Clark Twiddy: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Believe in your team. In many situations where turbulence is defining, the real challenge becomes agility on the front lines of your organization. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to delegate to your team and to do that you’ve got to have a team that’s been well-composed, well-trained, and well-prepared. Harry Kraemer up at the Kellogg School of Management has often said that part of a leader’s responsibility is to hire great people and then get out of their way.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Clark Twiddy of Twiddy & Company along North Carolina’s famous Outer Banks.
Clark is the President of Twiddy & Company, a hospitality and asset management firm along North Carolina’s Outer Banks celebrating almost 45 years in business. He is also fortunate to serve on the boards of private, public, non-profit groups to include acting as the current chair of North Carolina’s Vacation Rental Management Association. A US Navy veteran, he is the proud father of two daughters and always picks the New York Giants to win the Super Bowl.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was very fortunate to grow up in a beautiful place–the Outer Banks has emerged as a nationally famous place to visit and being able to spend my childhood here was very special as I love it to this day. I had the privilege of joining the Navy after college and got to see the world from quite a few different perspectives.
After attending graduate school, I was again fortunate to be able to come home to our family business and help us grow as a business alongside the Outer Banks as a destination. This business, like so many others, is simply all about people and it’s been an incredible journey to get to work alongside and learn from thousands of homeowners and hundreds of our own staff as we all seek to better our lives and those of others. As a firm, our profession is simply superb service to clients and when done well it’s an absolutely wonderful place to be in terms of creating real value for not only our customers but our own staff as well. I am also fortunate that, as a family business, I am able to steward in some small ways the long-term values of my parents.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had, particularly early in my career, an unfortunate tendency to simply talk too much. As we all know, when you’re in the sales business that’s a bad thing as truly great sales professionals are always great listeners first. When I’d start to ramble on, I’d just go all over the place and there are quite a few moments where I’d end up talking about anything other than the business at hand…in hindsight, that’s just funny to me because of the big gap between my intention and outcome (I also failed to understand at the time that if I was talking too much I most likely wasn’t, in fact, selling anything).
On a more personal note, I did once get so caught up in my smartphone that I arrived at the office for a big client meeting and just when I was getting out of the car heard my little girl say from the back seat “Dad, you forgot to drop me off at school.” So much for the big meeting…it wasn’t funny at the time, but the client graciously thought it was funny.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Early in my career, I was able to learn from quite a few stellar military leaders — I continue to believe that in terms of leadership training the United States military is simply unsurpassed in providing real responsibility at a young age. More recently, I’ve been able to work alongside people who think very differently — but in many cases better — than I do and that’s been a great blessing as it’s helped me to grow as a thinker and problem-solver. Of course, I’m enormously grateful for the sacrifices my parents made along the way and am also keenly aware that I work, across the board, with a group of people who simply won’t let me fail. To them I am profoundly grateful.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
More than forty years ago, my father Doug Twiddy started shucking oysters in the little town of Duck, North Carolina, with a few of his visiting friends. Over time, and as the bonds between them strengthened, his friends would often talk about what it would take to make their dreams of owning a home on North Carolina’s Outer Banks come true. Doug built a company around what he heard over these many conversations. Today, Twiddy & Company partners with more than one thousand homeowners and welcomes hundreds of thousands of guests annually to the Outer Banks.
As our company has grown, our vision and purpose remain the same: provide superb property management to our homeowners and an exceptional Outer Banks vacation experience to our guests. Our team combines world-class professionalism with an authentically local Outer Banks approach, and works diligently to ensure guests have the knowledge, support, and connections they need to create beautiful memories that last a lifetime.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
In mid-March 2020, Dare County’s leadership decided to close the only access points to the region, the two bridges cars use to enter and exit the Outer Banks. The bridge closures meant the visitor economy that Twiddy & Company and so many other local businesses depended on, vanished overnight.
During that time, we had to figure out how to handle the uncertainty and continue to take care of our staff — especially not knowing how long the bridge closures would last. We decided to be transparent with our employees and let them know that thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Twiddy & Company qualified for a loan to cover eight weeks of payroll. However, if the bridge closures lasted more than eight weeks, we’d then have to make some difficult decisions.
Thankfully, the bridges reopened to visitors in mid-May. However, the reopening to visitors brought an unanticipated different difficult issue — managing the sudden increase in interest in an Outer Banks vacation. Normally, we receive about 3,000–5,000 phone calls per week. Once the bridges reopened, that jumped as high as 20,000 calls per week.
We had to pivot immediately from the uncertainty of the visitor economy to managing the uptick in inquiries — and trying to minimize problems experienced by our customers. I again led with transparency, creating videos to explain to customers that we were building the resources as quickly as we could to answer their questions, and apologizing for the delays.
Thanks to our incredible staff, we weathered the changes, and 2020 was a record year in terms of reservations. Notably, our ability to embrace agility, based on customer signals, is an imperative to create value for others in an age of remarkable uncertainty. I think we’ve now entered a time in the industry where uncertainty is to be expected, and the firms that succeed are those who are able to adapt quickly.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I’m a voracious reader so I’m always reflecting on the last book and the next book. Broadly, I read a lot of biographies as a way to learn about leadership through history’s challenges–I’ll read anything about Eisenhower or Churchill, for example. The examples of great leaders before us have continuously challenged and inspired me to be a more effective leader.
For example, at the moment I’m revisiting one of what I think the best biographies ever written — William Manchester’s The Last Lion. Specifically, I’m reading the second volume where Churchill deals with a period in his political life that dealt with a lot of daily adversity in even being heard. The book is excellent in that it details how he spent his days, how he dealt with opposition, and how he still moved things forward. In today’s world, that’s great reading for any leader.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Communication is key. Over the last several years, we have been more candid with our customers than we have ever been — even, in some cases, giving hospitality a back seat to candor and transparency. Open communication — with both our customers and our team — is critical to building trust, and trust remains the most important asset in a world where confidence is fleeting.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Candor, trust, and transparency are now more important than ever between leaders and their teams. For starters, listening and engaging on a human level is simply imperative–our organizations won’t thrive without quality human interactions. As a leader, it’s always important to have someone around me who is happy to tell me the truth as they see it without worrying about whether or not it’s what I want to hear. For the organization, this may mean going to where real work is being done in your organization and asking the people doing it if this is a great place to work. This is where we shut up and listen–you might be surprised at what you hear.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Again, candor and transparency are your best tools. When we were dealing with all the uncertainly at the start of the pandemic, we let our staff and customers know what we didn’t know. We realized later that that transparency built trust.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Although we can’t predict the future, we can build our business based on what our customers want today and expect from us in the future. We’re going to stick close to our customers, listen relentlessly, and design the future of our Company around what works for them and what works for our team in a way that’s sustainable, efficient, and impactful to our purpose. We certainly can’t avoid change but we’re working hard to influence it positively across our stakeholder community.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
There are a few guiding principles that come to mind: serve others first, lead by example, and take care of your team. Those are adages that benefit leaders in both turbulent and calm times. If you can practice those principles in both types of times, you will find yourself and your company better equipped to handle those peaks and valleys.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Lose touch with your customer. It can be tempting, as we are deluged with distraction, to get some distance from your customers to focus on other things but I think great companies never lose sight of the minds of their customers over the lifetimes.
- Get cavalier with risks. In times of relatively cheap money and seemingly appreciating assets, it’s easy to get numb to risks. That said, great companies I believe are always paranoid and are always planning for reversals and risks to appear at any moment. To not think about and prepare for market changes is to prepare for the business to fail. In short, build a business that works in both good weather and bad.
- Lose focus on good people inside your company. A great majority of businesses, despite head-spinning technology, remain people-first businesses. To lose a focus on recruiting and retaining great people is to make a deliberate decision on the future of your business.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Have a vision. For example, in our strategic planning sessions we’re constantly describing our intent, our delivery, the gap between the two, and the circumstances that explain the gap. That simple framework has become for us not only a path of continual improvement but also a reminder that we are constantly aligning to a strategic vision.
- Be present. In complex and even chaotic environments where our normal processes and procedures don’t add value, it’s more important than ever to be present in the minds of both customers and staff. The importance of trust increases as complexity increases, of course, and presence is key to trust. For example, going back to our earlier book reference Churchill always made it a point to tour bomb damage in London the next day (the raids were often at night). He built trust by being there.
- Believe in your team. In many situations where turbulence is defining, the real challenge becomes agility on the front lines of your organization. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to delegate to your team and to do that you’ve got to have a team that’s been well-composed, well-trained, and well-prepared. Harry Kraemer up at the Kellogg School of Management has often said that part of a leader’s responsibility is to hire great people and then get out of their way.
- Stay well grounded. One of the antidotes to inevitable blind spots in our decision-making is a well-grounded network of feedback in and around our professional lives. It’s key, under periods of great stress, to have people who will always share their perceptions with you whether you’d like to hear them or not — make sure to cultivate in and invest in those relationships ahead of a crisis.
- In truly complex or chaotic environments, simplify. For example, when our travel business was faced with some real liquidity challenges as the pandemic broke across America, we increased the frequency of our team meetings and developed a simple meeting framework — we’ll tell you what we know, what we don’t, what we’re doing today, and what to expect tomorrow. If you find your team repeating that framework at work, they’ll do it around the dinner table too. If that happens, your organization will be OK because those great people simply won’t let you fail.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Serve others first. I think that’s how our lives are the most fully revealed to us and where we find the most happiness. Also — think big and act fast.
On a funny note, I ran for political office once and I heard some priceless advice on the campaign trail. One of my favorites came from an overall-wearing farmer after listening to me dance around a tough question. He said “Son, I don’t know where you’re from, but around here we can’t ride two horses with one behind.” That’s great advice.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’m on LinkedIn and our company website, should you wish to know more about us and why we do what we do, is www.twiddy.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!