Episode 98: Building and Leading a Team that Supports Your Mission with Husband and Wife Business Owners Ryan and Anna Leonard

June 13, 2022


In today’s episode, I am bringing you two of my favorite people to tell you how they are doing it along with their best tips so you can do it too!

Anna and Ryan are a husband and wife duo, they’re members of my Incubator program, and they are masterful in their space. They are the owners of Refuge and Co and they are a photography team. Today they are here to talk about the immense growth that they’ve seen in the last year and the way they have grown and expanded their team. 

They don’t just have people working for them; they have people working with them in their mission. Their team is not just checking off task lists, they have people who are rooted in the mission, and part of a culture that they’ve created that is going out and making a positive ripple effect in the world.

Today’s conversation is all about how you grow and lead a team. What does that look like? What are best practices? What are the mistakes to avoid? This conversation is really going to expand your mind to the possibility of adding people who are going to get behind your mission.


[3:44] From Anna and Ryan to Refuge and Co 

Anna and Ryan started their photography company named Refuge by Anna and Ryan back in January of 2018. They chose the name because they found such a refuge in their faith and Christ, that they wanted to replicate that and be a refuge for all of their clients.

What they quickly learned is that they were blessed with such a high demand for their services, that they were saying “no” as much as they were saying “yes” to clients. And for them Refuge was always about building relationships, but because they didn’t have any more people on their team, they were in a position where they were not able to do that. So, by October of 2019, they knew that they had to expand their team. Today, they have 16 additional people on their team and have changed their name to Refuge and Co.

The name change for them was not just about branding. They wanted to show to both their customers and their team, that it’s not just about Anna and Ryan; that it’s about the team and a mission that became bigger than just the two of them 

[15:19]  Learning Experiences 

Building a team has its ups and downs. Anna and Ryan share that they’ve learned a lot through this process, not only about themselves but about their leadership as well.

One thing that they believe worked in their favor was that they were not looking for an easy way out. They were not looking for another photographer. What they were looking for were girls who were on the same mission as them. That was the most important thing to them, because as they say:  “they couldn’t teach the heart.”  They didn’t believe that they could teach someone to have a true desire to love and serve. So, they had the right mindset from the beginning and it paid off. But again, there were a lot of lessons learned along the way and they were able to use those as they continued to hire. 

Thanks to that, today they feel blessed to have amazing women around them and all the “mistakes” that have been made throughout that process were learning experiences that taught them how to lead and how to put people in positions where they can be successful.

[19:00]  Finding Freedom 

One thing that Anna and Ryan truly believe is that regardless of your position or the task at hand, everything within Refuge and Co is on an equal playing field. It takes all pieces working collectively together to move the needle forward which allows the mission to move forward. So, no matter what position you’re in, every task is important: from talking to clients to making dinner and folding the laundry. It all matters. 

When you’re an entrepreneur, your business is your baby. And handing your baby over to someone else and trusting them to do a good job is hard. Anna and Ryan were able to work past this by viewing their team members as babysitters. While they know they can find people who are going to love their business, they know that they will never find someone who will love it as much as they do. But hopefully they can find people who will treat it in the same way that they do. Once you find the right people, you will start feeling the freedom. You are able to have trust in someone to be able to execute tasks in the way that you’re asking them to and that  motivates you to continue letting go and handing more and more things over. 

[28:56]  Leadership Growth 

Anna and Ryan are a part of my Incubator Mastermind, and during this time of working together, I have seen tremendous growth in both of them.

Ryan shares that one of the areas where he is trying to grow as a leader is organization. Organization is not his strong suit, and it’s something that Anna has been handling most of the time. But with the growth of their company and their team, as they are stepping into leadership more and more, he realizes that this is an area he has to work on in order to be a well-rounded leader and present that for their team.

Anna, on the other hand, always had a problem with confrontation. As a people-pleaser it was extremely hard for her to have those conversations that are sometimes truly needed. If you are not addressing issues in your team, then you are not being a true leader. So, this is something that she had to work on and one thing she shares is that she never comes into these conversations without preparation, because her goal is always to build her team up not to tear them down. So she makes sure to use the right words. 

[34:38] Scheduling Your Seasons and Your Whitespace 

Watching and witnessing Anna and Ryan’s leadership grow in so many ways, one thing I have to point out is their competence in leading their team and dealing with challenges that arise. They’re not seeing them as roadblocks, they bring them to the table and they stay solution-oriented. 

Another thing that makes me extremely proud is that they are able to see and learn the power of creating margin in their lives, to continue to stay in that visionary role. For me this is a massive differentiator in people that have adopted leadership and people who haven’t. There is so much value in whitespace, creative thinking and visionary thinking even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Ryan shares that during our work together, they were also able to learn how to schedule their seasons. As humans, we are going to be busy just because of the world that we live in, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be intentional about scheduling our seasons. Scheduling your seasons allows you to get out of that reactionary mode and allows your mind to prepare for busier seasons.

Anna’s advice is to always keep in mind that things are not happening to you, they are happening for you. Life is not always just popping confetti, but in those hard moments remember that God has a purpose, whether it’s to teach you a lesson or grow you more than you ever thought possible.

[43:41] It Just Takes One Step

Anna and Ryan’s final piece of advice for anyone looking to expand their team is: life changes truly right on the other side of fear. It just takes one step.

For them, it feels surreal to look back on their journey and see how far they have come, but each and every thing along the way that got them here was just continually taking that leap of faith, taking that step.

So, if you’re in your company right now and you know that it’s time to grow- lean in. And know that what’s on the other side of it is better than you can imagine.

I hope today’s episode gave you the courage to take that leap of faith and become the leader you are meant to be. And if this episode spoke to you, make sure to subscribe and leave us a review!

Come connect with me on Instagram at @elizhartke! If there’s a topic, a question or a guest you want to hear on the show, just reach out and share that. We do this for you so the more you tell us, the more we can serve.


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