Female Leaders Raising Up the Next Generation – Jackie Bondanza

Female Leaders Raising Up the Next Generation – Jackie Bondanza

Name: Jackie Bondanza

Brand: Hounds Town USA

Title: CEO

Age: 41

Years in franchising: 9

No. of units system-wide: 21 open, 48 in development

What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role? Leadership takes a lot of work and energy. I wish I had taken more time to factor that into my role and day to day. It’s difficult to lead people and a fast-growing company without other top-level executives to lean on. If leaders aren’t very careful about time management to push both along in tandem, one can suffer or be out of balance.

Which leadership skills were most difficult to develop? We are in a major growth phase. For me, it was difficult to carve out time to upskill employees while still keeping the company moving at 100 miles an hour.

Who helped you on the way to the top? Rob Flanagan, our new COO, came on board in 2021 and stepped into leading the team. This helped tremendously, as I could then focus exclusively on brand growth while he focused on leading and managing the team. Many other people helped and supported me along the way including Tam Kennedy, Mitch Cohen, and Tom Baber.

What was the best advice you ever got? The best advice I ever got was from Mary Wowk, the director of sales at Abrams Books where I was an editor. She always encouraged everyone to fully own their mistakes verbally. She would say, “When you acknowledge your mistake and apologize for it, watch other people’s faces. It changes the trajectory of the conversation and allows the focus to shift to a solution.”

Is that different from the advice you give? No, that is my number-one piece of advice to all our employees. Owning mistakes is absolutely crucial to both an employee’s and the company’s health and growth. The second piece of that is the necessity to look inward and have self-reflection. To fully own mistakes, we must look inward to acknowledge and embrace our shortcomings, as opposed to becoming defensive.

How do you mentor, and what advice do you give those you mentor? I always foster and encourage honest conversations. If I’m having a conversation with an employee about an issue, I always ask them first what their role is in the issue. It triggers them to think about their accountability, and then to think about it from someone else’s perspective. It follows our value of seek to understand first, not seek to be heard first.

What skill sets do you think are imperative for young women leaders? Confidence. Although this is (thankfully) changing, we are fed this narrative as a society that leaders have to be dominant, aggressive, and assertive. While those traits are certainly important at times, I reject the notion that leaders always need to present that way. Great leaders are made, not born. Those of us who work really hard at it can achieve great things without having to dominate others to do anything.

What are your leadership do’s and don’ts? Do: Having emotional intelligence is a big must for me. The ability to listen, really hear people, and to see and understand things that are going on within your company is really valuable. By nature, this can be easier for women because we are born with a high nurturing instinct. This should always be leaned into and developed. Don’t: My biggest don’t is allowing ego to dictate leadership style. Our egos can be our worst enemy. When we act in ego we are responding emotionally in a way that serves ourselves first. That is not the role of a leader.

How did you learn to embrace risk-taking? I always think of it like this: Franchisees are investing in me to develop the brand. This involves taking risks for the company to push the company forward and forge through challenges. Even though I may not be personally comfortable with the risk, I am acting on behalf of the brand and the franchisees. It helps me see the path more clearly when I remove my own emotions.

How should aspiring female leaders build allies? Network. Connect with others. Have open and honest conversations. Make real connections with people.

How do aspiring female leaders balance patience and perseverance? It can be challenging. When I first came into my role here, I was very focused on building a franchise growth plan. I also had to juggle running two corporate stores and managing a staff of about 20 people. I managed it by allotting time in my week for all the different things I had to do to make sure I kept all the balls rolling in the same direction at the same time. If there was an issue with one, I knew I had a specific day in the week to address it. To balance patience and perseverance, I found that having emotional intelligence really helps—and so does throwing the idea of perfectionism out the window!

What roles do education and experience play in leadership development? Education has been the foundation of my success as a leader. For me, it is the bedrock of my leadership, and I draw most of my skills from my formal academic education. I have found the experience of getting an academic degree prepares one for the skills needed to be a great leader. Drawing on experience from past roles also is critical. I have found that I can draw on my experience as an editor (my past professional life), even though I’m in a completely different industry now.

What about attitude and mindset? Attitude and mindset set the stage for success, always.

Was there a time when things didn’t turn out as planned? How did you bounce back? Many times things didn’t go as planned. This is why I always try to be open to outcome, even if that outcome isn’t what I had in mind. It can often be better and more beneficial in the long run. I usually bounce back most quickly when this happens by going to the leaders on my team, founder Mike Gould in particular. He is always great at highlighting things I may not have thought about and seeing things from a different perspective. For me, getting out of my own head helps me to strategize better.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned, and how has it proven invaluable? Share your real vision with employees so they feel they are a part of something bigger. Great employees aren’t here for just the paycheck. They want to be a part of a journey and a culture, and the more you lead with that the stronger that thread is throughout the whole company.

Why is it so important to give back to the next generation of leaders? The next generation is our future. The long-term success of our companies is in the hands of the next generation! We should all have a vested interest in investing in that collectively.

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