Name: Ruth Agbaji
Brand: Code Wiz
Title: Founder & CEO
Years in franchising: 3
No. of units system-wide: 8
What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role? Strong, clear communication when laying out the vision and the plan goes a long way in getting everyone aligned and moving faster toward the goal without needing major course corrections that might arise because of miscommunication. As an entrepreneur, my thoughts are typically all over the place, and I recognized after a few missteps that my team needs me to distill those thoughts into a coherent plan they can take and run with.
Which leadership skills were most difficult to develop? Having difficult conversations face to face. With a personality that wants peace and harmony all the time, this was one of the more challenging skills I needed to develop. Once I realized how much of a positive impact constructive, but direct conversations can have on the team and the business, it got easier and easier to have such difficult conversations.
Who helped you on the way to the top? A number of mentors. You learn a little from everyone, but if I have to name one, Angela Coté has made the biggest impact on my leadership journey.
What was the best advice you ever got? Be your true authentic self. Being anything other than yourself is extremely draining and unfulfilling. Being your true self also helps you attract the people you need to take you to where you want to go.
Is that different than the advice you give? No. I have found this to be true over and over. I tell everyone the same thing: Be your true self, your authentic self, and watch magic happen.
How do you mentor, and what advice do you give those you mentor? I have found social media to be a great platform for sharing my leadership lessons. I try to be vulnerable and share my triumphs as well as my failures. I encourage people to try and never give up no matter what. Everything is “figureoutable” and we shouldn’t count ourselves out of an opportunity because we can’t figure it out right now. Say yes and figure it out later.
What skill sets do you think are imperative for young women leaders? 1) Confidence: Believe in yourself. 2) Let your voice be heard: Don’t let people shut you down. Loud doesn’t always mean smart. Loud isn’t always right. Trust yourself and what you know.
What are your leadership do’s and don’ts? Always lead by example. Treat your team like family and they will do the same for you. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t take personal credit for the team’s successes.
How did you learn to embrace risk-taking? Risk-taking comes naturally to me. I’ve always been drawn to anything that pushes the envelope. Seeing the massive rewards that come from taking massive risks has encouraged me to do more!
How should aspiring female leaders build allies? Find people who believe in you, people you can be vulnerable with, people who have similar backgrounds and stories, and people who lead the way you’d like to. Put yourself out there. When people know you are open to mentoring and learning, they are more than willing to teach you what they know and root for you.
What roles do education and experience play in leadership development? You can never stop learning. From generation to generation, some principles never change. Execution of said principles might be different, but the underlying idea is the same. There is an African proverb that says, “While sitting down, elders see what a child who is standing up cannot see.” I believe it is critical to be open to learning and mentoring from those who have gone before you. It shortens the path to success.
What about attitude and mindset? Mindset is everything. The battle is won or lost in the mind. If you see yourself achieving despite all obstacles, and you go for it, nothing can stop you.
Was there a time when things didn’t turn out as planned? How did you bounce back?
I got into franchising because things didn’t turn out as planned! When I started Code Wiz, my goal was to have 5 locations across Massachusetts. Life happened and my son was diagnosed with life-altering disorders that forced me to abandon that plan. Not wanting to give up on the dream of expansion, I decided to look into franchising as an expansion vehicle. Today, we have doubled the number of locations in my original dream, and the dream is much bigger than it was initially.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned, and how has it proven invaluable? Know your leadership style and improve on your areas of weakness while staying true to yourself.
Why is it so important to give back to the next generation of leaders? I have been inspired to reach for the stars because of many women leaders who have gone before, people I can look up to. It is important to keep that cycle of inspiration going. We need more women in leadership positions, and that happens when we can provide inspiration, support, and guidance to those coming behind.