3 lessons the CEO of multimillion-dollar brand Hint water learned when she started doing the ‘dirty work’ as a leader

Kara Goldin.

  • Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of multimillion-dollar beverage company Hint.
  • When the pandemic hit, she personally helped stock shelves at stores like Target with her product.
  • She says getting your hands dirty as CEO teaches you a lot – like how to make strategic decisions.
  • This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.

In the early days of the pandemic, when many CEOs were sitting in hours of executive meetings on shifting their strategy or fretting over financial documents to see how they could avoid layoffs, Kara Goldin – founder and CEO of multimillion-dollar beverage company Hint – was using some of her precious time to do something surprising: stock shelves.

Every day, she would help her team by going to grocery and big-box stores near her home in Marin County, California, to see if their unsweetened, flavored water had flown off the shelves like most other products.

When it was sold out, she’d work to get trucks of Hint water sent directly to stores, sometimes even going so far as to unpack them herself. “I was working at Target San Rafael and a store employee gave me additional space, saying how impressed he was to see the founder stocking shelves,” Goldin told Insider in August.

This unconventional move got Goldin more than extra shelf space. Here are a few of the ways she feels being unafraid to get her hands dirty helped her company not just survive but succeed through uncertain times.

It helps you and your team practice resilience

While delegation is a critical leadership skill and you often want to trust the experts you’ve hired to manage different aspects of your business, “the buck stops with you as the CEO,” Goldin told Insider. That means when the going gets tough, you might have to dive in and help the team get going.

Goldin said that, while your employees may be great at what they do, many of them don’t have the learned resilience that leaders and entrepreneurs have gained from all the challenging times they’ve been through before. It’s your responsibility in moments of uncertainty to help your team problem solve and see possible paths forward.

“During challenging times, you need a leader who is going to set the course,” Goldin said, adding that’s why “the best CEOs today build great teams to be able to manage the day-to-day, but also never lose a handle on the different aspects of their business.”

It teaches you how to make strategic decisions

Stepping down and doing some work on the ground floor can also be a great way to inform your high-level, strategic work as a leader. After all, there’s no better way to figure out the problems you need to solve than getting in the weeds yourself.

Through her experience stocking shelves, Goldin was able to see how she could redistribute her team to solve immediate problems and prevent having to lay anyone off.

After seeing how panicked consumers were about whether they’d be able to get basic essentials, she and her team planned a massive campaign reminding customers they had plenty of stock on their D2C website – ultimately leading to a 300% growth in D2C sales of their product. This also led to the decision to delay the launch of their liter bottles in favor of creating a hand sanitizer so consumers could have more and better options for staying safe.

“Watching exactly what’s going on in the market and how can you solve the customer’s problem is a great way to keep top of mind with the consumers out there,” Goldin said. Plus, doing some of the day-to-day tasks can be a great way to get your hands on market research.

It builds trust with your team

Perhaps most importantly, doing some of the dirty work yourself allows you to lead by example and ensure you’re not asking your team to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself – something that becomes especially important when people are afraid for their safety.

Goldin – who had long-term employees ask if she was trying to kill them when she suggested they needed to go into stores – realized she needed to go in herself to ensure it was a reasonable ask for her team.

“I’ve never been in the military but the best leaders in military history did exactly the same thing,” she said. “You don’t sit there and send your troops in and put their lives on the line – you jump in.”

By “putting herself into the scrimmage,” Goldin said, she was able to determine whether she was making the right call and also share strategies with her team that made going into stores feel safer for her. Plus, her team appreciated that she was so willing to put herself on the line.

“I don’t think you can sit there and live in your glass castle as a leader anymore,” Goldin said. “I think that you have to actually jump in and make sure that you’re moving people in the right direction.”

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The founder of Care.com uses empathy, not frustration, to combat biases at work

Sheila Marcelo
Sheila Marcelo.

  • Care.com founder Sheila Marcelo has faced plenty of biases in her rise to the top.
  • But she’s been able to overcome them with a distinctly authentic and empathetic approach.
  • Through perseverance, Marcelo led the company to a lucrative IPO.
  • This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.

When Sheila Liria Marcelo first pitched the caregiving marketplace Care.com in 2007, a male investor had assumed she was an analyst from the bank.

“No, I’m actually Sheila Marcelo,” she said, correcting him. “I’m the founder and CEO of Care.com.”

As a Filipino-American, Marcelo, 51, is used to dealing with the implicit biases that women of color in leadership roles encounter daily. She’s been overlooked, underestimated, and misunderstood by male investors who couldn’t relate to her product. But along the way, Marcelo has adopted empathy and authenticity as her weapons to combat prejudice. Marcelo has now become one of only 22 women to ever found and lead a company to an IPO.

“So much of it starts from within,” she said. “You have to be inspired yourself to really believe what’s in your heart so that you can shine that energy, and others can feel it.”

In 2006, Marcelo founded Care.com to address a problem she faced as a working mother: finding care for her two young children and ailing parents. The platform is the world’s largest online marketplace for finding child, pet, and senior care. The company’s network has extended to over 35 million members in over 20 countries.

Care.com was acquired by holding company IAC last year for $500 million. Since then, Marcelo has co-founded Landit, the career-centric online platform that connects women and diverse groups with such resources as career coaching and personal branding tools. Marcelo joined venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates in January, where she’s focused on helping other female founders get the funding they need.

Even as the number of female-owned businesses has risen in the US and around the world 28% of company founders are womenbiases within the VC industry can prevent access to funds.

“When I describe to people the challenges of a female founder, there’s a little bit of disbelief,” Marcelo told Insider. “They’re like, ‘oh, come on – it can’t be the case.’ It sometimes feels like you’re using it as an excuse when in reality, the biases are there.”

An empathy-based approach

One of the most challenging hurdles for a woman founder, Marcelo said, is getting male investors interested in what you have to offer. The gender gap in venture capital funding is a major hurdle for female founders.

Pitchbook reported in 2019 that 2.7% of venture capital went to companies founded only by women, while companies cofounded by both men and women garnered 14%. Additionally, only 13% of all venture capital decision-makers are women. Those numbers become even starker for women of color.

Marcelo noticed that when she pitched her company to male funders, they often failed to see the need for a caregiving platform, since in many traditions, caregiving is perceived as a woman’s responsibility.

“They don’t resonate or relate to the service,” Marcelo said. “But if you have a female analyst in the room or a female investor in the room, the dynamic will change.”

Marcelo tries not to respond to the biases of others with anger. Instead, she approaches each situation from a place of empathy.

“I would rather attack biases not with aggression, but with understanding,” Marcelo said. “I think it’s part of our humanity to better understand how people can embrace an educator, and really educate them about their biases so that they’re not behaving in the same way.”

When the investor incorrectly passed Marcelo off as a bank analyst in 2007, she decided not to belabor his biases. Instead, she focused on hard facts, her knowledge about the business, and the profits she had been able to yield. Under Marcelo’s guidance, Care.com didn’t just profit – it was acquired by IAC at a 34% premium for $500 million. She hopes the experience was a lesson for the investor as well.

“The next time it happens to another woman, he’s going to take a pause and say, ‘do I have biases?'”

Authentic boldness

The phrase “authentic boldness” might initially seem contradictory. Authenticity often demands vulnerability, and boldness often calls for an elevated, more confident version of oneself. But Marcelo believes the two traits are complementary.

“The more you’re open about yourself, the more confident you are,” Marcelo said. “You care less about what people think, and your goal in life is actually to serve others and not impress others. There’s a sense of coming out with who you are.”

When Marcelo participated in televised interviews, her voice coach told her that her posture and tone of voice were too low in energy. Marcelo found that it was because she was actively trying to mirror the energy of her interviewer.

She stopped trying to match her interviewer and instead projected her own personality onto the interview. And that, Marcelo said, allowed her to elevate the conversations.

That’s why Marcelo encourages others to bring their truest selves to the table. And in doing so, they’ll be able to be bold in their own authenticity.

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A top Wells Fargo exec shares a strategy any leader can use to create an inclusive workplace culture

Lisa McGeough
Lisa McGeough, head of Wells Fargo’s international banking operations, said leaders shouldn’t be afraid to call out bias when they see it.

  • Lisa McGeough leads all of Wells Fargo’s international banking operations.
  • She said calling out microaggressions is crucial to creating an inclusive workplace culture.
  • Leaders must get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations around bias, she said.
  • This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.

Lisa McGeough leads Wells Fargo’s international banking operations, which encompasses all the firm’s businesses across the Americas, Asia Pacific, and Europe, Middle East, and Africa.

In other words, she’s one of the most important people at the bank, and one of a select few women who’ve broken the finance world’s glass ceiling, or the set of barriers that hold women back from the industry’s top positions.

According to Deloitte research from 2019, women hold only 22% of leadership roles in finance. While the number of women in leadership roles is expected to grow to 32% by 2030, that’s still well below parity.

Microaggressions, or subtle forms of discrimination and prejudice, are a major reason why more women and others from underrepresented backgrounds aren’t able to climb the corporate ladder, McGeough said.

Calling out microaggressions is one important part of creating an inclusive environment where everyone can succeed, she said.

“We must address all aspects of diversity in both our recruiting and managing strategies, asking difficult questions about where we don’t measure up and why?” she said.

McGeough knows from experience just how microaggressions can turn a workplace toxic. She shared her suggestions for any leader to address microaggressions in the workplace.

Learning from her own experience

Since starting at her first banking job in 1984, McGeough has experienced many subtle forms of bias.

Male colleagues would say things like “You’re so good at note-taking” or “I didn’t know you were interested in golf.”

She even had one manager who insisted she go home to take care of her kids instead of offering her the opportunity to cover clients who required extensive travel. This was despite her insistence she was the family’s breadwinner.

“If microaggressions are left unchecked or are not addressed in real time, they can create an exceptionally negative workplace environment and culture,” she said.

Today, as a leader, she uses her past experience to inform how she oversees her direct reports. She has a zero-tolerance policy for microaggressions, and will call them out.

How to call out microaggressions

In the wake of the racial reckoning happening in the US after the murder of George Floyd, fighting prejudice in the workplace is no longer an option. Employees, customers, and investors are demanding more diverse and inclusive companies.

In addition to the moral imperative, it’s also crucial for business. Microaggressions alienate employees, increase stress, and lead to a decrease in productivity, McGeough said.

A study based on over 11 million survey comments by Peakon, an employee engagement platform, revealed that a poor office environment is one of the top three reasons why people quit their jobs.

The first step, Sheena Howard, associate professor of communication for the online Masters of Business Communication program at Rider University, previously told Insider, is to remain calm. Then, address the comment in a direct and composed manner.

McGeough said managers shouldn’t be afraid to say things like “She was talking,” “Don’t interrupt them,” “What did you mean by that?” “Let her finish,” and “Don’t talk over them.”

“It’s essential that leaders and managers prioritize building diverse and inclusive teams,” she said.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently told Insider that the key to creating a more inclusive environment is not being afraid to have uncomfortable conversations. McGeough agreed.

“Leaders must challenge this behavior by addressing it directly,” she said.

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How silencing the ‘chatter’ in your head can make you a better leader, according to a professor

Ethan Kross, a University of Michigan professor and the author of “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It.”

  • Ethan Kross is a University of Michigan professor and the author of an upcoming book on chatter.
  • He provides tools for turning negative chatter into something positive to help you regain control. 
  • Creating distance, avoiding social media, and getting outside will make you a better manager.
  • This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy.

As humans, we may talk to ourselves at a rate equivalent to speaking 4,000 words per minute out loud. That’s according to Ethan Kross, a University of Michigan professor and the author of “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It.”

For CEOs and small business owners alike, that torrent of internal narrative can be paralyzing, inhibiting those in charge from leading effectively.

“Part of what I find so interesting about chatter is that it is universal – we all have the ability to get stuck in our heads when we are dealing with negative events, and when we get stuck, that can lead to really negative consequences in an organizational or business context,” Kross told Insider.

In his book, Kross provides tools for turning negative chatter into something positive – which he said leaders will find especially useful when confronted with COVID-19-related business stress. They can be even more effective when used in conjunction with one another. 

“I’ll do three or four things when I experience chatter over the pandemic, and it’s the combination of those things that often helps me,” he said.

Employers should remember that workers may also be occupied by chatter regarding health and economic issues. In his book, Kross said that demonstrating your own experience with these issues can help to show empathy. Convening a group to discuss solutions to a topic you know is top-of-mind rather than just offering advice unsolicited can provide needed assistance while empowering workers to recognize their own resilience.  

According to Kross, the phenomenon of the “inner voice” has existed for thousands of years and was well documented by ancient cultures. In fact, the ability to introspect, of which the inner voice is a part, is thought to be a highly meaningful step forward in the evolutionary process, one of the things that distinguishes humans from other species. Chatter, according to Kross, is the negative manifestation of this inner voice. 

“When we’re experiencing chatter, one thing that does is occupy our attention, and we have only so much attention that we can focus on something at any one moment in time – so when you’re talking about work, which often requires intense focus, you’re talking about a serious impairment in your ability to do your job,” he said.

As a business leader, if you’re paying too much attention to the chatter in your head, you may be overanalyzing your decisions, for example. Or, at a time when most small business owners don’t anticipate the economy returning to anything approaching normal until late this year, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, perhaps your concerns are dominating your thinking to the exclusion of being able to take care of your day-to-day responsibilities. Either, or both, could take time away from important decisions you need to be making in the here and now and leave you feeling stuck and unable to function.  

Additionally, Kross warned that chatter can take a toll on how you’re relating to your team. 

“When we’re busy experiencing chatter, we can also be more aggressive with others,” he said. “We also tend to experience more social friction.”

Uncertainty and a lack of control are key ingredients that fuel chatter, Kross said. “We love, as human beings, to be certain about things,” he said.

Kross said the exact solution for taming the chatter in your head will vary from person to person. 

“I’m a big fan of advocating the diversity of tools that exist,” he said. “I think the beauty of the tools that I lay out in ‘Chatter’ is that most of them are really simple to use – they don’t take hours of practice, and they’re free,” he added.

Here’s a look at just a few of the solutions Kross offers. 

Create distance

Convert your chatter to third person, using your name and the pronoun “you.” Research showed that this led to less activation in the brain in areas associated with overthinking, which may in turn lead to wiser decision-making.

Reframe your perspective

You’re facing an adverse event at your company, such as having to decide whether to lay off some employees.

Try reframing this as a challenge for your business to surmount – “I’m going to find a way to keep these two employees on the payroll,” or, “I’m going to operate my business with a leaner staff” – and look for unique ways to solve the challenge. This may get you out of the flight-or-fight stress response that can trigger an excess of chatter. 

Create order in your environment

“When we experience chatter, we often feel as if we are losing control. Our thought spirals control us rather than the other way around,” Kross writes in his book. “When this happens, you can boost your sense of control by imposing order on your environment.” 

This may not necessarily mean cleaning up your office – it could be as simple as making a to-do list to organize what you need to get done or taking some time to journal out everything that’s in your head. 

Minimize passive social media usage

Unsurprisingly, Kross recommended limiting “doomscrolling,” suggesting the use of social media mainly as a networking tool to gain insight from others who may be in the same situation. 

Increase your exposure to green spaces

Science shows that nature is a good healer, expanding and refreshing the brain’s capacity for attention. 

Kross found in his research that when leaders put a combination of these strategies to work, they were better able to recognize the limits of their own knowledge and be open to others’ viewpoints. 

“When you’re experiencing chatter, you’re not in that wise state, but when you break out of it, and use some of these tools, we see evidence for enhancement in how wisely people can solve problems,” he said.

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CEO behind P&G brands like Tide, Dawn, and Swiffer on how to spark creativity and collaboration among your team during difficult times

Procter & Gamble CEO
Shailesh Jejurikar.

  • Shailesh Jejurikar is the CEO of Procter & Gamble’s largest business line, Fabric & Home Care.
  • By maintaining a growth mindset, he’s helped his teams thrive despite pandemic uncertainty.
  • Jejurikar has employees challenge assumptions and connect with shoppers and emphasizes work-life balance.
  • This article is part of a series called “Leaders by Day,” which takes a look at how prominent business leaders are tackling various challenges in today’s economy. 

Shailesh Jejurikar is the CEO of Procter & Gamble’s largest business line, Fabric & Home Care, which accounted for more than a third of the company’s $71 billion in sales for 2020. 

He oversees 18,000 employees globally, has more than a dozen direct reports, and competes against consumer packaged goods giants like Unilever. He’s also responsible for over a dozen iconic brands including Bounce, Downy, Gain, Tide, Cascade, Dawn, Febreeze, Mr. Clean, and Swiffer.

Jejurikar told Insider his typical 12-hour workday begins at 5 a.m. and is driven by where he happens to be in the world, whether at home in Geneva or at the company’s Ohio headquarters. By leading with a growth mindset, he’s been able to help his teams navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic – and by doing so, has more than doubled the pace of growth for his unit, from 5% in Q2 2020 to 12% in Q2 2021.

Here are the four principles he leads by:

Stay externally focused

“Our biggest creative breakthroughs as an organization have come from striving to solve a consumer’s problem, but you can only solve that problem if you understand it, and to do that you must remain connected,” Jejurikar said.

When the pandemic hit, he not only had his teams double down on check-ins with customers like superstores Target, Amazon, and Walmart, but he also had them set up one-to-one video chats with shoppers about the issues they’re facing and how they’re using the products.

“This is how we ideated Tide Hygienic Clean, which we sped to market in 90 days,” he said. “By talking directly to consumers, we learned that they were looking for a higher standard of clean. We did a lot of research on what that meant and then designed a product that removes everything that could possibly get stuck to fabric.” The product was featured in a recent Super Bowl ad about cleaning a sweatshirt with “Seinfeld” comedian Jason Alexander’s face on it.

Lean on tools for support

Prior to the pandemic, Jejurikar traveled frequently to locations to walk the corridors and interact with colleagues. But when his teams went remote, he became concerned about how he would be able to manage global R&D, manufacturing, marketing, and sales operations without physical contact.

Thanks to visual collaboration tools, he was not only able to stay close to his employees, but also boost creativity and productivity virtually.

“We found Microsoft Teams to be a very effective way to engage with each other across the globe and MURAL‘s virtual sticky notes proved essential for rapidly prototyping products in design sprints,” he said. “Perhaps the biggest surprise was how much Spotify in the rooms makes us feel like we’re working together apart.”

Challenge assumptions

As executive sponsor of Procter & Gamble’s sustainability program, Jejurika works with the company’s chief sustainability officer on frontier products like EC30 swatches, a waterless form of shampoos and cleaners in development to fight climate change.

“Our vision is to grow the size of the market we play in and grow our share of it by offering consumers new and innovative solutions,” Jejurikar said. “But our biggest challenges lie ahead.”

Faced with the dilemma of how to create products for a marketplace with many unknowns, Jejurika developed a process called “progility,” where he challenges his teams to question paradigms of what’s assumed to be true. Using curiosity to unlock consumer insights, he asks employees to look at what’s happening and find out why people are changing their behavior or suddenly using a certain product.

“In the case of Downy Unstoppable Beads, everyone assumed no one would want a fabric enhancer during a pandemic, yet it would go on to become one of Fabric & Home Care’s fastest-growing businesses,” Jejurikar said. “We had to first ask ourselves why we are assuming that it’s considered a discretionary purchase, then we realized that many people hadn’t tried it yet and needed an introduction.”

“The only way to anticipate change is to commit to learning,” he added. “Asking questions, being curious, listening carefully to the responses. A leader should always say, ‘I knew,’ never, ‘I know.'”

Embrace work-life balance

Success is not just measured against consumer expectations and sales but by employee satisfaction as well, Jejurikar said.

To this end, he instituted a mentor checkpoint to provide his employees a forum to share how the pandemic is impacting their lives and constraints that need to be accommodated.

“We’re helping our employees choose fewer things to do so they can direct their energy in the right place and stay balanced with their life priorities,” Jejurikar said.

Encouraging a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work day with breaks that include walks outside and calls to loved ones are some of the ways Jejurikar is helping his teams stay energized while working from home. He also models healthy practices by not checking email before bedtime and exercising five days a week.

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