Heather Valudes is the President & CEO of the Lancaster Chamber. She has been with the Chamber for 13 years, previously serving as Advocacy Director and Vice President. She is a lifelong Lancastrian, a Leadership Lancaster graduate, and a Certified Chamber Executive

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Episode Transcript

Nicholas Paulukow
All right, hello fellow leadership enthusiasts. Welcome back to another episode of Servant Leader’s Library, where we crack open the vault of leadership insights and dust off some timeless wisdom. I’m your host, Nicholas Paulukow, and today we have a special treat in line for you. Joining us is none other than the president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber, Heather Valudes. So grab your favorite reading glasses and get ready to dive into the world of servant leadership with us, and let’s get it started. So Heather Valudes is the president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber.

She has been with the chamber for 13 years, previously serving as an advocacy director and vice president. She’s a lifelong Lancastrian and a Leadership Lancaster graduate and a certified chamber executive. She appreciates the role that businesses play in creating and thriving in the community and is proud to work with a team of 18 to make an impact each and every day.

So the Lancaster Chamber helps to continue the sustainability and prosperity of the Lancaster County business and communities. So welcome today, Heather. We’re super excited to have you here and we’re super excited to kind of learn more about you.

So could you give us a little bit of an intro about yourself?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Well, as you said, I’ve been at the chamber for a while now and really had the opportunity to kind of grow in this organization, grow in my roles and my leadership development skills through this organization. So very fortunate to have that. And then obviously as somebody who is a lifelong Lancastrian, I’m really excited to give back to our community in this way too, because I get to serve our business community and the residents of our community, serve a team of people that’s here are members.

And so it’s just a real joy for me to have that as somebody who loves this community, loves this county, and just wants to do all they can to give back.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, that’s amazing. The Lancastrian is, I travel quite a bit and nobody can ever say, they say Lancaster. So, you know, the Lancastrian there, I’m gonna have to use that a little more often.

Everybody thinks that we’re Amish when I travel. So I have to help them understand. But I see that you also graduated from the Lancaster Leadership Program.

Can you tell us a little bit of what that means? Why is it in the community? What does it, what did it help you do as you went through that program?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so Leadership Lancaster was a great experience for me. For about 40 years, it was actually an affiliate of the Chamber. I went through before I started at the Chamber.

So when I, before I came here, I worked for a bank and I had gone through quite a few mergers with the bank. I worked there all through college and then for a couple of years beyond. And at the time I just thought I have this degree and I wanna be able to put it to use in a different way than what I’m doing in banking right now.

Nicholas Paulukow

Heather Valudes
And so Leadership Lancaster presented itself as an opportunity. And, you know, it’s a nine-month, you meet once a month. It really focuses on getting to know different aspects of Lancaster County.

So there’s an Arts and Recreation Day, an Education Day, Civic Engagement Day. And so you do all of these different days where you’re hearing from expertise across the county. And at the time it was like, this is a great opportunity to get more plugged in and grow a network.

And really it was the start of how I’m where I am today because I ended up. Wow, that’s cool. Yeah, I ended up meeting the Executive Director of the program and because of their affiliation with the Chamber, I led the, I was actually the coach for the softball team, the Leadership Lancaster softball team.

Oh, that’s awesome. So I got even more plugged in. At the time, one of our players was the Executive Assistant here at the Chamber.

And so when the job came up here, she was like, you should apply for this. And, you know, years later, you never know where your path’s gonna take you, but it was great for connections, but also growth of what Lancaster County is doing.

Nicholas Paulukow
Okay, so it’s really like kind of a leadership through the aspect of the county and how the county operates. Okay, that’s neat. Now, what did you learn through that program?

Like, and maybe who did you meet during that experience?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so through the program, it’s definitely focused on learning more about some of the civic and volunteer engagement opportunities in Lancaster and developing yourself as a leader by knowing more about different aspects that’s happening in the community. And so it really got me plugged in with, I started volunteering with the S. June Smith Center after my time through Leadership Lancaster.

Like I said, I was coaching for the LL softball team. So it’s really just kind of plugging into some of these opportunities. And that’s what they still try to do today.

It’s to develop leaders at all roles. So at the time I was a teller at a bank. Like I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t getting, you know, true, like a true leadership role.

I was leading in different ways, but not leading people. And I really saw it as an opportunity for myself. So a lot of times employers will pay for employees to go through it.

In my instance, I actually paid to put myself through because I wanted that connection and I wanted to grow that network. And so I really did it as a development piece for myself that then I think gave me this basis for, oh, wow, there’s a whole world of things happening around that I was not plugged into prior to this.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, that’s amazing. Congratulations. You know, it’s really neat.

So when we talk to leaders, everybody kind of tells their story of where they, you know, where they made it through kind of the journey and where they continue to make it through. And we hear it over and over again about just constant learning, which is really cool. And that’s really neat to see that you also kind of adapting how you integrate with your community as a leader and build your skills.

What would you say from that program? What’s one great takeaway that you received or developed from a leadership level?

Heather Valudes
I really do think it’s the importance of knowing what’s happening around you. You don’t have to know everything that’s happening around you, but kind of having a sense of the things that are important in the world that you’re living in and navigating in. And that can look different for everybody.

You know, if you’re in a specific type of industry, it might be just having general awareness of what’s happening in your industry and that type of thing. But I think when you do that, you start to make more connections between your work and this bigger picture. And that is a really important part of how I view leadership.

It’s always kind of building into this bigger picture, this bigger community and that sense of it. And so it really showed you some of those connections between, oh, this policy here is impacting something that’s happening over here. And that connectedness between policy and philosophy and some of those types of things it just kind of stuck with me and how I even show up in my work today.

Nicholas Paulukow
I see, that’s great. I hear kind of like the greater good in mind is really how you’re leading. That’s really amazing.

So you went from bank teller to the CEO of the Lancaster Chamber. So I’m sure it didn’t happen overnight, but could you give our listeners an understanding of kind of what led you or what kind of actions did you take to get into such a wonderful role?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so like I said, I was a bank teller and I was doing that through the summers. It was a really actually great job for that because everybody at the bank wanted off in the summer. You know, all the full-time tellers, like they wanna take their vacations and stuff.

So I would come in and be able to cover for the summer and a lot of Saturdays and that type of thing. I was going to Westchester, so it was an easy commute for me to the branch that I was at. And so I did that for a while.

And then I went back to school for my master’s degree in administration with a focus on nonprofit. And so while I was doing that, I continued to work at the bank full-time. And what was wonderful about that was, you know, banks do operate in pretty standardized hours.

So I was able to kind of do my job. I was in back office at that point, but I was able to do my job and then go and do my school at night. And so I went through that program fairly quickly.

And then from there, I was like, okay, let’s put this to use. You know, I was in political science as my degree and then administration. And so I was like, let’s put this to use a little differently.

So I started working for the Building Industry Association. I did government affairs for them for about a year, but I was really, you know, really focused on policies affecting primarily residential construction issues.

Nicholas Paulukow
I see, I see.

Heather Valudes
Yeah, and so then it just got to where to a point where it was, oh, let’s think about how you might expand that out. Now, I had only been in the job a year, so I actually wasn’t thinking that much about that. This was when I was friends with somebody through LL and a job came up with the chamber for advocacy.

And she was like, you really need to go for it. And at the time, I think they wanted somebody with eight to 10 years of experience.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, wow, okay.

Heather Valudes
And I was like, there’s no way I’m getting this job. But I went for it because I did have a lot of connections into politics in Lancaster County. I had done an internship through college that got me really connected with elected officials.

And so from that, then I did get the role at the chamber. And then it’s just been this kind of growth and advancement. I mean, I really did start on as advocacy director, really doing just public policy work and advocacy work.

And that just grew over time because I had an interest in kind of the larger set of work that we were doing. And so I’ve had opportunities to develop that. And then when my predecessor, Tom, retired, I had worked with him for a long time and learned so, so much from him.

But when he announced he was retiring, it felt like I was at a natural point to say, this is something I think I can go for and support our organization and our community. And so here we are today.

Nicholas Paulukow
Ah, so I hear that, I hear kind of your leadership journey has been filled with a lot of leaning in, right? Like taking the risk and just going for it and trying to see how you can advance through some of that risk-taking. I think that’s amazing.

So congratulations. And then we’re really happy to have you as taking care of Lancaster County through the chamber. So thank you.

Heather Valudes
Thank you, I appreciate that.

Nicholas Paulukow
So let’s talk about servant leadership a little bit. What would you define servant leadership to be in your words?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so I think servant leadership for me is really this responsibility to other people. That’s so much of what I think of when I think of the servant leadership. It’s so much less about myself as an individual leader, but it’s really in developing those skills in others, putting energy into where they’re at and how they want to develop and grow, being available.

I mean, that’s a huge part of it to me is not kind of shying away from some of the tough stuff, but again, maybe this like leaning into it concept a little bit. And I’ve just seen other leaders do it really, really well. And so when you get to see examples of it, you get to see how other people are showing up for their teams and for their missions and all of that type of thing.

It starts to instill something in you that’s like, oh, that’s how I want to be as a leader for other people because that’s how I like being led or that’s what I like seeing in other leaders. So just kind of that availability, that putting yourself into others and helping them really empowering others to do what they’re best at. Those are kind of key tenets for me.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love that. I love that. It seems kind of a common theme with really great leaders, right?

And we have a core value at organization called We Before Me, right? It’s about the greater good in mind outside of the individual success. Although we want to individually succeed, the greater good should be kept in mind.

And I hear that from you, right? Like you did a couple of key things that I think is pretty amazing, right? You led by leaning into kind of that uncomfortableness, but then you’re emulating people that really fit, it seems like your values and how you want to lead, which I think is really important.

Many times that we talk to people are people that are trying to move up into leadership. They think it’s about this individual success and they really struggle and don’t understand what it means to emulate or what it means to give up kind of your individual success for the greater good of the team. So I think that’s amazing.

And I think it’s really neat to kind of learn from other people. Is there one person that you feel that you really received some great leadership from that you could share?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so I don’t know how she’ll feel about it, but a person that just sticks out in my mind and that you should totally talk to for this podcast is Michelle Ronanelli with Kitchen Kettle Village. She is somebody that is just setting vision for the team and then really making it the culture of their organization and how they think about it. And she’s doing that with a tremendous leadership team as well.

And they have a family business, obviously with a long history of doing this as well. But I always think about with her, you can walk into Kitchen Kettle on a Saturday and they’re busy and Michelle is like on the floor, restocking stuff while talking to employees, while running food to a table. I mean, she’s just kind of in it all.

And that to me is that display of like, you’re leading this, but you’re displaying what leadership looks like. And so other people wanna be on that journey with you because you’re doing it too. And so I would say Michelle is a great example.

Nicholas Paulukow
I really love that too. And you said a key word of a leader, right? Setting vision.

And that is really amazing, right? When you can get everybody around the idea or the vision of what you’re trying to achieve and you can sell it down or get everybody energized to understand how to move in that same direction. My oldest son is a crew member at Temple University.

And I learned so much just even through my children, right? All the years of leadership and training and everything. And the one thing he said to me is he said, listen, there’s eight people in this boat.

And if one of us makes one small direction or change, the whole boat flips. And I was like, wow, that’s pretty amazing, right? So it’s like when we’re leading a team that it could be just one person that’s just not rowing in the same direction that really could impact that vision.

I think that’s amazing. And I think the second thing that you said about emulating is kind of do in the do, right? Like just don’t say it, but actually do it.

And I think you see kind of that in a lot of workforces that people are like, well, I’m the manager. So I don’t do anything. I just tell you what to do, which sometimes we might define as, we run a system called EOS and they would define that to be a bad boss, right?

Because you should lead by example, right? Well, that’s excellent. Thank you for sharing that.

What do you think so many leaders get wrong? So we’re talking about all these great leaders. What do you think, and wrong is not necessarily a negative thing, but what do you think that many people get wrong when they’re trying to get through their leadership journey or trying to understand, I hear many times from people saying, well, I’ve been doing this in my career so long that I think I should just be the leader because I put so much time in.

And that scares me sometimes because not everybody necessarily needs to be a leader. So tell me kind of some things that you’ve also learned on the adverse side of not to repeat from a leadership standpoint.

Heather Valudes
Yeah, it’s interesting because I do think you learn so much from that side of it too. You either see it as something that you’re gonna kind of figure out how you make yourself thrive through it. And then kind of think about what does it mean for how you want to show up and be a leader?

I think one of the biggest things for me that I really focus on with our team is knowing their style, knowing their work style, knowing how they receive information and putting a lot of intentionality into thinking through that as I think about what their next step might be or how they might respond to a situation or just how they process information while you’re sitting in a meeting. I think it’s really important to know your team as well as you can and not expect them to necessarily flex to your style but to understand their style and lean in and appreciate that. We do a lot of work here with the Enneagram and there’s a billion tools that people use and whatever but it really has been insightful for our team.

We all took it at the same time and then as new people come on, they take it as well and it just starts to give you a baseline for it’s not gonna be the end all be all. It doesn’t tell you everything about a person but it does tell you some information and it can be really helpful as you get to know that person then because I think where leaders struggle specifically in managing teams is in that piece of trying to have people work into their style and that inflexibility and that inability to kind of adapt with what their needs may be. And you know, look, I’m managing 18 people so it’s a bit easier based on size.

I’m not running some multi-hundred employee business and I can appreciate that but I think the people that you’re working the most closely with really trying to get an understanding of them because in the absence of that, that’s where I just start to see, you start to see those issues pop up where people start to get little resentments or they don’t feel heard or it makes it more challenging for them to feel like they’re contributing.

All of those types of things come from just a baseline interest and understanding of your team.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s some key things that I heard from you. You’re saying, you know, keen interest that it’s about getting to know your team, kind of building trust, right? I think that’s amazing.

And that you’re intentionally trying to learn who they are and how they operate really defines kind of like what you said earlier, what a really great servant leader is, right? You said nothing about yourself. You keep saying, well, it’s about the team and how I develop the team and who they are, right?

And so I think that’s amazing and truly the definition of that servant leader, right? People will follow people that they feel are genuine, right? Or what does Patrick Lencioni say?

If you don’t have inherent trust, you can’t build off of anything, right? And so that’s amazing. So what is the assessment that you do?

What are some key things that maybe you could share with the listeners that it provides you?

Heather Valudes
From the Enneagram?

Nicholas Paulukow

Heather Valudes
Yeah. So it’s, you know, it’s an online built-out test and so everybody just kind of walks through what they have and then it assigns you a number at the end. And I think more than anything, what the number does, and look, I’m no expert on the Enneagram.

Actually, somebody on our team is. She’s done a lot of work on it and a lot of research. She does our HR, so go figure.

It’s a core space. But I think what it really has helped me to understand is a bit about what is motivating an individual. So it shows you a sense of what are kind of some of the key motivators for some of them.

For some of them, it’s really they want safety for those around them and they want process. For other people, it’s that they are gonna have more of a kind of lean-in mindset. For other people, it’s that they’re non-confrontational.

But you learn a lot from that, right? Just knowing kind of that one piece of what motivates them in that way. For somebody like that, they’re not going to be interested in or it doesn’t come easy to them to do anything that feels confrontational.

And that can be really little things. But that then starts to change your mindset about how you approach that person as an employee and how you develop them. Because sometimes confrontation isn’t bad.

It’s got a really negative connotation, but there are just times where there’s an issue that needs addressed and you move on from it. And different styles will take that as I’m hurt by this. But that person may be talking to somebody with a totally different style who’s like, yep, that’s just the day-to-day.

We keep it moving then. So knowing some of that nuancing of what motivates them, what are some of their fear spaces, that type of thing, gives you a lot of insight into how their brain is kind of thinking through different issues.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love it. I love it. We have an example.

We use also a system called Kolby. And Kolby adds on top of what you’re saying by how you take action. And so, which is really cool.

It’s a really neat tool. But what it helped me identify from the team that I lead is I have what’s called a high quick start. I digest information and I execute quickly.

Whereas in my role, that might be really great. However, I don’t want a high quick start in accounting. And so it also helped us understand, do we have the right people in the right seat relevant to how they take action?

And it’s been fascinating because it’s kind of removed some barriers of like, well, why does Nick move so quickly through that? Like it seems kind of dangerous, right? Whereas I’m gonna go and find facts for like days till I actually make a decision, right?

And it really empowers how to bring everybody together to use their key skills, which it sounds very much what you’re doing. That’s amazing.

Heather Valudes
Yeah, and I feel really fortunate. Like I said, Yolanda Brown is our office manager and does our HR and is really interested in this space and topic. And so she is, I think a bit of a unicorn in the HR world in that she’s really focused on kind of the, they’re all focused on people.

Maybe I shouldn’t say that part, but she’s just really interested in individuals and kind of what makes them tick. And so as we apply that then to things like the Enneagram and she does her work around that and then how we all think about that. She walks us through some training exercises and we all get to learn a lot along the way.

So it’s been a really great journey.

Nicholas Paulukow
It sounds really cool. It’s like team health, right? Yeah.

Like what’s the pulse on team health? And I think that’s a really important, many times as you talk, or I’m part of a group called Vistage, which is a CEO group, which is really great to get together with others, but you can see the team health and their dynamic of how they lead. And one thing that was interesting recently to not go off the script for today, but was also learning the generation.

So we had a speaker that educated us on the generations and what does each value do to the previous generation. And that was fascinating. So when COVID hit and we were all trying to work this remote or hybrid or that type of thing, there was one generation that really struggled because value was in person, sitting there 50 hours a week, right?

And that’s what provided value. So it was really amazing to get on the same page, to be able to talk through it from a generational standpoint, which I found quite fascinating. And at the end, the speaker said, all of you that are fighting this, just realize that your generation will eventually retire and the new generation will be there anyway.

So either you fight it or you join in and learn. So I think it’s really neat that you’re doing that within your group too. How do you use that from a leader perspective for hiring, right?

Like how does that come into play in hiring? How does like your mission and your core values that you have, how does that play into your hiring process?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so that’s a great question because we go through a pretty standard hiring process. You’re putting a position out there, people are interviewing, doing that whole piece of it. We really in our interview process try to get at some of our core values.

So our core values here are lead, connect, solve and serve. And those are both internal and external. And then we have kind of two principles that we’ve been leaning into and those are grit and grace.

And so how do you marry those two concepts? So we try to dive into people with that a little bit, like give us an example of when you displayed grit in the workplace or things like that. But then towards the end of the process, we do ask them to take an Enneagram.

And more than anything, as you think about team dynamics, because we have it for everyone, it gives us a sense of how is that gonna interplay or interface with that person. And then there’s times where you can say, okay, let’s do another interview with them knowing that piece of things. Like, let’s try to hone in a little bit on some of the characteristics that we know show up and how they work through them.

So it just gives you another tool. There’s other times where it’s like, oh, that’s what we would have expected for that type of a role. Some people, specifically, I would say in some of like the data world and that kind of thing, they tend to like cluster to a set of numbers.

So you might be like, I kind of expected that one. So it just becomes this tool that’s helpful for us in saying, okay, what do we wanna lean in further with them in like the next interview? Or that’s what we thought, everything lines up.

We’ve had really good conversations with them about both the skills for the job and for our core values and alignment with their values. And so we feel good about it. So it’s a piece of a puzzle, but it’s not like if somebody’s a two and we thought that it would come back as a six, it’s not gonna make or break it.

There’s all the other things that influence that, but it just is a piece of the puzzle that you look at.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s neat. So as your organization grows, do you find that any of the people grow out of their roles or have you found that in your tenure? So we hear this a lot, right?

Like where we’re at now, these people fit really well in their seats, but as we grow, some will grow with us and others won’t. And how do I handle that? So can you maybe provide some experience on how your organization has handled that?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so it’s interesting because I think that’s one of the harder things to navigate as a leader, is the recognition of where you see somebody in the organization and where they might see themselves in the organization and navigating that transition. And as leaders, we have a responsibility to obviously look at the strengths and talents of people as well as where there might be growth areas and needs for improvement. And sometimes it’s easier to have that conversation with others, to say, I see you kind of continuously struggling in this space.

And so how do we think about that as your role evolves or not? And those are conversations where it’s like, we might’ve run our course together here. Like, you might have developed a different need or some set of circumstances changed.

Coming into a leadership role after somebody who had been here for 22 years, you have to expect some element of- Big shoes. Right, big shoes. And everybody knew his work style and that type of thing.

And so you have to expect some element of, you might not always be the person that lands for someone and you still have to be able to work through that. And so how do you either kind of develop that within what’s your role, where’s your skills, how do we apply them best in this organization? And do we have somebody else or some other process that can fill in for where there may be a shortfall now?

Or you have to say, we need to have a tough conversation. And it’s definitely been something that I’ve learned quickly and that I think can be really intimidating. And that it takes a lot of mental energy to work through those things.

But I do think they’re really important for the health of organizations and teams overall.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s well said. And it is very difficult, right? I mean, because we care, but we also have a responsibility to the organization to care about the whole team health too.

That’s amazing, that’s well said. There’s also a resource called Crucial Conversations. There’s a book about it.

And they also have workshops. And one thing I thought was really insightful, right? And it’s nothing like gonna blow your mind, but many of us kind of like buffer a bad conversation.

Well, we’re here, you’re a wonderful person, let’s have a… And their whole concept is, listen, sit down and get to it. We’re here today to talk about X and then get into the rest of the conversation, which seems very simple.

But many times we lean forward with the care about the person, which we should. But many times they get confused by the time we get done rambling potentially about the concept. So I think that that’s well said, you know?

Heather Valudes
And navigating- It’s removing the sandwich. I think Adam Grant recently talked about this. So many of us were taught the concept of sandwich your feedback, but you’ve really got to like remove the sandwich sometimes because it’s not actually beneficial to the individual or to the conversation you’re trying to have.

Nicholas Paulukow
That is well said, that’s well said. So tell us a little bit now that you’re in the role that you’re in. What things have you done?

You talked about a speaker, Adam Grant, who many of us follow online, right? And gives us great inspirational feedback. You know, who do you follow today?

Like what tools do you utilize or who do you work with to kind of gain additional leadership skills for yourself?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so I do follow quite a few people on the Instagram that are putting out interesting content and that type of thing. A lot of them are people we’ve had as past speakers. And so it’s just helpful to kind of see how people are looking at this at a really macro level.

I’m a big Brene Brown fan, so I do follow a lot of her work. And then I think there’s just kind of this piece too of with LinkedIn, I mean, there is a lot of opportunity to really follow along with what’s happening around you. One of the exercises we did in kind of late 2023 was to take a look at some of the macro trends impacting business.

And then we bring those down to kind of our level and say, okay, so let’s talk to our business community about them. So we do consortiums in January where we go to different regions of the county. And we put some of these macro trends to the test to say like, how do you think these are gonna impact you in the next three to five years?

And let’s rank them and get some feedback on them. And so that was an interesting exercise to just see kind of what was top of mind for people as it applied to our localized community. So a lot of it is doing these feedback loops to really try to get an understanding of what’s impacting in our community and then how are we gonna use that information?

And that gives me then insight on, so what do I need to lean into following and listening to and following along with? And staying a little more on top of based on what people might be saying, how these trends match up with what they’re working on kind of thing.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s amazing. So tell us one thing that you recently learned through one of those programs that you didn’t really know getting into it. That was a surprise to you.

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so one of our six high level macro trends, so we had things on there like AI and community responsibility, but one of them was shifting customer preferences. And I thought, oh, for some industries that will really impact more than others. And resoundingly, it came out as one of the top ones that people were saying were impacting our business over the next three years.

And I was totally intrigued by that because I think oftentimes we think of customer as that front-facing, more like a retail restaurant that customer that’s coming up. But what I found through this exercise was, and intuitively, we all know this, everybody has a customer that they’re serving to. And the trends of everybody’s customers and their expectations or what information they wanna see from the businesses they’re working with, all of that is shifting across the board.

And so it was just a really insightful moment to say, everybody’s thinking about that piece of their end deliverable who their customer is, and what’s the process that they’re attaching to that along the way.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love that. That’s amazing. So in our world, we gather a lot of that data as well.

And that’s fascinating to hear, right? Because in certain areas relevant also to the economics that is happening, you see people are driving differently, right? So when things are going really great and the economy is flushed and things are happening, they don’t scrutinize as much, we found, the customer service experience, right?

They know what they need and they’re gonna go get it. And then some, we found some businesses or even our vendors had gotten lazy to that. And now when trends change and we start to scrutinize and kind of refine our processes, we really find that we wanna be partnered with people that wanna be partnered with us and not just a transaction.

So that’s amazing. I really like that. That’s neat.

Heather Valudes
Yeah, it was an interesting learning for us. So we’ve been honing in on that a little bit and then we continue to refine what we put out for the business community based on some of those learnings as well.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s awesome. So you have a unique position that’s a little different than the guests that I’ve had before, right? So some report to boards and some have their employees and their people they lead, but you kind of like you have your team and then you kind of also have the community at large of the people.

And I love the word that you use, serve, right? Like you’re serving them. And so how do you balance like the need to manage your team but also the need or the pressures potentially of the community?

Because the community probably is vastly different in their thinking and whatnot. How do you work through that?

Heather Valudes
It is the most interesting task that I am tasked with. So right, I have a team of 18 and then I have a board of 16 that I report to. And obviously we have lots of volunteers and advisory groups along the way.

And then I have almost 1400 business members in Lancaster County that are members of the chamber and that we have a responsibility to. And so it is a continuous navigation of that because we’re a general chamber. You know, like I said, when I worked at the Building Industry Association, you were pretty specific.

So we were pretty tailored in on, we’re gonna work this set of issues for this group. We know they’re pretty consistent in their thinking around them and how they want us to approach them. You know, you don’t have that same luxury when you’re doing this for 1400 businesses.

And it’s in the most general sense of the word business. You really have to be tracking along, following, getting feedback. We’re still always gonna put a lens to that that focuses on the health of business.

Because for us, a thriving business community is how you have a thriving community. So there’s always gonna be this lens to ensure that we are creating a business environment and creating connections within business. But you still have to, you know, we’re taking a leadership role in spaces and saying, this is what we think some of these policy angles should be, or this is what we think the approach to how we cultivate the next generation of talent should be.

You’re taking leadership spaces in some of this area. And so for me, a lot of it is really trying to listen to the members, talk to the members, instilling that in the whole team to seek that feedback and take it and kind of try to think about what do we do with it? I mean, what is the thing that we can do with that?

There’s some stuff you’re never gonna change. I can’t make the eggs better at a location after an event has been completed. You know what I mean?

And I get it. And if the food is terrible, we take that feedback in and we let our vendor know. But there’s stuff you can’t change.

And then there’s stuff that you can kind of calibrate as you go and really think about what’s the feedback telling me. And I just think it’s going into it with a really open ear and willingness to hear what other people have to say about an issue or a topic or an approach. And then taking that in and kind of reflecting on that and how does that fit into maybe where my mindset was at before that meeting or after it.

So it’s just a curiosity to know what’s getting people where they’re at. And then how does that marry up with where I’m at in that moment?

Nicholas Paulukow
So there’s a couple of things that intrigue me there. So curiosity is number one. I find that a lot of great leaders have curiosity, right?

They wanna know why. But you have so many people to report to almost, right? Like, I mean, you’re kind of, you’re in this middle reporting all of this to multiple constituents, which is pretty fascinating on how you navigate that, right?

And the key thing that I heard over and over again was listen, listen, listen, right? I didn’t hear you say, well, we’re gonna tell them, we’re gonna talk to them. You said over and over again to listen.

And I think that’s really key for those that are listening today, no pun intended, is that to be a good leader, you have to listen and you have to be open to receiving information that sometimes probably doesn’t feel good, right? Like, I’m sure you get feedback like the food wasn’t great. That probably doesn’t make you feel good.

You might not be able to do anything about it. But I think it’s really important as you lead that you have a really good listening skill.

Heather Valudes

Nicholas Paulukow
And most of us like to respond, right? Like when I work or coach with some other people, they’re like, well, I gotta tell them what they’re doing wrong. Well, no, I think you have to listen.

Like, let’s listen. Maybe as they might be an extrovert, they might figure it out by the time they’re done talking what the real solution is. So that’s amazing.

Very nice job, Heather, that’s awesome. Thank you.

Heather Valudes
Yeah, and I think listening is just key to, again, it’s a little bit back to what’s motivating somebody and where are they at on something. If there’s an issue that somebody doesn’t agree with us on or they think we should be focused in a different area, I mean, there’s lots of spaces where, to your point, we’re trying to kind of set tone as well, like follow trend and set tone for here’s things businesses should be thinking about. So you have to be a little leading edge on that while also doing that with a dose of the feedback that comes along the way.

And what’s that really look like within our community? And so I really try to explore with people. Well, tell me a little bit more about that from your perspective, because I can’t understand it unless I’m willing to listen to it.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s great, right? You’re able to receive the feedback, but look at it in different perspectives. Yeah, that’s amazing.

And I think that’s really cool though. So you’re kind of, your vision for yourself and the organization, you’re almost selling to the broad, like, I mean, to your members, to your board has to buy into that vision and then your staff has to. That’s one heck of a task.

So you do a lot of work to make sure that that stays balanced, I’m sure. What do you think, Heather, are some misconceptions of what people think of leaders? Do you have any feedback on that?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s to some of the earlier stuff that we discussed. Leaders come in lots of different forms. And I think most often people think of the leader as the person in a specific seat.

And one thing I’ve really tried to do for myself and really cultivate in others is this notion that you can lead from where you’re at. And it’s gonna look different at different moments and different segments of your life. But all of us are continuously presented with opportunities to do that, whether it’s how we respond to a situation or what we decide we want to jump into as our next task or all of those types of things.

So I just really think it’s so often conflated with a specific seat. And leadership to me is just such a journey and how you get to show up in it and how other people view your leadership because sometimes you’re sitting at the table and that’s demonstrating a sense of leadership in some way because you’re there and you’re learning. And other times you are leading the discussion.

So it just can look a lot of different ways. And I think the more people can embrace that for themselves, it gives you the opportunity to think about leadership differently and then not focus necessarily on one seat, but focus much more on what am I trying to acquire over time and what are the opportunities I think can do that for me.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love that. Can you dig in a little bit about what advice would you have for emerging leaders? So like all of us have emerged in some level to get into the seat, right?

But those that are learning probably are sitting there going, well, that’s great. Like you guys are already in that seat. So like, how do I get there?

Nobody ever tells me that part. And I think that is a frustration to a lot of people that are trying to get into leadership. So what feedback would you have for emerging leaders?

Heather Valudes
So I think there’s two things. One, most of us in any job that we’ve ever had have an opportunity to take on something that’s outside of what’s defined in that job description. And if you can find those moments that match up with areas you’re interested in, there’s a really nice synergy in how that can contribute to your organization then.

And so I think it’s one, looking for those opportunities and the growth opportunities that you might have outside of what’s just defined as the job or the ladder within your career goal. I think the second piece is, and this is coming back to the curiosity element. It’s really thinking about, I may not love this one aspect of my work or my job.

And I may not love sitting in that group discussion for this external stakeholder group that’s not my passion. But I undoubtedly will learn something new and interesting along the way. I think if you can show up with the idea that regardless of if it’s the thing you’re passionate about, you are very likely to learn something and you’re gonna grow your connections and you’re gonna grow your mindset and your thinking and you’re gonna have maybe more information than you did when you first went into that meeting because it’s not your interest area.

My role, especially previously in advocacy, really required that. I was representing the business community for a ton of different groups. And those were housing and ag and technical transportation issues and airport issues.

And all of those are not my passions. But I feel like I learned a lot. And so I have a more genuine interest now in those spaces because I put myself into it with a mindset of learning and just a curiosity about it than a, I don’t really feel like being here and I don’t really feel like doing this mindset.

Those just position you really differently in those conversations.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love that. So like go beyond the status quo of what’s considered and then constantly be curious. I love that.

Yeah, everybody that is curious seems to learn something. And then if you’re using the technique you told us earlier about shadowing or seeing someone that’s doing it, then you can kind of emulate them from what you learned. I think that’s great.

I think that’s great. So as an organization, as yourself, as how do you guys measure success? Like that’s gotta be some area that’s probably drives you nuts, right?

Like you have all these things that you’re trying to do, but how do you measure like success or impact? Or is that important to you in your organization?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, so we have lots of different metrics that we track. I mean, we have KPIs out the wazoo, just like everybody else. So some of it is really defined in about our budget and being good stewards of the dollars that we receive.

So monitoring budget is really important to us. We’re really transparent with it for our whole team. And so that’s a key piece because we receive from the community that we are serving.

And so we wanna ensure that we are doing that as responsibly as we can. Obviously member growth is a piece of it and engagement. There’s kind of a mixed philosophy in our chamber world of whether it’s individual business number growth or if it’s really about how engaged do you have the team of people that is within the number.

So we look at both of those and really we follow our engagement trends and how many businesses are having people that are attending our programming, whether it’s free programming or paid for programming, professional development, different trainings, tracking our open rates on emails. Our impact report that goes out on Fridays is one of our highest read pieces that we have consistently. And we think that’s because it’s kind of this quick touch point keeping people up to date.

And so you see that we look at that as an engagement piece though, because that’s people following the issues and seeing the perspective from a business lens. And then we have all this stuff that deep dives on our programs and events and things like that. We have some really impactful areas.

We just partnered with the Workforce Development Board and some local higher ed institutions to have people do degree completion. So they may not have completed their degree and then they were able to get some state dollars to support them going back to school and having some wraparound services. So people in careers that can now go for degree completion.

By the end of that program, our community will have graduated about 80 more people that were able to do their degree attainment through this that otherwise may not have had that opportunity. So we’re doing some of this really impactful stuff. And then we’re doing the stuff that is our bread and butter, mixers and get connected and those opportunities for people to build their business development relationships.

So we track a lot. There’s a lot that we look at, but I think it’s important for us to think about those all as kind of measures for how we’re getting to successfully representing this business community.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s amazing. I mean, you’re kind of like any business, right? You have metrics, then you have core impact and then how it impacts your team or impacts the organization.

So that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Especially since you’ve kind of, you’ve broken that gown.

I hear it more and more, right? Like you’re simplifying how you’re all looking at the information. Even though you have all the deep dive, you have really simplified some things to kind of narrow, are you on track or not?

So that’s amazing. Yeah, that’s great. From kind of as a aspect of learning, could you share kind of, is there any book that you’re reading right now?

Is there anything that excites you right now that might be impactful for those that are at least listening today?

Heather Valudes
So I’m following along a lot with what is happening in this kind of AI world of things. I just think it’s one of these moments where we’re gonna see, and we are seeing this kind of rapid expansion of use of these concepts. It’s really interesting because some of these things have been happening for a little while now, in terms of automation and technology.

And based on, and this is nerding out a little bit, but based on our demographic statistics as a country and specifically a state, we’re gonna have to get really intentional about how we meet our workforce needs. And so there’s this really interesting balance between the automation and AI elements of things marrying up with this human side of it, because we will not have enough people to fill all of the jobs of the future. And so we have to be thinking about how we’re using this.

And I think that can feel scary for people and really intimidating. And particularly where some of the narrative goes of like, is AI gonna bring down humanity? So, but there’s so much to embrace within it.

So I’m really interested in how businesses are doing that and kind of tracking along with that. And then I actually just was recommended this book. It’s 4,000 Weeks.

It’s from Oliver Berkman and it’s Time Management for Mortals. And actually my board chair recommended it to me. Her name’s Donna Kreiser with McNeese-Wallace.

And she said, it gave her such a different way to think about time and use of time. And it’s not this like case study in here’s all the tools you should do to manage time. But it’s really about kind of breaking down that philosophy of do we have enough time?

And then what does that look like? So anyway, I’m really excited to start it.

Nicholas Paulukow
It’s sitting right here. For managing your time every day. Oh, I like that.

There’s a really cool one to add to that after you’re done. So when you evaluate time, there’s another book that’s called Who Not How. And it basically says to have freedom to do what you love to do, find a who don’t ask how.

So when you’re in a meeting and you’re saying, hey, how are we gonna get this done? It’s the wrong question. Who is going to do it?

When in turn it may not be someone on your team. It might be someone that is a third party has really changed my damn dynamic from reading that. It really showed me like, wow, I grew up by like, well, you should just do what you need to get done.

You don’t have to rely on everyone, but it’s not a reliance. It’s a, how do I open or free my time to do the things that I’m really great at? And so really cool easy book, but Who Not How.

Heather Valudes
I’ll look into that one.

Nicholas Paulukow
All right. So as we wrap up today, what are your parting words of wisdom that you could impart on all those that are listening today?

Heather Valudes
Yeah, mine would be, I think one of the scariest things for people as they move into leadership or sit in leadership roles can be not knowing, not knowing the answer, not knowing the next right step, not knowing what to do. And so saying out loud, I don’t know, can be very intimidating. And I just really encourage people to reframe that in their mind to, I don’t know, but I know how to find an answer.

And then work through that part of the process. And so that’s been really important for me. There’s lots of things that I get faced with regularly that I’m like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do exactly in that situation.

But oftentimes I know where to look for a resource, who to talk to, who I wanna get advice from. And I just feel like leaning into that space as leaders and developing leaders, it’s not always, I don’t know. And that’s where it ends.

It’s much more about, I don’t know, but I do know how to find an answer. And I just really encourage that.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love it. It’s that curiosity again. How do we do it?

Not, we don’t know how to do it. I love that. I love it.

Wonderful. You’ve been so inspirational. Thank you, Heather.

All right, folks. Well, that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Servant Leader’s Library with our fantastic guest, Heather, the president and CEO of the Lancaster Chamber. Heather, thank you for sharing your invaluable insights and shedding light on the power of servant leadership.

Remember folks, leadership isn’t about being served. It’s about serving others. So until next time, keep flipping those pages of wisdom and leading with your heart.

This is Nicholas Paulukow signing off, reminding you to lead boldly and serve passionately. Catch you on the next episode.

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