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All Leadership is Local

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.)

Sam DavidsonComment
The Slow Leadership Movement

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.

Sam DavidsonComment
Leaders Who Need

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.

Sam DavidsonComment
#033: Success Shouldn't be a Surprise

The restaurant service is slow. "We didn't think all these people would show up today," the manager apologizes to each table.

The store clerks don't pay attention to you. "We're restocking the shelves because we're selling so much," they tell their supervisor once customers start to leave the store empty-handed.

The auto repair shop can't get to your car until another day or two. "We're just too slammed," the mechanic tries to explain to you.

I have no patience for poor service or attention due to success. This - big sales, lots of customers, tidy profits - is what every business owner and leader dreams about. 

Success should never come as a surprise. As a leader, this should be your chief expectation.

Don't let success catch you off guard or you won't experience it for long.

Sam DavidsonComment
#032: Stop with the Judgement

The quickest way to isolate someone or some idea is to pass judgement on it. And we usually do this when we fear something. Forgive us for this collective, corporate sin.

You're scared of having to learn new marketing tactics to compete in a changing world? Judge social media users as narcissists who just take pictures of their food all the time.

You're scared of enhanced competition due to a global marketplace? Judge upstarts and newbies as inferior players who don't know what they're doing.

You're scared of the extra work you'll need to put in to reach a goal? Judge your boss as egotistical, mean, and out of touch. 

And while performance reviews and productivity have a place in our workplace, please, please, please, stop judging your people. They know when it's happening and this leads to isolation, which then leads to underperformance, malaise, and toxicity. If someone isn't doing as well as you'd like, don't judge them. Help them.

You job as a leader isn't to judge. It's to help.

Sam DavidsonComment
#031: Don't Be Better; Be Measured

A common myth of self or organizational improvement is that we just need to be better.

Be a better manager.
Be a better teammate.
Be better at eating.
Be a better girlfriend.
Be better at saving money.
Be better at sales.
Be a better painter.
Be a better roommate.

The only want to get better is to get measuring. Otherwise, you won't know if and how you're improving.

"Be a better salesperson" turns into "Generate 10 new leads a week and close 80% of them within the sales cycle."

"Be a better leader" turns into "Check in with my team once a week to see what resources or ideas I can supply them to do their jobs well."

"Be a better friend" turns into "Call one different person each week to have a meaningful conversation."

Until you start to measure it, it won't matter all that much. 

Sam DavidsonComment
Routine Examination #005: Jess Ekstrom

To say that Jess Ekstrom is one of my favorite people is an understatement and doesn't do her much justice. Ditto for saying that she's accomplished a lot at such a young age. The fact is, she' be a favorite person of anyone who would meet her, and she's accomplished a lot for any age.

Better yet, she does so much with so much purpose. Her company, Headbands of Hope, sells headbands on its website and its network of hundreds of retailers, and with each headband sold, one is given to a young girl facing childhood cancer. Jess's work has been featured in many media outlets, including The Today Show. 

She also keeps a busy travel schedule, as she speaks to college students and at conferences all over the country to inspire others with her tale of social entrepreneurship, leadership, and action. Certainly we can all learn something from someone who does a lot - a lot that matters. 

What type of routine do you look to set (daily, weekly, etc.)?

I have aspects of my day that are a daily routine: workout, check emails, talk to friends/family. Everything else outside of that is typically sporadic. But I like having elements of routine so I can keep some familiarity in my life. 

What time do you wake up each morning?

8 am. 

What is the first thing you think about each morning (before you even get out of bed perhaps)?

The first thing I do before I get out of bed (even though it’s probably not the healthiest thing) is check my email. I always have a fear that some huge error happened in my company while I was asleep. I always check my email to make sure there aren’t any fires, then think about what I need to do that day. 

What thing do you have to do in your personal life every day?

I have to workout in some shape or form every day. I’ve found that days when I don’t workout are the ones that are hardest for me, or I burn out quickly. I prefer doing something high intensity, like Crossfit, in the morning, but I’m also trying to do yoga more in the evening to calm down before bed. 

What is the last thing you do before “quitting” or “leaving” work for the day?

I check in with my staff and make sure they don’t need anything from me before I leave. 

What do you read on a regular basis?

I read The Skimm every morning. It’s basically a simplified-witty version of the news in an email form. 

Who do you speak to on a regular basis?

I have a lot of people that I talk to daily, but I can’t go more than a few days without talking to my mom. She’s one of the most positive and energetic people I’ve ever met in my life. Hearing her talk makes my day feel lighter. 

What do you wish were a part of your routine?

I wish some kind of organized sport was a part of my routine. I grew up my whole life playing sports, and you don’t realize how hard it is to continue that after you’re out of school. 

What part of your routine do you hope to stop one day?

I hope to stop waking up to check emails. I’d like for my first thoughts when I open my eyes to be more positive instead of anxious. When you have a business with so many moving parts, it’s easy to feel on edge with everything that could go wrong instead of appreciating what’s going right.

My takeaway: Learn what you need each day and make time for it. Then you'll have energy and space for what you love.

View all past Routine Examination interviews here.

Sam DavidsonComment
Friday Quote from Woodrow Wilson

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.

Woodrow Wilson, 28th US President, 1856-1924

Sam DavidsonComment
#030: When Your Mind's Made Up

Move on. 

When the decision is made and the course is set, you will be better served to saddle up and move forward than to stand still and try to convince someone to change (including yourself).

The first question to ask (yourself or someone else) before charting an alternate path is, "Is your mind made up?"

Yes - there will be times for passionate pleas and desperate deals, but these moments are rare. 

Brick walls neither whisper or yell back. Recognize when you're arguing with one and save your voice. You'll need it down the road.

Sam DavidsonComment
#029: Remove It

My daughter and I were cutting snowflakes the other day (yes; it's springtime) and I realized that the more paper I cut away, the more intricate and beautiful and mesmerizing the pattern became.

The more I took away, the more value I added.

A leader's job is to add value at every level. But sometimes that value is added when something is removed. 

Michelangelo is said to have commented on how he carved his David, "I just remove everything from the marble that doesn't look like David."

What isn't essential in your company? What isn't pivotal in your program? What can your new product launch do without? 

Our human nature is to seek more and more - to add. The leader's responsibility is not to focus on more, but to focus on better.

The leader certainly giveth. And the leader taketh away.

Sam DavidsonComment
Routine Examination #004: Adrian Reif

I met Adrian Reif nearly a decade ago when he was trying to get a car-sharing service off the ground. Since then, I've seen his passion become alive and manifest itself via his journey as a CEO and now, an author. Adrian is someone I admire for his dedication, determination, and commitment to making himself, his network, and his world better than it was yesterday. 

He also makes a mean almond sour cream that enhances any taco you'll find. 

What type of routine (frequency-wise) do you look to set (daily, weekly, etc.)?

I’m terrible with routine. Fortunately, thanks to good habits I tend to do everything I want to do over the course of a week: eat good food, reflect and be still, exercise, read and write, get work done on big projects.

This allows me to flow. My days are loosely structured depending on what’s happening. Am I finishing a big project? Then I get started early and block off 5-6 hours of uninterrupted time. Do I have a few calls? Then I take a look at my GTD (Getting Things Done) Priority Matrix and start attacking quadrants 1 and 2 if I have time (or 3 and 4 if I have limited time). Do I have the time and energy to meditate? Then I do.

If I’m trying to add something new, I aim for daily for 2 months. That means, if I want to set a new habit, I attempt it daily with a horizon of 2 months to see if it helps or sticks.

What time do you wake up each morning?

Whenever my body is ready. After intense periods, this could be after 9 hours of being in bed (less if I’m rested). Wakeup tends to be around 7:15 these days, but I’m slowly shifting my body back to 6:15am where I was 6 months ago.

I’ve found that when I sleep until my body wakes up, I’m far more focused, energized, and creative. If I do have to set an alarm and it wakes me up in the middle of a sleep cycle, it takes hours to get out of the grog.

What is the first thing you think about each morning (before you even get out of bed perhaps)?

I try and smile and be grateful. I’ve tried to repeat Marcus Aurelius’s musing (from the book Meditations): “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive -- to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” (It’s also my voicemail message.)

In addition, smiling has actual physiological and psychological repercussions. It boosts neurotransmitters and changes the brain. It’s extra important since I’m naturally not a morning person.

After all that, I usually lay in bed for 15-30 minutes and let my mind wander. It’s still in a magical state that is unencumbered by the throes of daily life. Creativity and problem-solving abound. I’ve come up with so many solutions to problems while lying lucid in bed.

What thing do you have to do in your personal life every day?

Smiling is the act and practice that alters my life. So, I try and do it on a daily basis. Smiling into the mirror while brushing my teeth. Smiling before jumping on a call. Smiling while falling asleep. Smiling doesn’t come naturally to me, so I really enjoy this practice.

Another technique that has quickly become a daily must is the Wim Hof Method. For the past 3 months, I’ve been practicing the techniques of the “Iceman”, Wim Hof. He teaches a breathing method that oxygenates the body and blood, actually increasing blood pH, boosting norepinephrine in the brain, and heightening physical and emotional states. The Wim Hof Method’s second practice is cold water therapy. I started 3 months ago with 30 seconds of cold water at the beginning and end of my hot (and I mean hot) shower. After slowly adapting, I now shower in cold water for 5-10 minutes (and the water here in Colorado is cold) every day. Two or three days per week, I walk down to the Arkansas River (about 40–44 degrees F) and immerse myself / swim for 2-5 minutes each time. I’ve literally never felt more energized. If you’re interested in cold therapy, Dr. Rhonda Byrne (FoundMyFitness podcast) has gathered all of the research on the benefits of cold on the body. It ranges from reducing inflammation and treating rheumatoid arthritis to boosting muscle strength and relieving pain. It’s the cutting edge of health.

What is the last thing you do before “quitting” or “leaving” work for the day?

Close the computer and attempt to turn my brain “off” - that is, switch to non-work stuff like being present with my partner. However, like many entrepreneurs I am working 24/7. I’m analyzing the world, churning ideas, making to-do lists. I rarely get to “leave.” However, I do my best to shift my focus.

What do you read on a regular basis?

The only thing I’ve probably read consistently (or listened to) is the blog of Tim Ferriss and the Tim Ferriss Show on iTunes. Tim brings on world-class performers and I feel like I get to step into the minds of people I would never get the chance to hang out with. The guests’ insights into life continue to prove that anything is possible.

Who do you speak to on a regular basis?

My parents. My partner Laura. The barista at Cafe Dawn.

What do you wish were a part of your routine?

I’ve tried to develop a daily meditation practice for about 6 years. It comes and goes. Some months its 80%, some 20%. I’ll continue working on this as it has radically changed my perspective on life since starting in 2009.

What part of your routine do you hope to stop one day?

One of my biggest challenges is wanting to accomplish so much every single day. Most days I don’t and I might feel disappointed. Gym. Yoga. Meditation. Breathing. A hike or bike. Time reading. Writing a poem. A nap. 10 things on the To-Do list. Make dinner. Phew! 

It’s exhausting trying to make it all happen. So, oddly, I hope to be OK with being a Low-Achiever someday.

My takeaway: Don't focus on your routine; focus on your flow.

View all past Routine Examination interviews here.

Sam DavidsonComment