Leading Like A Kat

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Balance.

It’s a concept nearly universally recognized as an objective good. The keys to a healthy life are having a balanced diet (physical), maintaining a work-life balance (emotional, relational), and operating within balanced budgets (financial).

Aiming for balance is all well and good, but that task gets a lot tougher — and much more meaningful — when we move beyond the anodyne notion of “balance” and dig into the specifics of balancing what? — which foods; which disciplines of time and focus; which financial trade-offs?


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In a recent episode of The Learning Leader Show, Ryan Hawk introduced his listeners to Kat Cole, Group President of Focus Brands (home to the likes of Auntie Anne’s, Carvel, Cinnabon, McAlister’s, Moe’s, and Schlotzsky’s). Kat’s story is the quintessential American success story of hard work applied to humble beginnings leading to life-changing success: daughter of a single mom, Hooter’s waitress, and college dropout transforms into a globally recognized CEO and leadership dynamo … all by the age of 35. It is a powerful, “that sounds too good to be true” story of achievement and what’s possible.

However, if the story of her career arc is all you take from hearing the name Kat Cole, you have settled for the treasure map without actually finding the treasure it points to.

Ryan kicks off each episode of The Learning Leader Show by asking his guest some variant of this question: what are the common characteristics of successful, high-achieving leaders? With all of the world-class leadership talent Ryan has posed this query to over the course of his some 80+ episodes, he and his listeners have received a wealth of wisdom from their answers. That said, I found Kat Cole’s response to be one of the most impressive: a deep and valuable insight worth not just listening to, but holding onto and stitching into the tapestry of leadership learnings that I strive to implement. Her answer begins at roughly the 4:30 mark of Ryan’s interview:

I would say the characteristics that I’ve learned are the most common in those productive achievers is actually — if you kind of envision a scale — it’s a balance of two buckets of characteristics: the first being Courage and Confidence. So, the leaders that have been, not only great in achievement but productive achievers, have on one side this really well built muscle around Courage and Confidence. They take risks. They believe in their point of view and therefore others do too. But, on the other side of that scale is another bucket of characteristics that has to be essentially equally weighted: that is Curiosity and Humility. Leaders that have a level of Curiosity and Humility, by definition, convey to others that they don’t know everything and therefore that you need the people around you; that they’re a part of something bigger.

What I have both experienced and observed is that if you get one of those buckets of behaviors too far over-weighted from the other, and they get out of balance, it’s really difficult to have sustained success and be a productive achiever. So, if you’re only courageous and confident, and you don’t have the humility and curiosity to balance it out, you’re really just a bull in a china shop. We’ve all worked for those leaders: we know those people, we’ve met them and they charge ahead, but they charge so far ahead that they actually end up looking behind them and seeing no one there. And, then on the other side, if you’re only humble and curious, really you’re just a student. It’s difficult to convey confidence when you’re just sitting back questioning. So, anytime in my life or when I have observed other leaders and I see those things out of balance, it typically has not led to an optimal outcome. I really believe that foundationally, no matter the industry, regardless of the maturity of the leader, regardless of the age or the culture, that the balance of those two buckets of characteristics is the single greatest determiner of long-term success.

I can’t encourage you highly enough to listen to the whole interviewleadership-balance