Andrea Heuston Wants You to Lead Like a Woman

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Andrea Heuston, CEO of Artitudes

Andrea Heuston has guided Artitudes Design Inc. as CEO since 1995. During her tenure, the company has served a variety of clients needing a full range of design services. If your company needs help in branding or graphic design, you might seek out Artitudes for help.

For close to 30 years, Andrea Heuston has led Artitudes Design Inc. to become an award-winning graphic design firm offering top-notch design solutions. You’ll get everything you pay for with Artitudes, including “executive-level presentation design, print collateral, motion graphics, multimedia, event support, and more.”

Andrea Heuston has also led Artitudes according to its mission of building unique and creative designs that understand the product or business, answering the question of why people should buy it or pay attention to it. Artitude’s clients appreciate the company’s unique approach to completing projects.

What sets Andrea Heuston and Artitudes apart from the rest is their commitment to their approach, which is “high-touch and high-level.” If you want executive-level presentations, go to Artitudes. They will give you a polished and creative end product, and they’ll also help you fine-tune your messaging and flow.

Artitudes also offers services such as presentations, online, printed materials, communication design graphic production, art direction, and graphic design. Andrea Heuston and Artitudes also offer production of marketing collaterals, events graphics, illustrations, and software documentation.

Millions of people also listen to Andrea Heuston as a business leader. Aside from her podcast “Lead Like a Woman,” her LinkedIn article titled “Never Apologize for Being a Strong Woman,” has received more than 1.3 million interactions.

You can check out more interviews with business veterans here. Also, you can watch Andrea Heuston discuss her process of producing virtual events here.  

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, 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?

Andrea Heuston: I had originally planned to go to law school and had actually been accepted. But I got a summer internship at an energy systems engineering firm as a technical illustrator and I loved it. I ended up switching to communications and put myself through the University of Washington at night while working at the engineering firm. I worked my way up to running the creative services department and had seven designers who reported to me. When the company was purchased by a French company, they brought me in one day and said we need you to lay off your entire team as the new firm has their own team in France. At 24 I was totally unprepared for something like that. The day after I laid my team off, they laid me off. I never saw it coming. Two days later they called me back and said we made a mistake — we need to do some rebranding and we need you and a team member to come back. I decided then and there that no-one else was going to dictate my future. I jumped in my car, drove 60 minutes to Olympia, the state capitol, and got a business license. The next day I called them back and told them I’d come back and bring my teammate Sandy, but that they would be hiring my company, not me.

The other defining event in my business was my coma. In 2008, I started the year off in the emergency room. In March I had surgery. In April I had more surgery. On May 30th, I became very ill. Three days, one misdiagnosis, three emergency rooms, two ambulance rides, and one very concerned husband later, I was in surgery yet again. I didn’t wake up from that surgery for nearly 3 weeks. I had aspirated on the operating table, contracted pneumonia, which then turned into Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome or ARDS. ARDS is similar to SARS. It turns the lungs to stone. The doctors put me into a medically induced coma until my lungs could recover. At the time, ARDS had an over 70% fatality rate.

I don’t remember anything from that time. Except for some very vivid, medication-induced dreams! My husband and family remember it all. I woke up and met Dr. Stuart — the head of the hospital. (You know you’re really sick when the head of the hospital takes you on personally.) Dr. Stuart said to me, “I’m so happy to meet you because I didn’t really think I’d ever get a chance to.” I had no idea how ill I’d been until that moment. It was a long road back to health, and I missed over 8 months of work in 2008.

During that time, something amazing happened. The enthusiasm and passion I had breathed into Artitudes Design kept the company alive — without me! My incredible team of talented, creative and yes, enthusiastic heroes pulled together and saved the day. The experience changed me in many ways and one of the key things is it taught me how to let go of the little things — in life and business. It profoundly changed the way I manage and lead the company and the company is better because of it. The company would not be as successful as we are today if I had kept my old micromanaging habits.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Andrea Heuston: Before incorporating I was a sole proprietor and as I was growing and getting busier, from time to time I would outsource work to freelancers/self-employed contractors. Rick was one of those. Unbeknownst to me, he was wanted for child support in two states and the IRS was after him. He listed me as his employer, so they came after me and fined me. I had the documentation to prove he was not an employee but that didn’t matter as I had let him use my space to work. (The rules are a lot different now.) I had to hire lawyers and fight it and between the lawyers’ fees and the fine, I ended up paying $47,000 (and I had only paid Rick a total of $10,000.) It took years to pay it off. I vividly remember the day I got the news. I was at my desk, paralyzed and weeping. My husband had to come pick me up and take me home, I was so devastated.

At the end of the day, I loved what I was doing and I got the drive to continue because I was determined to provide a life for myself and my young family, a life that I could not have if I was working for an employer. I also liked knowing that everything I was doing I was doing for myself and my company and not adding to the bottom line of someone else’s company.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Andrea Heuston: That’s a hard one. My mistakes are always huge, but not amusing! For example, my first employee and my best friend embezzled money from me. Another employee interviewed so well that I didn’t check her references before hiring her and she ended up throwing a chair at a contractor working for us at the time and I almost got sued. They’re funny in hindsight but were no laughing matter at the time. However, I learn so much from my mistakes. They’ve taught me resilience and made me a better person and leader.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.

Andrea Heuston:

Delegating doesn’t mean giving up total control. You just need to pick your insertion points.

My first employee — the office manager — didn’t work out. It was only after I fired her that I discovered she’d been embezzling from me, and the bookkeeper — who had had been my maid of honor at my wedding — was party to it, knowingly signing false expense reports. I signed a lot of checks not knowing what I was signing for. It was a lesson to learn, that I needed to be on top of finances and I couldn’t even trust somebody who I believed was my best friend. However, despite that awful experience I now delegate a lot of the company’s financial operations- the daily billing, invoicing, taxes and bookkeeping. But that doesn’t mean I’m not on top of the overall financial health of the company — I still sign every check which keeps me in touch with what’s going on and I review regular reports from the bookkeeper. This way I don’t have to worry about or waste my time on the little things, but I still haven’t given up total control. Figure out where to insert yourself in a process that will give you peace of mind but not bog you down in the little details.

Delegating and communicating go hand in hand.

When you delegate, setting clear expectations and guidelines is key. You can’t just say, ‘here, this project’s yours, take it and run with it.’ We meet as a full team every Monday morning to talk about the week ahead, ongoing and upcoming client projects, assign roles and responsibilities and define time factors. We make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what’s expected, what the client expects, and the tools they need to be successful. Delegating without going through these steps can mean that you’re setting employees up for failure. It also ensures you won’t be unnecessarily pulled back into projects.

Hire smarter people than you with complementary skill sets and delegating will be easy.

Don’t make the mistake I did early on — hiring people like me. One of my early hires — Michael — was intelligent, creative, driven and good with customers. When I hired him, I didn’t realize it was like looking in the mirror. And since we shared the same strengths, I always thought I knew best and wanted to direct him. I also didn’t need to duplicate my talents, I needed to hire for complementary skill sets and people who do things better than I do. When you do that, you’ll find you want to delegate as you have the confidence that they will do amazing things and you’ll want to see what they can do.

Delegating tells your team you trust them.

When you micromanage employees, you send the message that you don’t trust them. When you delegate, you’re empowering them. Most likely you’ll get better results and more loyalty. Other than our weekly Monday check in and two set meetings during the week where the design team collaborates on projects, everyone manages their own schedule and workflow. After that, I don’t need to check in. I trust them to do their jobs and things will get done. Do I care when they do it? No, they may be walking their child to school, at a doctor’s appointment or doing some volunteer work during work hours and that’s totally ok as long as they are meeting their deadlines and the client is happy.

Micromanagement is not leadership, delegating is.

A business coach once told me that the best business owners and CEOs divorce themselves from running the day to day. I remember thinking that’s insane, how could I possibly do that? It took my coma to make me realize he was right! Instead of me being at the center of every conversation I could be secondary or tertiary and trust my team to do their jobs. That was a big, big thing for me.

Jerome Knyszewski: One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?

Andrea Heuston: It’s false, ABSOLUTELY false! Because you know what, you may not be right. The pit that a lot of CEOs fall into is that a lot of us started our companies because we are really good at what we do. Which is great. However, there are other people out there who are better than you at certain things. And/or may challenge your way of doing things. In fact, you want people to challenge you and not be upset when they do. It’s been a big learning lesson for me. I used to be upset when employees challenged me. Now I understand that they’re doing it because they’re trying to improve things. And my way is not always the best way. We’ve had lots of company processes that have been improved because employees challenged me.

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Lead Like a Woman

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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