Who’s the Boss with Elizabeth Izard Apelles

Elizabeth Izard Apelles, the CEO of Greater Than One, shares her leadership insights from running the independent healthcare advertising agency as well as Greater Than One’s foundation, GTO Greater Good, a 501c3 “dedicated to giving back,” which includes Honeycomb Health, a non-profit created to help people living with rare diseases.

PM360: What is your secret to making your employees/team perform better?

Elizabeth Izard Apelles: We are an employee-owned company, so all of our leaders are owners, all know how the company is performing, and all benefit from our shared successes.

Then it is about having a well-thought-out company strategy and setting a clear course. We meet twice a year to set the company’s priorities for the next six months. All our leaders know the direction we’re going and what our north star is. They can then see how their role fits into achieving the overarching goal. It is easier to be successful in your position when you know what the company is trying to achieve and how your efforts on a day-to-day basis support reaching that goal.

What is the best piece of advice you got from another leader?

Early in my career my next-door neighbor was Tom Murphy, who started a company called Capital Cities Communications, which ultimately bought ABC. His daughter is still one of my best friends. When I was in my 20s and got my first job he said to me, “Elizabeth, if somebody gives you a compliment, smile, say thank you, and don’t believe a word they said.” Of course, I appreciate compliments on a job well done, and freely give them out; this quote speaks to staying humble and focused, regardless of how much success one might have.

The second piece of advice is from my mom, who said “Elizabeth, you made your bed, you lie in it.” I am responsible for myself, and the people at Greater Than One are responsible for themselves. Those two pieces of advice have served me well, in my career and in my life.

What skill do you think is most important for a leader to have that not enough people talk about?

I would say stamina and endurance. To be in it, to remain in it with purpose and focus, requires these two things.

What factor, event, moment, etc. had the biggest impact on the formation of your leadership style?

It was the sports teams I played on as a kid. I’ve always been really good at sports, field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse. That taught me you can be the best, but unless you can make those around you good or better, you’re never going to win the big games.

When Michael Jordan scored in the 60s, his team often lost; when he scored in the 30s they won. His famous quote: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Finally, who is the boss?

Another tip that my mentor, the same Tom Murphy, said to me: “Liz, hire the best people you can find and let them do their jobs.” When people are asked to rise to the occasion, in most cases, they do it very, very well.


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