One of my earliest exposures to leadership came through playing team sports.
From my time in Little League to when I played college football, I was heavily influenced by my many coaches. Their encouragement and corrections were powerful in shaping not only who I was then but who I continue to be today.
As I entered the workforce, I was exposed to both good and not-so-good managers, and I began to see leadership as a craft that one must continuously develop, rather than a position one holds.
I now proudly lead a talented team at Pet Paradise, where I’ve served as President and CEO since 2016, while previously serving as COO for 10 years. I continuously work on my own leadership skills, and in the process, I’ve learned a few important lessons.
From my time playing sports to leading a high growth company today, these simple reminders have served me well.
- Be consistently authentic. The older I get, the more convinced I am that authenticity is the most important aspect of good leadership. People, no matter their background or experience level, appreciate knowing what to expect, and they can sense when you’re faking it. People recognize fake. Be true to who you are and respectful of others, and people will notice.
- Build upon your strengths and neutralize your weaknesses. The most successful people I’ve come across are excellent at one or two things rather than being good at everything. Identify your best talents and gifts and work hard to make them world-class. It’s hard to turn a weakness into a strength, but if you can neutralize that weakness and improve your strengths, you have a great chance to be successful.
- Build momentum with small wins. Momentum is one of the most powerful forces on earth. It’s hard to create and even harder to maintain. Small, incremental changes lead to small wins, which creates the momentum that leads to big wins and transformational events. If you look for ways to get first downs, the touchdowns will eventually come.
- Optimism without strategy = delusion. Optimism is inspiring—no one wants to hear from a leader who feels defeated. But optimism without strategy and hard work is delusion. I’m generally optimistic about the future because I believe and am committed to our plan and the strategy that will get us there.
- Build trust with compassion. Your team wants to know that you have their best interests in mind, and you can assure them of that with a little compassion in your delivery. This is especially true with difficult conversations. When one of my coaches had bad news to convey (which happened more than once!), that news was tolerable because they had built trust and showed empathy. Don’t just have compassion—show it, too.
- Nothing beats hard work. There are many things that we don’t control, but the biggest thing we can control is how hard we work. I often share with young folks starting their careers that if you put in the hours, people will notice. I am a big believer in the saying, “Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.” I would much rather have a grinder on my team than a very talented team member that is not all-in. Work hard, control your destiny, and don’t be a victim.
- Embrace the process—not the outcome. Most of your time will be spent working toward a goal, not achieving it. If you don’t enjoy that process and journey, what’s the point? This is true no matter where you are in your career. The journey is what matters— the outcome is simply the finish line. Successful people embrace the journey and focus less on the outcome.
I do not pretend to be an expert in leadership, but I do know what “great” looks like. Hopefully, you’ll find these few reminders helpful.
Fernando Acosta-Rua is the President & CEO of Pet Paradise, a Crane Group portfolio company based in Florida with more than 50 pet resorts nationwide.