Ep 73- The Heart Of Leadership With Amanda Hanks Bayles (Podcast)

In this episode of Building Texas Business, I sit down with Amanda Hanks Bayles, the 100th president of the Junior League of Houston.
United States Corporate/Commercial Law
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The Heart of Leadership with Amanda Hanks Bayles

In this episode of Building Texas Business, I sit down with Amanda Hanks Bayles, the 100th president of the Junior League of Houston. Amanda shares her remarkable journey within this organization, which is dedicated to empowering women and bettering local communities. She reflects on 11 years of involvement, emphasizing the value of mentorship and smooth leadership transitions.

Amanda provides keen insight into balancing leadership roles as a volunteer and professional. She discusses integrating volunteer experiences into her career at Plains All-American Pipeline and the support of employers.

Wrapping up, Amanda offers practical advice on embracing change and maintaining balance. Through this insightful conversation, examples from her path illuminate strategies for cultivating leadership abilities with heart wherever one's journey may lead.


Transcripts are generated by machine learning, so typos may be present.

BTB (00:00):

Welcome to the Building Texas Business Podcast, interviews with thought leaders and organizational visionaries from across industry. Join us as we talk about the latest trends, challenges, and growth opportunities to take your business to the next level. The Building Texas Business Podcast is brought to you by BoyarMiller, providing counsel beyond expectations. Find out how we can make a meaningful difference to your business at boyarmiller.com and by your podcast team where having your own podcast is as easy as being a guest on ours. Discover more at yourpodcast.team. Now. Here's your host, Chris Hanslik.

Chris (00:42):

In this episode, you will meet Amanda Hanks Bales, president of the Junior League of Houston. Amanda shares insights on how the Junior league works to build a better community by being grounded in gratitude. Okay, Amanda, welcome to Building Texas Business. I want to thank you for coming on the podcast.

Amanda (01:01):

Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

Chris (01:03):

So you are currently, among other things, you're the hundredth president of the Junior League of Houston, and so I want to kind of focus a little bit around that organization. Tell us what the Junior League is and what it does.

Amanda (01:18):

Absolutely. The Junior League of Houston is a nonprofit organization. We are dedicated to promoting volunteerism through developing women and then unleashing our trained volunteers into the Houston community through effective action and leadership. And that's really our bread and butter. We focus on training generation after generation of outstanding women to then go out and tackle our community's greatest issues and hurdles. And we've done a great job at overcoming some of those things.

Chris (01:53):

When was the Junior League of Houston founded?

Amanda (01:55):

It was founded in 1925. So we are vastly approaching our centennial celebration, which we are very excited about. And in true junior league form we've been planning it for about five years. So we're ready to stop the planning process and to start executing.

Chris (02:11):

That's great. So what inspired you to get involved in the beginning?

Amanda (02:15):

Yeah, I joined about 11 years ago. I really was just looking for a way to give back. I had a really great job and had some spare time and was trying to find what my passion projects would be with that spare time. And the Houston Junior League really gave me an opportunity to one, meet a ton of women both in my relative age range and then other generations. And then it also really gave me a great introduction to the nonprofit landscape here in Houston. And so through my years of membership, I've been introduced to, I think we partner with 32 community agencies that we send volunteers to, but we also award what we call our community assistance grants to 15 ish nonprofits every year. And it's a great introduction to all of the really incredible things that are happening here in Houston.

Chris (03:15):

That's great. So then you get involved as a member 11 years ago then what was the inspiration to make the bigger commitment and get into leadership?

Amanda (03:24):

Yeah, I wish I knew the specific event. You kind of just get called and asked to step up and it's learning to say yes instead of no is probably what launched my trajectory in the Junior League of Houston. As I'm going back through all of the roles I've had, I like to call the junior league life on steroids because we do an annual turnover. So you get new coworkers every year, you get a new league boss every year and you can completely change what you're doing in a matter of months. And so it's just a really cool way to develop yourself and especially your leadership skills.

Chris (04:02):

Well, that sounds challenging in of itself with that kind of annual turnover. So I guess what has your experience been and what have you tried to do in your term as president to make that as smooth of transition over time for the benefit of the organization?

Amanda (04:17):

Yeah. Well again, in true junior league form, we have a sheet of paper that we call our chronological and it is your job duties for whatever leadership role you take on and those get updated annually and passed on. So there's definitely a process there for us to document. I like to say the best day on a league job is when you get your successor because you're then not, I no longer felt alone. It was then someone I could loop into something to then say like, Hey, what do you think about this? Or I'm leaning towards us doing one event instead of two. Give me your thoughts. And it actually becomes a really great mentorship or friendship bond between your predecessors and successors because I think we all remember feeling like, oh gee, what did I get myself into? And then having the women around us support us and prove that we can handle whatever role we take on.

Chris (05:12):

Very good. So how many in the leadership team then at the Junior league?

Amanda (05:17):

So hard question. We have an executive committee that's comprise of about seven members total, including myself, and they oversee kind of each of our bigger areas within the league. And then our board of directors is 23 members strong. That includes some of the executive committee and as well as some other directors in charge of some other key areas that we do. But beyond that, we have a head active role, which are the actives in a community placement or a tea room placement who are really working with our first year members and making sure they have a good year. And I honestly think in some ways I learned as my time as a head active with that one-on-one interaction than I have in some of my higher level with finger quotation roles. So I would say we have close to 250 total leadership roles. Those obviously span the gamut of what type of leadership you're interested in

Chris (06:19):

Doing. So you said 250 maybe total leadership. What's the total membership like?

Amanda (06:22):

Total membership, we have about 4,500 members. Of those 4,500, we have about 1400 who are active members and those are the ladies who are signing up to volunteer at least 60 hours a year in our community or here at the Junior League of Houston. So the remainder of our membership are what we call our sustainer members and they are the women who have served their time as active members and choose to stay a part of our organization to continue to build the next generation.

Chris (06:58):

So that's a sizable organization by anybody's definition. Tell me a little bit about, I guess what you have done in those senior leadership roles and as president to effectively lead the organization. What are some of the skills or things that you have learned along the way that you've implemented to make sure that everything is running smoothly and efficiently?

Amanda (07:23):

Geez, the list is long. So I would say

Chris (07:28):

Top two or three maybe

Amanda (07:29):

I know back to the list of, or the league being life on steroids, moving up the ranks to get to president. I really got to work with some incredible women and pick what I liked about each of them that made them a fantastic leader. And so I really went into this year saying, so-and-so was a great motivator. She always knew how to start a meeting and make us feel valued. And so I really focused on expressing gratitude because the other challenge with being a president of the Junior League of Houston is you not, we have eliminated salaries so everyone is there out of the goodness of their hearts and trying to figure out how to motivate people when a paycheck is not in the equation is an interesting formula to come up with. And so I really have always focused on understanding people, what makes them tick, what drives them, and trying to individualize that on whichever leader or member I'm talking to get them to either create the results we're wanting in a fundraising event or to make sure that they feel like they're supported in a way that can continue to help them feel like they can move up in the organization.

Chris (08:49):

So I think you kind of referenced something, I think it's very important for any leader or an aspiring leader and that is be aware of your surroundings and learn from others that, like you said, you kind of sought others in what they did and you get to pick and choose what you think might work or might fit for you and mold yourself from a number of different sources. And I think any smart leader should be aware of that and should try to emulate that.

Amanda (09:20):

Absolutely. And that's been the true blessing of my time at the junior league is having the annual turnover. I think it's our blessing and our curse is the ability to work with so many women so quickly and to really use that chance to hone my own skills as to the type of leader I wanted to be.

Chris (09:41):

You mentioned it's a great segue, you said how you're not getting a paycheck, nor are any of the other members or leaders at the Junior League, but you do have a day job where you do get a paycheck. I do. So you're an in-house lawyer at Plains All American, right? I am. So let's talk about first, there's a couple of things we can, I think cover, but just how do you maintain that balance of making sure you're doing and meeting your commitments for All American while also meeting your commitments to the Junior League?

Amanda (10:13):

Yes, and that is a huge balance to try to manage. I am very blessed to work at a place that when I told them about this opportunity that was given to me at the Junior League, they immediately saw the experience I would receive and the skillset I would be able to develop. And they saw immense value in that. And so for that, I am immensely grateful to planes for their support and my direct supervisors for understanding. Some days there are random days I need to take a vacation because I have a long list of Junior league things to do and they have accommodated that beyond my expectations, the balance, I don't know, I don't like the phrase work-life balance because I think if it's important to you, you find a way to integrate it into your life.

Chris (11:03):

Couldn't agree more.

Amanda (11:04):

So there have been weeks that have been work heavy and I've had to put Junior League on hold and then there have been weeks that have been League Heavy and I've had to ask for Grace at my office and my coworkers have all been very cooperative of it or supportive of it. So it's been a really great experience on all ends.

Chris (11:23):

Well, I think it was beneficial for you, but also wise of Plains All American to see the value in some skills that you could develop that they maybe couldn't provide that same opportunity but would receive the benefit because you take what you learn in the leadership roles at Junior League and apply them in your day job. Right, absolutely. And I'm sure in all aspects of your life.

Amanda (11:47):

Oh yes, absolutely. But to your point, I have been for several years now intrinsically involved in managing close to $40 million budget for the Junior league and really not just administering it but having to be responsible and report out to various stakeholders about that budget. And that's something that GATE hasn't opened at my professional career yet. And so there's just been a really great way to supplement and enhance some of the skills that I know I will need at some point in the future at work. And the junior league's been a really great resource for

Chris (12:23):

That. Yeah. How has it translated into the rest of balancing or lessons you've learned to make you better in all aspects of your life?

Amanda (12:32):

Yeah, I will say I reached a point where a mentor of mine at the junior league told me, as soon as you realize that the jobs a lot less about the to-do list and a lot more about the people, the better you'll do. And from that, I realized that I was extending grace to a lot of people on my teams or volunteers I was talking with who were struggling and the work-life balance we all tried to find. And I realized that I wasn't necessarily extending the same grace to myself. And so I will say having to act on all capacities for a year plus both professionally and with the Junior League has been a masterclass in how to be graceful with yourself and be proud of what you're done, what you're doing and not focus on what you haven't done.

Chris (13:24):

That's a very astute observation and something that I think everyone could benefit from keeping in mind because it doesn't come natural to us, I

Amanda (13:32):

Don't think. No, no. We're our worst critics unfortunately.

Chris (13:36):

Now I also understand that Junior League, in addition to doing great work in the community also I guess has some training available to your members to help them develop the skills to be in leadership positions and serve on boards. Tell us about that.

Amanda (13:50):

Yeah, we do, we call it our leadership institute training program and it's a comprehensive program for our up and coming league leaders to introduce them to all the facets of the operations of the Junior League and help them get better on board for future league experience. And then we have a program called our outside board representative program, and those are agencies, nonprofits that we work with where we place a junior league member as a non-voting member on their board. And some are very well established nonprofits are up and coming. We have about 35 of them. And the terms for our outside board representatives run from I think two to three years. And what's really great about that is we let the nonprofit tell us what they need. Do they need help with governance? Do they want someone that was trained heavily in Robert's rules of order?


We will try to place a member there that can help them with that. And sometimes they say we need a lawyer, or sometimes they say we need someone who can help us with communications. And so it's a really cool, it's ended up being a really cool network of just nonprofits out in the Houston community that then all of our members come back and tell us about. And then we started having some meetings with the executive directors of all of those nonprofits and just to have the conversation of what's fundraising doing this year? How are you motivating your people? Those types of conversations. So it's a really awesome way to get the Junior League experience and launch you into what I call the next phase of finding your passion and making a difference. Yes.

Chris (15:35):

Hello friends, this is Chris Hans, your building Texas business host. Did you know that Boyer Miller, the producer of this podcast is a business law firm that works with entrepreneurs, corporations, and business leaders. Our team of attorneys serve as strategic partners to businesses by providing legal guidance to organizations of all sizes. Get to know the firm@boermiller.com and thanks for listening to the show. That's great. So obviously you've developed along the way I want to ask you about and whether it's in your professional career as you've grown and moved up the ranks or at the Junior League, think about some challenges or setbacks that you've encountered. Maybe a mistake, but did you overcame it and learn from it and it made you a better leader today because of that?

Amanda (16:34):

Oh, I mean, absolutely. And I think that's another thing that's what's great about spending time, the time I've spent at the Junior league is it taught me how to handle a mistake, to own it right up front and say, I think I screwed something up, I missed this. And then say, here are my steps to fix it. And I think you have to live through that a couple times to realize you need to say, and here's my plan to fix it. And then owning up to the mistake isn't quite as bad as you think it will be. So yes, I mean there were times I remember I mailed a donor packet to the wrong donor and that poor vice president that was in charge for me was not happy. And I apologized profusely and got to write a thank you slash I'm sorry, note to the donor and it ended up being perfectly fine. I think everyone understands mistakes happened, but it's certainly again a training ground to give you a chance to figure out how you want to respond when a situation like that comes up. I

Chris (17:38):

Think you're so right. Mistakes are going to happen. I think it's what you do when they do occur is kind of the test and owning up and not turning away or running from it or leaving it to someone else to fix, but be a part of the fix shows determination to just own up to it. Right, absolutely. And those are all important skills because the odd chance that was your first mistake, we know it won't be the last.

Amanda (18:05):

Right. That's very true.

Chris (18:06):

So that's good. Thanks for sharing that. I know some people don't like sharing the mistakes and challenges, but I think there's so much learning in that.

Amanda (18:13):


Chris (18:14):

Going back just to kind of the ins and outs of the role as president with this large organization, I mean I have to believe communication is key. So what are some of the things that you do to make sure that communication is not only clear but consistent so that people stay on the same page

Amanda (18:32):

And we actually have a person on our board whose sole responsibility is communication, so she helps me immensely in the messaging. And it's one of those things you think you only need to say it once and you realize you need to say it three or seven times and all it takes is one email response where someone interpreted what you were saying differently to go, oh, I really messed that message up. So I think I have lived in a world of trying to be transparent and wanting people to understand my logic and my reasoning when something's changing or a decision's being made and then just being open to the why of whatever is being communicated and also including that in my communications, especially to our board members. And I think that at least for that group has fostered a really great collaborative environment for us.

Chris (19:22):

That's great. I think transparency, clear communication is so important. I also know that if you're communicating things out to that many people, there's going to be a few that just don't get it or don't read it the way you intended. So it is inevitable.

Amanda (19:38):

Absolutely. Let's

Chris (19:39):

Talk a little bit, I mean, any organization has a culture, right? You've got one at Plains All American and the Junior League has a culture. How would you describe the culture at the Junior League as a organization and what have you done to try to to foster and build upon that?

Amanda (19:57):

Yeah, that's a great question. I have always found our culture is rich in traditions. We have almost a hundred years of trying to build a better community. That's our tagline. And what I have found to be most impactful in that culture is when we take a moment to express gratitude. And so each president's given the opportunity to develop an annual theme. And my theme this year was grounded in gratitude and I quoted, it was a Warren Buffet quote, and I'm going to butcher it on the spot, but it is essentially those who plant the acorn aren't intending to sit in the shade of the tree that grows. And so I really think what the Junior league has done really good at is we've created women who are not afraid to plant an and then know that they're not going to reap the benefits of it. Someone who comes behind them 20, 30, a hundred years later are the ones that will reap that reward,

Chris (20:56):

That attitude of pay it forward. Yes. That's very inspiring and noble. So it sounds like a very collaborative and supportive culture.

Amanda (21:06):


Chris (21:07):

I want to talk a little bit maybe outside of culture just in the ins and outs of running this organization. What is a junior league doing with technology to help serve the mission further, the mission or anything innovative that the organization's trying to do to keep the organization current and move it into the next generation?

Amanda (21:28):

Yeah. Gosh, that's a question we try to answer all the time. Covid forced us to change a lot of things from a member experience perspective, and we've shifted some of our meetings to the virtual space, which I really think created an inclusive environment because if someone's being asked to attend a one hour meeting and they were being asked to drive to and from our building, you're looking at a two, two and a half, three hour commitment right there. And then I at one point realized the number of women who were having to line up childcare so that they can make that meeting. So then the added burden of expense and just making your day-to-day work that our leadership after Covid, when we realized that we really could communicate some of our meetings and our trainings in that capacity in a virtual manner, embraced it. And so our approach has really been like if you are in a situation where you need to line up childcare and you need to take three hours off of work to make time with the junior league work, we wanted them to be spending their time in the Houston community.


And so I really think that's been a pivotal shift for us. We're like, yes, our meetings and our trainings are important, but what's more important is us getting our volunteers out in the community. It's been, change is interesting, right? People react to change in various ways.

Chris (22:53):

It is challenging. What I hear you saying is there's been a focus, at least two things. One, how do we use technology to increase our member engagement? But what I'm interpreting, what I've heard you say is that's been grounded in a focus on how does this help further our mission and help our members further the mission. And that is your guiding light.

Amanda (23:17):


Chris (23:17):

And it should be true for any organization when you're making these tough decisions or navigating through difficult times. Any other examples of technology or innovation where you think things that you're trying to implement,

Amanda (23:31):

Things that we're trying to implement? We always try to be at the forefront of issues as they come out in the community. I love talking to some of our sustaining members who were part of our organization in the eighties and nineties. They will talk about what the Junior League of Houston did to start helping and assist children with HIV, which was a very taboo topic back then. And so our membership is really focused on mental health and what we can do to support those struggling with mental health in our community. And so we are continuing to find new ways to either train our own volunteers to spot mental health issues and the appropriate steps to move that forward. And then we're continuing to try to find place, it's a tricky placement because borderline healthcare and needs someone with certain certifications, but to find a way to interweave our members so that we feel like we're giving appropriate energy and resources to really important topic

Chris (24:38):

To find that intersection of what those organizations may need and then where you can help. Right. So obviously you've talked a couple times about the annual transition of leadership. Let's talk a little bit about maybe what has been your experience and what are you trying to do as you're about to transition out to kind of prepare the organization for that change in leadership? Again, so to keep it as smooth as possible.

Amanda (25:09):

Yeah. I always say you need mentors and sponsors and you need people who are supporting you, who are the phone of friends that you come and you say, I don't know how to do this. Please help me. And then there are the people behind the scenes who are saying, you need to do this, you can do this. And I think I really have tried to one do that to all of the people on my team and then encourage them to do that for their teams. Because I think once you realize, you have women speaking up for you saying like, oh, Amanda, she's great. She can do this. Your confidence level increases and then you're not afraid to ask the questions. Because what happens in the annual turnover is you go, oh, no one told me about that one thing that wasn't an issue last year, but it's suddenly an issue this year and how do I address it? So I really think creating the environment of there's no dumb question, how can we support you? Tell me how I can help. What can I do for you to make your job easier or what can I do to you to help get you the clarity you need to feel like you can move forward? And to your point earlier, that's a culture thing. That's

Chris (6:21):

Not something, it goes back to that supportive culture. It's a safe place that's got to be key to one, furthering an organization for as long as it's been around, but continuing that flow of solid leadership. I think that's important for any business to try to create that environment where people feel safe in asking questions, asking for help and not feeling like they're going to be criticized for doing so.

Amanda (26:50):


Chris (26:52):

You're basically running, what would you say, a $40 million business, you obviously have an important role at Plains All American. What are some advice you might offer to someone that is a business owner leading a business now or maybe an aspiring entrepreneur about from your experience, what you've learned to just pass on a couple of key things that might help them in their journey?

Amanda (27:14):

Yeah, I mean, first I would say yes, when someone calls you with a wonky idea and you don't always feel like you need to say no, embrace change, embrace different. And then I would say, and this is probably me looking in hindsight since I'm coming up on the end of my term as president, is set expectations. And I think that's, I mean it's universal and can apply to anyone, your team, your staff, but then also yourself and your family. And I tried to make a commitment to my husband that I would try to not do junior league on Sundays and that would be the day where I wasn't answering emails or on the phone. And so to really as you're taking on something new to create the boundaries for everything that's going to be impacted by a decision I succeeded and I didn't succeed at the same time.

Chris (28:10):

Well, that's okay. I think it's absolutely, I mean, you're so spot on. Set expectations of yourself, of your team, hold people accountable, set boundaries, but know that no one's perfect. And I think it's about awareness. So just as you said, you weren't perfect at it, but you were aware when you didn't. And then you are like, okay.

Amanda (28:29):

And to be able to have the follow-up conversation when something isn't with someone on your team, I thought our goal was this. We seem to be straying from it. What's going on? And that goes back to what my mentor told me. It's normally there's something with the person and not the job. There's something underlying that's causing a shift in that expectation. So to circle back or confront those expectations months in or years in is definitely something's

Chris (28:59):

Worth it. Yeah, I agree. So what about you as a leader? How would you describe your leadership style?

Amanda (29:04):

I would describe my leadership style as, what is it? I would say I love rolling my sleeves up and getting into the trenches. I think I preached on this to my board servant leadership. I will never ask someone to do something that I'm not willing to do myself. And if you need help, say you need help, and I will be there right alongside you, helping if it's stuffing envelopes, if it's planting trees, whatever it is. And I think that's just who I am as a person and that's who I've seen some of my favorite leaders over time or the people who are there who focus on, we're here for a greater cause, we're here for the common good and let's find a way to accomplish it together.

Chris (29:51):

Very good. Anything that you would point to over the last few years that you've done to help grow and develop as a leader? Books, mentors, conferences, anything like that?

Amanda (30:03):

So we had a time management coach come and speak to us at our board this year. And I would tell you before, her name is Anna. She is fantastic. And before I would tell you I thought time management was a bunch of hooey and who has time for time management essentially. But some of the tidbit she gave were eye opening and it again, I mean probably goes back to the expectation she was big on you, schedule time for the important stuff you can't miss, whether it's personal relationship, your health, your faith, whatever that is. And then you find a way to make the other stuff happen around the really important matters. And it was a good perspective check for me hearing it. So I do like time management now. I've been one over to the side of time management. She

Chris (30:54):

Won you over change your perspective and your mindset. Absolutely. Very good. So just kind of wrapping things up, I mean, give you a chance if someone out there listening to this and was interested in joining the junior league, what should they do?

Amanda (31:07):

Yeah, you can go to our website. It is JLH for Junior league of Houston jh.org, and there is a join how to join section, which you can look at, and then there are links to take you. We have a admissions process that runs once a year. It opens up September-ish and runs through January. So it's fall to winter time. And then we can help you with all of the steps of filling out your application and getting you on board. It's a really great way to enhance your network and find all of the fantastic things that are happening in the Houston community and be a part of it.

Chris (31:47):

Great. Well, Amanda, let's turn away from the business side of things and tell us what was your first job?

Amanda (31:53):

My first job, gosh, was I worked at the Gap and I don't even know what my title was. I would fold jeans,

Chris (32:01):

Everyone that came in and messed them up.

Amanda (32:03):

I never realized how messy people were in dressing rooms until I was the one having to fold it all after.

Chris (32:10):

It changes your behavior

Amanda (32:11):

Now, right? Absolutely.

Chris (32:12):

So, okay. Native Houstonian, right?

Amanda (32:15):

I am a native Houstonian, grew up in the Klein champions area. I moved away for college, which was at the ut, the University of Texas at Austin. And then I did my law school and MBA at Texas Tech. So the move from Austin to Lubbock was an interesting one. I didn't know that tumbleweeds were real until I lived in Lubbock and then I quickly came home. I miss the Great Houston community so much. So happy to call it home now.

Chris (32:47):

Very good. So do you prefer Tex-Mex or Barbecue?

Amanda (32:50):

Oh, Tex-Mex.

Chris (32:51):

All right. And tell us one of your favorite hobbies or pastimes when you're not working at Plains All American or volunteering to the Junior League.

Amanda (32:59):

I truly love the Houston Livestock Show and rodeo, and luckily my husband is from Louisiana and I onboarded him into loving the rodeo. But we can go every night and just watch the rodeo itself or the exhibits. That's a fun time of year here in Houston. We're big fans of it.

Chris (33:19):

That's a good one. No, it's a true Houston treasure.

Amanda (33:21):


Chris (33:23):

Well, Amanda, I want to thank you again for coming on the show and taking time to be with us today and share your story and that of the Junior League. So congratulations to all y'all are doing for our community.

Amanda (33:31):

Thank you so much, and thank you for having me.

Chris (33:36):

And there we have it. Another great episode. Don't forget to check out the show notes at boyarmiller.com/podcast and you can find out more about all the ways our firm can help you at boyarmiller.com. That's it for this episode. Have a great week and we'll talk to you next time.

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