Todd Hauptli is fond of saying, “Great people aligned around a common vision committed to excellence can achieve amazing results.” That sounds super inspiring, yet how do we do it? That is exactly what we get into in this episode.
About the Guest:
Todd Hauptli is President and CEO of AAAE (the American Association of Airport Executives). He is the third CEO in the Association’s history. Todd joined AAAE in 1991 and prior to becoming CEO was responsible for overseeing AAAE’s interactions with Congress and the Executive Branch agencies.
Before joining AAAE, Todd served as a Congressional Relations Officer, handling aviation issues, at the Department of Transportation. Prior to his service at the Department of Transportation, Todd served on the White House staff of President Ronald Reagan as Associate Director of Cabinet Affairs. He also worked at the Department of Commerce, first in the Congressional Affairs office, then directly for the Secretary of Commerce. He began his career on Capitol Hill working on the staff of the House Republican Research Committee. He is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Todd is married with three sons. He and his family reside in McLean, Virginia.
About the Host:
Amy L. Riley is an internationally renowned speaker, author and consultant. She has over 2 decades of experience developing leaders at all levels. Her clients include Cisco Systems, Deloitte and Barclays.
As a trusted leadership coach and consultant, Amy has worked with hundreds of leaders one-on-one, and thousands more as part of a group, to fully step into their leadership, create amazing teams and achieve extraordinary results.
Amy’s most popular keynote speeches are:
The Courage of a Leader: The Power of a Leadership Legacy
The Courage of a Leader: Create a Competitive Advantage with Sustainable, Results-Producing Cross-System Collaboration
The Courage of a Leader: Accelerate Trust with Your Team, Customers and Community
The Courage of a Leader: How to Lead, Sell and Succeed Virtually
Her new book is a #1 international best-seller and is entitled, The Courage of a Leader: How to Inspire, Engage and Get Extraordinary Results.
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Todd Hauptli is fond of saying that great people aligned around a common vision committed to excellence can achieve amazing results. That sounds super inspiring. Yet, how do we do it? That is exactly what we get into in this episode.Amy Riley:
Welcome to The Courage of a Leader podcast. This is where you hear real life stories of top leaders achieving extraordinary results. And you get practical advice and techniques, you can immediately apply for your own success. This is where you will get inspired. And take bold, courageous action. I am so glad you can join us. I'm your host, Amy Riley. Now, are you ready to step into the full power of your leadership and achieve the results you care about most? Let's ignite the courage of a leaderAmy Riley:
Todd, AAAE achieved very impressive growth in its annual budget under your leadership. what can other leaders learn from that experience? What about your leadership and the leadership around you enable that?Todd Hauptli:
Well, we have grown dramatically. And I'd like to think that I have a little something to do with it. But the truth is, it really is about the people around you. And the team. I am very fond of saying that great people aligned around a common vision committed to excellence can achieve amazing results. And to the extent that I had anything to do with it, it was mostly about getting everybody to believe that they were capable of doing more than they have been asked of in the past. And to have kind of a point out on the horizon to aim at in this particular instance, when I took over, we were a $33 million a year Association and I on the first day, we all got together said we were going to turn it into $100 million Association, amazing 15 years, which seemed outrageous. Yeah, time. I managed to do it in five years, not 15 years. Wow. And that's really because people had that point off into the future that they knew we were all sailing toward. And they aligned around it. And they believed in themselves. And they believed in the mission of the organization and what we were trying to accomplish. And I was just smart enough to step out of the way.Amy Riley:
Yeah, well, and you were bold enough to throw that number out there. So there's a lot out there about hey, create big, hairy audacious goals for your team, your organization to strive for. That was a big number a big stretch, how did you get people to believe that they were capable and could contribute to a big shift?Todd Hauptli:
Well, when I had been selected for the position, but had not yet started, okay, I sat down individually with every single person on the team. I sent out a set A questions about four or five questions, and ask them to think about those in advance. And I said, I'm just going to mostly listen and take some notes. And whether it was the senior most person in the organization or the receptionist, or the person who worked in the mailroom and everyone in between, I sat down for half an hour, 45 minutes, sometimes an hour with each one of those people and it was the best investment of time possible on the front endAmy Riley:
prior to accepting the roleTodd Hauptli:
prior to stepping into the job. Okay, and talking about what they saw as blockers what they needed in terms of resources, what they thought we should try and accomplish. And it was just an opportunity for people to tell me what they wanted what they thought we needed to do and how they could make a bigger contribution than had been asked if them and then you gather that information and you realize There's some pretty quick easy fixes that you can make to show forward progress nice and you build a sense of momentum. As people say, Oh, this feels different, the cadence is different. You know, the the leaders are listening, I'm feeling more empowered. There's a real sense of direction about where it is that we want to go. And all of that is a virtuous cycle that ends up creating people that have a bigger sense of self, you can see him sit up and puff out even a little bit more about their role and involvement. And nothing is a greater inhibitor to success than anonymity. And if you see people, and you understand their role, and they know that you know who they are and what they do, they will work harder and harder to help you accomplish that shared objective. And in a nonprofit association, a nonprofit environment. I've worked in government, I've worked in for profit, and worked mostly a non for profit, in non for profit. Mission matters most of all, and you can frame objectives in terms of mission and impact. People get really excited about what it is that you're doing. And that sense of impact, that sense of being part of something greater than yourself, is really an empowering kind of accelerator to success.Amy Riley:
Yes, yes. It calls us to be more to do more, wake up with that sense of purpose every day. I mean, what a powerful combination right there. Having people be clear on the mission and how they tie into that impact helped create that impact and having the leadership see people what, what they need, what they see as possible, what's going on in their heads. I love that.Amy Riley:
We are talking to Todd Hauptli today, Todd is the president and CEO of AAAE the American Association of Airport Executives. Todd joined AAAE in 1991, and prior to becoming CEO was responsible for overseeing the association's interactions with Congress and the executive branch agencies. Before joining triple eight, he Todd had many critical roles. He served as a Congressional Relations Officer handling aviation issues at the Department of Transportation. He served on the White House staff of President Ronald Reagan, as Associate Director of Cabinet Affairs, also worked at the Department of Commerce first in the Congressional Affairs office than directly for the Secretary of Commerce. Important and varied experience that you have to lead an organization that does important work, educating advocating certifying professionals. So thank you for being here with me today, Todd.Todd Hauptli:
It's a real pleasure to be with you. And again, congratulations on your book, Amy. It's terrific. I've read it, cover to cover on multiple occasions.Amy Riley:
Ah, excellent. And I'm glad that you are included in the book, Todd. So you are a visionary leader, and many leaders struggle with that. Right? How do I create that point on the horizon? can I possibly be inspiring enough to get others on board? What would you offer other leaders? How does one go about setting an inspiring vision?Todd Hauptli:
terrific question. And I'm not 100% Sure I'm qualified to answer that. I will tell you about my humble opinions. Yeah, I I grew up a history nerd. And reading lots and lots of history and biography I would keep a notebook where I wrote down quotes that meant something to me. And I have found that I have gone back to the well, on many occasion with that. An example an early example, would be on the very first day for our very first staff meeting. I talked a lot about where we We're headed where we wanted to go as an organization, we bet AAA been around since 1928. So it's been around a long time. But I really wanted to try and get people's mind wrapped around the future rather than the past. And there was this great quote, I always remembered from Thomas Jefferson, and Jefferson, who had an unbelievable resume and career, you know, from the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, to becoming our, you know, Secretary of State and vice president and then a two term president, all of those things. Yeah. He, he wrote, after he had left public life and was back at Monticello, he wrote a series of letters back and forth with John Adams. And in one of them, he wrote, I like the dreams, the future better than the history of the past. I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past. And I was really struck by that after everything he had done. Mm hmm. That was his outlook. And then a couple years later, he went on to create the University of Virginia, perhaps his most enduring legacy. Yeah, one of the great public universities in the United States. And so I created the dreams of the future award, oh, to the bank, and I got a whole bunch of Jefferson $2 bills. And each month at a staff meeting for the first year, I handed out a $2 bill, and this award to somebody who had done something to help build a greater future for the organization. And that was, again, just a way of reinforcing this message about, you know, the future and where we were headed. And with the clarifying goal of this 100 million dollar goal that we talked about, again, this point on the horizon, it was really less about getting to $100 million, and a lot more about making everybody feel empowered, that they could do that, and that they were on a big, meaningful journey. And, to me, those kinds of things have always been helpful. The staff will roll its eyes, the team will roll its eyes from time to time, because I lay a lot of Emerson and Thoreau on them. But it inspires me, and I hope that it helps inspire.Amy Riley:
Yeah, yeah. I think sometimes that's a great place to look, right. We're so concerned about how do we inspire everyone around us? Well, what gets us lit up, right? And bring that and bring those ideas. I love the dreams of the future award. And you're always looking at how do I engage and touch each individual so that they are on this journey and bringing their best ideas and best work to the table.Todd Hauptli:
And you don't have to be dirty little secret. I learned you don't have to be the CEO, you don't have to be a senior vice president to make major impact. All you have to be who's committed and aligned around that shared vision. And you can go to town.Amy Riley:
Yeah. Yeah. And leverage every bit of your sphere of influence. And then your sphere of influence will grow.Todd Hauptli:
That's a big, that's 100%. Right. Yeah.Amy Riley:
I know that you are focused, Todd, on the the selection of the team and getting the right people on the bus, if you will, to that would be aligned and move the vision forward. Can you speak to that?Todd Hauptli:
Yep. Thanks, the while the process for the selection of the person in my position ended up being pretty rigorous. And I would also just say to folks who would aspire to become the president or the CEO or the executive director or the leader of whatever organization they're currently involved in or seek to be come involved in. I had worked here for 23 years, and I took absolutely nothing for granted. I worked extraordinarily hard to demonstrate that I had a vision for the future of the organization that I had thought long and hard about the team and about what we needed to accomplish together what our challenges were I wrote a book for seven people. I wrote for the selection committee, okay, outlined my vision for the organization and what I thought were my qualifications for the position. And, again, just on a personal note, in preparation for the actual final interview, I spent two solid weeks in the office in the room where the conference room where those interviews would take place, I would arrive about six in the morning, and from six until 730. In the morning, I would do back to back rehearsals of my presentation, I thought of all of the questions anybody might ask. And I thought about how I wanted to answer that I just, you couldn't, no one was going to prepare more than I wish they might make a decision to hire somebody else. But it wouldn't be for lack of effort on my part. And I'm always impressed when I see people who have really done a lot of research and have given a lot of thought, in advance of coming in for any interview. And that's something that rings my bell. And so we worked a lot on that. And then making sure once I was selected, and I was, I think pretty thoughtful about the team that we wanted to put together. There were folks around in the building who were good people, but had not necessarily been asked to step up in a bigger way. And I wanted to make sure that everybody had an opportunity to prove themselves. In the process, I wanted to try and give everyone the benefit of the doubt, rather than make any real early judgments. So we made no immediate changes to the team. We gave everybody an opportunity to show whether they were aligned or not aligned. And after a bit, we made some changes, okay, and some folks moved along. And then we brought in some other folks, but we've got a lot of people on the team that had been here for a long time, the culture is very strong. You talk in your book about culture, and it's so so important. And I consider myself sort of a steward a temporary steward of that, as the culture get passed, gets passed along from staff member to staff member over the years.Amy Riley:
Yeah, yeah. I love when I hear something along those lines from leaders about their their role, their responsibility being temporary, and focused. I'm a keeper of the culture here, really tuned into how my actions my words affect the culture of the organization. Yeah, I really am. I really love this. I'm looking for people who have done some research ahead of time, because of what that indicates, right? That indicates that they're they're interested, they care about where they're gonna go and make an impact every day they're thinking about that is, am I going to be able to contribute in that environment? How might I contribute in that environment? You see that that care, that commitment, that involvement? upfront?Todd Hauptli:
We just a quick anecdote along those lines. Yeah, back when I led the advocacy efforts in the organization, before becoming the CEO, we had a relatively junior position in the congressional operation that we were looking to hire and I, we interviewed several people and had somebody kind of identified, and we're just about ready to hire them. And then we got this last minute resume that came in over the transom. Well, let's let's, let's go ahead and take a look at another person. We kind of know what we're going to do. But let's take a look at this person. And this young 23 year old woman came in. She had done a ton of research about the organization about our operation in the federal affairs team had specific ideas about how she could plug in and help. Just incredible enthusiasm. And she walked out of there, and we all turn to each other and we said Guess we're changing who we're gonna hire. We hired her and we did that. And now she's the Vice Premier President of membership for the organism, she started higher, huh? He started off in a kind of a junior position and then moved up the food chain within the federal affairs operation. And then when I took over as CEO, I said to her look, I'm going to make you go outside your comfort zone. I know you love what you're doing. I've got bigger plans for you, because you can have greater impact across the whole organization and our membership in this new role that I have for you. And again, a little nervous and resistant at first. And then, you know, I got this great note from her. Oh, maybe a year after she'd taken this new job saying, you saw it before I did. But I'm very grateful you saw it. This is awesome.Amy Riley:
Ah, that gives me goosebumps. Todd, I'm just thinking as you're you're talking that story about that individual. And that you initially asked everyone to step up. And just as a leader, seeing each person and inviting them to step up to see themselves in their role as bigger than it is currently to commit to a bigger picture purpose. Yeah, like, why not ask everybody? I think too many organizations have this focus on, quote unquote, the high potentials. Why not invite everybody to step up to step in and see what happens?Todd Hauptli:
That's exactly right, too. I wish I could claim this as my own statement. It's, it's a peloton statement. Okay? It is. Alone, we go fast. Together, we go far, huh. And I really think that that really resonates with me. There's only so much an individual can accomplish it really, these really our team sports. And it, it does take the village, you really need everybody. In order to affect change, you just you can only do so much by yourself. If you as the leader can set a tone and set a direction and get alignment. Then whether you have five people on your team or 50 people on your team or 500 people on your team, what they can accomplish is remarkable. And it's so much more than you can accomplish as an individual.Amy Riley:
Yeah. Todd, that really works for me alone, we go fast together, we go far. Add up that mileage. So tablets talk about 2020. Because it's just momentarily, it's easy to talk about inspiring visions and forward progress, right when you're not leading an association of airport executives during a pandemic. So how do we and those kinds of uncertain negatively impacted your industry immediately? Right, how do you keep people inspired and engaged during a situation like that?Todd Hauptli:
Ugly it was an ugly time. So in the case of aviation, generally, and then our association specifically, we had finished 2019 record level year and aviation record level year for our association. And we were off to the races. 2020 was looking amazing. Yeah. And you know, it very abruptly shifted, and the bottom went out of the aviation market directly. You know, by April, we were down 90 at one point 94% traffic levels. Yeah. And in the case of the association, we rely not on dues to get funded dues are a very small portion of our revenue. For us. We are very entrepreneurial. And there's lots of solutions in the marketplace that we offer conferences and meetings and training and a whole variety of things that really rely on aviation activity. So it was very clear Very quickly, that we were going to be in a world of hurt. And the team got together, the leadership team got together. And we knew we were going to have to react aggressively. And the real question was, do you do it? Small? And hope you don't have to keep doing it making changes? Or do you go at it pretty aggressively right out of the gate. And we went back and forth a little bit. And where we landed on, it was, we needed to take early, aggressive, big action, do it one time, rip the band aid off, and circle the wagons with the troops. So we did a 25% reduction of the workforce, which meant for us, we had to let 18 People go 18 people who did nothing wrong, right, who had been great contributors, some of whom had been here for decades. Others who were newer to the team, but it was up and down the organization from senior vice presidents to receptionists and everything in between, we had to let 18 people go. And a valid way of doing it might have been let six or seven people go and see what happens and maybe let another six or seven go. But I landed in a different place on that. I didn't want people looking over their shoulder. wondering am I next?Amy Riley:
What Yeah, Moore's coming, Moore's coming.Todd Hauptli:
Right. And so I decided plan for the worst. And it won't, hopefully won't be as bad as that. So we did a very painful reduction and restructuring. And I will tell you the worst day of my professional career, certainly was the day we had to do that. And I sat at this desk behind me and wrote out 18 handwritten letters to each of those people tried to explain that it wasn't about them. It wasn't about their performance, that they should hold their head high that they had made contributions to the organization. But this was something much bigger, it was about survivability, the organization, and that I was put in a position of making decisions that were unthinkable even six weeks earlier. And I sent those letters out to everybody. And a number of the folks that we let go just it's hard not to get too emotional. Just talking about a number of the folks that we let go contacted me about how much that meant to them, which made me feel even worse. Oh, yeah. Yes. They were so gracious at a time of I mean, imagine having to put people out on the street. Yeah, in a pandemic, when they did nothing wrong.Amy Riley:
Right. AndTodd Hauptli:
I don't know, eight months later, or so. I got a call from a government investigator who was doing a background check on one of our previous employees that we had to let go. Okay, and they wanted to verify employment. I said, No, no, you call HR to verify employment. Now we really we want to talk to you about this individual. And I said, Okay, so we went through all of that. And at the end of it, the investigator said something that really meant something personally to me, he said, Okay, we're done. I've turned off the, you know, recording, I just want to tell you something. This candidate showed me the letter that you sent, and talked about how much it meant to him that you had sent it. And that was a really stand up thing to do. I don't tell you that story for self aggrandizement, I just, it's, you have to remember how important the personal connection is, yes. The contributions that people make. They give their treasure and their soul and their lives to these jobs. And it's just heartbreaking to not be able to take care of everybody in the way that you would hope to in a crisis like this. But we did manage to do it one time, got the whole team together afterwards and said, Okay, you're the team. We're they were the folks that are going to do this. We're going to pull out of this. And you're going to have to figure out how to do more, with less resources for less pay, because our members need us more now than they've ever needed us. And our federal affairs team stepped up in a major way, we got $20 billion in COVID relief for airports. And then Congress not too long ago, finally passed an infrastructure bill that had another $20 billion for airports. It really showed the value of the advocacy team to the members at a time when they needed it the most. Yeah, as well as the work that the membership department did the training department did in switch thing to, from on sites to online training, or meetings department, going from in person to virtual, I mean, Team pivoted absorb the shock of what was happening, understood the need for sacrifice, and again, aligned around this vision about how we needed to execute for the members. And I couldn't be more proud of the way the team operated in an incredibly challenging environment. And I couldn't be more relieved than that's in the rearview mirror.Amy Riley:
Ah, yeah. Yeah. A couple things. I want to under score there. Todd, I think a lot of organizations entities struggled with, what do we reduce? How far do we reduce? How far do we we go here, and the powerful message that you are able to send based on trying to make the big cut up front, is that you got to say you all are the team. Here we are. Here's what's on our plates. And then you had that vision, here's our important work to do. We're serving our members. Let let's let's lean in. And also, yeah, go ahead.Todd Hauptli:
Well, I was I was just gonna say, I can't stress how important it is, from my perspective that the team got to feel like okay, I don't have to keep looking over my shoulder. It's, it's over, it's not coming. There's not some sort of Damocles hanging over me that one day, I'm going to get that call too.Amy Riley:
And any little bit of security or stability that could have been provided in 2020 was so critical. Right? Just emotionally for for everybody, it was really unsettling time. And I love that we can take care of people, engage people lean into them personally, even when we are separating.Todd Hauptli:
I would say another. Another approach that we took, and that I took with intentionality as a leader was to try and be very transparent with folks and very candid about what was going on, I wanted to make sure that everybody felt like they were that they had all of the information that was available to me, available to them. Nice people are adults. And they're going to make their own decisions about what to do based on the best information that they had. And I tried to be humble enough to understand to make sure everybody understood I didn't have all the answers nobody did during this. And that we I kept saying to everybody, all we can do is the best we can do. All we can do is the best that we can do. And I again, was so proud of the way the team reactedAmy Riley:
that Yeah, that's amazing. Yeah, especially in a time where like, we don't know what to do. We haven't been here before. So let's just bring our best ideas, pull our resources as best as possible and do the best that we can do. So much of what you're saying Todd is focused on people. Right, and I believe there's no more important role for leader than focusing on people, giving people the attention that they want. Let them know we believe in them. them know that we see them tie their work to the bigger picture purpose. Be respectful, be transparent, give them all the information that we can even if it's not positive, uplifting. Information a treat him like adults, we can we can all deal with that. I think that's an important thread. You're speaking, let's end on a Ford focused note. What is on the horizon? What's the vision 2022. and beyond?Todd Hauptli:
Well, the for the industry I thankfully it's returning like gangbusters. International travel is now starting to pick up again, business travel is now starting to pick up again, domestic travel went crazy. Last year in 2021, towards the last half of the year, things really picked up and people went, summer vacations, and even into the fall in the holidays,Amy Riley:
all my fights were full.Todd Hauptli:
Now that we're in 2022, and things are moving forward, the industry is in a much better place. The challenges are, are different than they were in 2020 and 2021. The challenges now from a management point of view, in my view, are how do you keep great people with you instead of what somebody else? Yes. How do you provide the flexibility necessary to allow people to flourish and do their great work? Yeah. Like I said, the industry is coming back, which helps our organization come back, it allows us to staff up better to meet the needs of the members. It's, it's a very optimistic future for the I believe, both for the organization and for our industry. So I'm really looking forward, I, I'd like to leave as much of 2020 in the past as a valued, learned experience that I don't have to draw from again, and so if I can help it, but I do feel like our team has been battle tested, and understands what we need to do going forward and maybe even has a greater appreciation for when things are good, how good they are. Having gone through what they went through, to get here.Amy Riley:
Yeah, having that contrast. And again, I'm hearing the focus on people, right, how do we retain people? How do we allow for flexibility so that it works for people holistically? Exactly. Todd, really great discussion. Thank you for being on the courage of a leader podcast today. And best of luck this year and beyond.Todd Hauptli:
Thanks, Amy. Appreciate it.