “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” — could anything be more true of business? Or life?
How can our readers further follow your work?
I like to think I’m relatable — just a phone call away. Follow me on LinkedIn — I’m always an open book and love engaging with people and helping out however I can.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Melissa Kaan of Summit Facility Solutions On 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.