Leaders don’t have to know how to do everything, they just need to know how to get things done.

Patty Van Ryzin   Vice President - Human Resources   Bassett Mechanical

Patty Van Ryzin
Vice President - Human Resources
Bassett Mechanical

As a young employee, Patty Van Ryzin remembers it was easier to admit she didn’t know how to do something.  It is typically expected behavior for a junior team member to ask lots of questions and everyone understands this learning is needed to advance.

As a senior leader, Patty strove to provide growth opportunities to her employees, so pushed herself to delegate responsibilities she had already mastered.  By default, this changed her workload and focus to larger, more strategic priorities facing the organization.  As challenges requiring experience and skills she hadn’t yet acquired became a larger portion of her day, she started to feel an unfamiliar sense of inadequacy and over time asked herself if she was the right person for this critical leadership role.  She even began to question if she had fallen victim to the Peter Principle.  Somewhere along the way Patty started to face the pressure many leaders experience to have all the answers.  She feared she would let her team down if she showed vulnerability and admitted she needed help.  Patty recalls she used to look around at successful people and think “They’ve got it all figured out” but came to realize this is only because “people generally don’t talk about these worries.”

Grappling with a company need that pushed her out of her comfort zone and required skills not resident anywhere in the organization, she confessed to her boss that she felt stretched beyond her capabilities in certain areas.  She feared she was not delivering on the organization’s needs and questioned her role.  To Patty’s surprise, her very successful company president laughed and replied that all driven people feel like that at times!  This was a critical turning point for Patty.  She was reminded that even senior leaders are still learning, and that this continuous learning is not only OK, it’s essential.  She understood that to continue to grow she needs to continue to face unfamiliar challenges – but she had to learn to balance the seemingly competing roles of confident leader and curious student.

She committed to cultivate a culture where it is ok to admit you need help and she committed to herself to avoid the trap many senior leaders fall into of building a smokescreen and pretending they know everything.  She became a more effective leader when she accepted she didn’t need to be perfect.  Patty returned to her various projects, breaking down the requirements and identifying gaps, and sought specialized outside expertise to learn new project delivery methods.  Not only did she successfully address her company’s needs, she acted as a positive role model for continuous learning and improvement.

Patty serves as head of Human Resources for Bassett Mechanical, an award winning Wisconsin-based mechanical contractor specializing in custom specialty metal fabrication, industrial refrigeration, mechanical systems, HVAC, industrial ventilation, plumbing and piping, service and preventive maintenance.  She helped lead the company in its transition to third generation leadership while simultaneously taking a lead role in introducing Lean manufacturing principles to the organization.  She welcomes new challenges and isn’t afraid to admit she is still learning!

In our research interviews, we heard how important it is for women to project confidence in business settings.  Sometimes we mistakenly believe this means acting as if we have all the answers.  Admitting you don’t know something can be a sign of weakness, but doesn’t have to be.  We learned it is possible to maintain a confident aura of leadership while asking for help.  Successful leaders don’t know how to do everything, but they do know how to get things done.  Challenge yourself to embrace learning throughout your career.  You may find, like Patty, that letting go of the need to be perfect opens the door to becoming a more effective leader.