Lisa Hufford has been on an amazing journey since launching her company, Simplicity Consulting, in 2006. The Kirkland-based company, which provides marketing, communications and business-operations consulting services, has worked with companies like Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, T-Mobile, Nordstrom and Amazon.
Simplicity, through a team of 200 employees ― 70% of whom are women ― and an extended network of thousands of vetted experts, has experienced tremendous growth since it opened for business ― making the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies five years in a row. Hufford’s leadership as chief executive of a successful company she founded also has earned her recognition as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Woman.
In addition, Hufford is a successful author, penning two books: “Be You: Five Steps to Ignite Your Personal Brand” and “Navigating the Talent Shift.” As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Hufford shares some insights about the challenges faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
A good leader must adapt to the changing environment and be clear about their purpose and vision. This balancing act is not for the faint of heart.
Good leaders don’t just see the future. They communicate it so people want to be a part of that vision and have the execution skills to make it happen. They have the humility to surround themselves with experts who fill their gaps and lift them up, along with empathy, integrity and the perseverance to continue even when the obstacles feel insurmountable.
I liken great leaders’ ability to successfully playing the game of whack-a-mole with grace and ease, which we all know is not an easy task!
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
Courage. That is, the courage to share with the world who you authentically are and place yourself in an environment that nurtures your greatness and allows you to reach your full potential, which requires building confidence and credibility in every interaction.
And it isn’t easy. I am so passionate about helping women discover their personal brand because the path to leadership starts with first knowing, and truly believing, your strengths, passions and professional success stories. It’s a journey, not a destination, and I try to practice what I preach every day.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
By having awareness of and confidence in their personal brand, contributions and value. Early in my career, I worked hard in a variety of sales, account and business-development roles, and over time I realized that my skill and passion was achieving business success through building relationships. That knowledge has allowed me to reinvent my career by staying true to my core values and placing myself in the path of advancement opportunities.
I was given the opportunity to move from California to Seattle at age 27 because I had sold the largest new account the previous year. I didn’t have Seattle on my radar, but by doing great work and staying true to my values, I was selected for a more prominent role. That experience taught me that leaders are always looking for the up-and-comers, and they are watching every interaction, so take advantage of those key moments to confidently share your results and contributions to the organization.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
One of my mentors is a very successful author, speaker, investor and doctor whose success was intimidating to me when we first met. I was fortunate that she offered to mentor me early in my CEO career as I was finding my voice. Over the years, she’s helped me build my confidence and shown me that I can aspire to greater things, too. Working with her has helped me trust my intuition. Usually my gut feeling has always been right, and the greatest leadership lessons have come when I didn’t follow my intuition.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
Number one: Do. The. Work. Show up. Be eager. Be excited. And just do the work. Leaders want to see someone who eagerly contributes to the organization’s goals.
Number two: You’re not expected to know it all, so just take that monkey off your back. But you are expected to be engaged, interested and motivated. You can’t fake passion for your work, and without that, you’ll feel drained and dissatisfied, which isn’t good for you or your company.
Number three: The little things matter. Everyone is watching, and they’re noticing the little things ― when you show up; how you’re communicating; if you’re on Facebook all the time. People make snap assumptions about you and your work ethic (whether they’re true or not), so be conscious and intentional about how you show up.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
I draw support and inspiration from people. It’s why I love my business. I'm energized by helping people, and there’s no greater compliment than someone referring me because I helped them uncover their unique personal brand and share their gifts with the world or helped them land a job or achieve their business goals.
I think of networking as relationship building. And relationships are incredibly important to me because I built my business entirely through relationships and word-of-mouth referrals. I focus on adding value to every interaction and giving without expecting to receive in return. I encourage people to build relationships whenever possible. Get coffee, take meetings, lend a hand, share your expertise. It all comes back around, especially in this town.
What would you do differently in your career?
I would have been more intentional about seeking out mentors and establishing my personal brand early in my career. Executives intimidated me early on. I wish I had known then what I know now — that they're people, just like you and me, trying to do the right thing. Rather than seeking them out and initiating a mentor-mentee relationship, I played small and did my job. In retrospect, I wish I’d been more confident to ask key leaders for mentorship because I recognize now that I had insight about the business that would have been valuable to them.
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
I use the weekends to recharge. I spend time with my family and friends, get out in nature and walk my puppy, Winston, on the Kirkland Corridor trail. I also use the Headspace meditation app, even if it’s just for 10 minutes.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“Living the Talent Shift: How one woman quit her job and built a $34 million business with zero outside investment and placed herself on a path to help others find significance and success at work.”
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.