July marked my first full year as CEO of Aqua America– and what a year it was! After serving in various roles over more than two decades within Aqua, the opportunity to be able to lead this great company has been the ultimate privilege and honor.
Looking back, this first year has been filled with wonderful experiences, unexpected challenges, exciting accomplishments, and most importantly, lessons learned. I wanted to share three of these key lessons because I believe they will not only make a difference in the way in which I’ll lead moving forward, but will also have a positive impact on the continued success of Aqua – and hopefully, by extension, to our customers, investors and the communities we serve.
1. Time is often a leader’s biggest adversary.
Like so many people, I have often felt that there just isn’t enough time in the day for everything that needs to get done. Regardless of the industry you work in, time management is a crucial skill to develop and incredibly important if you want to become an effective leader. While I don’t pretend to have fully mastered this skill, it is something I work toward every day. It’s why, early on, I introduced a series of meeting guidelines at Aqua such as starting and ending on time, requiring agendas, and putting away mobile phones during meetings, which can serve as distractions. While these guidelines may seem simple, they go a long way toward increasing efficiency, respecting and saving associates’ time, and maximizing productivity in the workplace.
2. Aim for both short-term wins and long-term success.
I came into my new role at Aqua with a long list of goals. While I’ve been fortunate to see many come to fruition in this first year thanks in large part to the invaluable support of my team, there is still much more I’m looking forward to accomplishing together. It can be easy to grow frustrated when the pace of progress doesn’t match the deadlines you’ve set or when obstacles occur along the way. However, I’ve learned that setting a series of goals helps keep us focused and more firmly on the path to success. Some are milestone goals that can be accomplished in a few short weeks and others lay the groundwork for supporting other long-term business objectives that will take a significant investment in time to achieve. For me, a major part of establishing this groundwork has been taking the time to build a strong senior leadership team with the right experience and skillsets to turn our goals into reality.
3. A thoughtful balance between internal and external priorities is key.
In the utility industry, leaders must divide their time appropriately between internal and external stakeholders. Our employees remain among my highest priorities and I have spent an enormous amount of time working to improve the employee experience at Aqua – and there is much more to do. Additionally, it’s important to protect the strong reputation we have with regulators and legislators where we do business. As a result, I continue to spend a significant portion of my time in state capitals with our management team to commemorate the good things Aqua America is doing and also ask for support on issues where we need help. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a management team, throughout Aqua, that works to divide their time in a similar way. This is a very exciting time to be on the Aqua team.
I am very proud of Aqua’s associates and all we have accomplished together this past year. They have taught me a great deal about being a better leader and have only strengthened my resolve to grow Aqua into an even stronger company in the years to come.
By: Chris Franklin, CEO, Aqua America