How to lead with empathy: 6 lessons from former COO and president of Focus Brands, Kat ColeFeatured
I spoke with @katcole, former COO and President of Focus Brands. Focus Brands owns companies including Jamba, Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, and Carvel. Kat is also on the boards of Milk Bar, Slice, and HumanCo SPAC. Kat shared her lessons learned from her decade leading Focus Brands. Stay close to the frontline workers. At Focus Brands, Kat found that franchises were often the people with the best understanding of the challenges the company was facing and the opportunities they could capitalize on. Kat always asked:What should we stop doing?When do we say no to customers? What is one thing you would do if you were me?Kat looked for patterns in the responses to these questions and used these to inform the business strategy. Tailor your approach to the company culture. Not all companies are built for radical exploration. Understand the company culture first and with that understanding, find and implement the best balance of exploration and execution. Be crystal clear around priorities in the short vs. medium vs. long term, reiterating deliverables and milestones. Always reinforce the vision and be honest about where you are and where you are trying to go as a team. Give people space to think and to explore and experiment in a way that is aligned with the company’s culture. While culture may precede leaders and leaders are of course outnumbered in companies, their actions still carry a disproportionate, exponential amount of weight. Be intentional and careful about every decision you make as a leader. In the long run, it does shape the culture of the company.Be comfortable with not being great. Throughout her career, Kat has embraced the power of saying yes before she was ready. In making these jumps, she underscores the importance of understanding and accepting the mistakes or failures that may come in the early days of learning or doing something new. By letting go over the fear of not being great and embracing the journey of growth, you open yourself up to so many more opportunities. Align your priorities and values. For Kat, her family is the most important thing. Every morning, she spends time having coffee with her family. She minimizes work meetings in the early morning to ensure she always carves out time in her day to spend undistracted time with her family. Pay attention to what gives your energy. Early on in her career, Kat tried to do everything. Over time, she learned to find her comparative advantage through noticing what drained her energy vs. what energized her. Through leveraging this energy management framework, she was able to leverage an energy management framework to focus on what she does best. Encourage yourself. When asked about advice for her younger self, Kat highlights encouragement. She follows a no regret mindset and would give her younger self encouragement that despite challenges, she was always on the right path.