7 Leadership Lessons | Advice from Traci Lounsbury
Traci Lounsbury, owner-CEO of Elements in Denver, Colorado, has built a reputation as a smart, visionary leader with the skills to build diverse teams and unique service models. Her ability to see opportunity in the changing world is built on thoughtful risk taking while adapting to the changing context of business. For over 20 years, Traci has influenced the commercial interiors marketplace with hardworking grit and refined vision. The motivation to share what she’s learned on her journey comes from a deep desire to help others succeed.
1. Accept risk to overcome fear.
Making a difference requires some mistakes to learn to bring value.
“My basketball coach my freshman year of college taught me a big lesson. He pulled me into his office. I was trying so hard to get more playing time that I didn’t want to make a mistake. And he looked at me and he said, ‘You are so scared to make a mistake. You’re not adding any value. You’re not making a difference.’
“So, a big lesson there that I took into my business career: Risk taking can be important. You have to make the game happen. You have to bring it.
“What raised me was athletics. Every chance I get to go outside and do something that pushes me. That’s where I learned my life skills. It’s about driving. It’s about helping one another. It’s about dedication and business as a sport. It’s really not any different. It’s just the modern game that I played in the past.
“If I was the one who struck out in the bottom of the inning to lose the game, we all know how terrible that feels. And it can’t be the responsibility of a single individual, a single hero. It’s about everything that’s happened along the way—preparation, performance, and teamwork.”
2. Action-based leadership.
What we value is determined by what we do, not what we say.
“I am not a terribly vocal leader. I do my part. I rally. I do presentations. I send the right notes. I try to do all of those things. But in the end, even when I was playing and I was captain of my teams, I led by example more than vocally. And I think there’s a grittiness there.
“I think there’s something that everyone knows—that I’ve got their back and we’re in this together. I would never ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. You don’t get an opinion unless you want to get in the game and get a little bit dirty. I’m accessible. I’m open. I care. I touch a lot of different things. I try to do my part.”
3. Influence matters.
Leaders have the unique responsibility to help others grow.
“Somebody asked me what was my favorite thing about this business. What do I really enjoy about it? What am I proud of? And my answer was quickly, ‘It’s just really nice to have the opportunity to be a thought leader—what the next vision is, what the next idea is, and to grow in that way.’
“I took about three steps away from him and I turned around and said, ‘Actually, that’s not it. That might be what it used to be, but it’s not anymore.’
“Now, it’s watching all these young people that have come in behind me become those people. To watch them thrive, and hear them speak, and their passion, and just how smart and creative they are, is unbelievable.
“It’s the biggest reward of my life, to watch these young leaders grow.”
4. Growth enables giving.
Building a healthy community and making a difference is our responsibility.
“There’s a couple different parts of my DNA. When I was launching a business, of course, I’m very competitive and you can’t do good things as a business unless you’re growing. You need some financial wherewithal to be able to contribute. So, I think that’s what kind of started this engine.
“But core to who I am, I have this belief that you give more than you receive—that business should stand for more than business, and the obligation to bring the community together, and our industry together.
“And now, with social media, our messages are getting out there and we’re doing some really good work. And to watch magic happen when you’re able to do that. I think it’s what life is about. Business has been really good to me and I want our business to be good to others.”
5. Constant change needs constant attention.
Paying attention to the changing world is our only way to stay relevant.
“Today, in the broader sense, certainly represents a time of unprecedented change. I don’t know how you can keep up with everything we should all be doing.
“Businesses are being transformed and technology is such a key contributor that we have to be pivoting constantly. Somehow we’ve got to get ourselves out of the weeds so that we can pay attention to those things.
“I think business leaders that find themselves doing business the way that they’ve always done it are really at risk. To pay attention to all of those political, global, and technological factors is so critical to evolve your business in the right direction.”
6. Restore your energy.
Continual learning empowers your influence and effectiveness.
“Despite the fact that there’s more chaos in my life than there’s ever been on every front, there’s almost a peace in knowing what’s important. Knowing what I can impact and what I can’t.
And certainly realizing where to prioritize and what’s important.
“It’s growth and challenging myself in some way. From a business side—I grow through some engagement with others that pushes me outside my comfort zone. That energizes me.
“I love to build more than I like to run a business. So, making sure that we’re moving forward is really exciting for me. I love that.
“And then personally, how I get energized is, again, anything outside and athletics. It’s what takes my mind away. Snowboarding through the trees. A nice long run with friends. Riding my bike up Vail Pass—just something that’s a little bit challenging that I have to focus on and just take me completely away from what’s in my head.”
7. Know yourself.
Discover who you are and celebrate with the right people every day.
“I think especially as a woman you have to be true to yourself. You have to be true to who
you are and achieve that, and go after it. If you don’t, you’re going to be resentful.
“My work life and my personal life have been woven together forever. Not everybody that I knew wanted to work as much or as hard as I did to build a business. They didn’t necessarily understand it, but those were their values. If it makes me happy, there’s nothing wrong with it.
“So, find the right people in your life and surround yourself with them. And don’t give in. Be who you want to be. Support yourself and celebrate yourself for who you are. It’s your journey. Enjoy it and thrive in it.”