Don’t try to solve a problem that doesn’t exist


Lead Human
SmartBrief illustration

This is the latest in a series called Lead Human, which features interviews and profiles conducted by Elliot Begoun in search of answers to the question "What is it like to be a leader?"

This interview publishes just days after the announced acquisition of RXBAR by Kellogg’s for $600 million. It’s illustrative of the awesome potential created when good products, good people and unmet demand collide.

Peter Rahal, co-founder and CEO, started RXBAR with his friend Jared Smith. Together, they wanted to bring a clean protein bar to CrossFit athletes. With that simple and narrow focus, selling gym to gym, they built a business and a brand.

In my opinion, RXBAR did something else to disrupt the industry. They veered from the norm on their approach to packaging. Their packaging hero wasn’t a logo or a product shot. It was, in very simple terms, what the product delivered: protein in the form of three egg whites, six almonds, two dates, and no B.S. I have a feeling that more brands will be following in their footsteps.

I spent time talking with Peter about leadership, entrepreneurship, company cultur, and lessons learned. I found him to be passionate and insightful. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Why do this crazy thing?

“I had a job, and it was with a startup, and I was totally miserable. I realized this is miserable. That misery really was the stimulus for, I’ve got to get a new job.”

He explained that he and Smith were childhood friends and different in a complementary way.

“We're total opposites. He’s pragmatic, cautious, needs stability, takes time. I'm reckless and aggressive. The opposite, right?”

“I had two failures. Two ideas then tried to begin to execute them, and ... One thing I learned from both of those was your partner, who you get in bed with, is everything.”

"We were both 26, no family, so we had nothing to lose. We're both athletes, and bars save time.”

Rahal said that they kept being told that "the world doesn't need another protein bar."

“We went to my father, who's very traditional, an immigrant, old school. Straight business fundamentals and he's an entrepreneur himself. ‘Dad, we need to raise money. We need packaging. We need a designer. Do you know anyone?’"

"He says, ‘Peter, you need to shut the &$#$& up and go sell a thousand bars.’ ... We were making excuses to go have coffee and talk about the business when all we needed to do was design it, make it, and sell it. Take action rather than just talk.”

“The idea of buying a mixer, of manufacturing, design, the unknown, is scary. It's much easier to get money and hire people who have the experience to do it.”

“We took my father's advice, and we started, literally, making bars in the kitchen, and then bought packaging from China and printed labels at FedEx.”


What have been some of your toughest challenges?

“Tactically, taking a product from your kitchen and commercializing it. Then finding the right partners in the supply chain, doing business with the right people. We basically interview every supplier, every vendor, everyone we touch. The same principle of who you get in bed with in business, it's the same thing with who you sell to and who you buy from. All that stuff matters.”

“On the emotional side; starting a business with your best friend, managing that relationship, and growing and adapting.”

What have you learned about leadership?

“Simon Sinek talked about this, and I think it's so true, between health and leadership. So, for example, Elliot, if you want to be healthy, you sleep well one night, and then you eat an egg white omelet, and have an avocado, and go for a run. So, you do that Monday. You're not suddenly healthy, right? You must do it every single day, it's healthy habits. It's the habits you create and do every single day.”

“Leadership's the same way. It's habits that you form, and do every single day, and you're consistent. To be a great leader, you can't just go speak in front of the company, and communicate where we're going, and be a great leader. You got to do it every day. It’s helping people. It's asking what their problems are. It's being present. It's having a vision, being decisive, too.”

“Organizations won't perform well without great leadership. It’s not just the top. It's all throughout.”

“I always tell people this. Jared and I totally underestimated entrepreneurship and even business. I remember thinking to myself, if I start a bar company and start selling it to gyms, I can go to the gyms and work out, and sell bars. I thought I could just do whatever. Flexible schedule. No clue. Totally underestimated leadership. It didn't trigger for us until we went from like seven people to like 12 people.”

“In the beginning, you're in the bar business. You make bars, and you sell them. Soon as you get beyond the survival mode, and your company's healthy, the business literally changes, and I don't care what business you're in. When you get beyond the survival phase, literally, you're in the people business.”

What would your current self tell your former self?

"Two things: [First,] be proactive and not overly reactive.”

Rahal explained, “Follow your plan. Actually plan. We talk a lot about strategy. Strategy is a word that's really thrown around. It's hilarious. Strategy just means f-ing planning. Planning's super important. So, plan and stick to it.”

I asked about the other thing he’d tell himself.

“It would be to align with values. I don't really care what those values are.”

“Align the organization on those values and make sure your actions reflect those values.”

What would you tell aspiring entrepreneurs and leaders?

“Don't start a business because you like the idea of it. Don't try to solve a problem that doesn't exist. I see that a lot. People like the idea, they want the outcome of being an entrepreneur. It's miserable, I would say. It's terrible. I bet if you look at Elon Musk, and he's this icon, I guarantee he has a miserable life by normal people's standards. You must be super-passionate and have total conviction around the purpose in what you're doing. Because it's too brutal. Take a step back and audit it. Be super self-aware, and make sure that you're solving a problem that exists, and that you're totally aligned on the real purpose of what you're doing.”

Would you do this again?

“Yeah, for sure. I would do it differently, but I would do it. This is a DNA thing.”


Like the Lead Human interviews? Leave us your email and we’ll send you audio excerpts, pictures, and all kinds of cool stuff. Get your bonus materials here.

Elliot Begoun is the principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on accelerating the growth of emerging food and beverage brands. He helps clients gain distribution, build velocity, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and Food Dive.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have a food, grocery and CPG email, one of more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

How likely are you to lead a revolution when you see change that needs to happen?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How likely are you to lead a revolution when you see change that needs to happen?

  • Extremely: I’m the first one to call for big change: 18.4%
  • Very: I often take up new causes: 39.6%
  • Kind of: I’ll lead change but only if I’m really passionate about it: 39.0%
  • Not very: It would take a lot to get me to step forward: 2.8%
  • Not at all: I’ll always let others lead big change: 0.3%

Rebels with a cause. It’s encouraging to see 60% of you taking up causes you believe in. The question to ask is if your cause is having the desired effect. Does it pick up momentum and lead to real change, or does it tend to sputter out and be forgotten when you move on to the next cause? To have a real impact, nail down the core components of a revolution: find a big problem, find other people sick of the same problem, define the future state and galvanize the masses. If you’re going to take the risk of starting something, put the conditions in place to see it through.

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."

5 ways to create an ownership mentality on your team

When you’re on a tight timeline or working on a critical issue, it can be tempting to grab hold of the problem yourself and work it until you’ve found the solution by yourself.

Maybe you’re trying to save time or just trying not to waste the time of others. Giving in to the temptation to go it alone, however, will not build a high-performing team capable of overcoming any challenge. If you want to foster an ownership mentality and create a team of individuals who are truly invested in success, read on for the five best ways to achieve your goals.

1, Stop doing it all

Even if you think you have all the answers, if you want to create a sense of accountability in your team, you have to give team members something to be accountable for. This means that you’re going to have to delegate. If you’re worried about the quality of the outcome, ask for regular check-ins one-on-one, so you can monitor progress and offer guidance and training.

Start with smaller aspects of what you’re working on, and expand from there with the members who deliver timely, quality work. While you’re coaching them to have a sense of ownership, you’ll be coaching yourself to delegate and let go a little on the day-to-day details.

2. Connect with contributors

Just as you would solicit feedback and ideas from your superiors in your organization, be sure to gather ideas from the people regularly sitting around your table. Make it clear to them that you need and value their help. When people contribute, be sure to acknowledge their contributions, both in the moment and later, when describing the group’s accomplishments to others.

If Sam and Dana were instrumental in coming up with the winning strategy, and the whole team helped fine-tune it, be sure to say so. Not only will you connect with your team and make them feel a sense of ownership, you will also build your own reputation as a positive leader.

3. Reward the sharing of ideas

As a leader, it may seem like every idea has to come from you, but that’s not the case. The best leaders create a culture where it is OK to share ideas -- all ideas. Build a relationship with your team where they are rewarded for speaking up and contributing.

For the best ideas to come to the surface, a team has to feel safe to think out loud, to brainstorm and to examine suggestions objectively with you, or as a group. The best environment allows everyone to share and have ideas accepted or rejected without personal judgement. People will fill a much stronger sense of ownership when they feel they have a hand in creating solutions.

4. Allow them to “run with it”

When someone comes up with a great idea, whenever possible, allow them to be pivotal in making it happen. Great leaders don’t have to be the one executing -- use your skills and experience to provide guidance and oversight, and to help others achieve success. You can even consider management consulting to up the team’s game. The end results will reflect positively on both of you.

5. Share the recognition

Be generous with praise: Give credit to the members of your team whenever it is due. Be sure to mention accomplishments both within your own group and to those senior to you. People feel a stronger sense of ownership -- and a stronger desire to engage and take ownership again -- when their efforts lead to acknowledgement. Employees rally around leaders who allow them to learn through doing and raise them up when they’ve done well.

Recognizing good people and work will make you look good, too.

Do you have ideas on how to create a sense of ownership within an organization? Have you had success in engaging employees in your work? Could your skills in fostering ownership use some coaching?


Joel Garfinkle is recognized as one of the top 50 executive coaches in America. Global Gurus named Joel #14 on its list of top 30 global coaching experts. He has 19 years of first-hand experience working closely with many of the world’s leading companies, including Oracle, Google, Amazon, Deloitte, The Ritz-Carlton, Gap and Starbucks. He has written seven books, including "Getting Ahead." More than 10,000 people subscribe to his FulfillmentATWork newsletter. Subscribe and you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!” If you are looking for practical advice for advancing up the executive career ladder, view his Career Advancement Blog.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

Creating your own wisdom journal

Putting thoughts down in a journal is a useful leadership exercise. When doing so, it is important to include more than what is happening now but also what could go wrong.

This kind of journaling is revealed with the publication of "The Godfather Notebook" that director Francis Ford Coppola kept while making this iconic film. As revealed in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s "Fresh Air," Coppola used the notebook to record his thoughts on the meaning, intention and pitfalls of every scene.

Film directors are leaders on the set. Good ones plan every scene in advance so that they can capture the spirit of the script on screen creatively as well as efficiently.

Management is something like that. Executives are bombarded with many details at any given moment. They must focus with clarity on what is important so they can keep projects on task and on budget.

Organize your thoughts in advance. It will prepare you to take action, be it talking to your team or finding additional resources.

The challenge is to make time to think and document your thoughts as words, pictures or diagrams.

Journaling will sharpen your thinking and, in turn, focus on your leadership on what’s most important.

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. Global Gurus ranked John No. 22 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named John to its list of top 50 leadership experts. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including his newest, “MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership.”

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

The Co-Writer of ‘Despacito’ on Why You Should Pursue Every One of Your Dreams

Erika Ender, the first female songwriter to have a number one song on Billboard's 'Hot 100' chart in Spanish, also runs a foundation helping at-risk kids.

From career mobility to opportunity mobility

Career mobility is defined as the movement of employees across levels, positions and even industries. In the past, it was a yardstick by which people measured their progress and success. And it was also a tool for incenting employees and calibrating the value of their contributions to the organization.

Today, however, rather than being a helpful feature within the talent management landscape, issues related to career mobility frequently immobilize organizations and undermine optimal engagement and results. Nearly three out of four Americans report being less than satisfied with the career development they receive.

Much of the disappointment boils down to a common complaint: “I’m stuck – ready for something new – but without a promotion or other move available to me.”

It’s hard to argue with this complaint because employees are frequently right. Given downsizing, delaying of middle management, automation and other evolving workplace factors, many organizations report that promotional opportunities are slim or non-existent.

Businesses that used to engage in job rotations find that they’re running leaner than ever before and can’t always accommodate such programs today. And specialization in some fields can make lateral moves challenging if not impossible.

Given these seemingly inhospitable factors, it could be easy to declare career development dead. But nothing could be further from the truth. The very complexity and challenges that might put the brakes on career mobility underscore the need for development and point to new career-enhancing possibilities for anyone willing to update his or her career development mindset.

Opportunity mobility is the new career mobility

While changing roles and moving among levels and positions might be structurally limited, moving among projects, task forces, stretch assignments and the like is inherently unlimited. Or, more precisely, it’s limited only by the imagination and commitment of employees and leaders.

In today’s environment, career success can no longer be defined by movement but perhaps by mastery. Progress doesn’t need to come in the form of a new title but perhaps evolving talent. Advancement isn’t about landing in a box on an organizational chart but rather landing a new experience that expands capacity.

Opportunity mobility boils down to identifying activities designed to address an employee’s interests, passions, gaps and/or aspirations.  It’s based upon ongoing dialogue and an ever-unfolding understanding of what matters most to the individual and the organization.

And, it takes the form of inviting into the envelope of an employee’s existing role agreed-up challenges and activities that provide the desired stretch, engagement and growth. In this way, everyone can develop and expand their portfolios of skills and accomplishments – whether a move is available or not.

While curating opportunities and experience can enrich one’s current position, those activities also improve one’s skills, networks, and abilities so that should future career moves present themselves, employees are more prepared and more likely to succeed in different roles. In this way, developmental opportunities are truly mobile and portable, serving people today and into the future.

So, it’s time to change our thinking – and our language – by putting a focus squarely upon what we can develop and mobilize: people and the nearly unlimited opportunities available to help them grow.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader. We also have more than 200 industry-focused newsletters, all free to sign up.

How to cure apology allergy and own up to mistakes

Not. My. Fault. Kids use these three words all the time, especially when standing next to a crayon-stained wall. The heavier the guilt, the stronger the declaration.

Do you know what “not my fault” means to listeners? “It’s my fault.”

Unfortunately, Ja Rule didn’t get the memo. After the much-hyped Fyre Festival went up in flames, the rapper who helped organize the Bahamian-music-weekend-that-wasn’t tweeted a pathetic apology that ended with “this is NOT MY FAULT.” You could almost confuse him with Silkk the Shocker.

Instead of taking control of the situation and delivering a sincere apology, Ja Rule perfectly illustrated our apology allergy culture while throwing gasoline on the bonfire of his own creation.

The apology allergy antidote

Online vitriol triggers a “fight or flight” reaction in our brains’ amygdalas, with “flight” taking the form of a half-hearted apology.

Sometimes, businesses make bad situations worse. When a customer posted a negative review for connected garage door opener Garadget, founder Denis Grisak took matters into his own hands. Instead of addressing the customer’s criticism, Grisak rendered the man’s Garadget inoperable by severing his server connection. Talk about harsh.

The cure for the apology allergy is to acknowledge our fears by answering complaints boldly and transparently. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but this head-on approach can dramatically increase customer advocacy.

While writing my latest book, “Hug Your Haters,” I worked with Edison Research to survey more than 2,000 American consumers who had filed complaints about companies in the past year. When companies addressed customer complaints, our research found, advocacy and loyalty jumped by as much as 25%; when a company answered a complaint and solved the problem, advocacy and loyalty increased by up to 75%.

In other words, we should see mistakes as powerful opportunities to win over haters. We just need to be brave and smart enough to take the heat and seek forgiveness.

Crafting the perfect apology

Corporate leaders should see mistakes as powerful opportunities to boost advocacy. Unhappy customers made happy are catalysts for incredible word-of-mouth marketing and revenue growth. We just need to be brave and smart enough to take the heat and seek forgiveness.

Here are the four necessary ingredients to the perfect mea culpa:

1. Acknowledge each complaint, noting the venue

On social media, 42% of consumers who complain expect a response in as little as 60 minutes. No pressure, right? If you wait too long to respond, people will feel ignored. You wouldn't let the phone ring forever without answering it, and you shouldn't ignore online feedback.

A quick acknowledgment of the situation should take just a few minutes. Whether you're talking to one person or an angry mob, start by saying that you’ve seen the feedback on the platform where it was given.

“I have seen your tweets/Facebook posts/emails…”

2. Embrace the complaint.

Remember that negative feedback is a gift. Few customers take the time to tell you they’re ticked, and you can glean valuable insights about your company operations. When people lob criticism your way, take the time to thank them for this thoughtful offering.

“I have seen your tweets/Facebook posts/emails, and I thank you for reaching out. I know you’re upset, and you have every right to feel that way…”

3. Apologize with empathy and action

We’ve reached the tipping point of any apology: It’s time to either give your complainant meat and merit or slip into lip service. Choose the former. Try to sound empathetic, and offer credible, meaningful solutions or remediation.

“I have seen your tweets/Facebook posts/emails, and I thank you for reaching out. I know you’re upset, and you have every right to feel that way. We have completely failed you, and I am so sorry — as is everyone at Company XYZ. Customer satisfaction is our top priority; we will refund you within 10 days…”

Extend the conversation

Finally, the apologist should offer complainants an official avenue to continue the conversation. This extra step is rare, but it gives you a unique opportunity to continue learning and engaging. It also allows you to corral complaints and follow-up communication into a dedicated channel. It’s a veritable gold mine.

“I have seen your tweets/Facebook posts/emails, and I thank you for reaching out. I know you’re upset, and you have every right to feel that way. We have completely failed you, and I am so sorry — as is everyone at Company XYZ. Customer satisfaction is our top priority; we will refund you within 10 days. I plan to post a video tomorrow on, and I will answer every question and concern in the comments. Thank you for being a loyal customer. We will make things right for you.”

You might not become the next Emily Post, but a genuine apology can help you avoid losing customers and making enemies. Conflict and criticism are never fun — whether it's on social networks or in person — but they offer a petri dish for improvement: They allow us to create new life and order for ourselves, even in the face of catastrophe.


Jay Baer is a renowned business strategist, keynote speaker, and The New York Times bestselling author. He is the founder of Convince & Convert, a strategy consulting firm that helps prominent companies gain and keep more customers through the smart intersection of technology, social media, and customer service. His latest book, "Hug Your Haters," outlines how to embrace complaints, put haters to work for your company, and turn bad news into good.

SmartBrief offers more than 200 newsletters, including SmartBrief on Leadership and newsletters for small businesses and marketers and advertisers.

This NBA Star’s Motorcycle Crash Cost Him His Playing Career. His 3 Leadership Lessons Show Why He Was Able to Reinvent Himself.

Here are a few tip from former basketball star turned sports analyst and entrepreneur Jay Williams.

You May Not Realize This Divide Exists Between You and Your Co-Workers

A new study about perceptions of leadership and advancement at work is a reminder that not everyone in your office is on the same page.

No more excuses

We all make excuses.

Whether they cover up for why we were late (“There was no parking”), provide a reason as to why we didn’t do that errand that our spouse requested (“It didn’t get into my to-do list”), seek to justify why we broke our diet (“There we SO many sweets on the table”), or attempt to explain why we didn’t get the business deal (“My competition swept in and undercut me”), we use excuses throughout our day to justify our errors and explain away our failings.

The reason that we do this, according to psychologists, is to protect ourselves against anxiety and shame. It is simply easier to blame external factors than ourselves for our lack of achievement or for letting ourselves or others down. The problem is, the more that we make excuses, the likelier we are to build barriers that will impede our chances of attaining meaningful goals in the future.

While excuse-making is common to everyone, it can be particularly problematic for leaders. Leaders are responsible for their own work and those whom they lead. When leaders excuse away failures, they lower the standard at which they operate, which will inevitably reduce their productivity and impact. Worse, such behavior helps to create a culture of excuse-making that quickly trickles down the pipeline.

In no time, people throughout the organization feel vindicated in justifying their miscues or lack of production. And if the boss makes his/her own excuses all the time, who is going to call them on it?

According to the World Economic Forum, executive excuse-making comes in many forms and includes personal excuses (such as being under excessive pressure, not being paid enough to deal with real problems, and being poorly trained) as well as perceived external factors (like an inherited political climate or how others respond to their leadership).

Obviously, for leaders to succeed they can’t be in the business of making excuses. They have to set high (but achievable) standards and then make sure to hold themselves and those around them accountable. The following strategies can help leaders create a more accountable and higher-achieving work environment.

Own the problem

Before leaders can do anything to change their excuse-making behavior, they have to be willing to own the problem. They must take an honest look in the mirror and recognize that they must own their behaviors as well as their reactions. The following anecdote captures this idea well. (While the context focuses on employee excuse-making, its relevance is equally applicable for the guy in charge.)

Once, at the beginning of the workday, all of the employees arrived at the office to start on their duties. When they arrived, they saw a big sign on the door that said, “Yesterday the person who has been hindering your growth in this company passed away. The funeral will begin shortly outside.”

Nobody knew who the sign was referring to, but they all went anyway, saddened by the news. As they approached the coffin to see who this person was that was inhibiting their progress, they were shocked by what they saw. Instead of viewing a person, they were greeted with a mirror. Everyone who looked inside saw himself or herself.

A sign next to the mirror read as follows: “There is only one person who is capable to set limits to your growth: YOU. You are the only person who can help yourself. Your life does not change when others change or when circumstances change. Your life changes when you change, when you go beyond your limiting beliefs, when you realize that you are the only one responsible for your life.”

Take responsibility

At its core, excuse-making comes from a person’s inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for their behaviors. Leaders need to accept responsibility for their jobs and focus on the things which they can control. Train yourself to always accept responsibility for the things you do and the things you fail to do. Even in cases where events occur that are outside of your control, you should avoid making excuses and identify the things which you can change to get a better result next time. Responsibility and control = power.

Focus on what matters

Often we waste time on things that don’t matter and then find excuses to justify our decisions. Time management and goal setting techniques and tools can help leaders focus better and get more done.

Set high standards

Ironically, though high standards are harder to reach than lower ones, folks who set high standards tend to work harder to achieve them. Moreover, even when they come up short, they are more willing to analyze their “failures” objectively so that they can learn from them and not have a repeat performance the next time.

Strong leaders know that making excuses only delays the end goal. If we take responsibility for inaction or mistakes, we’re able to correct them and get back on track towards the goal.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) became an executive coach and organizational consultant following a career as an educator and school administrator. Check out his new leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog.

If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better, smarter leader.