Lessons Learned in Leadership from Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe
Lessons Learned in Leadership from Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe

Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe explains why you should surround yourself with intelligent people who will challenge you.

After six years in the CFO seat at Sylvan Learning, John McAuliffe became the CEO in January of 2016. And today, he’s quick to say that taking the helm was pretty spot on to what he imagined the role would look like.

His first action step? Forming a strong team.  

“You have to build the right team, in particular the people who report to you, and you also have to have faith in their judgment and be able to trust them. That’s where it all starts,” McAuliffe said.

As a leader, McAuliffe believes that it’s imperative to work with people who share a vision and have the company’s best interests at heart. You need to surround yourself with smart people who are not “yes people.” That’s because you need a team that’s willing to challenge you and share their experiences and opinions—even if they’re contradictory. After all, the CEO can’t always have all the answers. So to be a successful leader, it’s imperative to surround yourself with others who are able to provide input and create a true team atmosphere that can build something spectacular.

Since becoming the CEO, McAuliffe has seen the executive team come together, work hard as a unit, and successfully launch a new licensing agreement that benefits franchisees. The team took a hard look at what they could change for the betterment and success of the system, and it was very well received.

“To get the franchise base to understand that we have their best interest at heart and to grow this business, we have to be in it together,” he said. “I think that was demonstrated by the new licensing agreement we put before them. And the best part about this new initiative is that 82 percent of them voluntarily signed up.”

To be a great leader and drive a business forward, McAuliffe also believes that it takes passion and a true belief in the potential of the company you're running. 

“You have to work hard to come up with the right strategies, and you have to have the fortitude to see them through to completion,” he said. “In an organization where you have a lot of franchisees who are their own independent business people and have strong opinions for their own businesses, getting them to get behind certain strategies is a critical part of the overarching company." 

And as for advice for new and experienced leaders alike, McAuliffe hammers home the importance of believing in what your company is doing, believing in the vision and demonstrating that to the rest of the team--all the time. He comments that it is important not just to have a set of values, but to truly live those values out in everything you say and do. 

“You can’t say one thing and act another way because people will pick up on that right away. You have to have the right convictions and you have to work hard to involve people to create the best strategies that will result in success for the company,” he said. “You really have to have passion and belief in following through on the changes. You can’t just talk the talk—you have to walk the walk.”