Name: Tina Bacon-DeFrece
Brand: Big Frog Custom T-Shirts & More
Title: President & CEO
Years in franchising: 12
No. of units system-wide: 78
What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role? I wish I had a better understanding of the various personalities I would be working with over the years. It took me time to learn how to communicate with different personality types and make them feel appreciated in the way they needed most.
Which leadership skills were most difficult to develop? The art of delegation was something that took me a while to embrace. I am more type A and can be a micromanager, but having a strong team means one must trust them to do what they are there to do.
Who helped you on the way to the top? My business partner Leeward Bean and my board of advisors have been instrumental in giving me the mentorship I needed to continue developing my leadership skills.
What was the best advice you ever got? My favorite piece of advice was from a friend’s mom who, on her deathbed, said she wished she had eaten more cake. While I like cake, I think of that more as a metaphor for work/life balance. I try to schedule at least one true vacation a year so I don’t miss out on those precious memories.
Is that different than the advice you give? My advice is similar, in that life is short and if you’re not happy in your job or where you live or something else about your situation, it’s time to think about a change.
How do you mentor, and what advice do you give those you mentor? I spend a lot of time listening. It’s important to understand a person and what they are trying to accomplish, personally and professionally. I focus mainly on strategic planning and practical, realistic tactics to accomplish their goals.
What skill sets do you think are imperative for young women leaders? Understand the difference between assertive and aggressive. Women often are still ignored or neglected in the educational system, so on entering the workforce we can be overly aggressive to make sure we’re heard. Aggression causes others to not hear you or to disregard you. Find your voice; be assertive but not confrontational unless the situation warrants it. The other skill is to learn how to multitask toward project completion. Women are natural multitaskers and tend to take on too much at once. Find tools and methods to keep yourself on track to finish projects before you start new ones. Keep yourself accountable.
What are your leadership do’s and don’ts? Do: Constantly be learning. Read leadership books, read trade magazines, attend conferences, network. Don’t feel guilty about having to let someone go if they aren’t a good fit. It’s more important to the team that everyone is pulling their weight, because that creates a good culture.
How did you learn to embrace risk-taking? I don’t think I have. I’m very risk-averse, although I will if it’s a calculated risk. I won’t dive into the pool without knowing the approximate depth.
How should aspiring female leaders build allies? Personally, my allies are from networking or are previous colleagues. Join a women’s networking group once you’re in the career force. While in college, join clubs within your major or honor societies to make those lifelong connections. If your college has alumni mentoring programs, sign up for those.
How do aspiring female leaders balance patience and perseverance? Perseverance and patience are intertwined in one’s journey as a leader, and both require focus. Without focus, one loses patience. Without patience, one loses the will to persevere. As leaders, we must recognize the virtues of both and understand they are not always perfectly balanced. There are days when we need to persevere, to push forward and relentlessly act toward a goal, deadline, or mission. But true leaders know when to pause, reevaluate one’s course of action, and be patient as they wait for the right moment to navigate the challenges ahead.
What roles do education and experience play in leadership development? I am a big believer in higher education. My background is in science, but I was exposed to a lot of liberal arts courses as well. History, art, literature, logic, and scientific reasoning all make a wonderful podium on which to base your leadership development. All these facets make you well-rounded and relatable to many different types of people. Leadership is about relationships and inspiration. Experience is what allows you to make better decisions because of what you’ve learned along the way.
What about attitude and mindset? My mindset is always focused on growth, both personally and professionally. I want to learn how to paint and to speak Italian. I want to grow my franchise system to 150 units in 2 years. My attitude is that I (and the team) can make all these things happen with the proper dedication of time and resources. I’m confident we can accomplish anything with the right plan.
Was there a time when things didn’t turn out as planned? How did you bounce back? One of our first big investments after we started Big Frog was to try and create a decorating distribution center to supply our stores. Unfortunately, it became clear very quickly that the partner we chose didn’t have the same vision we did. Instead of hemming and hawing, we pulled the plug on the venture and put our energies into other ways to help our franchisees. It was an expensive mistake, but by pulling that Band-Aid off fast, not placing blame among the partners, and recognizing where we went wrong, we moved forward to better things.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned, and how has it proven invaluable? You don’t have to be the loudest person in the room to be heard. So many people think that the more they talk and the louder they are, they “win” the room. It’s about listening, asking the right questions, and proposing solutions. Listening and questioning give you time to hear everyone’s opinions, be thoughtful, and be a problem- solver. That’s what you’re there as a leader to do.
Why is it so important to give back to the next generation of leaders? My mentors have been invaluable to me over the years. Together they have more than 200 years of business experience. How could I ever live long enough to get that much experience? Sharing lessons, even painful ones, with our future leaders can help them make effective decisions sooner and bypass some of the missteps and mistakes we’ve made.