Mikell Parsch: “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers”

Carly Martinetti
Apr 29, 2020 · 9 min read

One of the most effective tools for successfully leading a team is the creation of a team charter. Both the leader and the team work together to create a working agreement (aka rules of engagement or code of conduct). Together you decide how you want to work in good times and in tough times, holding each other accountable for behaviors. This process opens up a whole new level of collaboration and mutual understanding and increases a team’s ability to effectively work through conflict and disagreement.

As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mikell Parsch, the CEO of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, the world’s largest IT training and career development company. Delivering technical training for 38 years to 30 million students, New Horizons’ global reach includes a franchise network spanning six continents.

Ms. Parsch’s 20+ years of experience optimizing operational, financial, and talent infrastructures includes being CEO of three advanced learning technology companies; president of a coach training school; and president of a diversity management organization. Mikell also served as a president with the FranklinCovey organization.

Driven by strong principles and a sense of urgency, Parsch is known for her collaborative management style and her ability to blend strategic thinking with tactical execution.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Throughout most of my career, I’ve been in the human development and training space. I started with FranklinCovey, where we helped organizations achieve results that require lasting changes in human behavior. This is frequently the most difficult type of challenge any organization faces. So, I’ve always worked in the area of helping people learn so they can achieve more, both personally and professionally.

I’ve made it my mission to take on the most difficult jobs working in some of the toughest environments and doing turnarounds. Frequently, I was the only woman in leadership at these companies, but I didn’t try to blend in. I made sure I stood out, in a way where it was clear that my focus was on helping others, not only as a core business function but as a core personal value.

In that way, it helped catapult me to become CEO of the largest independent training provider in the world. It’s very consistent with what I’ve always done — take on a difficult job in a challenging space while focusing on helping people do better work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In the first 60 days after becoming CEO, I visited dozens of our learning centers. That experience was transformative. Students and professionals in our training centers told me personal stories of their experiences and challenges, stories that pulled at my heartstrings and made me realize I was working for a special company.

One such story was from a veteran who had recently returned from service. He had a wife and two kids and was struggling to figure out how he fit in and what career he could pursue. He battled depression. When he realized he could learn a skill — an in-demand job skill — suddenly things changed for him. He found a nine-to-five job with weekends off, found purpose, and could invest in his family. It totally changed his life.

This story, and so many others, clearly demonstrates that our work has such a huge impact because it drives you to do your personal best every day. That is a feeling that’s shared throughout the New Horizons network.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are several things that contribute to New Horizons ability to stand out in the marketplace. Given our long history, we have thousands of stories to tell about individuals and organizations reaching new heights through New Horizons learning programs and certifications. We are considered a pioneer in our field through our offerings of tried-and-true learning programs. Our franchise network has a global reach with local presence. Through our franchise operation, we offer the opportunity for people to own a business and make a difference in their communities. We have longstanding and powerful partnerships with the major technology vendors.

And while we are helping individuals advance personally and professionally through skills development, we are also helping organizations gain or maintain competitive advantage by keeping their talent up to date on the best, newest, most powerful technologies available today.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The nature of our service offerings in career training on the latest technologies means we are always doing something new and exciting, focusing not just on the present but also what might be needed in the future. The technology that drives and supports businesses is always dynamic and therefore always exciting.

Continual upgrading of skills is critical, because the skills someone learned ten, five, or even two years ago may not be relevant anymore. If you learned how to use Salesforce five years ago, for example, the latest version may look very different, with functionalities that are unfamiliar. The same applies to Microsoft tools or even more advanced technologies such as application programming or AI/ML.

I certainly want to address our current state of global crisis. The world of work is going to look different moving forward and will require a broad range of technical capabilities at all levels, coupled with strong leadership skills. Organizations must continue to move forward even while currently hunkering down, recalibrating, and upgrading employee skillsets during this time in order to meet future demands. For my fellow leaders, I cannot stress enough that in order to return our businesses to operational health, we need to use this time now to upskill and get ready for our future.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

I have several go-to principles that guide my interactions with my team in order to help them thrive. This includes:

  • Model the behaviors you want your team to exhibit. For example, if you want your team to demonstrate more energy, quicken your walking pace and speak with enthusiasm.
  • Give your team clear guidelines on what is the desired end state — paint the vision — and then get out of their way so they can execute on strategic imperatives. Demonstrate that you trust their abilities, and that you are also available if they get stuck.
  • Make it OK for team members to admit a mistake, rather than hiding it or denying accountability. If a mistake happens, positively acknowledge the person for owning up to it, discuss solutions, talk about the lessons learned, and then move on.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The words that come to mind for managing large teams are transparency and authenticity.

If you’ve achieved enough to have been given responsibility for a large team, don’t try to lead it as someone else. Don’t follow someone else’s model. Just lead with the same tenacity, authenticity, and performance that got you to that place to begin with. Just be you. If they wanted someone else’s leadership, they would have chosen them to lead the team.

By the way, one of the most effective tools for successfully leading a team is the creation of a team charter. Both the leader and the team work together to create a working agreement (aka rules of engagement or code of conduct). Together you decide how you want to work in good times and in tough times, holding each other accountable for behaviors. This process opens up a whole new level of collaboration and mutual understanding and increases a team’s ability to effectively work through conflict and disagreement.

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 about that?

Two people come to mind, both of whom I met early in my career when I was at FranklinCovey: Val Christensen and Richard Shipley. These senior executives were pivotal at critical moments in my career. Both of them got to know me and fought for me in crucial situations, leading to more opportunity, responsibility, and advancement.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

There are many paths to bringing goodness to the world. I’ve always been drawn to companies that advance human development. I am most proud that I’ve been personally successful in an area that is entirely about helping others succeed, to meet personal and professional goals, to advance, mature, and provide for their families.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

One is the level of disciplined management that it takes at the CEO-level of a complex organization. In many ways, it takes more management skills than those that are required at any other level. It’s not a sit-back-and-decide job. It is a lean-in, ear-to-the-ground, eye-on-the-market, highly active role, drawing upon all the best practices that you’ve learned over the years.

Secondly, people tell you about the long work hours, but even then, it’s undersold. Being a CEO is all-consuming. Bearing the weight of the company and its people is something you always feel.

Thirdly, I wish I realized the critical importance of high-quality teams and talent. You often can’t appreciate this until you’re in the middle of a situation. Quality, passionate, high-integrity teams and team leaders make all the difference in a company. I cannot overemphasize the importance of investing in building, mentoring, and supporting these leaders.

A CEO must also keep an eye focused outside the company. In our business, what we are expected to do is profoundly influenced by other factors such as economic trends, technology, and competitors. If you are not keeping at least one eye on what’s happening outside your inbox, you’ll lag behind the market.

Finally, I wish someone had told me about the need to find external confidants. No matter how good you are, you still need an outlet, a trusted sounding board. But you can’t access that within your executive team or your board. You have to find those people outside the company.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Poverty remains a global struggle and there is no better solution than education and expanded opportunity. We’re in an era of massive economic displacement driven by globalization and technology. Nothing is going to be more important than making sure our education systems are robust, adaptive, diverse, and deeply capable.

I know that’s not a specific idea. It is more of a North Star — a light we all need to keep in our field of vision. On this, no investment is too big, and no innovation too outlandish. It’s going to take all of us.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have Stephen Covey on my mind a lot. Here are a few favorites: “Begin with the end in mind” and “think win-win.” In fact, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has guided me throughout my career.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

My breakfast guests would be made up of the Mount Rushmore of modern American business masters: the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet; Bill Gates; Elon Musk for his innovative creativity and persistence; and Jeff Bezos, who I think has a good handle on where we’re going as society.

Serious question, if all five of us are at breakfast, who gets the check?

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film…

Carly Martinetti

Written by

2x pet tech founder, publicist, writer, and dog mom. I love learning about what makes CEOs tick.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Carly Martinetti

Written by

2x pet tech founder, publicist, writer, and dog mom. I love learning about what makes CEOs tick.

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store