The Primitive Podcast: Annie Gilbert and Jessica Hicks

Posted by Kade Wilcox | January 25, 2021

The Primitive Podcast with Jess & Annie

Leadership can look many different ways to many different people.

In this episode, Kade sits down with Primitive’s Chief of Staff, Annie Gilbert, and Primitive’s Chief Operating Officer, Jessica Hicks, to discuss what expectations they have, what inspires them, and what leadership looks like through their specific roles and vantage points. 


Let’s jump in.

Connect with the folks behind the episode:Annie Gilbert and Jessica Hicks

Kade Wilcox: Hey guys, welcome to The Primitive Podcast. I'm Kade Wilcox, your host. On this week's episode we have the treat of having two really special guests, Annie Gilbert, our Chief of Staff at Primitive and Jessica Hicks, our COO. 

It was really fun to spend some time with them asking them about leadership and how they view their roles as leaders, but also hearing some of their insight in terms of what they need from the people leading them. So, all-in-all, a really dynamic conversation. I value each of these leaders so much in our organization. Primitive and our entire team is better because of them, and I'm confident that you'll be encouraged and that you'll learn a lot listening to their perspective and talking a little bit about their experience. 

Thank you for joining this week's episode and all episodes. I really appreciate you listening to the podcast and am excited to continue to create great content for you. So thank you. We very much appreciate you.

Kade Wilcox: Annie and Jess, thanks for joining The Primitive Podcast. For those of you who listen to The Primitive Podcast, these are two of my favorite people. Annie Gilbert, our Chief of Staff here at Primitive (she's been here a couple of years now) and Jess, our Chief Operating Officer. 

Jess, you've been here over three years, right?

Jess Hicks: Three and a half.

Kade Wilcox: Three and a half. Probably the best thing about Jess is she's a new newly minted Texan. She came from California, a lifelong resident, and now lives in Round Rock.

Jess Hicks: And loving it.

Kade Wilcox: And loving it. Thanks for joining the podcast, and thank you for allowing me to invite you Tuesday. I said, “I'll send you all the questions.” and then I didn't send you the questions until this morning, about four hours ago, before you had three or four meetings. So which one of you was able to look at the questions?

Annie Gilbert: I looked at them.

Kade Wilcox: I know you folks don't know Jess very well, but Jess is our methodical, thoughtful, deliberate leader at Primitive. And so sending her the questions while she was on a plane this morning and not giving her any time is a cardinal sin.

Jess Hicks: Anxiety.

Kade Wilcox: So anyway, really glad to have you on here. Why don't we start by introducing yourselves? Talk a little bit about your background, talk a little bit about your role at Primitive, and then we'll jump into the questions. 

Sound good?

Who are Annie Gilbert and Jessica Hicks?

Annie Gilbert: Sounds good. So I'm Annie, and like Kade said, I'm the Chief of Staff. I have a background in education and counseling, and I was on my way to being an elementary school counselor when Kade proposed this opportunity. I've been here two and a half years and I can't imagine ever wanting to do anything else. It meets all of my needs and I'm fulfilled in what I get to do and caring for people. 

Chief of Staff has an ambiguous title; not everybody really understands exactly what it is or what it looks like at Primitive. But I always just say I get to take care of our culture and our people, and that's what I'm passionate about, what I am equipped to do well, and I love it.

Kade Wilcox: If I remember correctly you ignored my text messages. I tried to reach out to you and you were ignoring me. So then I texted your husband, worked through him, and finally got an interview.

Annie Gilbert: You actually texted him, initially, or you talked to him somewhere. And I thought he was confused because I was like, “I don't understand why he thinks I would need to come to Primitive. I don't really understand what their business does.” 

And so I ignored it at that point because I thought, “Oh, Brandon's just confused.” And then you reached out with a text message, but you also sent a job description. And when I read the job description, I was sold. That is what I wanted.

Kade Wilcox: Then we had her at hello, folks. That's great. It's been fun. 

Jess?

Jess Hicks: This is fun. I was reminiscing as you were talking about my hiring experience, and I was picturing myself on the California freeway sitting in two- hour traffic, talking on the phone with Kade, and within 30 minutes, I think, I had a job offer. He told me to go make my own job description and the rest was history. 

It's definitely been one of the best decisions I ever made. Before Primitive, I was in the hospitality industry and I was doing a lot of business development, operations, and managing teams. And it was great, but I was working 80 hours a week. I wasn't seeing my family. I then transitioned over to Houzz which is a big marketing platform for the home improvement industry. I learned a lot there. 

And then I had an opportunity just fall into my lap, and it was Primitive; never gonna leave. Now I'm doing everything that I love, just like you, Annie. Everything that's in my wheelhouse. Operations, strategy, and when Kade allows me to think strategically and empathetically, I get to do that too sometimes. That's been really, really fun.

Kade Wilcox: It probably isn't very often but you handle it with grace. One of the many fun things about building a business is not just the business that you're in, but the people you get to do the work with. I know at Primitive we're extremely fortunate, and it's taken a long time. It didn't happen overnight. 

But I think all of us on our team would agree, you two are two of the best hires we've ever made. This probably puts a lot of pressure on Annie, but I always say the single greatest business decision we ever made was to hire someone, not just of Annie's caliber, but someone who's really going to focus on people and culture, and not giving them 15 other job responsibilities with culture and people just being a secondary thing. It’s their primary thing.

Kade Wilcox: What's fun about Jess is she started out in business development (and all of you listening to this podcast, whether you're an employee somewhere or you're a leader somewhere, or an owner of a business you'll have experienced this, too) but Jess has done everything she's been asked to do. And time and time again, it's like, “Oh, we've got to give her more responsibility.” 

What's been fun about Jess' leadership journey is she was doing the things faithfully and consistently before we ever asked her to do the things. So we came to the realization and clarity that Jess should do this because she was doing it without ever being asked. It's been fun watching that. 

So let's talk a little bit about y'all's experience with leadership, both from your own vantage point, but also working with other leaders. How do you each see your own role as a leader? Not so much the specifics of your job description, but think about leadership in general and when you think of your role at Primitive for our people and with our leadership team, how do you see the role of a leader?

Two Different Lenses of Leadership

Jess Hicks: It's been really interesting understanding how I fit in as a leader at Primitive with all the service lines that we have and with all the people that we have in different places. It's been interesting figuring out that I need to meet people with where they're at, and wherever they're at is the way that I need to lead them. 

And everybody's different. 

I think for me it's been a really amazing growth opportunity to understand that I don't have to lead one way all the time. Because one, I'm not going to grow if I just stay the same. But two, that's not healthy for the individual that I'm working with. I really view my leadership as dynamic and focused on the people and meeting them where they're at and helping them where they need me to, and also getting rid of gaps; linking us together. I really feel that I'm going to be an integral part to bring us together in a way that we haven't before. That, to me, is really exciting about my leadership at Primitive.

Kade Wilcox: What's the challenging part of that? I've never thought of your leadership in that role, but it's really powerful being really flexible, or I think you used the word dynamic. It makes a ton of sense. Meeting people where they are and treating people as individuals and not a group where everyone has to operate in the same way; that sounds awesome. But what's challenging about that? Does it make you go slower? Is it filled with friction? What are the challenges of that model of leadership?

Jess Hicks: Yeah, I think at times things can move a little bit slower. But I think because we naturally move very fast in a lot of different ways, sometimes that's a good thing, you know, to kind of coach people through these moments and really understand them and hear them out fully. 

So it can slow things down to an extent, and I think it can be hard to keep up with mentally and emotionally when you lead that way. You're dealing with a lot of different personalities and you're having to facilitate conversations in a way that can be taxing and wearing at times. And so it does take a toll I think to a certain extent, but it's nothing that I don't love or enjoy. You have to find time to rest and reset and make sure you can be your best in each moment.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. Annie, what do you think in terms of leadership?

Annie Gilbert: Jess, when you said that you were, like, on your journey to finding your place in leadership, that sparked going back to the beginning for me. I was the first person in this role, and so, like you when you started at Primitive, I created my own role. So it was spending some time figuring out, “Okay, what does this mean? What are the expectations and how can I lead well?” And I think a lot of people think of leaders as people managers, but I read an article as I was preparing to start my role here and it talks about Chiefs of Staff who lead from behind. So I've always seen it as a support role. It's leadership, but it's not a leader out in front leading the way. It's someone who's there to support and uplift and help people along the way.

Annie Gilbert: And then finding my place on the leadership team has been really fun because I think, like Kade mentioned earlier, it hasn't happened overnight. But we've gotten to a place where we're very balanced as a leadership team. We all bring different strengths and different passions to the table and that's what makes it so great because we need all of it. I feel very valued in what I'm able to offer and contribute for those things that are unique. It just makes us better as a whole.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's really good. I have so many thoughts now flooding my mind. So I'm just going to throw them out there, but I'm going to come back to the strengths, and I want to unpack just how Primitive utilizes the strengths of each individual. Y'all can both speak into that, but Annie specifically. Something that we've tried really hard to do on our leadership team is this idea of figuring out how our leadership team works together; you even spoke to filling gaps. Something that's been fun as we've built our leadership team (and we've kind of had to crawl then walk and now we're running) is when you take the needs of a business and you think about, you think about culture.

Kade Wilcox: So now we have someone who's really owning culture, and certainly you do a lot of things, but your primary role is owning culture. Then you think about operations within a business and how the way you're delivering your services and how you function behind the scenes and behind the curtain, and how they impact the health of the business. 

Now we have someone who's quite capable of leading operations. And Jess, I always joke that if I get hit by a bus Primitive would be better off because Jess could just fill that seat in the bus. But we have someone owning operations. Alongside of operations is Heather's role, you know, director of marketing operations, which is really critical and crucial role because she fills an extremely unique need as it relates to strategy and making sure that the delivery of our service to our client isn't just great from a relational standpoint, but also that it's working that if we're building strategies for clients that they're actually producing results. And then Tim, our CFO owning the finances, which is important in every organization.

Kade Wilcox: So we have people, culture, and operations covered, and  finances covered with Tim's great leadership. Then, hopefully I'm pulling up the rear with sales –  bringing in opportunities and keeping the pipeline full. 

So I bring that up because of what you said about all of us figuring out our own role. I think those listening to this podcast fall into two categories:  either you're a CEO or you're a business owner. I would ask you, obviously it's a rhetorical question because you're listening to us on your iPhone, but how is your business in those four ways? Our business was, I would say, a C+ or B-. And now that we have remarkable leaders owning those areas, I would give it an A+, candidly. (Not that we're perfect, we have a long way to go.)

 If you're a leader listening to this podcast, and you're not the leader, you could look at your role as, “How can I bring value in one of those four areas?” Business may be more than those four areas, but it's not less. And having really great leaders owning those things has taken Primitive from an average to good company to a really great company. And you all have played a role in that.

Kade Wilcox: Annie, maybe you can speak into a little bit about strengths-based leadership and CliftonStrengths and how we utilize that at our company to serve our people.

Serving People Through Their Strengths

Annie Gilbert: Absolutely. It's been such a gift to us to our personal growth and learning about ourselves and then learning about each other and our teammates and how we can work together more effectively. We brought in Leanne and Joy from ROI Talent Development, and they have trained us and equipped us and given us resources so that we could continue the growth process. And so when we are in the hiring process, when we have interns, we require everyone to take this assessment that tells us a little bit about how they would fit onto our team. And then, all the time, we're learning more about our strengths. We're digging in deeper to our top strengths, but also looking at what we lack and where our teammates can fill in those gaps and those spaces. I've used it countless times, if there's conflict or if there's a struggle, to understand how people work differently and personalities are different. It's not bad, it's just different. It's been essential to help us be more effective together and then be more effective leaders, for sure. And understanding how to lead the people. 

If we understand them better then we're going to be able to lead them better.

Kade Wilcox: How has that supported your role, Jess? Have you put that into use when you talk about leading people based on where they are and who they are?

Jess Hicks: I love the spreadsheet, specifically, that Annie has that breaks everybody's core strengths out because I actually refer back to that quite a bit when I'm in one-on-ones with individuals or communicating with an individual about certain tasks. Certain people need to be communicated to a certain way. It's helped me grow in my leadership, because if I know that Tanner needs a document, it has to specifically say everything we're working on; it has to say why. The why to him is the most important piece of that document. So having that at my fingertips to utilize has been a great value, even just amongst our leaders, too, working one-on-one together. It's really helped me to understand how to better work with Kade, or Annie, or Heather, or Tim, or Jerred. It's been very valuable.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, it's a big deal. I find myself depending on it when I'm really frustrated (and she knows this) and I say, “Annie, I need to talk to you.” She tells me, okay, this person is X, Y, and Z, and this and this, and you're not an X, Y, Z. 

It's really helpful, particularly with the leadership team in a moment of crisis or a moment of frustration, because that's really where I have found it useful. When things are good, things are good, but when, for me personally, I'm either frustrated or in a moment of crisis or what feels to be a crisis, it's really critical for all of us to understand these are our teammates and this is how I can best serve them. This is how they can best serve me. We all get along really well and then move the ball forward. So I think that's been a big part of our success the last couple of years.

Expectations and Needs as Leaders, From Leaders

Kade Wilcox: What do you expect and need from me? So in our context I'm the CEO, you're the Chief of Staff, you're the COO. In other organizations of those listening, it may be different titles or whatever, but the point is you are leading people, and my job is to lead you. So from y'all's vantage points, what expectations do you have from your leaders?

Annie Gilbert: Yeah, so actually just this morning, we were having an internship orientation, and I was explaining the history of Primitive and just who we are as a company. I was introducing myself in my role, and I was just reflecting on, you know, the creation of this role and the purpose behind it. I talked to them about hearing Kade's vision for my role, and I know he says all the time that this was the best business decision, but it was his decision and the vision that he cast for this role. 

So I think that as a leader I really thrive when you provide a clear vision and clear expectations on what you want me to do, and then you give me the freedom to figure out how to get that done. Just knowing what the end result is and what you want that to be, and then also the freedom to get it done. Then, however I need to, using my strengths and my gifts and abilities to do that is huge. So I think that that clarity is really important. I've never not felt supported by the leadership, by you and Jerred. The encouragement is really valuable, but I think that at the top of the list are clear vision and clear expectations. If I have that, then I can run with it.

Jess Hicks: That's good. I would ditto that. Everything you said Annie really resonates with me and is what came to mind. Vision is huge. And I don't feel like I'm in a place to cast big picture vision. I can do a little bit of it, but right now I still feel like I'm on this journey of growth. So to have you being that anchor for us, consistently, I think gives me a lot of comfort and confidence that I can do what I'm good at right now. Because you are going to be the person that's going to lead and guide us and steer the ship. So everything that Annie's saying, along with the validation you consistently give us, too, is something that I really appreciate. It keeps me motivated and encouraged consistently.

Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's good. I find it to be a really helpful reminder all the time. You probably get sick of the question, but I'm like, “Hey, what do you need? Is there something else you need to be successful?” But I think it's a really good reminder for me, personally, and probably for every leader and good for you as leaders in your own way, that clear vision and clear expectations are really essential. I hope I'm getting better at the clear expectations. A lot of times I think I get stuck in the really big picture, in the clouds, dreaming stuff, and sometimes forget to then follow it up with here's what that actually means, and here's what I need you to do in order to move that forward. So those are really good reminders.

Kade Wilcox: I'm also really glad to hear you all say, “Freedom”, because every really great leader from the top to the bottom and the bottom to the top and everywhere in between, is a leader in their own way and they have their lane to run in. I think everyone wants freedom to be able to know what that clear expectation is and what the goal is, but then free to leverage their gifts and their skills in order to accomplish that goal. So that's also a really good reminder.

Achieving Personal Growth and Staying Inspired

Kade Wilcox: How do you guys stay inspired as leaders? How do you focus on your own personal growth when you have a lot of responsibility? Something I always think about, and I really admire this about a lot of people in our company, but you two particularly are both wives and you're both moms. I told Annie this the other day, I felt guilty because I got it a lot easier at home than she does because I don't do any work. I really admire y'all. Y'all are carrying the load in multiple places, and so not only are you carrying a lot of responsibility at Primitive and a lot is expected of you, but you're also carrying a big load outside of work. So I'm really curious how you stay inspired, how you stay encouraged, and how you focus on growing as a leader.

Jess Hicks: That's a loaded question, Kade. This is going to sound so simple, but for me it's easy to stay motivated because I'm so happy with what I'm doing. I can't say that I wholeheartedly loved my past positions. Yes, I enjoyed them, but I think the love that I have for Primitive and the work that I get to do every day keeps me going because I'm so passionate about it. I wish I had something more thoughtful to say, but I just love it so much. So it feels so natural. I do feel like my faith is also a big part of my growth and inspiration and it keeps me humble. When I read different parables in the Bible or go back to different stories about great leaders and the humility that they had and the love that they had for the people around them, that keeps me grounded. I think that keeps me focused in a way that I can always learn more. If I continue to stay humble and let go of pride and let go of ego then I can really honor those who are around me, because everyone has so much to give. That inspires me– to learn from our team. That's usually where I focus a lot of my growth. And then learning from our team. Our team is so smart and so talented. I learn something from them every day. They give me a lot of inspiration, too.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good. Annie?

Annie Gilbert: I'm not going to pretend like wearing a lot of hats is not difficult. It definitely is, and it can be harder at some times than others. But I've always said, and truly believe to my core, that I'm a better wife and I'm a better mom because of what I get to do vocationally. It's so fulfilling. I know that different people are called to different things. I'm not called to be a stay at home mom. I wouldn't be who I needed to be for my family if I didn't have something so meaningful in my work. So what I try to do is really be present where I am and focus on where I am and what I need to accomplish. If I'm at home and I'm hanging out with my family, I want to be completely present with them and make that quality time. If I'm engaged in work, I want to be completely present for our team and give it everything I've got. That really helps me to stay engaged. And it is motivating. It's naturally motivating because it's what I love. It's what I'm passionate about. I read the other day the best job is when it doesn't feel like a job and most days I don't feel beat down by work or overwhelmed by it. Because I enjoy it so much.

Kade Wilcox: It is really encouraging to hear you guys say these things, because we've really tried to build a culture in a way that is not about an eight to five, or "work", but it is something that you love. You guys used words like love, passion, purpose, fulfillment, meaningful, and engaged. Isn't that really what we want for all of our team, regardless of what your role is, that if it's not something you really love or you're not really connected to, or you're not really engaged in, or you're not really fulfilled in, then we honestly want to help you go and figure out what that is. 

It's really sad because we have a lot of friends and have a lot of peers, we have a lot of family members who don't love their work, who don't find meaning in their work. So to hear you guys talk about your love and your passion and the meaningfulness of your work actually as one of the contributors to being inspired and motivated to get better and better as a leader, is a great perspective.

Kade Wilcox: When I think of that question, I think of reading good books, listening to podcasts, all of which are great, but I've never thought of it in the sense of being really meaningfully connected to your work as a way of staying motivated and staying inspired. So that's really, really profound. I was trying to write as fast as possible, and now I can't even read my own notes. That's really good. Well, I admire both of you as I do other other working moms, because you've got two tremendous full-time jobs, and I really admire that. And I admire that in each of you.

Kade Wilcox: My last question for you (this is always my most fun one on the podcast, in my opinion): if you could speak to your younger self, if you could take everything you know now, and you could speak to your younger self 10, 12, 15 years ago, what advice would you give yourself?

Annie Gilbert: I'll go first. This was the one question I'm so glad I saw ahead of time, because it's the one I had to think about a little bit. I think that what I would have liked to have known earlier is not to lead emotionally. It's just part of my personality that I'm an emotional person and not just like I cry all the time or anything like that, but I have a really high belief in my strengths. I have a lot of passion especially for people, causes, and things that I care about deeply. 

I will defend. I will get angry at injustice. And I think before I was even a leader a lot of my decisions, a lot of the my approaches to conversations and even relationships with people were always well-intended, but weren't always effective because instead of having the wisdom to not lead with my emotions in those things I would get caught up in that aspect of it. I feel like I've grown in that area and have been able to be more direct and more honest and take some of the emotion out of it. I can see how that's been really helpful to me.

Kade Wilcox: That's really good.

Jess Hicks: This one's tough. When I think about my 20’s...

Kade Wilcox: Oh I didn't mean to take you back to your 20's!

Jess Hicks: I think what the most powerful thing to think about now and what I've felt so deeply at Primitive is just worth and value as a person, as a woman. You said it earlier Kade, just how much respect you have for me and Annie as moms. Let's just say this. I never would have believed that I would be here at this place as COO of a company in Lubbock, Texas. I don't think my younger self would have believed that. I grew up as an athlete. So a lot of my worth in myself was put on my athletic abilities and that was really my identity for a long time. 

Playing collegiate sports and just growing up, that's where I had my passion set and everything. So after that was done, what was next was getting into my career and into the work environment; I was gritty. I was hardworking and people knew that and saw that in me, but I still didn't feel seen. I still felt like a number. If I could have told myself, “You are worth more and you have value” and really just instilled that things are possible beyond your wildest imagination...I think that is what I would have told myself at a young age. I wouldn't have missed out on all this time, but I'm still thankful for the journey that I went on to find where I'm at and my purpose. And I'm just very thankful for where I'm at today.

Kade Wilcox: That's great. I'm really grateful for you all, your teammates at Primitive are grateful for y'all. I'm lucky, Jerred's lucky, our whole team is lucky to have you two as teammates and leaders. So thanks for, very last minute, being willing to join the podcast and for really sharing such great insights. So I appreciate both of you.

Jess Hicks: Thank you.

Annie Gilbert: Thanks for having us.

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