Karen L. Talbott Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

As an accountant, Karen L. Talbott loved helping clients solve problems, so when Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates became a client, she was intrigued by the concept. Talbott says she believed in what the in-home health care company did and loved working with the elderly, so she made the leap from accountant to administrator. Today, she serves as the company’s president, overseeing 800 employees and helping the company grow and achieve 2006 revenue of $50 million. Smart Business spoke with Talbott about how belief in the company and passion for your job helps create a successful leader.

Live your vision. Creating a vision comes from your head and your heart. A leader can draft a vision, but it takes a group to perfect it. You have to really help employees relate the vision to what they do.

You’ve got to put it all in perspective. You can’t just pass out a sheet of paper and say, ‘Oh, here’s our vision, by the way.’ You have to get input, and you have to bridge that gap in terms of the vision itself and how employees see themselves relating to it and how they are going to be a part of helping to achieve it.

You have to create that shared ownership of the vision. People have to feel passionate about their vision and their goals, so when they go home at night, they think, ‘I did a good thing; I helped somebody.’ If you can ask yourself that, and you can get excited about that, then you are living and sharing the vision.

Everybody’s job is important. And if everybody doesn’t do their job, the vision isn’t going to get accomplished. Everyone has a role to play, and it’s an important role.

Walk the walk and talk the talk. If you, as a leader, aren’t willing to do what you are asking others to do, you’re not going to have that trust. But if you do that, you will most likely have a trusting relationship with your employees.

You have to be consistent in what you do. And be accessible. These are all things that build trusting relationships.

You get better through perseverance, just continually trying to grow in that area. Staying in touch is very important. Leaders are like everybody else; they only have 24 hours in a day, and there’s a lot to be done. But communication has got to be a priority; you have to be disciplined to make it a priority.

Do whatever works best in your own environment. Certain things work well in one company and not another. And still, you’ll get folks that say, ‘Well, I didn’t know about that.’

Evaluate performance. It’s important for employees to know how they are doing. You can’t expect employees to improve if you haven’t told them what they need to improve in and also get their buy-in to that. They have to know the reasons why you feel they need to improve in certain areas.

Stay focused. Realize that you can’t be all things to all people. When you lead a company, you want to be all the things you can be to all the people, and you can’t do that. You have to stay focused. When you focus, you have a much better chance of leading your company and carrying out their vision and their goals.

Stay true to your core competencies. It’s trying to look at what you can be the best at and going about and trying to be the best and not getting diverted into things that you’re probably not going to be the best at. Or leave it to others. But you can’t dilute your energies.

It’s hard to stay focused; it takes a lot of discipline to do that. You can hear about a new program and think, ‘Golly, we should try that,’ but maybe you shouldn’t do that. Maybe someone else could be better at that than your organization. You have to continually reassess and stay with your core competencies and your core business.

Model your culture. Culture goes back to an organization’s values, and those values are a reference point for how employees should live their professional lives as a reflection of the organization. You promote a healthy culture by having good two-way and honest communication with employees, by modeling culture, by having those good hiring practices, and that ongoing nurturing and building of trust.

I like to greet new employees. I always thank them for choosing us for employment because there are a lot of different places that they can go for employment, and I want them to know that we appreciate that they have chosen us.

Create synergy through passion. There’s power in synergy. A good idea brings out the best in people, and it brings the best people. You put synergy around a good idea, and good people will come forward.

The people you talk to about the idea have to sense that you’re very passionate about it. I can’t imagine ever doing something that I didn’t want to do or believed so passionately in. If you don’t get up in the morning and look forward to what you’re going to be doing, you’re probably not in the right position. You never should come to work thinking any day is going to be normal, because it isn’t.

If you truly do believe in your vision, and you truly do try to live the values of your organization, that’s what keeps that excitement alive.

HOW TO REACH: Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates, (330) 745-1601 or www.vnsa.com