Helen Baptist - Looking to the Positive
We could all stand to learn a thing or two from Helen Baptist.
In her 15-month tenure at ItemMaster, she was instrumental in bringing their Net Promoter Score (NPS) from -14 to +50, while driving 84% revenue growth. In that time, she also saw them through their acquisition by Syndigo (formerly Gladson) in a private equity-backed deal. But I’m not talking about her business savvy or CRM skills when I say we could all learn something from her, and I’m not limiting those who could learn to B2B sales professionals. Baptist’s approach to people and life in general can be a lesson to absolutely anyone.
Born in England, Baptist grew up hopping the globe with her parents, who were in the mining business. From Northern Ontario to an Indonesian mining site in the tropical jungle of Sulawesi to boarding school in Singapore, she had called many places home by the time she landed in college at McMaster University in Canada.
“When you’re that kind of person who moves around I think two things happen,” says Baptist. “One is you learn how to assimilate to the local culture quickly, which means you can make friends and you can assess situations quite well. I think these things lend themselves to being successful in business, changing jobs, and bringing new folks into your work environment.”
“The second thing,” she continues, “is that it gives you a higher level of tolerance for other people’s differences.” She acknowledges that there are drawbacks, like having to be more deliberate about fostering long-term relationships, but then quickly jumps back to the positive aspect of having so many possible destinations for a vacation visiting friends and family.
This is something I noticed over and over while speaking with Helen—this tendency to look for the positive side of something. Not in a Pollyanna sort of way, but rather with an intentional effort to learn from everything she can.
Caretaker, Coach, Business Woman
Baptist originally considered a nursing career. She ended up graduating with a physical education degree thinking she would teach. Instead, she took her caring personality, combined it with her coaching skills, and added her knack and passion for communication. What emerged was a sales professional with the ability to build lasting connections and be a true team player and leader.
“My philosophy,” Baptist says, “has always been about driving better business results through strategic relationships and building trust with the people buying from me first and foremost, not selling widgets.” This attitude served her well, eventually leading her to become the Chief Customer Officer at ItemMaster.
Helping Others Be Their Best Selves
It’s very obvious to those who have worked with her how deeply Helen cares about her team. When asked about this, she says, “I think I look for the good in people.” Helen is a giver, not a taker. The same personality traits that led her to consider a nursing career also direct her approach to leading teams.
“A company can’t be successful because of one person,” she says, “so what I try to do is find the strengths that people have and focus on them. I have conversations with people to understand what their passions are so I can help guide their careers.”
As a leader, Baptist knows that there are difficult conversations that sometimes need to be had. She believes in giving people the benefit of the doubt, but she also believes in early interventions.
When she was starting her career in a secretarial role, she found that other women were sometimes disparaging toward her. “They didn’t try to lift me up along my journey,” says Baptist. “Women often jockey with each other for position amongst the males. I think a lot of women have blind spots about the way they treat each other, and I think as women leaders, we need to intervene early to have those difficult conversations.” She encourages these conversations and sees them as opportunities to drive greater self-awareness for everyone involved.
Baptist also encourages her teams to stretch themselves and take risks. “You have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” she says. “Taking risks is okay and failing is okay. It’s not what you do when you fail that’s important, it’s what you do after you fail, whether you get up and knock the dust off and get on with it. That’s the important thing, and that’s the permission that I give my team. Try it. See what happens. I try to nurture and cultivate people to be their best selves and allow them the leeway to find new ways of doing things.”
Always Moving Forward
Baptist looks for the best in people. She embraces failure for what you can learn from it. She even frames difficult discussions as opportunities for growth. Given all of this, I should not have been surprised by her response when asked about her most difficult work situation. She seems a bit perplexed by the question. Calling up the negatives does not come naturally for her! She then goes on to share some horrible situations from early in her career. “There’s lots of stories along the way,” she muses, “but I don’t think of them as bad experiences. They taught me a lesson on how to move forward.”
Baptist left ItemMaster shortly after their acquisition. She is intrigued by the opportunities waiting for her. I have no doubt that wherever she goes she’ll be solving problems, helping others, all while wielding her business savvy. And whichever firm she lands with will be lucky to have her. I’m positive.