Navigating the complexities of leadership in today’s dynamic business environment requires more than just traditional management skills. It demands a profound understanding of strategic vision and an unwavering commitment to servant leadership.

In our latest episode of Servant Leader’s Library, we had the privilege of delving into the remarkable journey of A.R. Smith, a seasoned executive and Vistage Chair, whose leadership philosophy blends these crucial elements to empower others and drive transformative results.

Join us as we explore her story and the lessons she’s learned along the way, providing you with actionable strategies to enhance your leadership journey.

Watch the episode above or listen over at Spotify. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next great servant leader’s story!

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Episode Transcript

Nicholas Paulukow
All right, so welcome to Servant Leader’s Library, where leadership meets transformation. Picture this, a seasoned executive, once at the helm of a thriving company, now navigating the intricate landscape of strategic coaching as a Vistage Chair. Today, we unravel the extraordinary journey of A.R. Smith, a driving force in the world of leadership development. Join us as we explore the intersection of strategic vision, servant leadership, and unwavering commitment to empowering others. This is not just a podcast, it’s a masterclass in leadership evolution. Get ready to be inspired, challenged, and guided by the wisdom of a true leader.

I’m your host, Nicholas Paulukow, and this is Servant Leader’s Library. Let’s welcome our guest today, a true leader, A.R. Smith. A.R. is a seasoned executive playing consulting roles, co-founder, managing director of Adams & Smith Elite Consulting, vice president of national accounts, president and CEO of Better Loan Officers, and co-founder of TVMA, co-founder of American Home Bank, co-founder and president of Keystone Financial Mortgage. She is a busy, busy woman. Growing up in a family business, A.R. established her ambition to empower herself and others to take control over their challenges so they can live out their legacy. In Vistage, A.R. practices this by doing the right thing that comes from a genuine place, not from needing recognition. A.R. says, together we can transform your mindset to be focused on continuously driving positive results that impact individuals, communities, and business. She says that she will listen, ask questions, and get involved in creating the leadership legacy you want. If you like the idea of collaborating to achieve tangible goals, let’s connect with A.R. And that’s what we’re gonna do today. A.R. is currently a Vistage advisory group chair and executive coach for CEOs. Vistage is the world’s largest and most trusted CEO coaching and peer advisory organization. In Vistage, you have an executive coach, a peer group that meets monthly where you tackle the big picture plans as well as the issues that might be holding you back.

Now let’s turn our attention to our incredible guest, A.R. Smith. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area of servant leadership. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you today. And A.R., welcome.

A.R Smith
Thanks, Nick. I’m looking forward to this. This should be a good conversation today.

Thanks for the great intro.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, wow. What an intro. What a career.

I gotta tell you what, I’m a little intimidated with all of the credentials you have there. Tell us a little bit about your story.

A.R Smith
You know what? I grew up in a family business with my dad who had a passion in his mid-twenties to be an entrepreneur, to have his own business. And it took him many years to save up and buy the family farm that I grew up on.

Eventually, it would be a dairy farm that would support the family. So, I think for me, it was always in me to do entrepreneurial activities. Though in my twenties, I was still figuring out who the heck I was.

But I will be honest, I always knew I was a leader. I just didn’t know where I was gonna plant my feet. So, in my twenties, I ended up in an organization in Quarryville, Pennsylvania of all places, in farm credit and learned everything about credit, short-term credit, long-term credit, and found out I really liked it.

And so that’s what ended up landing me into banking eventually. And that’s where I felt like that’s where I belonged. Though in banking, even though I knew finance, my role was really as an operations manager, getting structure, mentoring people, developing people, because that’s what you do all day in operations.

But the ride of being an entrepreneur, the ups and downs, it’s in your blood or it’s not. There’s a lot of hard times. Like I watched my dad go through a lot of hard times on financial decisions, and it’s not for everybody.

Nicholas Paulukow
So you mean like being an entrepreneur and a CEO just doesn’t mean that you’re automatically wealthy, right?

A.R Smith
Oh my God, no, no. And I work with a lot of CEOs. You ride that cash flow rollercoaster sometimes, depending on what the environment is, or if you lose clients, you can’t replace them as fast, especially in smaller businesses. Takes a lot of faith.

It’s a journey.

Nicholas Paulukow
It is, you’re right. Yeah, it’s a stressful journey. I think you say also with, I was checking out your LinkedIn, and the one thing it says is that it’s really lonely to be on top, and what does that journey look like?

And that absolutely is true, right? You never know what that really means when you’re kind of going through that, right? Yeah.

 Yeah, I’m sorry, go ahead.

A.R Smith
Yeah, I see that like as a Vistage chair. You know, I have CEOs and owners and entrepreneurs in that group. And you know, they sign up and they wanna come and they wanna get to know their peers and they love the speakers.

That really challenges them, things take back to their company. Somewhere between the third and the sixth month or in that group, they say to me in their one-on-ones, I didn’t realize how isolated I was. Because being with your peers or being with a coach that’s been there and is walking the walk with you, you don’t know what you’re missing until you have that thing.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s a valid point. You used a key set of words too, that an entrepreneur, a business owner, you know, what do you mean by that? Like what are really, what do you think the differences of those are?

And I think even in Vistage, we might have what we call hired guns, right? Like a CEO that’s just hired to be in the role. What would you equate each of those to be?

Maybe the thinking that might be different. Could you explain that a little bit?

A.R Smith
Yeah, I think what I see on those that are owners and founders and entrepreneurs of their own company, it’s their own money. It’s their baby every day when they wake up. And when you have a hired hand, they care about it, they’re invested in it, but it’s not their personal funds.

I do have, I see hired hands that treat it as it is, but I, you know, I’m working with a CEO right now in a family business where he’s the hired gun. Loves what he does, but always sees that bottom line and says, ah, you know, I could have been part of this if I was an entrepreneur.

Nicholas Paulukow
Ah, a little different, yeah.

A.R Smith
Yeah, so the difference is you can be a good manager or not a good manager in either scenario, but the owner wakes up every day and it’s his own personal money at stake. That’s the biggest difference I see.

Nicholas Paulukow
It probably transforms decision-making a little differently from a positive to a more stressful situation. Whereas maybe a hired individual looks at from more of a numbers perspective and how are we gonna get there? Yeah.

A.R Smith
You’re absolutely right. So for, I have an owner that had to put investment in this company because of some new markets they were opening up. That was agonizing for him.

It was a lot of money. Whereas a hired hand is like, well, why wouldn’t you do it? We’re gonna make this much money on it.

It’s just an emotional difference, I think.

Nicholas Paulukow
A rollercoaster, yeah.

A.R Smith

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, because you kind of like did it from ground zero if you’re an entrepreneur. You had nothing and now you’re here, right? Yeah, that’s a great point.

Now to kind of give us a journey, right? Like, I mean, man, you were a co-founder and developed all these organizations and kind of ran this intense CEO life. And now you’re kind of coaching Vistage at a Vistage level, which is executive coaching.

Can you tell us a little bit of what that transition looked like? Because I’m sure it wasn’t one single line here, right? It was probably a little bumpy.

A.R Smith
It was a little bumpy. So I did financial services. We started American Home Bank in 2001.

Did that for over 10 years. So it sold out to Wisnot Choice Bank. And then it was a little bit like, did I want to try something new?

Like I was itching for new. We did a consulting company that we sold custom solutions to banks and mortgage companies. And what ended up happening in there, I ended up talking to CEOs.

And I found it was really about long-term planning of their IT and their software that I enjoyed, not the actual delivery of the product. So I knew there was something there. And then I got sidetracked.

I ended up with a very large entrepreneur out of Canada who’s a friend of our family’s. He’s like, I’m going gangbusters. I’m in the United States.

Can you help me grow my client services? I worked, I went there for three years, structured it, got people in great spots. And then I worked myself out of a job.

And I went to him and I’m like, can we have a handshake? And I’m going back to Lancaster. And then I approached a Vistage chair about how to get into coaching.

Because I thought, you know, I end up doing that naturally, whatever role I’m in, I end up with CEOs and executives and talk about legacy and future. What are you doing with your business? How are you making it go really well?

And do you have a strategic plan for IT and finance and cash flow? And so through that journey, I did do a little consulting. And then I said, I want to be a Vistage chair because I was a Vistage member for 15 years.

Nicholas Paulukow
I was a CEO.

A.R Smith
So I knew what it provided. And so went through the interview and the process and said, you know what, this is what I want to do. Like, I like to do events.

So having the one-day meeting is like an event for me because I love seeing people grow. I love people interacting. I love the energy in the room.

And I was just having this conversation last night with one of my CEOs. I love connecting people.

Nicholas Paulukow
So they’re all better. Like they’re better.

A.R Smith
They don’t need to connect with just me. They really need to do the deep work with each other. So a lot of cool things like that’s happening right now.

And that just makes me excited. That’s what lights me up every day.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, that’s really cool because when you get into kind of like the definition of kind of like servant leadership, right? I mean, you just defined that, right? You led and went forward developing these organizations, but each and every time that you went through that, you just said, well, I did it for the greater good.

I did it for other people. I’m here to coach and develop. Kind of explain to us, kind of your philosophy that you just went over.

You know, how does that fit into servant leadership or how does that influence kind of how you go about every day?

A.R Smith
So I’m going to tell you a little story. I was in sixth grade and it always just stuck with me. The teacher said to me, or the class, I want you to write what you want to be when you grow up.

And so we all wrote our little essays and kids were writing, I want to be a doctor. I want to be a fireman. I want to be a farmer, whatever it was.

I did not write that essay. I wrote the essay that I want to grow up and I want to empower people to make it a better world.

Nicholas Paulukow

A.R Smith
And I remember the teacher pulling me aside. I can still remember this. We were on the playground.

She pulls me aside and we had a little chat about my essay. And she said, well, you know what? That’s a really lofty goal.

I hope you can accomplish it.

Nicholas Paulukow

A.R Smith
But it has stuck with me. And that really is my guiding light, my purpose to this day. I mean, the words might get a little more sophisticated, but I think it’s always been kind of with me.

I want to put into others to make them the best they can be. And I truly believe it comes back to you, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, absolutely.

A.R Smith
Yeah, I love giving it away. And it’s been with me for a very long time.

Nicholas Paulukow
Wow, that’s an awesome story. That, I mean, that kind of, as they say, like can entrepreneurs be like, you know, developed or trained to be an entrepreneur? And you started off by saying, I mean, it’s just what’s inside of you.

And I mean, it was definitely inside of you. That’s really cool. And so what, do you find that that was something that was part of how you grew up?

Like that it was, yeah.

A.R Smith
Yeah, my father and mother really led with that. So, you know, my parents were very active in the community. They gave back a lot, both not only with their money, very involved with their local church, but their local community.

They were at the fire companies, you know, cooking and raising money. And I’m trying to think of other ones. There were other ones too.

So my parents led with that example. We’ll give you a beautiful example. My father’s no longer living.

And when he died, we got multiple letters from people in the community. He was the go-to guy in the community. So somebody got hurt and couldn’t take care of their farm.

My dad worked to get everybody set up to take care of the family until the person recovered. Or if they had a problem or they had an issue, my dad was the go-to guy. And so I think I just watched it and observed it.

And my parents really believed that that was part of who you are was to give back.

Nicholas Paulukow

A.R Smith
And I still live that mantra, is to give back and to be generous.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, this just fills your heart up to hear that. I mean, he’s kind of like a guardian angel to all those people, right? Like, that’s amazing.

You know, and it kind of, you learn a lot from that.

A.R Smith
Yeah, and he was the biggest introvert you would ever find. He was not a big personality guy. He was more quiet and steady and just made it happen.

The minister of his church had retired, wrote a letter and said, when problems happened in the church, I called Paul Haskins. I knew he would talk to me. We would process it and we’d stay confidential.

If he had to do something, he just did it and he wasn’t looking for accolades. I’m like, I wanna live like my dad.

Nicholas Paulukow
So, you know, that principle, right? Like, so we never know the people we impact by the actions, right? Like, we can say all these words, but at the end of the day, the actions seem to draw pretty true to that.

I didn’t realize that myself either as a young entrepreneur, you know, kind of, you’re dumb and hungry many times. I was always like, man, this ignorance was bliss because if I was as empowered with education I know now, I don’t know if I would jump into it in the same way, but didn’t realize I had an employee that was open and said, hey, I’m an atheist. Like, I don’t believe in any of this stuff.

I’m just factual. And he understood that I had a belief and it wasn’t necessarily sold around the office, but he would ask questions, right? And he left the organization.

And then many years later, I get this letter that says, hey, I wanna let you know that I’m joining a church. And one of the things was, is to write a letter to the person who influenced me. When in reality, we never really had conversations.

It was just actions. And so it’s just amazing. It’s just amazing that as leaders grow up, they just have to realize that their actions speak very loudly.

A.R Smith
Very loudly, I agree with that. And that’s what I do at Vistage, is kind of help CEOs with their blind spots, right?

Nicholas Paulukow

A.R Smith
And I have them too. And it’s coming in there and being gentle with their blind spots, but helping them understand the ripple effects their behaviors have. Because I find most CEOs just like you have the ultimate best intentions for their employees.

They want their employees rewarded. They want their employees to devalue the work. But we, in our own heads, get in the way of that.

Unintentional. But that’s what a good coach is about, or having a peer that sits in a meeting and goes, well, if you said that to me, I’d have a reaction. No wonder your employee did, right?

And that’s what I love about peer groups, because we call each other out.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s right. Well, and that’s interesting too, like from your, you were getting a lot of mentorship and you were mentoring a lot of people in your career. At what point did you have a coach?

So was that at the time that you joined Vistage or prior to that?

A.R Smith
I was fortunate enough, I did have a mentor. So back in when I got initially into banking, it was 1988, women at the C-suite were very rare, but I had a male mentor who saw my potential and who really pushed me, maybe in some ways, protected my back. Because sometimes it was not easy.

I was very aware that I was the only woman in the room.

Nicholas Paulukow
That you were.

A.R Smith
And my issues were different than theirs, but I was just telling this to another friend, as much as sometimes I had imposter syndrome, I’m like, oh, am I as good as the guys? The other thing is I brought a perspective they didn’t have, because I was a working mom and I was able to advocate for working moms and flexibility in the workplace, long before, we talk about it all the time now, but we were doing alternate work schedules. We were doing remote work because I honored the working mom, because I was one of those, right?

And so I found my voice that way where I could give back and create community in the workplace. I was high on that word, community in the workplace. It used to be in my generation, we won’t say how long I am, the church was the community.

It no longer is, really, it’s the workplace and how are we caring for our people there? And I’ll give you another example. I have a CEO, I don’t think he minds me sharing this story, but he had a death in the workplace.

They called him. So how do I do this? How do I manage through it?

They didn’t know, and of course he’d help, but used to be in the old day, you’d call a priest, you’d call a chaplain in the name, even if you didn’t go to church, that doesn’t exist anymore.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s kind of sad though.

A.R Smith
It is very, very sad, but we at least have an opportunity to step into that gap, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, I’ve never heard it in that way, and that makes it so clear, right? Like I’ve never really connected it that way. I think that was beautiful how you shared that because we always talk about how the church or that community was the community.

When I grew up, that’s where you were, that’s where you had fun, that’s where other people you interacted with. And I never really thought about it in that way, but that changes my perspective on when we introduce like culture and togetherness and how that’s extremely important. That’s amazing.

I really appreciate you sharing that. That’s a great one. Yeah.

A.R Smith
I feel strongly about that one.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s great.

A.R Smith
You just have a shifting culture, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah. Yeah, and what I think is, you know, from the aspect of kind of understanding, for someone that’s getting or trying to understand even your experience of like leading with kind of that servant mentality, you know, how did you develop that? Especially since you, like, that’s pretty amazing too, because you kind of forged through a career of being kind of the odd person out, as you said, right?

Which I think is unfair and inappropriate to kind of how things work. But can you explain how you led with kind of grace and servanthood through that? Because I’m sure it was very impactful to you that you’re kind of fighting for yourself, but at the same time, you seem to have developed these other relationships.

A.R Smith
That’s a really good question. I think when I look back at myself, there was a certain part of me that always knew what was right and I was gonna hold to that value and fight for that value. And I was not afraid to walk from something.

Like, I remember having conversations with one of my bank CEOs that I was unhappy with, da-da-da-da, and part of it was my compensation was not, that was at stake too. And for them to say, no, you’re a high value, let’s meet you and work through this. So I think I was a firm believer of showing up with what I valued, feeling really strong in it.

I also had the ability to look out and say, if we do this today, what’s it gonna look like down the road? And I lived that out and I felt pretty firm in it. So I didn’t get pushed around that much as far as when it came to my core value, I think I really stuck in and said, we’re gonna treat people right.

You know, we’re gonna treat them fair salaries. I was very cognizant of all that. I just made a point of really living out my values and if it got too hard, I would have the crucial conversation.

Nobody likes the hard conversations, but I was not afraid to do it. And I did do it

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s amazing. So like, wow, what an amazing leader though.

I’m like, I’m getting excited. Like I wanna, you know, how can we get involved for you to kind of lead through that? That’s pretty empowering.

But the words of like core values, right? Like that connects with me. I realized many years ago, why was I frustrated in my entrepreneurial journey?

And I realized when I finally sat down and wrote it down during clarity break, I said, man, really what it was is my core values I felt were under attack. And I didn’t know what that really like, I was like, well, why is this employee frustrating me? Or why are we not on the same page?

Or what is wrong with me? Why can I not do this as an entrepreneur? Like you have the resources to do this.

And I really found out that it wasn’t a negative thing. It was that we had different core values. And for that reason, it wasn’t they were bad people.

It’s just that we were never gonna be able to move forward if we didn’t at least meet in the middle with the core values. And so that hits home for me so much when you say that, that that was a game changer in our business on growing. And many are like, well, we’re always trying to grow financially and hire the best people.

But when in reality, did we really know what the best people were for our organization till we looked at that? And that was a defining moment. And so I think it’s really neat to hear that you figured that out a long time ago.

So, how you can share that as a coach now is very empowering.

A.R Smith
Yes, but looking back, I don’t know I could have said it when I was in it, but looking back and observing it, I know that’s what it was about. And I actually have people say to me, there’s like some kind of core guiding thing with you. And I’m like, oh, I connect the dots here.

I can connect the dots better for other people than myself, let’s be honest. So you were saying about a coach, I still have a coach, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
Okay, tell us more about that.

A.R Smith
I think it’s so important because I want to show up as the best I can be as a coach. So I get coached too. And that brings, it makes me be a better coach to have a coach, right?

And it’s like a friend of mine is a therapist and she says, I have a therapist too. She’s like, I’m a better therapist because I meet with my therapist once a month, right? And so that’s always stuck with me.

So coaching I think is about keeping us to our core, but helping us with all those blind spots, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I would learn the hard lesson of coaching because you think like when you’re doing something, I was kind of taught like figure it out, get it done. We’re taught in school, work independently, get it all done on your own.

It’s bad to share. And out of my Vistage experience, I had a CEO retire and was no longer in the group. So that’s kind of a sad moment because you have someone that you’re learning from, right?

And so I humbled myself and I said, you know what? You got to step your game up. Even though I was in Vistage, I wanted to learn from somebody that scaled at a certain level.

And I called him and I said, will you be my coach? And he goes, well, he goes, I have one question for you. And when you come back to me, if you answer this question, I’ll decide if I’ll take you on.

And he goes, because I don’t take many on. I want to be retired. I have grandchildren.

And he said, what does it look like the day that you are retired? What time do you wake up? What do you do?

Where do you go? And how do you do it? And I’m like, his name is Michael.

And I’m like, Michael, dear God, what does this have to do with executive coaching? He goes, he goes, if you can’t answer it, I don’t think it’s important that we have a conversation. And I was like, wow, this is nuts.

This is like, really? But I really had to sit down and think about it, right? And I went back to him and I told him, and he goes, wow, that’s one of the best answers that I’ve ever gotten.

All right, let’s move forward. And I said, no, no, no, we can’t move forward. I got to understand why you asked.

And he goes, because everything that we do is the end in mind. However, you all have personal financial plans. You have business plans.

You might have an exit plan. But have you thought about your personal plans? And he goes, I want to coach someone that knows where they are going to be personally.

Because too many people retire and just sit and stare at the wall because they know nothing other than their business. And he goes, so I don’t want to coach you into that. And it blew my mind.

And so we still get together. And he still challenges me every day. And he ends the conversation with, should we schedule another appointment?

Do I still bring you value? And I was like, oh man, all right. And he is so selfless.

He’s on vacation. He takes his iPad and he’ll still meet with me. So what a great guy. But the power of Vistage, I’ll tell you that.

A.R Smith
Oh, I love it. How do I still bring you value? I ask my group that once a year. Are you getting value? How am I bringing value? And what can I do differently? It’s all of this learning, curiosity, challenging world. Right? So let’s challenge each other. Yeah, every day.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, we all come into our meetings, right? Like we’re awesome. And all we say is the positive things.

And so the day that we build, as Patrick Lancioni says, till we have trust, we really can’t be open and honest. And so I found a lot of times we come in all awesome. I’m great.

Business is great. But the real work gets when, hey, I have a problem. And so, you know.

A.R Smith
That is a big downside of leaders is the willing to ask for help.

Nicholas Paulukow
Right. Because you’re used to solving everybody’s problems.

A.R Smith
I know. That’s the journey I’m on as a coach. And so I’ll give you this funny story.

I have a guy, two guys in my group that are really good with technology. And I fumble around trying to get my laptop back. One day and I’m thinking, I’m teaching these guys to ask for help and I’m not doing it.

How can I lead by example? They’re like, sure, no problem. Bring it around.

Why do we not want to ask for help?

Nicholas Paulukow
Right. It’s crazy. And if you look at the other generations, many of them have no problem asking for help because that is kind of what’s available to them.

Yeah, it’s amazing. Could you kind of give us kind of an understanding of how, you know, you’ve evolved in your coaching and how you go about that? I’d love to hear about that.

Like, how have you gone from your experience as a CEO and kind of bringing that down and as a level of a coach?

A.R Smith
So I get coached by a coach, but I also have learned a lot from Vistage as they train us to be good coaches. I think it really boils down to two things, right? Asking good questions and hard questions.

Absolutely. But some of it is managing your energy so that someone feels safe to tell you anything. And so I’ve learned that it’s not even asking questions, it’s being quiet sometimes and just listening and validating.

So hard questions are very important, but validating is important too. So I went into a one-to-one this week and I know the CEO wasn’t quite himself and he said, can we not do what we normally do? I just need to talk about a personal situation I’m going through that’s very hard and very emotional.

So it’s leaning in that, in that situation, I just need to be available, I need to validate, I need to be there with them, right? So I think there’s a lot of flexibility, but again, it’s knowing what situation you’re in. And there are times that, you know, you guys call people out on their own crap, right?

So you go one-to-one and everything’s great, one-to-one and you say, well, what’s the income statement look like? Is your cash flow reflecting that? Like you start asking the hard questions now and yeah.

Nicholas Paulukow
What’s the reaction of like new members, right? That those hard questions are asked. How does that go over?

A.R Smith
Sometimes they’re very honest. Well, nobody’s ever asked me that before.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, okay. Well, that’s good. That’s humbleness right there. Yeah.

A.R Smith
Sometimes they’re like, oh, I don’t know. Like they’re in that situation, I try to make sure that they’re very safe, that they can say, I don’t know, show me how. Or I’ll say to them, you know, I went into a guy that’s got a pretty good size company and he was a new member.

And I said to him, do you have, I’m a banker, but it’s your KPI for your business, your balance sheet, your P&L and your cash flow. And then he said, what’s the cash flow? We’re all, we’re fine with money.

And they really hadn’t developed a six to 12 month cash flow, right? The P&L looked good, but what we found, he goes resource me. So I gave him the very basics of doing it.

We didn’t do anything sophisticated. And so we did the cash flow. So it went over like this and he’s like, crap, I gotta start doing pricing different.

I gotta start doing billing different. It created a lot of questions that he could get answers to. And make a long story short, he ended up changing his financial person over too because of it, but what I’m saying is he was willing to get curious.

I tried to make him safe. I resourced him. I left it doing the way he wanted to do, which he wanted to do it himself for two months before he had anybody else do it.

So it’s also knowing your audience, different people when you’re coaching, you adapt yourself. A lot of people that come to coaching, they got four questions they want me to answer. And usually the question comes back to them, right?

What have you seen? How would you approach it? And then I can take the collective knowledge of everybody I coach and say, well, this is what I’ve seen and practiced with other people.

So I do both.

Nicholas Paulukow
I think that’s really key to coaching, right? Like your job’s not to influence them with your experience. It’s to use your experience to ask good questions.

A.R Smith
Right, right, right. And to be there and help them, like, especially entrepreneur cycles, I’ve lived through them. Help them understand what cycle you’re in, what you need to focus on, you know, staffing, processes, people.

It’s still the same stuff. It’s just, you know, it just looks different, different companies.

Nicholas Paulukow
Do you run into scenarios that you have different generations in the group? Meaning, right? Like, so we might have a boomer and we might have a millennial, how do you navigate that?

Because that’s gotta be huge. And I will say, Vistage did a great job. We had a speaker, I think the same speaker that your team might’ve had.

And it was enamoring to me that, you know, the thought process relevant to what generation you were in really developed a lot of some of the culture items in the organization. So could you kind of demystify that a little bit for us? Like, you know, how you can blend a group of those different generations together?

A.R Smith
Yeah, my group, I’m the only boomer. So it’s my age. The rest are Generation X and millennials.

Nicholas Paulukow
Okay, wow.

A.R Smith
Yeah. I will first say lots of humor. Because the millennials will call the Xs out and tell them they’re a little stuck.

They’re a little old school. And the Xs will help guide the millennials too that there are certain structures and things that you do need to do. You need to value history.

I would have to say, honestly, it is a great discussion. My millennials probably bring the most flexibility, remote work, how it’s working, how to measure. They’re very much about empowering and measuring by outputs where Xs wanna know all the processes to get to the outputs.

But I will say, honestly, I think it’s humor. We do laugh at each other and we do not take each other that seriously when we call each other out on it.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s a good one. I think that’s really great. And what’s really cool is from your perspective, you’re kind of, as you said a minute ago, you’re kind of like melding to their style, which I think is really important.

I’ve had some coaching that it’s very much about their style, which makes it really hard to connect. You’re not able to connect with that person because it feels like you’re being talked at. You should do this, you should do that.

So you bring a style of adapting, which is what we all do as good leaders, and then asking really great questions. So I think that’s really, really important here.

A.R Smith
Yeah, I learned from one of my millennials. He runs a pretty good-sized company. And I’m telling you this story, I learned this from him.

I got a bigger car than I’ve ever been used to driving. And so I pull in this parking lot and I was a crappy parker. I was parked too close to the line, too far from the curb, too close.

And everybody in the office could see. And they’d be like, hey, come out and go. They’re all laughing at you, A.R., because you don’t park that car very well.

And I said, oh man, I got to perfect that. He goes, no A.R., you be you. That’s a good thing you made up.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, that is great.

A.R Smith
And so I use that a lot in coaching. Be you, be your best you, but be you. And if you’re quirky or you have different things, it’s okay if those things don’t hurt other people, right?

And so I’ve got that. And I use that with the Xs because they’re kind of shadow boomers, right? And I say to them, show up with who you are in your, we use the superpowers in our group.

What is your superpower?

Nicholas Paulukow
Mm, that’s a good one.

A.R Smith
Show up with your superpower, right? It’s okay that you’re not good at everything, right? My millennials are always hitting the Xs.

Why don’t you ask for help? I ask everybody for help, and they do. And my millennials will call anybody in the group and be like, I never did this.

Do you know how to do this? And they do their research. They do their homework.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, that is interesting. Something, you said a lot of interesting things there, but that’s really cool too, because if we’re humbled to realize that we can learn from anyone, I think that’s really key. I kind of grew up in a generation of like, you know, I’m older than you.

So that means that my, the people that I was trying to emulate are like, well, I did it, so I’m smarter. And whatever you say, because you’re smaller and just new, you probably can’t give me any value. Like that’s kind of how I grew up in the industry, which was really frustrating, right?

Because I’m like, I have some value to bring. And you know, so it changes kind of your mentality of how you approach things. And if you get into a group or work, you know, it kind of, it tells you, okay, go find like-minded people.

Because, you know, don’t not find people that aren’t willing to lift you up, right? And I heard a quote or a video the other day that says, you know who your friends are, are the ones that lift you up, not the ones that bring you down, right? And so that kind of resounds in me all the time because every day you go through a new journey in your business and you meet new people.

And, you know, it really, as you get older, it shrinks, right? Right, it’s like, well, I only need to be around these type of people because they lift me up. And so, yeah, that’s great.

I mean, that kind of moved me into a tangent. I didn’t mean to do that, but-

A.R Smith
What’s about managing your energy as a leader, right? So I can be tired today, but I need to manage my energy because that’s what people relate to. When I go to a Vistage meeting, I’m on, no matter what I’m dealing with, I’m bringing energy because they feed off that and they feed off each other.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s just great leadership though, right? Like I’ve heard that from my staff. They’re like, hey, listen, you know, they’re like, you’re going through a lot of things.

Hey, some days you got to fake it till you make it because we’re here to lead these people. Leadership is selflessness, in my opinion, meaning I’m here to serve them and they’re not here to serve me. We’re here as a group to help each other.

I think in my career, I don’t know about yours, I didn’t realize what it meant. I thought I was weird, right? Like being someone that could think further ahead and my speaking might’ve been different because it was so big that I was hanging out with people that didn’t know big thinking and I thought I was nuts.

Like I thought, oh wow, you’re a weirdo. Like you’re not, you have no idea what you’re doing. And we went through an exercise the one time and realized, wow, there was other people like me.

And this sounds really weird, but it was very empowering to realize there is a group of people that think this way. It’s just, you’re not surrounding yourself with them. So it’s difficult for you to understand yourself in this journey now as the business grows.

So I think it’s really cool that you’re adapting to all of the people’s journeys, which is pretty neat, yeah.

A.R Smith
It’s fun, I love it.

Nicholas Paulukow
It is fun, yeah.

A.R Smith
I love being with different people on different journeys and I love celebrating a couple of the guys had the best year ever this year.

Nicholas Paulukow
Like, I love that. Oh, that’s awesome.

A.R Smith
That’s what you wake up to do, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, do you have like a really, really cool story? You’re really, you have a lot of great stories, but like a specific story that coaching led to a really big transformation for someone?

A.R Smith
You wanted about me or someone else?

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, anyone, anywhere you feel comfortable.

A.R Smith
I think for me, coaching a couple of years ago, I had a coach that said, is it more important to be right or to have relationship? Because I like to be right and I like to kind of get there because I know I’m right, right? And I realized that in some of my interpersonal relationships, having to be right, even with some of my kids, I had to let all that go and go for relationship.

And that it’s a mindset change more than anything.

Nicholas Paulukow
Okay. And when you mean or define to you the relationship piece of that?

A.R Smith
So what, instead of showing up and having an opinion on everything, you do a lot more listening and saying, hey, that’s great. And you don’t give opinions until you’re asked. And I could be like, oh, I see that.

Why didn’t you do this? And I would do this and I zipped it up. And I said, you know what?

The relationship and letting them feel like they have a place to talk. And that when they come home, my kids, my adult kids, or when I’m with a CEO is more important sometimes than getting it right.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah. Because I guess it validates them by listening, right? Is that what you find?

And then you’re able to, I guess we’re inherently problem solvers, right? We’re given big problems to solve. So that’s really intriguing because you’re basically saying you’re taking that innate ability that you have and kind of like holding that back.

It’s probably really hard to kind of, what do they say? Like God gave us two ears to listen more and talk less, you know?

A.R Smith
Well, and I can see potential in people. It’s my superpower. But I have to lead people to their potential.

I can’t put it all on them right away, right? And so some people’s journey is two years, but I get to put in bite-sized pieces. That’s the other thing is, give it to them in bite-sized pieces because we as human beings can’t change that quickly.

The exciting part is like, I had a dinner with one of my CEOs last night. And I’m like, do you realize where you’re at with your company and how amazing that is? He goes, yes, it’s phenomenal.

We’ve got a good team now. We’re making things happen. And I just smiled and he goes, you knew that two years ago, didn’t you?

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, wow. That’s amazing.

A.R Smith
I said, I saw it in you. I had no idea if you’d get there, but I knew that you could if we put the time and the work into it. It was really up to you whether you wanted to grit through it.

That’s the cool thing. But that is kind of, now you know my superpower.

Nicholas Paulukow
Wow. Well, expand on that. So like, right, you have a lot of people that come to a group that you say like monthly, right?

They’re all different. And how do you get them to open up? I mean, I can imagine that some open up, others might just sit there and listen and take it in.

But like, how do you use your superpower to get those people to open up or challenge themselves? Because I can say sometimes I can convince myself that, yeah, it’s a problem, but I’ll figure it out. But when in reality, you know, for my personal coach, he comes to me and he’s like, that’s BS.

Like, I mean, I’m glad that you’re saying that, but we’re not getting off this subject till we get on the same page. How do you do that in the group setting? You know, some would be like, well, that could make people feel bad or, you know, how do you get through that?

A.R Smith
A lot of it for me, because people come to the meeting and they’re only in that moment, right? And I’ll be like, I’ve had a one-to-one with them. I do coaching with them every month before we get to the meeting.

We get to the meeting and they’re like, I don’t think I have any major issues. And I’m like, excuse me? And we all laugh because they know it’s coming.

I said, I can call BS on that because I spent an hour and a half with you. You do have issues. Let’s put them down.

We can prioritize them. So I don’t let them off the hook because I already know who they are. The other thing about them challenging each other is really, I’ve had a couple guys through one-to-ones and learning to validate them and learning to work with them one-on-one built their confidence to have a voice because everybody wants to be seen and heard at the end of the day.

I don’t care if you’re an introvert or an extrovert. And I have both in the group, right? And sometimes I have to say to the extrovert, can you please hold it a couple minutes?

We’re going to go to these people that are more of the introverts and get their insights. And they have insights, right? I make a point that everybody gets to talk.

And that’s my job at the group, right? Is to make sure everybody gets seen and heard that day. That’s one of my core values that everybody’s seen and heard.

But a lot of it comes down to one-to-ones and asking hard questions and digging. But that digging creates confidence in them. Yeah.

That they have something to bring to the table. And I know that… And I will sometimes say, you know, Matt, you and I talked about that in one-on-one.

Why don’t you share that, what we talked about?

Nicholas Paulukow
Good leading question.

A.R Smith
Exactly. Why don’t you share it with the group? And then they get more comfortable with that, right?

And Matt is someone, I won’t give you his last name, but he came to meetings and didn’t talk a lot. He was more of an introvert and it was a confidence issue. And then one day he showed up at a meeting and he said, you know, I had two of my senior people just at each other.

And he called me on the phone prior to that, prior to the meeting. He said, I called A.R. and I said, what do I do? We talked it through how he should show up and how he needs to tell them it’s their issue and empower them.

And then tell them what’s the consequences if they don’t resolve it, right? And it was petty stuff. Then he came to the meeting and he said, I am so thankful for Vistage for giving me the confidence I can have hard conversations.

These guys are working it out. And you sit there as a chair and you go, this is what I’ve been waiting for, the confidence to lead. People lead, but sometimes it’s a confidence issue.

I mean, he had a very successful company. It’s his own personal confidence. That’s, ah, feels so good.

Nicholas Paulukow
We call those our personal saboteurs, right? Everything that sabotages us is, we all have them. And it’s how do we figure out what our saboteur is, right?

There’s a book about that and it’s pretty amazing. And so I had read that book, so I named my saboteur and I gave my team permission to play when they saw the saboteur came out. And so I would say, they’re like, hey, Dirk’s coming out.

And I’m like, oh, all right, reset. And so, but it was, although it was funny, right? It was kind of using some of your core values that are funny.

It was a realignment exercise that it gave like a team member not to be rude, mean or hateful, but it gave them empowerment to just be like, hey, it’s coming out. And mine was more self-sabotage sometimes. And so it was like, hey, listen, in the comfort of your team, but it was very helpful.

To name it, because you’re like, it’s not me. It’s something else. And so it was so cool.

So cool.

A.R Smith
That’s a great idea. We’ve done the saboteurs and I never thought about naming that. That is a really cool thing.

I love it. Because that makes you claim it, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, Dirk is not nice. And we make sure that Dirk comes and goes quickly. That’s mine.

A.R Smith
That’s great.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that is funny, right? We all learn. I’ve learned so much today just from our conversation.

I’m so glad. Yeah, it’s awesome. And I think that shows the impact of what your journey and your knowledge of an executive and kind of bringing it down to these other people is really empowering.

It really goes from the start of kind of what you said you were taught to serve. And I think that’s so cool. There’s not many leaders that I’ve seen that kind of has that selflessness.

I’m very impressed. You’re a wonderful person. Thank you.

A.R Smith
I want everybody to feel valued. And then I’ve got to show up in a way that they can feel it themselves. I’m not going to tell them.

I’m going to lead them to a place that they know their value, right? And they feel seen and heard.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that is wonderful. What would you say from people that are listening that are maybe executives or they’re striving to get into kind of that executive role? What are three things that would be advice that you would give them as a whole like that are leading teams or leading companies?

What would be advice that you would give?

A.R Smith
Get to a place you can learn, whether that’s having a mentor, a peer group, a coach, whatever that is. Choose to learn. A constant learning is with us.

Put yourself out there and learn, even if it’s in your own company. Learn the new technologies. Learn the new things that are coming down the pipe.

Get in a mindset of learning and growing and being curious. I would say that’s number one. Two, I think a big skill set is really knowing how to have crucial conversations, having the tough conversations and being kind with it.

So Brene Brown has a great thing where she says clear is kind and learn how to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations that are really necessary. And if you’re managing people, it has to be one of your core sets.

Nicholas Paulukow
Right, that’s great.

A.R Smith
And it can be learned. It can be learned. Third one, what would I say?

The third one, be you. Everybody has a different way they approach a job, even though the outcomes might be the same, but be you. So for me, humor is a big thing.

And so I use it a lot. Might not be your thing. You might have something else, giving small gifts, words of affirmation, whatever it is, just at the end of the day, be you.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, that’s a great one. I struggled with that personally as a leader as I grew up because I thought being who I was was so different. And so when you were truly you, you realized that you needed to build a team around people that knew you.

And that was a hard thing. That’s a hard thing when you’re getting in business because you don’t completely understand that as an entrepreneur. At least I didn’t in the beginning, right?

Many, many, 20 some years ago, like I was like, well, I’m the weird one, so I better adapt. And I’m thinking, yes, yes and no. But I should be able to show up and be who I am, funny or, you know, I’m not a wonderful speller.

So now it’s just a fun game when I do a PowerPoint with the team. If somebody picks out like a spelling error, I say, hey, listen, if I’m ever taken hostage and a message comes back and it’s spelled 100% correctly, please come and get me because it wasn’t me, right? Like I’m just trying to own it.

But before I was offended, right? Like it’s not important to me. I can spell, but it just wasn’t important, but it was important to them.

So I had to figure out how to, you know, bring that together. But so I’m very much on the humor side as well. But yeah, that’s great.

Those things are amazing. And I think it takes a long time to develop those things. Would you say that there’s any, as we start to wrap up today, like any, for anybody that loves to read, do you have any great books that you love that might’ve influenced you?

A.R Smith
Anything with Pat Lencioni is great. Adam Grant, follow him on LinkedIn. He gives great snippets all the time, as well as read his books.

He’s got another one out, Hidden Potential, that I’m reading right now. The other one is Daniel Pink. He’s got a fascinating story of how he ended up being who he is.

But he’s a thought provoker. Brene Brown, go back to some of her old stuff. I think her conversations on authenticity, how to show up yourself.

She’s done some podcasts that still exist that talk about those crucial conversations. If you’re a CEO, The Diary of a CEO podcast is really good. There’s a lot of, have you listened to it?

Nicholas Paulukow

A.R Smith
So I realized that young people aren’t as much readers. My millennials are not as big readers as my older generation, but there’s amazing podcasts. And one of those is, A Diary of a CEO is good for everybody.

Nicholas Paulukow

A.R Smith
So those are some of my suggestions as far as more authors than books.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah. So like Lencioni talks about how to be humble, hungry, and smart, right? So that’s great.

How to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You mentioned that earlier. The Crucial Conversations I think is wonderful, right?

A.R Smith
I think many of us, that is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Crucial Conversations. I must have read it three times.

I still have it.

Nicholas Paulukow
I think they even have programs too, like coaching programs.

A.R Smith
Do they?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah. There’s like worksheets, right? I think how to phrase things.

I think many times, like when I see coaching people from internally and having a Crucial Conversation, they start with all this positive, like, hey, you’re wonderful. This is great and that. And then by the time you get to the feedback, the person doesn’t even, it has no impact.

I think when you were saying clear, like what did one, I was reading a book the other day and it’s just like, listen, get right to the problem. We’re having an issue with attendance. Okay, great.

Let’s work through it. Instead of saying, you’re wonderful and this and that, there’s nothing wrong with affirmation. But I think their whole point was get to the problem because dancing around it makes it less impactful.

And that’s a hard one. It really is hard.

A.R Smith
It is. It takes a lot of practice to get comfortable with. I remember doing that, doing a role play with someone I was coaching and then they said, I don’t know if I can do that.

Like, we’re going to role play this again.

Nicholas Paulukow
Well, I think a lot of people, especially in those books that you gave out, also talk about like, as a leader, we can be friendly, but we’re not friends in that manner. And people are like, well, what does that mean? I can still be friends.

But if they lead with the friendship, they generally find out that they really have struggle. We find that someone that, we call them team leads that then might go up to be like a supervisor. 80% of the time, their biggest struggle is separating friend from leader.

And they really, really, really struggle. There’s sometimes some success issues there because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but they have input they have to give. Any parting comments that you have, that any parting wisdom that you would like to give anyone?

A.R Smith
Oh my goodness. Just be intentional about who you are and how you show up in great community because that’s where the value is. Is how we touch other people.

And as leaders, be intentional how you do it. Don’t run away from those blind spots.

Nicholas Paulukow
You are wonderful. Thank you. Tell everybody how to get in touch with you as well.

A.R Smith
Oh, okay. So if you’re going to try to find me, do you want, what do you suggest? An email, a phone number?

What would you like?

Nicholas Paulukow
Anything that works for you is the best way that you enjoy it. Why don’t you give them your email and maybe how to get a hold of you on LinkedIn. That would be great.

A.R Smith
Yeah. So if you find me on LinkedIn, I’m under my initials A.R. Smith, which stands for you didn’t ask me the most critical question.

Nicholas Paulukow
I had that. Maybe we can wrap with that because everybody wants to know what does A.R. stand for?

A.R Smith
Find me on LinkedIn. It won’t tell you there. So you have to listen to the podcast.

It stands for my first middle name. My first name is Anna and my middle name is Ruth. But everybody called me A.R. because it was a lot faster than saying Anna Ruth.

So you can find me there or you can email me. My email is A.R.Smith,

Nicholas Paulukow
Very good.

A.R Smith
Love to hear from everybody. So go to LinkedIn or email me. I answer all my emails myself.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, you’re wonderful A.R. I appreciate that. That was a failure.

I should have asked the A.R. right in the beginning. You know, it’s better because we’re all going to remember now because it’s at the end. So that’s like the bonus question now when they meet with you, if they remember what that is.

A.R Smith
I get that question all the time and I’m more than happy to answer it. I’m a Lancaster County girl and it’s a very three generation name.

Nicholas Paulukow
So I’m very proud of that. I love it. Well, I appreciate your time today and thank you listeners for joining us on this insightful journey into the world of leadership and service.

A special thanks to AR Smith for sharing her invaluable expertise as a Vistage CEO coach. As we wrap up today’s episode on Servant Leader’s Library, remember that leadership is a continuous journey of growth and learning. A.R., your guidance on cultivating a servant leadership mindset has been truly inspiring.

If you enjoyed today’s conversations, be sure to subscribe, share, and leave us a review. Your feedback fuels the growth of our community. Stay connected with us on social media at to share your thoughts and continue the dialogue. And of course, a huge thank you to you, A.R. Your wisdom has added immense value to the podcast and we are grateful for the impact you’re making in the world of leadership. Until next time, keep leading with purpose, empathy, and commitment to serving others. This is Servant Leader’s Library signing off.

Take care and lead well.

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