Episode 289: Being a Life-Long Learner Helps You Become Your Best

Episode Summary

It doesn’t matter how long we’ve worked in any industry; there is always room to improve and we must be humble enough to recognize it and dedicate time to educate ourselves constantly. That is one of Dr. Kizzy Parks’ secrets to success; she is aware that she does not know it all, and she let herself go following her curious nature. 

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you might be in the world. We are delighted to have you with us on the Becoming Your Best show. We have a delightful guest – I look forward to introducing her in just a moment – and we are really going to get after it today because this guest had become an entrepreneur and earned an advanced degree in psychology. Her entrepreneurial spirit matched well with her inquisitive nature as an adopted child who always wanted to and then met her birth family with whom she is close today. She is driven to be successful as a business owner and as an entrepreneur, she always knew she would be. I’m excited to talk about that. And she went on to earn a Ph.D. and established the K. Parks Consulting Inc. – KPC is the acronym – over a decade ago. So, welcome Dr. Kizzy M Parks. 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me, it’s such a warm welcome.  

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, you bet. And before we get started, Kizzy, I’d like to tell our listeners whom we’re honored and privileged to have with us today about Dr. Kizzy. Since 2008, KPC has been at the forefront of creativity, customized in-person, online, virtual reality, and blended-based training and curriculum-developed services that meet the unique needs of federal agencies. And today she owns and operates multiple businesses and has over 50 million in government contract awards. And through GovCon Winners, she helps service-based small business owners learn how to win profitable federal contracts, government contracts through the powerful CTC technique to grow their bottom line. So, that’s a tremendous background, Kizzy. And so, tell us about yourself, where you grew up. I mean, my goodness, an orphan. Our listeners would love to hear about this background, and then we can talk about how you got into the business and how did you know this is what you wanted to do. So, bring us up to speed. 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Yeah, definitely, definitely. So, as I said, I always knew was going to be an entrepreneur. I was adopted when I was six months and I’ve always been a very curious person that really works. Really, it works well, I would say not just in the space of psychology but just being an entrepreneur and being a leader you have to have some sense of curiosity there or your day is going to be pretty dull. And you may find that some aren’t going to want to follow you or your business and then have the success that it could have. So, channeling that curiosity along with this entrepreneurial spirit that I always had, I started my first company directly out of graduate school which was K Parks Consulting – KPC – and we’ve been awarded over $50 million in federal contracts and we provide different services to the federal government. And as time went on, I really noticed that a lot of businesses would enter this space and that space being federal contracting they were interested or maybe they had a friend or family member that dabbled in it and they wanted to have success. And the thing is, with anything in life, it’s hard. If it was easy, everyone would be really successful or be a superstar entrepreneur or a superstar leader. You can fill in the blank. So, I’m really passionate about helping small businesses really learn how to find, bid, and win federal contracts. And a lot of that just stemmed from my upbringing and just being a very curious person who loves to help others. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, good. So, Kizzy, how did you develop the expertise of being able to really be awarded government contracts and teach others how to do it? How did that come about? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: I started out as a graduate research fellow at now Patrick Space Force Base in Central Florida. And it’s just south of Kennedy Space Center. And I ended up picking up a subcontract because I started off as a Graduate Research Fellow, they really liked the skill set that I provided which involved analytics, research, thought leadership and I received an almost six-figure subcontract to stay on to provide those similar types of services. And what ended up happening is I quickly started to learn about government contracting because I literally went from being Kizzy Parks graduate student to – within a couple of weeks – being Dr. Parks government contractor. And I started the process to incorporate my sole proprietorship into K. Parks Consulting. And so, along the way, I met many people, went to all these different events, and trainings, and outreach, and skid my knees several times learning and getting back up. And so, I ended up being awarded well over $50 million in all different types of government contracts and I have three different firms. And so, throughout that time I really learned what goes into being profitable as a federal contractor, what really goes into finding the right kind of contracts, learning really how government contracting actually works. Through all of that, I’m able to help others. So, I’ve helped to work with a business right now that I’m helping with them obtain prime contracts and for them to really understand what it takes to be a prime contractor. I work with someone else who had never been on any kind of federal work and needed help just getting started with having the proper name, a proper logo, figuring out how to even find and bid on opportunities. And so, all of my expertise comes from what I actually do. What I do is what I actually teach and coach others on how to implement. Because a lot of people can talk about what you should do, right? There’s that theoretical, “Here’s what you should do. Here’s what should happen. Here’s how you should operate.” but there’s a big difference between should in theory and application. And so, what I put out there is what I actually do. And it’s become extremely successful and it’s this path that, in my opinion, is much easier than some of the other paths out there. 

Steve Shallenberger: Right. Well, thank you for giving us the background on your business, what you’re doing; that’s so interesting. And I know that if that may be applicable to some of our listeners, we’ll be sure that they know how to contact you. What’s so fun about Becoming Your Best podcast show and series is that’s what we have in common, which is how does a person become their best, how do we help as a leader our organizations become their best regardless of what industry that they’re in. How do you look at that? I can just tell by talking with you, Kizzy, that that’s something that’s been in your heart and mind is becoming the best at what you do. So, what does becoming your best mean to you? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: It definitely is in my heart and mind, Steve. Being my best and the best, first and foremost, you must be a lifelong learner. You must be a lifelong learner and you must have humility. My “Why” has nothing to do with ego or anything of that nature, and you must reflect on that. I’m here to make lives easier, I’m here to help people. Hands down, those are my “Why”s and they’re no different than when I was a little kid, they’re the same. And so, to be my best self is being in this constant stage of just learning, learning, learning, learning, learning because nothing is really constant when you think about it. I mean, some things maybe aren’t as technologically advanced as others or maybe they haven’t been disrupted per se, but there’s this fire that I have and I encourage others to have that are listening to always learn. So, for instance, when it comes to government contracting, I haven’t stopped. I haven’t said, “Oh, I’ve won all these awards, I’m done.” I feel like I’m constantly learning because there are things that are constantly changing just as an entrepreneur and the way that the government does business and the different things that are out there for sale. And so, it’s very important. And especially today, you can leverage YouTube and LinkedIn Learning and professionals and colleagues and score and the SBA, there’s a ton of resources out there to help you. And books, amazing books out there. Steve has an amazing book if you all haven’t grabbed a copy. And that’s what it’s about. It is just having that humility to know, “Hey, I’m not the most important person here, I don’t know it all. And it’s okay that I don’t know it all, let me go out and try and learn as much as possible.” And it just really helps you be your best because then you attract those who are like you and want to be better too. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s a great answer, I love it. Good going. Both the importance of learning and always gaining knowledge and then also humility. And you said quite a few things there which is so cool. And I’d like to go back to your, I think another part of Becoming Your Best is having a vision of what you can become that you’re never done, just like you said. And I was fascinated by the fact that somehow earlier in your life, you just had a sense that you’d receive an advanced degree and that you would be successful. That’s part of Becoming Your Best, isn’t it? Being able to have the mindset that this can happen. 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Yeah. I mean, definitely. There was never this thought like, “Oh, I’m not going to.”, it was more about “Wow, I didn’t expect it so early.”. That was really my mindset when it happened while I was in graduate school but I knew. My adoptive family, especially my father, always instilled in me that I could do everything, that’s why I say often everything is possible. He basically was like, “Everything is possible. Whatever it is you want to do, whatever it is you want to be, you can do that.”. And I find that to be very true today where I never thought that I would start another business – Gov Con Winners – to help small business owners, I never imagined that. I never thought that we would have a contract with the FDA inspecting vape shops, never imagined that. And we sold products too. We sold electronics. Never in my wildest dreams that I think these would be the different ways in which I would express my entrepreneurial spirit but I’m just so grateful and thankful for the mindset of achievement and being a forever learner and just rolling with the punches. Because being an entrepreneur, especially today it’s very glamorous, it’s all over social media, it’s the hot thing that people want to do and often many don’t realize that you’re literally building the plane as you’re flying. And all of our journeys are different as entrepreneurs but we make up the majority of businesses in this amazing country. They’re small businesses. We are those who employ all the amazing people in this country. And so, there’s a lot of grinding there. So, it’s just it’s been great to be able to just channel that success mentality despite all the different trials and tribulations. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well done. And so, as we think about becoming our best both ourselves and for our organizations, I love what we’re talking about in terms of the mindset. You have to have a Becoming Your Best mindset but also notice the recommendation or thoughts that Kizzy shared that that alone by itself isn’t good enough because you need the skill set too and that’s where the dedication to always being a learner comes in, right? It’s putting those two together. One, having the ideas and believing it’s possible and not selling yourself short, and then the second is learning what it takes to make it happen. And then staying at it not giving up, right? You can’t give up. 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: That’s correct. You can’t give up. You may pivot, you may realize, okay, it’s not… You envision a square and it turns into a diamond – that’s okay, it worked out. You may pivot a little bit or may not. Some things may change, but you don’t just give up completely.  

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, we learn from our failures, don’t we?  

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Oh my goodness.  

Steve Shallenberger: Have you ever had a failure? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Yes. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, we become better by having them. And you’re spot on in terms of we’re out there learning, that’s what entrepreneurship is. And we’re trying to increase the odds of our success by being thoughtful about the whole process and realizing that we take our best shot, we do our analytics, and you try it, and then you make adjustments until you end up at a place that’s really working well. So, Kizzy, how do you maximize the performance of your team? So, I’ve loved hearing about some of your thoughts on Becoming Your Best. How do you maximize the performance of your team? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: There’re many ways. The most important way is through the culture of K. Parks Consulting. I have three government contracting companies and the cultures are the same throughout. Culture is number one where everyone knows that kind of our motto is “We’re here to make lives easier.” our clients’ lives easier, each other’s lives easier. And so, since they know that it then feeds into empowerment. They understand that they are empowered in different ways because my team works on so many different types of projects and things. They’re empowered to be their best, to perform at their best to make decisions, they’re not micromanaged, they also know that they are given ample opportunities for professional development and growth. They know that they are rewarded not just through an annual review – which is the quality reviews that we use – but they know that they’re rewarded for meeting our monthly expectations, as well as they’re constantly receiving accolades. And just verbal, “Oh, my gosh, we’re so proud of you. You’re so amazing.” So, it’s a culture, it’s empowerment, it is reward and recognition. It’s also finding that fit. So, even before you bring someone into your organization, it is making sure they’re a good fit during the interview process. And even before that, it is the way that your job description is written. It’s the way that you conduct job interviews, it’s ensuring that those who come to you, you properly select in, so therefore, your team can then thrive and can flourish. And that’s what hopefully everyone listening wants. And that’s what we achieve. So, it’s through those as well as having accountability. Especially, we’ve always been virtual but especially since more and more organizations are virtual, you have to have accountability, so then your team knows what’s expected of them, whether they’re physically in an office, or they’re working from their home, or they’re working from their vacation spot, or you don’t even know where they’re necessarily working from you just know that they work. You always have to have accountability too, that’s very important. And it just helps lead to success, and that’s why we have extremely low turnover less than 2%. And I have team members that still to this day are connected, regardless if they’ve gone on to different careers or what may have you, they’re still connected to KPC. 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, that’s great. And I love your discussion. I mean, each one of these is so important culture, empowerment, having good rewards and recognition, so that they feel valued and then you’re looking for the right fit of someone that can fit within that culture. And then, of course, having good accountability. Each one of those is really important. I found the same thing applies as a parent, by the way, or even as a grandparent. It’s the same thing, you have a family culture. I think what you described as you were raised Kizzy, the same thing. They empowered you, they helped you see what was possible, you probably have a pretty good structure and accountability in your family as well. What do you look for in a leader? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: I look for many different traits. One is I have to look at – and when I think of a leader, this is in terms of if someone’s to work for me because there are different types of leaders, different types of environments – so I think, number one, what is the objective of this leader? Is this someone who is going to predominantly engage with our client? Are they engaging with me? Are they engaging with the team? So, because of our setup because we primarily service the federal government, and so my team spends way more time with the federal counterparts than they ever do with me. And so, I think that’s very important because often in our position sometimes we overlook the importance of the client as odd as that seems. So, I have to, I always keep in mind, “Okay, who are they really engaging with? And what are the qualities and characteristics sets needed for them in that role?” Then I also look for what is the objective of this position. What is the real objective of them being in this leadership position? Is it for them to grow work? Is it for them to just make sure they follow a process and it’s more transactional? So, I have to dig deep. And I also think about their fit with KPC. I didn’t bring it up number one because I just talked about it but I always think about the cultural fit. I also think about, will others actually follow them? Do they have the personality and the humility where they’re going to be able to have others follow them? Or are they more of a subject matter expert? Because too often, the mistake is made that somebody is really smart or somebody really knows the position, so, therefore, they would be a great leader. And that doesn’t necessarily make for the best leader. Or that they need a college degree, not necessarily. And so, I factor in several things before I determine if somebody is going to make a good leader when I’m hiring. But I will add, there have been situations where existing team members have really stepped up and demonstrated their leadership by taking initiative or offering additional suggestions or workarounds. And then what’s ended up happening are those team members have been been given a bonus and a title of team lead or a team manager. And so, that happens too. So, don’t overlook existing team members who start to display leadership qualities. 

Steve Shallenberger: Right. And I love the fact that you talk about initiative. How can someone show initiative, what are the best ways? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: The best way is when it is value-added. So, here’s an example. There was a situation where basically, information was being added individually, and it was taking forever. And so, this team member said, “You know, what? I really think…” – there was a process improvement suggestion, so they’re like, “What I really think should happen is these changes should be made, these individuals who are involved they can then start doing x, y, z.”. So I thought, “Oh, okay, great.” And there’s a kind of supervisory leadership element here because they also would have to make sure that these other people involved, are all part of this process. And I thought, “Okay, that made sense because, at the end of the day, they’re decreasing the time and energy that would go into this effort in essence making everyone’s life easier by increasing efficiency. So, that makes sense.” When somebody brings a recommendation that just isn’t value-added, then it kind of I have certain team members maybe dig a little deeper into what’s going on. Thankfully, I don’t really have too many of those situations but sometimes there’s something deeper there, where maybe the person just wants to be heard, or maybe the person really just wants to talk about something else. So, I think sometimes the mistake is made that we dismiss like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t even believe they said that. Or why is that coming up?”, when maybe that’s just the surface of the iceberg. Maybe it’s something deeper, maybe they’re having some kind of personal issue and that’s just kind of like the foot in the door for then you to have this discussion with them. Because regardless if it’s work or not, you’re an entrepreneur or not, the things going on in our lives impact us at work. Whether we’re physically there, we’re in our kitchen, or in our car, doesn’t matter. And so, I let my team unpack that too because sometimes that’s been the case where they really just want to talk. It has nothing to do with taking initiative in a sense of helping the company but they were taking the initiative to help themselves. 

Steve Shallenberger: I’m so glad you brought that up. We’re talking about leadership and leadership has certainly different functions and roles. I mean, it’s setting the vision, it’s helping set the plan, the strategy, and it’s accountability, as you talked about. But there’s also something else, it’s how we treat people. And one of the biggest challenges of leadership is how do you bring the best out of every person that you work with, help them realize their fullest potential. And I love that you brought up the fact that if some people seem to be sub-performing, that there may be a reason why. And so, taking the time to really talk with them and understand them, helping share the culture and the vision that you have, and helping them become aligned. Great job on that, nice thinking.  

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Oh, thank you, I appreciate that.  

Steve Shallenberger: Now, if you’re sitting down with let’s say a niece or a nephew or someone that you really cared about and they’re asking for advice on how to be successful in business or how to be successful in life, what would you recommend to them? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Well, first, I would ask them, what does success mean to them. 

Steve Shallenberger: Good. Yeah.  

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: For everyone, success is different. For some success is material items, but if that’s how you define success is how you define success. For others, it may be happiness. For some, it could just be they just want to be a parent. And there’s nothing wrong with just being and that’s the most amazing job in the world.  

Steve Shallenberger: Indeed. 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: It’s something about unpacking what do they mean by success. And I would also advise that you’ve got to learn, you need to be humble, and take time to explore and experience. There are many, many that I mentor formally and informally, and sometimes I run into those who are like, “Oh, my gosh, I thought I would have it figured out by now.” and I’m, like, “Don’t be hard on yourself. This is the time in your life to just experience.” I mean, I think the great thing about where we are in the world is that age in its way, is irrelevant. It doesn’t really matter anymore that if you’re in your 40s, or 50s, and you’re like, “Hey, I want to earn a PhD.”, well, you can do that. Or if you want to retire in your 40s you can do that or retire in your 30s or start a family in your 50s. Hey, there are so many cool things out there, so I also advise that take the time to experience it because sometimes there’s that pressure like you have to know what you want to do and have it all figured out by 21 and a half and I think that’s unrealistic. And then, there are so many more ways in which you can earn money nowadays. There’re so many careers that just didn’t exist. I mean, not only just from a content creation standpoint, being a podcaster, but also people who mine cryptocurrency or people who edit video. I mean, the demand for things like that it’s so substantially changed. I just encourage curiosity, exploration, humility, and most importantly, to really understand and unpack what success means to them. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, good. Well, the time has flown by today and we’re at the end of our interview. I’ve loved your thoughts and ideas, thank you for sharing. And of course, the business that you’ve created, you’ve done what you’ve talked about, and practice what you preach. Nice going. Any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Yeah, I would just leave with everyone that if you haven’t considered it, keep in mind that the federal government every year spends well over $500 billion on all types of products and services. Whether it’s just you, it’s you and hundreds and thousands of employees or it is just two of you, really consider it and if it’s an area of interest. My biggest tip to you is to check out sam – like Uncle Sam – Just go in there a little bit and maybe it’s an area for you, a market that you never thought of, or maybe you started exploring it but didn’t get far. So, please definitely keep in mind selling to the federal government. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, great. And how can people find out about you and your services and how they’re available? 

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: Please reach out to me through LinkedIn. It’s Kizzy Parks, connect with me on LinkedIn, you can direct message me, I would love that and I can share more of GovCon Winners because it’s evolving. And so, please just reach out to me and let me know that you heard me on the podcast. 

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, thank you Dr. Kizzy M Parks for being part of this show today. It’s been great.  

Dr. Kizzy M Parks: It’s been excellent. Thank you so much, Steve.  

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, well, we wish you the best as you’re making a difference in the world. And to all of our listeners, never forget you too are making a difference and we’re so grateful for our association with you, for your desire to become your best, and what an impact that has on so many people. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Kizzy Parks Ph.D.

CEO of K. Parks Consulting

At the forefront of creativity, customized in-person, online, virtual reality, and blended-based training services.

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