Leadership with heart, mind, and soul

The Slow Leadership Movement

Added on by Sam Davidson.

I have a cast iron skillet I use for nearly everything these days. I mostly use it to make eggs in the morning, but I'm not afraid to use it to roast some cauliflower or bake cornbread, too. 

I remember getting this piece of cookware from my mom several years ago and it sat in a cabinet unused for a very long time. Cast iron isn't super convenient, after all. You're not supposed to put it in the dishwasher. It's heavy and even unwieldy. It's best not to use soap on it (gross, right?). You get the picture.

But the beauty of the cast iron is that the more you use it, the better it gets. You can spend years seasoning it to your liking so that anything you make in it comes out delicious. But above all, you can't speed up this process. It takes time. The cast iron is a long play. Settle in, chef - this could take a while.

I'm learning more and more to appreciate the slowness of leadership. People take time to develop - to mentor, coach, direct, guide, and transform. Deep leadership requires the creation of moments, not the manipulation of time.

This article details that a bit more. Essentially, we track time in two ways: chronologically and qualitatively. Both are necessary and valuable, but confusing the two could be detrimental to our individual and communal well being.

A lot depends upon our keeping and tracking of time. Meetings start at a certain time, packages need to show up on a certain day, events and days come to a close before the clock strikes a certain hour. But if all we do is measure the worth of something by its duration (quantity), we're missing out on a fundamental opportunity to grow and lead.

Instead, we need to take into about the development of something, regardless of its duration. A team meeting can be scheduled for an hour, but if camaraderie hasn't been built or decisions haven't been made, then it must go on, clocks and calendars be damned. 

Last year at Batch was a whirlwind. Our internal mantra (which I drove) was, "Say yes. Move fast." We were racing headlong toward a big revenue goal (which we exceeded by 10%). But this year, having seen the costs of speed (driven by chronos), we've shifted. We've taken what we've learned and this year's key phrase our entire team repeats is "Focus." We're still chasing top line growth, but also striving to achieve bottom line success. 

That bottom line (profitability) is being measured as a percentage of revenue and every team member contributes to it. While still providing a high level of quality and service, we're reducing costs, finding efficiencies, and all chipping in. In the midst of that, kairos is happening. We're building community internally on and off the clock. We're taking our time to do it right. And we'll be keeping that up all year. 

I'm ready to go slower myself. The last decade as an entrepreneur has been spent going rapidly. I recently wrote this to a friend:

"So I want to go slow. I want to walk on old trails. I want to cook for an hour and eat for two with people I enjoy. I want to read a book - on paper - outside. I want to look at stuff way older than me (trees, art, monuments, mountains, humans) and see what they simultaneously reveal about the past and the future. I want to talk for a long time with company I enjoy. I want to listen to music that's just now being made but will be in a museum some day. I want to shake hands and give hugs and clink glasses and slap backs in laughter and sweat and cry."

Focus only comes through a slowing down, I believe. And when you slow down, you begin to see so much more. Airplanes zoom by at hundreds of miles an hour and even if the view is breathtaking from on high, details disappear. But spend time with the earth underfoot and you'll see the moss that's taking it's sweet time to cover that tree in a brilliant green. 

Companies can be fast, but leadership - for the sake of our people and our very hearts - has to be slow.

All Leadership is Local

Added on by Sam Davidson.

I went to a baseball game last week. I came home broke. 

I love baseball. I can watch any Major League game any time of year, no matter who is playing. I have a goal to (eventually) get to all the stadiums and to enjoy a tasty beer and meal at each one. 

Luckily for me, Nashville is home to a minor league team and a (nearly) brand new ballpark. My dad has season tickets and he tosses me some every now and then. I went to my first game of the season last week (a noonday start - day games on grass are the purest form of this sport) and was appalled by the prices for said tasty beer and meal. 

A local craft beer is now $9 a pour. And the city's signature dish, hot chicken, will run you $10. Welcome to the (small) big leagues, folks.

In an effort to combat this atrocity, I thought I'd write to the ownership to let them know of their crime against humanity. As I did, I uncovered an awful truth: the ownership isn't local. One lives in New York and the other in London. A $19 lunch at a game is a steal for them. 

Oh, I'm sure they're involved in team operations from afar. Of course, if that's the case, the only way they're informing their decisions is via a spreadsheet. I imagine their annual meetings go something like this: 

"Hey Masahiro, how were concession sales last year?"
"Stellar, Frank. We killed it in the chicken and beer game."
"Nice. What happens if we tweak those prices?"
"Excellent question. We'll make a killing. We'll drop a lot more cash to the bottom line. What are you thinking?"
"Bump up beers a few bucks and the chicken by a dollar."
"But what if the consumer doesn't like that and doesn't enjoy the game as much? Do we have a duty to provide an enjoyable experience even if we're not maximizing our returns? Do you think we have a role to support this community in some entertaining way?"
"What? I can't hear you, these stacks of money are in the way."

Maybe that wasn't the exact conversation, but I truly believe that when leaders are absent from the context and people of their operation, they are not leading at all. For this reason, all leadership is local because all leadership takes place in a certain place with certain people


Context, space, time - all of this combines to inform our sense of place as a leader. Where we are (physically), when we're available, what is actually happening on the floors of our stores and factories - when leaders don't have a tangible or intimate knowledge of this, their capacity to lead authentically diminishes. 

I try to be at our near our retail store at Batch nearly every day I'm in town. I'm also very mindful that I need to get out of the way of our team who is doing great things there. But, I have no right to make a suggestion that can improve the bottom line or increase efficiency if I have no clue how to process an in-store transaction, what it's like to count inventory each month, or speak with vendors when they drop off their fabulous products. 

Leadership doesn't occur remotely. Sure, telecommuting is a thing and our connected world allows more people to do great things from anywhere they want. But, leadership still has a very localized element to it, meaning that people need to connect, breathing in deeply the day-in and day-out of the businesses they run so they know intimately what it's like to work, succeed, and fail in the company's particular context.

Arms-length leadership is not leadership at all. (click here to tweet this)


Your company is not comprised of jobs. It's made up of people. Don't forget this. To do so causes great harm to everyone in your organization. 

Simon Sinek discusses this in his book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek calls this abstraction - the art of reducing people (humans) to spreadsheet data. He says this is why layoffs are easy and frequent. Leaders don't think about the real people they're putting out of work. They're only looking at a dollar figure and how big they can make it by reducing jobs and labor. 

In the last year, I've had to let three people go at Batch. I had never had to do that in my life before. In each situation, the business level could not support the expense of a salary. Every time I had to have that tough conversation, I lost sleep. I was stressed out. The conversations occupied my mind for weeks. I rehearsed and rehearsed. I knew that I wasn't just saving money. I was forcing someone to go look for work. We were asking someone to leave our Batch family. I was sad.

This, of course, happens in work. We can't afford people in certain areas. I'm proud that my leadership team and I - as a small and strapped startup - tried very hard to keep these people. But eventually, to do so would be detrimental to the other areas of our company, costing even more people their jobs. 

So, hard decisions need to be made time and again by leaders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and boards. But when they happen, the best leaders always remember a shared humanity above a singular bottom line. (click here to tweet this)

I have no idea if concession prices will decrease for my Sounds. But I do know I'll buy fewer beers this year. I'll suggest to fewer friends that we meet up to watch the boys play throw and catch. And of course I'll be hoping that leaders everywhere can remember that whether you run a small coffee shop or a thriving multinational corporation, all leadership is local. (It always has been.)

Leaders Who Need

Added on by Sam Davidson.

Leaders can find themselves in a tough place when we don't admit that we need. Our companies, sanity, livelihood, health, relationships, and employees can suffer as a result. We need more leaders in need, who freely admit that need, and then live deeply in meaningful community with their teams and others to have those needs met.

I've found myself more in need this past year - and definitely these past few weeks - than at any other time in my life. Slowly, I'm learning that needing things, resources, people, help, ideas, comfort, and confidence is okay. It's normal, it's human, and it's a perfectly acceptable expectation. I'm by no means the expert on vocalizing need, but I'm finding more and more that when I share with a colleague or friend what my physical, emotional, or mental needs are in any given moment, my work and my life stand to benefit.

Of course, as the leader of a fast-growing company, this is not routine for me. Typically, I'm the one who asks almost daily to various team members, "What do you need?" I see my role as CEO to give them the tools they need to do their jobs well, to thrive in our work environment, and to create a life and a future for us and themselves that they are excited about.

Many times, I'm able to meet these needs, especially when those needs are reasonable to attain. Need more business cards, a newly designed promotional piece, sales data, marketing ideas? Done. I'm on it. 

My fear has always been that if I'm to supply and meet needs, then I can't have any myself. Out of my abundance comes the supply for others. What a silly rationale, I'm learning.

A favorite poem of mine is The Creation by James Weldon Johnson. I'm hooked from the opening:

"And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world."

I like a god who's lonely. That's a god who needs, a god who is vulnerable. I can relate to that, to a giver who finds himself in need.

When a leader is willing to sit with his or her need, to admit their inability to do it all, and then to confess that very human condition to someone, I've found that magical things can happen. Your needs can be met. Your emotional state can be improved. Others can rally and come to your aid. People will be willing to help you. You'll find success more quickly. You'll become a better leader. 

I've been doing these two things of late when I find myself in need. It's a new discipline for me and I don't always get it right, like learning a tricky yoga pose or reading something by ee cummings. Keep at it - you'll get it soon.

Ask - early and often

I'm learning to ask for help more. Help with a work problem. Help processing a feeling. Help to make an introduction. Help to expand a market. Help to clean up a mess. Help to dream again. Asking for help puts yourself out there (the person you're asking could reject your request), but more often than not, those you ask will be more than happy to assist. You'll get done what needs doing much more quickly (and accurately and efficiently) and in a better way than had you defaulted to grinding it out solo, full of pride, scared to admit your needs.

Try something new

To remind myself that not being good at something is okay, I'll try on a new habit or hobby time and again. These days I'm trying my hand at poetry writing (even though I'm promoting vulnerability here, rest assured I won't be sharing these creations with you). I'm not good, but I'm learning. The more I write, the more confident I become. The more poetry I read, the more inspired I feel. Needs are being met, confidence is being gained, and I continue to understand that the need state is not the final state. Needs are temporary because they can be met, over and over again. You may need something now, but you won't need it forever. 

Leaders who need are leaders that others will be drawn to. Leaders who need are human, capable of connection and trust, admiration and inspiration. These are the leaders we all need - not perfectly qualified robots who can't teach us anything about being normal in a very real and scary world. 

When we're willing to become leaders who need, other people will need us, too.

Friday Quote from James Hillman

Added on by Sam Davidson.

We become artists only when we enjoy the practicing as much as the performing. Until then we are caught by the limelight rather than the art.

James Hillman, Kinds of Power