Neil Gallagher on How To Navigate Uncertainty.
Neil Gallagher, Founder of Sprocket Roofing and Vice President of Brighterway solar.
Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?
My name is Neil Gallagher, and I am a small business owner in Tampa Bay. I own Sprocket Roofing and I am the Vice President and Co-Founder of Brighterway Solar, both out of Tampa Florida. I graduated from the University of South Florida where I studied Financial Planning. Following graduation, I was hired by a builder out of Tampa Florida where I worked for several years learning the ins and outs of the roofing business. Prior to this role, I had almost zero experience even being on a roof! It took a lot to not only manage these jobs but learn the trade as I went. After a while, I was recruited to a larger firm where I worked for about a year and a half. I devoted myself to this company and put in many hours of overtime to ensure its success. One day I went into the office to find out the furniture had been repossessed and the owner left town. My coworkers were out of a job with no warning. It was at that moment that I knew I couldn’t continue to put my fate in the hands of others, I knew I had to go into business for myself. I partnered with my old director and we started Brighterway Solar the same week. It has since grown immensely and I have even been able to start my own roofing business, Sprocket Roofing. The first few months in business were nothing but uncertainty. We had to learn things as we went and there were times when we didn’t think we’d make it, but we pulled through! There have been a lot of challenges in my life, and I can say for certain that if I can get through it, you can too!
You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?
There have been many challenges throughout our business history. There was a time when our largest contract fell through when we had already invested time, money, and resources to it. We thought it may do us under but we were able to come together and weather the storm. It important during times such as these to have a leader you can turn to. A leader is what holds a unit together and with a weak or absent leader, you are destined for failure. Making myself available during this time to all stakeholders was vital to us turning this fiasco around.
From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?
During uncertain times a leader must ensure they follow certain principles to ensure their organization's success. While there are many important values that will benefit you in trying times, It comes down to three main principles: Transparency, ownership, and resilience. There is a leadership principle I was taught during my time in the Marine Corps that a leader should keep their Marines informed. This holds true in the civilian world as well. By being transparent with your subordinates you build a level of trust and open the doors for suggestions that can benefit our team. By allowing them to know what is going on and where the organization is struggling, they can better use their talents to assist the team. In my life and in business I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. It took me a while to realize the only way to right these wrongs are by owning these mistakes. By owning your failures, you can learn from them and ensure they do not happen again. Lastly, without a high level of resilience, you will have great difficulty bouncing back from the inevitable obstacles life will throw at you. Being able to bounce back is one of the greatest strengths you can have, and it can only be developed through trials and tribulations. Until you’ve seen failure, you will never know how you'll react.
How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?
I firmly believe that in order to build an organization that is built to last, you have to first start with your people. When you hire people who have not faced adversity or challenge, you do not know how they will react when the chips are down. If you make it a priority to hire those who have faced obstacles and overcome these roadblocks, you'll have a team that can weather a storm. There's not just one demographic that embodies this principle. You can look to a variety of talent pools. This can range from Military Veterans to single parents or even those who were formerly incarcerated. Though the struggles faced by these groups are vastly different, they all have one thing in common, they persevered.
Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?
I am a firm believer in that the only way is through. There will always be obstacles in life and often they’re unavoidable, and some are out of your control. However, what you can control is how you respond to them. If you fail, you have to be able to come to terms with the failure and pick yourself back up. Whether you succeed in this individual instance or not, you’ll come out on the other side stronger than when you went in.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?
There are certain mistakes leaders make during troubling times that have the power to affect more than just themselves. A few of these fatal mistakes are shutting down, going internal, and blaming others. While this isn’t a comprehensive list, these three mistakes have the potential to significantly harm not only yourself but your team and customers as well. When something does not go according to plan, the worst thing you can do is project the blame to someone else. No one wants to hear excuses when their money or interests are on the line. They want to know what you’re going to do to fix it. We had an installation get delayed due to a distribution issue. We notified the client immediately and let them know all we were doing to resolve the issue and what it meant for their project. Not once did they hear that “it wasn’t our fault”. You have to be able to react quickly in times like these. If you shut down and wallow in self pity, nothing will get done and you will lose your chance to take control of the situation, instead the situation will take control of you.
Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
I always believe you can learn at least one thing from every single person you meet. Whether this one thing is positive or not is up in the air. Seeing how other people handle certain situations, and watching how they react can help guide you in determining who you want to be as a leader. If you greatly admire someone or something someone did, you can strive to emulate them. If you see someone perform an action that does not resonate well with you, you can strive to ensure you never react in the same manner. By expanding your network and taking a step back and watching the actions of others, I believe you can build a better sense of who you are as a leader and how you want to develop yourself in the future.
You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?
I was fortunate to be exposed to people I consider great leaders during the time I was coming of age. These predominantly consisted of leadership I had early on in the Marines. My first platoon commander and section leader spent a great deal of time mentoring me and for that, I am eternally grateful. I was also exposed to people I would not consider leaders who were in positions of power. I was given the advice to remember their actions and to remember the things they did that I did not like or agree with. I was able to use these memories when was put into a leadership position to try and do better for those under my command. This would be advice I would give to anyone who is finding their way in the world.