Don’t leave your integrity to chance

How well do you personally model integrity in your day-to-day interactions?

People are always watching us, appraising whether we keep our promises and “do what we say we will do.” Colleagues watch us. Neighbors watch us. Family members watch us. Even strangers watch us!

If we live with integrity, then those watchers see that we "do what we say we will do." They learn they can trust our word because we back it up with aligned actions.

If we don’t live with integrity, then those watchers see us break our promises all the time. They learn they can’t trust our word, so they don’t.

Sometimes that lack of integrity is difficult to observe. It’s not obvious. Broken promises are made subtly, over time. Other times, a lack of integrity is bold and clear. In today’s Culture Leadership Charge video episode, I share an example I experienced on a golf course many years ago.

Our integrity is fragile. It’s only as good as every kept promise. Do what you say you will do, every day -- with colleagues, neighbors, family, and strangers.

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How empowered do you feel to make decisions affecting your team?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

How empowered do you feel to make decisions affecting your team?

  • Very -- I'm in complete control: 21%
  • Mostly -- I make all but a few key decisions: 39%
  • Not very -- my leaders limit the decisions I can make: 26%
  • Not at all -- I barely get to decide anything: 15%

A lack of power. Seems like a lot (41%) of you have little decision making power. That has to be frustrating - both for you and for your leaders. Most leaders I know want their team members to be empowered and to take initiative. If you feel like you can't make decisions, ask yourself if those are self-limiting beliefs. Many of your leaders want you to take initiative. Talk with them about decision parameters where you can make the call within a certain set of boundaries. They'll be happy to make fewer decisions to let you lead the charge. If you simply assume you can't make decisions without confirming that fact, both you and your boss might be unnecessarily frustrated.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

When company values and actions collide

It’s usually a prescient sign that it’s not going to be a great meeting when two women walk into your office and one is trembling while the other is on the verge of tears.

Such was the scene early in my career when I was an HR manager for a large organization. Both women were there to see me because they’d reached a breaking point. They were victims of sexual harassment by a senior leader to whom they reported, having endured a pattern of unwanted advances that they could no longer tolerate. Fear brought them into my office, but hope is what kept them there. They were depending on the values that our company espoused to be the catalyst that would get them out of an untenable situation.

After a lengthy meeting, it was clear that these women might not be the only targets of a leader who believed he was above the law. I discovered that other women in his department had similar complaints, but were concerned that in coming forward their jobs or reputations would be on the line. As I investigated further, it was evident that this leader’s poor behavior was not a new phenomenon. He’d been behaving this way for years, but it had escalated in intensity and flagrancy over the previous 18 months, following his promotion to sector vice president.

Armed with this information, I went to his manager, the president of the entire division, a man who had known and worked with the alleged harasser for more than 10 years. I’m prepared for this meeting, I thought. I was armed with evidence, victim statements and at least five women who were willing to go on the record about their personal experiences with the senior leader. These women were long-tenured high- performing employees, whose stories were credible.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the division president’s reaction.

After carefully laying out the facts and the statements from the victims, I looked at the president squarely in the eye and said, ”We’ve got a big problem and it’s got to be immediately addressed.” So, you can imagine my surprise when the first words out of his mouth were, “What the hell is this guy’s problem; isn’t he getting any at home?”

I could not believe what I was hearing, or the insensitivity of his reaction. It took me a few seconds to pick up my jaw, which had dropped onto the floor with an almost audible thud. Quickly collecting myself, I tried to focus on the president, who was explaining how much money this leader had made for the company. He had been the inventor of one of the firm’s top selling products and was a virtual legend in his field.

I could sense that the president was desperately searching for some excuse to overlook the behavior and was resistant to doing anything but sweeping this problem under the rug.

I was having none of it.

At times like these, you begin to realize that company values have far more significance than one might imagine. I knew that we were facing a situation where our values and actions might collide, and if they did, we would no longer deliver on the promise of our brand, yet alone be in compliance with the law.

Fortuitously, the company had just gone through a values-setting exercise the year before, and I had that to rely on in my argument. Not only did we establish company-wide values and publish them on our website and other social media, a poster with those values was the first thing that greeted any visitor to one of our facilities and was featured prominently in every company workspace.

They were front and center to our brand, and we took the extra step to define what those values looked like in action. We chose "Respect," for example, as one of our core values, and defined it as “Creating a thriving culture where all input is valued and employees can count on a safe and inclusive work environment.” Another important value was "Accountability." In action, that value meant, “Taking responsibility for one’s actions, as well has holding others accountable to do the same.”

I had three realities supporting my position in this discussion:

  • The company had clearly defined values.
  • The behaviors associated with living those values had been outlined.
  • Since the values were widely publicized, it made it difficult to overlook violations of them.

From my vantage point, the situation being discussed with the division president was one where both respect and accountability were being challenged, and this was our moment to demonstrate the courage of our conviction for those values. I’m pleased to say that the company made the right decision, and not only complied with the law but also honored the values at the core of its brand.

Could another, less favorable decision have been taken? Might the company have looked the other way, favoring the harasser over his victims because of his contributions to corporate profits? Surely, as an experienced leader, you know the answer to those questions. But if recent events with United Airlines and Fox News are any example, customers, investors, employees and even the general public are holding companies and their leaders to a higher standard, one that has significant financial and brand ramifications if left unmet.

As a leader, you are the bastion of company values. Make sure that you know what you stand for — and be prepared to act.


Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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Spontaneous speaking: The 5-second strategy to improve delivery

As a business professional, do you frequently face situations where you need to “say a few words” without time to prepare? It might be a meeting, conference call or request to fill in for another speaker, to name just a few scenarios.

For many, these situations can induce more anxiety than making a prepared presentation. As a result, you may find yourself rambling, filling your sentences with “ums” or, in the worst case, completely drawing a blank. When that happens, both your point and your credibility are in jeopardy. 

When there’s no time to prepare, how do you formulate your thoughts in the moment so you can be compelling and engaging? Let’s take a look at the surprisingly effective strategies that can help you project a confident image and provide coherent content in your next spontaneous speaking opportunity.

The 5-second prep for spontaneous speaking

A number of years ago, I found myself on the spot in a client meeting. After spending an hour talking about an escalating issue, the client asked everyone at the table to share their strategy for resolving the problem. In that moment, I asked myself some key questions:

  • What point must I convey?
  • How can I support it?
  • How do I need to say it?

In a matter of seconds, I knew what my message was, how to frame it, and how to deliver it appropriately. The result? The client clearly understood and accepted the strategy, and the work was ours for the next three years.

Can it really be that easy? The truth is, even when you only have seconds to collect yourself, following this strategy helps you come across as more articulate and confident. Here’s how.

1. Always listen carefully.

Have you ever noticed that the best speakers are also the best listeners? If I hadn’t been paying careful attention to the client’s concerns, I would not have been able to come up with an effective strategy on the spot.

2. What’s your takeaway message?

Ask yourself: what do my listeners want or need to know right now? You may be surprised at the way answers will emerge by simply asking yourself this question. Try to express it in a single sentence.

3. How can you frame that message?

Next, choose a familiar structure to organize your thoughts and help others to follow what you’re saying. For example:

  • Problem/Solution: State the problem, then present your solution.
  • Point/reason/example: State your point, give the reason behind it, and illustrate with an example.
  • Theory/practice: State the theory behind your idea or proposal, then explain how it will work in practice.
  • BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): State the conclusion or desired end point, then talk about how to get there. For example: “Bottom line: we need to save 10 percent. Let’s talk about how we can do that.”

Once you gain some experience using these structures, it becomes much easier to execute on the spot.

4. How do I express myself appropriately?

This is all about your tone and choice of words, as well as facial expressions and gestures if you’re meeting face to face. Do you need to be casual, empathetic, authoritative or business-like? Match your delivery to the culture of the people you’re addressing to ensure your ideas resonate.

Yes, you can practice being spontaneous

Spontaneous speaking is like any other skill: it improves with practice. It can be helpful to remember that you are speaking spontaneously all the time: on the phone, interacting with colleagues, even discussing ideas over lunch. The difference is that you don’t necessarily think of those everyday interactions as “speaking.” Since there is not as much riding on the outcome, they don’t raise your anxiety level.

To take your skills to the next level, create moments of opportunity for yourself to practice and become more comfortable being spontaneous. Here are a few ideas for doing that:

Join a Toastmasters group. Toastmasters’ longstanding Table Topics Workout is intended to help members develop their ability to organize their thoughts quickly in response to an impromptu question or topic. If joining Toastmasters is not an option for you, try a similar exercise with colleagues in a relaxed setting. Here’s a great resource to get you started: 365 Table Topics Questions.

Challenge yourself to speak up in meetings. If your tendency is to avoid participating in large group meetings, try using them as a chance to up your game. Start by asking questions, which will lead to more opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas.

Join a networking group. Chances are, your industry or city has local networking groups. These are great opportunities to meet people and advance your career as well as practice spontaneous speaking. Each time you meet, make it a point to answer a question, relate an experience or share an opinion.

Play games. Watch Matt Abrahams’ presentation "Think Fast, Talk Smart" for some fun exercises to improve your skills:


Over time, using your spontaneous speaking skills can become like flexing your muscle memory: the more you do it, the easier it gets and you’ll find yourself performing better, with less stress.


Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high-stake presentations. She has 25-plus years experience of coaching experience and eight years teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has provided presentation coaching to over 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies, high-level government officials and international business executives. Learn more at and

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Passion for your purpose

Passion is energy and engagement for people and the work they do. Passion as an emotion is a valuable trait when channeled appropriately.

Being focused on helping others understand and doing good work is positive passion. Losing your cool when things go wrong is negative passion. The challenge is to channel the positive to ameliorate or eliminate the negative.

Investing in employees with training and development leads to caring about customers. In turn, the company is committed to giving back to the community.

Passion becomes the catalyst that galvanizes individuals to commit to their own development as well as to deliver products and services that customers need. Passion is a powerful driver when applied to purpose. It is the personal commitment to making a positive difference!

Note: This video owes its inspiration to the work of my colleague Alaina Love.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2017, Trust Across America named him a Top Thought Leader in Trust for the fourth consecutive year. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 100 leadership experts, and Global Gurus ranked him No. 11 on its list of global leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

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How can leaders help different departments communicate?

The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

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Q. How do you ensure different departments (e.g. sales and customer service) communicate issues regularly and clearly with each other?

1. Establish a company-wide communication platform

Skype, Slack, Google Chat, email, phone calls — with so many forms of communication available, it can be hard to know where to find someone. Aid ongoing communication by establishing a company-wide platform. With a service like Slack, you can even organize employees on custom channels so you can easily contact specific groups. -- Chuck Cohn, Varsity Tutors

2. Discuss "cascading messages"

It's now fashionable to criticize scheduling a bunch of meetings, but to solve this issue, they are critical. You must schedule regular (weekly) meetings where the heads of various departments meet. One critical agenda point at this meeting is "cascading messages" — exactly what information or decisions need to be communicated down into the various departments? -- John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation

3. Start meetings with issues

Our teams are co-located, so they already spend a lot of time together. Every Monday, we have our executive team meeting — all of the high-level members of each department so we can determine where there are issues. Issues start at the top. Every week is a process of working through those priority issues. -- Christopher Kelly, Convene

4. Lead by example

I lead by example, so my managers can see how they should work with each other. Then from there, we have our weekly meeting that determines whether all thoughts, comments and ideas are worked through properly by supporting and communicating with each other. It is important that I go through these issues often so our managers set a good example for their teams as well. -- Daisy Jing, Banish

5. Flatten out your organization

Prevent silos from forming. They create communication gaps and inefficiencies. Structure your organization so departments communicate and work together more often. This delivers the added bonus of improving problem-solving and the sharing of ideas. Create shared goals across teams — such as sales and marketing are both responsible for driving sales — to align incentives and reduce finger pointing. -- Dan Golden, BFO (Be Found Online)

6. Encourage a culture of communications

Give your teams the right tools to communicate first. Choose a platform, whether that be Slack, Skype or HipChat. Just remember, the platform isn't as important as adoption. No matter how effective the tools, creating a culture where communication is encouraged and rewarded, and where there is accountability for lack of communication, is key to keeping your team in constant contact. -- Blair Thomas, First American Merchant

7. Hold weekly alignment meetings between team leads

We hold weekly, hour-long alignment meetings between team leads, giving everyone a chance to openly discuss dependencies and blocks. The cadence allows managers to save up requests and grievances, knowing that they will have structured time to discuss it when others are prepared to listen. -- Hongwei Liu, mappedin

8. Encourage staff to schedule in-person meetings

When an issue arises, it is important that members of each department know who they should be in contact with in order to address the issue in a quick and efficient manner. Even though this is an “old school” method, it is still the most effective way to solve issues because most issues can be solved quickly by getting both parties in a room together rather than going back and forth through email. -- Stanley Meytin, True Film Production

9. Maintain a companywide wiki

We keep track of everything in our company-wide Wiki, which is shared among everyone on our team. You can document processes, attach files, collaborate via comments, interlink pages and see how each Wiki page has changed over time. Plus, you can passively receive email notifications about changes made in the wiki, which allows you to keep better tabs on what’s happening inside your business. -- Brian David Crane, Caller Smart Inc.

10. Hold internal project kickoff meetings

We do very brief internal meetings between sales and service department heads prior to going to our client and having the initial project kick-off. That way both teams are fully versed in the project's mission and can speak unified about the scope and timeline of a new project. We then do a final close-out meeting with the client, so that they know the project is done and where to get support. -- Robby Hill, HillSouth

11. Organize your Slack channels

Slack can be an invaluable tool for ensuring that a team is quickly, reliably and fully up to speed on everything that is in process, regardless of where they may be that day. Each client or project can be under a distinct channel, with applicable staff included. Company-wide channels handle information the entire team needs to know about, and a focus on continuous communication can pay dividends. -- Jeff Jahn, DynamiX

12. Be sociable outside work

Make time for team members to get to know each other outside their work roles. The best way to encourage communication is for them to truly know each other, not to make half-hearted rules for communication. -- Richard Kershaw,

13. Spend a day with another department

Obviously, the grass is always greener. Department heads fight all the time, that is why we started implementing "a day in the other manager's shoes." On a slow day once a quarter, the managers switch departments and see what goes on in other areas of the company. It is amazing what happens: They come up with amazing solutions for each department and make their own much better in the process. -- Tommy Mello, A1 Garage Door Repair

14. Tell people to overcommunicate

Get your team to over-communicate when it comes to problems. We are often afraid of copying multiple people in emails. But when problems arise, you'll be happy you did. Demonstrate by example when issues come up how everyone should be informed about a problem. When everyone becomes involved during the difficult times, you more quickly solve issues and strengthen your team. -- Diego Orjuela, Cables & Sensors

Are you the driver or the driven?

You can be the driver of your life or you can be the one driven. And if you are not the driver, who is?

Many of the executives I work with proudly report that they are driven to achieve. And they are.

The results are unmistakable. Each has either built or climbed to the upper echelon in their company and rank somewhere between the top 1-10% in annual earnings.

But they also report that they never feel any pleasure from achieving a goal -- there is always another one further down the road. Many can never be satisfied with the quality, and beat themselves up that it could have been better.

And at some point, in our executive coaching, almost every one of them admit that their greatest fear is either "failure" or being "found out to be a fraud." And of course, everyone has their own. These fundamental fears -- these deep insecurities -- are the volcanic source of their endless and unrelenting drive to achieve.

These fears reside in your sub-conscious programming, what I call the “autopilot.” When your autopilot takes charge, you are driven -- you are no longer in charge even when you think you are. You know that’s true because you can’t stop being driven.

Consider the metaphor of a Roman chariot race. When you are driven, you are the horse. Your fears and insecurities in the form of your autopilot are driving the chariot (your life). They whip you to go faster and faster until there’s no time for anything but running. No matter how exhausted you are, you run on, your tongue hanging out and lather coating your flanks.

As the horse in this scenario, you don’t have the time or regard for anything but the race. With this single-minded focus, you accomplish many goals but you are likely to run over whatever is in your way to achieve them. You also ignore the journey, bypass the scenery without a glance, and look up at the end of your life and all you have done is run from your fears -- and there’s nowhere else to run.

Many driven people will say that their fears are how they motivate themselves. And that’s true. But as a strategy, it is a poor one. The negative consequences of this strategy include:

  • Sacrificing your health, relationships, and enjoyment of life,
  • Developing addictions,
  • Cutting corners and resorting to shady ethics
  • Damaging anyone or anything in your way.

There’s a better way -- a better strategy that preserves the energy and desire to achieve but without the negative consequences. When you decide to stop running and to turn and face your inner demons, you can shift from the driven to the driver of your life. As you develop your inner mastery, you:

  • Develop a deep sense of self-worth independent of external circumstances and opinion,
  • Realize that failure is natural and unavoidable and that it doesn’t define you,
  • Come to terms with a realistic assessment of your capabilities, and
  • Cease to make your income and achievements the currency of your worth.

When you become the driver of your life’s chariot, the horse that pulls you forward is your purpose and passion. These are far more powerful and sustainable sources of energy, enthusiasm, adaptability and conviction. They also invite others on the journey with you rather that running them over or dragging them behind you.

As the driver, you can stop whenever you want. You can enjoy the journey and celebrate the milestones and successes. You can have a meaningful life outside of the race and still be an extraordinary leader and achieve important things in the race.

The pervasive strife and suffering in society today -- and subsequent damage to health, relationships, societal bonds and the environment -- are demanding that we stop and take a hard look at what is driving us and make different choices. We are all leaders in our own lives and in the world. When we individually and collectively embrace the shift into the driver’s seat, we will advance the healing of our lives and the world.


Mark Youngblood founded Inner Mastery Inc. more than 20 years ago to promote personal and organizational transformation. His outreach includes executive coaching, the Inner Mastery Learning Community, the Dear Human series of books, public speaking, workshops, and life coaching. Learn more.

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5 effective ways to boost your self-esteem

Self-esteem was an essential component of FBI firearms training. As FBI agents, we were trained to use good judgment when confronted with stressful situations. We had confidence in our ability to handle our weapons because we spent hours developing our skills.

When we have high levels of self-esteem, we are less vulnerable to anxiety and stress. It’s essential to keep a calm head when drawing a weapon during an arrest because circumstances can change quickly, and with little or no warning.

Self-esteem is your belief in yourself—it’s a fuel source and it powers your approach to both business and life. Almost everyone has experienced a time in their career when they’ve lost faith in themselves—the loss of a job, a failed business, the startup that hasn’t quite started, or the realization that they are in the wrong career.

I learned quickly in the FBI that success would not make me confident; instead, confidence would make me successful. Loss of self-esteem is a loss of dignity and self-respect, and that is a downward spiral that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here are five effective ways you can boost your self-esteem:

1. Understand your environment

\When I was transferred to a new city or squad, the first thing I did was identify the top performers. I learned the secrets to their success, from their interactions with colleagues in the office to the way they conducted their investigations in the field.

Troubled relationships with supervisors and colleagues can easily destroy even the most talented person’s confidence. If you have relationships that are troubled, try to identify when/where/why it happened and if there is anything you can do to get things back on track.

How to make it work for you: Take the time to study your environment, especially the people with whom you work. Educate yourself on how to recognize different personality types so you more easily identify what makes the people around you tick.

2. Find a mentor

After I identified the top performers on my squad, I made them mentors. The toughest nut to crack was a group of 4 male agents who hung around together and had all the best cases assigned to them. They were an exclusive club so I labeled them “The Gang Of Four.”

Trying to become one of them was laughable, but I knew I needed to mirror their approach to working counterintelligence cases. They would die of shock if they knew I considered them to be my mentors, but they gave me the perspective I needed if I wanted to be confident—and successful.

By latching onto their attitudes and habits, I better understood the culture of my environment. They helped me identify the unwritten rules of the FBI that boosted my self-esteem.

How to make it work for you: There is a big difference between a coach and a mentor — a coach is someone who sees the potential in who you can be, while a mentor is someone you’re trying to imitate or mirror. Both are essential but if you are experiencing lack of belief in yourself, surround yourself with people who are experienced and confident so they can show you how to move forward.

3. Be honest with yourself

In the FBI Academy, we trained how to run down and tackle an individual resisting arrest. I was a lousy runner, showing up at the rear end of every race our class ran. The idea of me running down, or even catching up with, a suspect produced snarky comments and rolled eyes from my classmates.

Yep, my self-esteem suffered mightily but I also knew that true confidence must be grounded in reality. I had to make an honest assessment of my skills and strengths (I excelled in firearms), and then plan for ways to grow my strengths so I could manage my weaknesses.

Ego can take a hit but it’s essential that you are honest about your abilities. Pretending that you don’t have drawbacks or weaknesses is just being stupid. Instead, be smart and get ahead of them so they don’t sabotage you when you’re confronted with a stressful situation.

How to make it work for you: Find ways to get constructive feedback and criticism on what others see as your strengths. It will make it easier to shake off unfair criticism that you may receive in a competitive work environment.

4. Heal from the past

Take the time to uncover any unresolved or stress-producing issues that could still be lingering from your past. If you struggle with something from your past that drags you down, now is the time to have the mental toughness you need to deal with it, once and for all.

How to make it work for you: Get a counselor or therapist if you need one, but it’s time to slay that demon once and for all. “Age and wisdom do not always travel in pairs. Sometimes age shows up by itself.”—LaRae Quy

5. Explore new life experiences

One of the best ways to boost your self-esteem is to learn a different skill-set by starting a new pastime. Your ego is not as invested in an avocation as it is in your career, so it will feel less threatened if you fail.

Each time you learn something new, you will build confidence in what you’ve accomplished. You will build self-awareness of how you deal with disappointment, rejection, or failure.

To get something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done. To boost your self-esteem, you will need to wrestle with your fear of failing as if the quality of your life depends on it. Because it does.

How to make it work for you:: Notice how you respond to both failure and success. What can you learn from your experience? The more you understand how you respond to situations where you experience failure or success, the better you can craft the reaction you want.


LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years. She exposed foreign spies and recruited them to work for the U.S. government. As an FBI agent, she developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty, and deception. LaRae is the author of “Secrets of a Strong Mind” and “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths.” If you’d like to find out if you are mentally tough, get her free 45-question Mental Toughness Assessment. Follow her on Twitter.

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Slingshot Foods’ founder on why he’s an entrepreneur

“Perfection is the enemy of the good.”  ~ Voltaire

I first met Will Hartley, founder, and CEO of Slingshot Foods, in the office of one of my clients. He was in the process of reviewing potential co-pack options. Immediately, I was struck by both his passion and his humility. He had a product that he believed in fully and was both fully aware of the enormity of his undertaking and the obstacles he was sure to face.

Since that time, Slingshot, which is a unique on-the-go breakfast drink that features a neck ring pouch containing a blend of finely ground granola, has grown rapidly. We’ve stayed in contact, seeing each other at shows as well as exchanging emails and articles. After a recent conversation, I asked Will if he would take part in this series. Although he does not yet have a large team, leadership does not require that you have one. What it does require is a vision, determination, and resilience. Will has all three in spades.

We had a great conversation and I hope that you enjoy what is shared below.

Why are you doing this?

“That's a great question. I have wanted to for a long time. I had, in my mind, that I wanted to run a food company way back in 2000. Ultimately, all the pieces came together in a way that it made it impossible for me to not do it. The reasons not to just fell away.”

Hartley said to himself, “OK, there's no good reason not to do this at this point, so I guess I have to.”

“The other helpful thing was that my wife was super-supportive. She knew me well enough to give me some good advice.”

His wife told him, “Hey, if you don't do this you're going to hate yourself forever, you're never going to forgive yourself for not taking a run at this.”

What is your vision for Slingshot?

“It’s hard to shift gears from thinking about this hour and this day, which I think in the world of startups that's just how you spend your time because there's so many pressing, immediate issues. It takes a little recalibrating to think out that far. There are two big ideas that really get me fired up, one, is that we're helping people perform better because they've had the good nutrition that lets them do that. Five years out, I think that our reach in terms of the number of people that we've helped has gotten sizable.”

With regards to the second big thing, Hartley said, “I'm really excited about creating this breakfast brand that accommodates the significant behavioral change that is out there and taking place right in front of our eyes.”

He went on to say “that people's behaviors, in terms of eating in general, but specifically in the morning, are changing dramatically.”

We took a slight turn and Hartley explained how he decided on the name for the brand.

“Sitting in my office at 10:00 one night I looked up at my bookcase and saw this slingshot up there and I pulled it down. There was a card on it, it had been a gift from my college roommate for my 40th birthday. The note on it said, ‘No matter how old you get, stay young.’ That in and of itself was interesting, but what really hit in that moment was, 'Wait, that's actually what we're trying to do. We're creating a food brand that is all about performance.' Without good nutrition, it's tough to start your day the right way, you just can't do as much.”

What’s the biggest obstacle you face?

“It feels to me like there's a continuous headwind. Just staying in one place, there's resistance to that. But, moving forward, there's friction pretty much all the way through the entire business. In part, that's because we're being scrappy and we haven't spent a ton on people, and partly because there's some innovation behind our product and that excites people, but it also can make people resistant.”

I asked him why some are resistant. He explained, “There aren't a whole lot of drinks that have a crunchy component that you add to it.” He went on to share that the crunch and the uniqueness make it a product without a clear category, which causes some confusion.

What has been your biggest lesson learned?

He started his answer with a quote from Voltaire, “Perfection is an enemy of the good.”

Hartley added, “if we had waited until literally all of the kinks were worked out of the system we still wouldn't have a product on the shelf. On the flip side, it's an uncomfortable thing to launch something you know is not perfect. On top of that, all your friends, family, colleagues, and people around you have been advising you to be careful. Starting a business is hard, the odds are astronomically low that you will make it a year, much less become a real viable business. Everybody around you is scared for you. The fact that you know that it's not perfect, it's hard to pull the trigger and get it out in the store.”

This dovetailed nicely into my next question.

What would your current self tell your former self?

"Don't sweat that, just get it on the shelf. You can try to theorize about how people feel about it until the end of time, but once you talk to people that have spent their hard-earned money purchasing the thing that you've been dreaming about, that's when the real learning starts."

“Get it in front of people and sell it to them, actually make them spend their money. Because every other way of getting information about what you're doing is going to be off kilter. Friends and family, they'll try to give you good advice, but it's not real. Even if that means setting up shop at a farmer’s market. You can just hack together a prototype and get a product that resembles what you're trying to make. Probably the most valuable thing that you could do to expedite the launch of your business is take that consumer feedback and use it to perfect your product.”


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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. He serves as a consultant and thinking partner helping emerging food and beverage brands gain the distribution and win the share of stomach they need to grow. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Business2Community.

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Is your organization rigorous about succession planning?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 210,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our e-newsletter.

Is your organization rigorous about succession planning?

  • Yes. We have a thorough process for succession planning: 10%
  • Kind of. We do succession planning only for key roles: 38%
  • No. When there's a hole, we'll figure it out: 52%

Waiting for a crisis. It's scary to think that over half of you don't have a plan for what happens when someone departs your organization. A key player going down can cause massive disruptions to your business, lost customers, operational risks and a host of other issues. Leaders are responsible for the smooth operation of their organization. This means sitting down and doing contingency planning for events they know will happen. Every person will leave their role whether to quitting, promotion or reorganization. Spend some time laying out a backup plan for when each team member departs. It'll help you fill those open spots more quickly when the crisis eventually occurs.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."