Kip Hollister – As a Leader, You Are the Mirror for the Corporate Culture!

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Kip Hollister’s Engage 2015 session, “As a Leader, You Are the Mirror for the Corporate Culture!”, was the first break out of the Engage Employees track. According to Hollister, in order to influence your company’s culture, you must invest in three key qualities:

  • Vision
  • Trust
  • Self-Reflection


In order to move your corporate culture in the right direction, you must be able to look to the future. And in order to do that, you must have:

1. Belief – By grasping the ability to believe in yourself and your efforts to improve your company, you take hold of the initial building block that you need to influence the other members of your staff. But belief, on its own, doesn’t do much for your business. The next step is to:

2. Declare Belief – You can believe in your ability and your company’s ability to improve and grow all you want, but until people are aware of your strong beliefs, the culture won’t be compelled to change. However, simply declaring your belief in a vision for your business isn’t enough either. Your people need to be motivated, and the key to that is the ability to:

3. Share Belief with Storytelling – Hollister, when she founded Hollister Staffing, did so because she wanted to get out of transactional business. And though the company has gone through three recessions, she maintained her vision. No matter the state of the company’s financials, she always made sure to have a party. After all, perception is reality, and by throwing a party, she basically said to her employees, “We’re making a lot of money!” They weren’t, but that’s not the point. She kept the staff motivated and encouraged the development of high morale.


You’ve got vision in your pocket, and that’s great. But your employees also have to trust your vision, and believe wholeheartedly that you’re taking the company in the right direction, and with their best interests in mind. You can achieve this through:

1. Transparent communication – You have to ask yourself a multitude of questions: How are my communication skills? How am I at communicating with direct reports? Do I do a great job of teaching managers how to be effective communicators? Do I know how to have fierce conversations?

kip hollister engage 2015At one point, a big client of Hollister Staffing was going to file for bankruptcy when they still owed $900K. After a meeting with the CFO of the company, during which those executives assured Hollister that they would work around the debt if Kip trusted them, she agreed to trust them. Lo and behold, they paid every dollar back, and years later, after the company went through a re-organization, Hollister Staffing is still doing business with them. Without an open, honest conversation, this relationship might have died in the water a long time ago.

2. Humility – In the early years of Hollister Staffing, Kip was a self-described “battleaxe,” requiring her employees to stay until 7 at times. One employee told her, “Kip, you’re killing us. Our name isn’t on that door. Why are we working these hours?” So Hollister called a meeting and announced to the group, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” In working so hard to get the best possible results out of her employees, she’d lost the connection that might otherwise help her to understand her staff’s frustration. In the aftermath of that meeting, however, an incredible sense of connection was felt. You can’t pretend that you know everything – people will see through you, and trust will be lost.

3. Listening to Understand – There are many situations when the ability to listen effectively proves crucial. Ask your direct reports how they feel about your management. If you’re open to the answer, you’ll get it. Meetings with your employees should be frequent enough so that they know where they stand at all times, and so that you know what they’re thinking. This ties in with transparent communication: you have to be able to have open conversations with your employees regarding performance. If this means turnover, then so be it: turnover is healthy, especially when your company needs to recalibrate its cultural objectives.

Without trust, productivity goes down, enthusiasm is zero, and vision is zero.


Hollister herself has struggled with this last key. It took the advice of a friend/executive coach who had done work with Hollister Staffing in order to show Hollister that she might be somewhat uncoachable. This coach also discussed the blaming of others with Hollister, a problem best avoided by engaging in:

1. Self-awareness – It’s good to be aware of others, but it’s more important to be aware of yourself. When solely aware of others, you’ll inevitably find the fault in their performance, and never your own. People love to live on the surface, because they’d rather not face the truth of their own qualities.

2. Accountability – After considering her friend’s advice, Hollister entered into a 9-month leadership training program, developing her stories, considering her purpose and her values. She decided, through this program, that she needed to change her personal culture. Why should she be ashamed of going to watch her kid’s lacrosse game? She shouldn’t have had to lie about that, but that’s what she’d always done, sneaking out at 3 p.m. But this program helped her to realize what was most important.

Through this thought process of deciding on the most important qualities of life and work, Hollister developed The Hollister Institute in order to build and grow leaders from within Hollister Staffing. Without self-reflection, you simply can’t be a good leader. Being right isn’t the most important thing. You have to accept that you’re the creator of your own reality – both the good and the bad. And if you’re not holding yourself to the highest standards, your leaders won’t either. This can start a chain reaction that results in a half-baked corporate culture that doesn’t reflect the best model of leadership.

You can play an average game and receive average results, sure. But you also have the option to raise the level of expectations and break free from the usual comfort zone. To live a rich life, successful people do all the time what most people do sometimes. Look for your blind spots. If you know and address the holes in your process, you’ll have a fuller life as a leader and your organization will feel the effects.

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