the revolving door

One of the lessons that I have learned in my years in business is that what got you to where you are will not get you to where you want to go. There are multiple facets to this, from your mindset, to your actions, to the people you have working with you. In all organizations there is a revolving door, people come, people go. This is inevitable and part of the cycle of business, yet I didn’t always think this was the way it was.

I remember in the early days of my leadership, when I had just begun to open my mind to the idea of growing my business beyond my threshold of control. We had a group of people, my “A team”, as I referred to them, that were managing our one location. I began the process of intentionally meeting with them on a weekly basis. These 5 people, along with my husband James, were my inner circle. This was a big growth phase for me as a leader, because these weekly meetings gave me the incentive to identify and clarify what the keys to our success were thus far. We became very close and grew together as we troubleshooted and planned the growth of our business from 1 location to 3. This phase of our growth was dominated by innovation and improving what we were doing, as well as how to duplicate our standards as we grew.

What is curious though is that only one of those 5 people are with us in our organization now. They were with us at the precise moments in our growth that they were supposed to be, but gradually they most moved on to other opportunities. Some I was ready to see move on, because we had reached the limit of where I could help them grow, but some were very hard to say goodbye to. It was sometimes very difficult to have someone move on and not take it personally. But what happened, though it is only clear to me now in retrospect, is that it opened the path for the next phase of our growth. The knowledge that people will always be moving in and out of our organization is now clear. The key is to ensure that the people coming in are operating at a higher level than those that are leaving, if the opposite is true there is a big problem.

By far the biggest change that had to happen to get me where I wanted to go was my mindset. Where did I want to go? I wanted to be able to grow my business, for many reasons, both selfish and not. Ego played its part, as well as wanting to increase my income, but the most compelling reasons where the ones that I needed to evolve into. This began when I realized that money and reputation were empty goals. I began to change my thinking, not intentionally at first, but as a progression as I realized that I wasn’t feeling the satisfaction and accomplishment I was seeking. A shift began inside me, a shift to wanting to serve more people, to give jobs, to help people grow, and this made the stresses and incredible time demands of operating a business worth it. The desire and excitement that I felt at the beginning of my business came back as I found a new and bigger reason to do what I do.

people problems

The recurring theme that I keep hearing about when I talk to other business leaders is how difficult the people part of their business is. There is a common belief that employees, the hiring and retention of them, getting them to buy in and take ownership, and their performance and attitudes is the business owner or manager’s thorn. I’ll be the first one to admit that it can be challenging, but only if you stop learning and growing yourself as a leader. When I started in business the company had 3 employees. My husband James, me, and one dishwasher/jack of all trades named Martin. That was tough. We were solely dependent on Martin showing up for work, which he did with about 60% consistency unfortunately. In 1999 though, the economy was booming in our area, and we were rookies in the restaurant business, so had little time or knowledge on how to recruit more and better people. Now in 2017 there are more ways to hire and recruit than I can count on my fingers, and we have over 80 people working with us in our 4 restaurant locations to serve the guests that come in to see what we are about.

We have an amazing group of people working in our businesses, and there are 4 rules in the process of hiring, retaining and maintaining the culture in our business that we have set. These rules are really universal as you grow your number of employees.

1. Define your vision for your company, organization, or team. Even if you are not the owner, as a leader of people, even as few as one person, it is the most important job you have to be able to share a clear vision of what success looks like for the team, what your mission is, and what your beliefs are as far as the team’s potential.
2. Always be hiring. This means that you should always make room for people that come to you and want to be a part of what you are doing, but only after you have set the expectations with them during the interview process. Carry business cards and hand them out. Be excited about what you do, you attract who you are.
3. Set the expectations up front. The interview process is a sales opportunity. It is where you share your vision and what you are doing to work with your team and help them grow. It is the perfect opportunity to practice active listening with the people you are interviewing. More can be read between the words if you are focused on listening instead of formulating your response or thinking about the next question. Share with clarity exactly what constitutes a great team member.
4. Train and connect. Invest time and energy to train them as they are on-boarding, even if they are highly skilled. Even experts in their field will need training on the way you do things, your outlook, and how to uphold and grow the culture. The training NEVER stops. You have to have this mindset, and spend the time to connect with your people. You have to care about them as individuals, as whole people who have lives outside of work. There is no shortcut to this most important step. Invest in your team, they are more important than your clients.

In my early leadership days I had a much different outlook on people. I have needed to evolve and grow and learn more about myself in order to be able to grow my company. I used to hire out of desperation, anxious to get anyone in there to help me with my heavy load of responsibilities. I thought the people I hired would know without saying what was important. I was so motivated by having people like me that I rarely asked them to do things. I avoided conflicts, and wanted to always keep the peace. I couldn’t understand how some people wouldn’t get along. When someone left the company, I took it personally, thinking they didn’t like me.

As time progressed, I began to listen to outside voices. One of the voices was from someone with a very fear based mindset. They were more educated and successful (it appeared) than I was, and in a position of authority that I respected. Their belief was that your employees are your enemy. I tried on this outlook for a time, but it did not feel right to me. If you live from a place of distrust, you are living in fear, and will attract situations that prove you are right to distrust. I say it again, you attract WHO YOU ARE, not what you say.

Leadership is a journey, a process, and entails the important job of working on yourself. The more you know about yourself and understand your own beliefs, the more you can grow as a leader. The secret to creating a positive, growth minded, servant leader culture begins with you. What are you doing every day to build on your strengths?

small changes

It’s easy to forget that big things start small. They have to start with the idea, and then stack on stack on stack until the momentum builds and you can look back and see that you have indeed made something big. In our business we focus on making small improvements. We went through our menu in the early days one by one and asked our team, “How can we make it better?” For some things it meant adding something, for some, taking it away. The conversation and the language and the mindset expanded, and we started seeing opportunities to make it better in more than just the food. We saw that our guests often needed extra napkins, so we stopped buying the cheap dispensers that popped out only one tissue thin sheet at a time and made available stacks of dinner napkins for them. We saw that our guests loved our chips, so we made them self serve instead of hoarding them behind the counter. We saw that our guests, like us, needed to drink more water, so we infused and fancied up the water, upgrading our cups to make it more appealing to consume. Over and over again we look for new ways to make the experience better for our guests and our team. The changes are always small, and always about adding more value.

This is the kind of incremental thinking that leads to the big changes. If you have ever tried to create a big change overnight, you know that it is incredibly difficult. Resistance rears it’s powerful head, along with uncertainty and fear. It’s great to think big, and it has it’s place in your growth as you dream and set your vision and goals…the secret is to start small. Small is easy, small doesn’t trigger procrastination, small is less threatening.  If you made it a focus to be 5% better today, or 5% more loving, or patient, or generous, what would you be able to do?

owned and operated by

If you are in business for yourself are you automatically an entrepreneur? Or instead do you just have a job with a fancy title and a lot of responsibility? The way you answer those questions is the difference between being a business operator and a business owner. At the beginning of the venture it is most likely that you are in that key role of operator. Your new business is like a new baby, it needs a lot of tender loving care, cries a lot, and makes a lot of poopy diapers. You need to be an attentive parent, fixing the problems, finding the right people to take care of your baby, clean up the mistakes, nourish it and help it grow. Your role is ultra important, and it is easy to get stuck here. If you are the kind of person who would even contemplate being in business, let alone make the jump and put yourself in charge of your own company, I’d venture to say you have some desire to control your surroundings. This is an asset at the beginning, as you are developing your brand, your team, your brick and mortar or virtual identity.

The danger is that the role of operator is very seductive. It fills your need to be important, to be busy, to be needed, to make a difference. You fall into bed at the end of the day with no energy left to think about your own personal demons. Or you may even fool yourself into thinking that you are an owner, yet the business still relies on you for the day to day decisions that ensure it’s success.

This was me for many years. I thrived on being an operator, and my business benefited from my attention. It was necessary and positive. But where it becomes a topic of importance is if you want to grow. I was pushed to grow and learn to be an owner by the sheer volume of work that there was as our business became more successful. I had to learn to step back and give away some of my control if I wanted to not only preserve my sanity and personal life, but enable my business to blossom. I began to realize that I could accomplish more by spending time working ON my business, not IN my business. Gradually I have shifted into my new role as business owner. I still work IN the business, but when I am IN it (physically or not), my focus is ON it. On making things better, on coaching my team, on finding a way to add more value, on seeing the big picture. It’s a whole new world, and my baby business is walking! Welcome to Entrepreneurship.

the first step

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

You don’t remember it now, but when you took your first steps as a small child it was a big deal. Many of us think that we need to wait to follow our dreams. We need to wait until we have more time, more money, are more successful, we get to a certain age, we retire, we are famous…None of these things are necessary, they are all just excuses. The only thing you need to do is to take the first step. You can’t go anywhere sitting still, and you don’t have to have a big idea to start small.

My first step was small, when I decided to take some classes at a professional cooking school while I was a young mother with a baby girl. Little did I know that this first step of following my dream would lead me on a forward trajectory to where I am today. The first step of acknowledging out loud to myself that my lifelong dream and passion could be a career, a business, was a small thing. But for me it was huge. It was the first step in a journey that lead to a special order cookie and cake business from my home, to a small bakery in my hometown, to a bigger bakery that evolved into the 4 bustling restaurants that I am so privileged to lead today. If I had not taken that first step, my life would have been very different today. If I really admit it to myself, I would never have dreamed that I could achieve the life that is currently mine. The me that took that first step didn’t know the challenges in front of her, but neither did she know the successes. She knew just enough to take the first step.

“Our real freedom comes from being aware that we do not have to save the world, we must merely make a difference in the place where we live.” -Parker Palmer

artist, entrepreneur, leader

I am first and most instinctively an artist. I love to create, to build, to make things better. The process of taking my dreams and ideas and bringing them into reality is my passion. Whether I am creating a meal, baking a delicious dessert, painting a canvas, or building a new restaurant, I can easily get in the zone when I am being purely artistic.

Being and entrepreneur and being entrepreneurial are two very different things. I became and entrepreneur by following in my parent’s and grandparent’s footsteps and building my own business. But to be entrepreneurial, to be willing to take risks, that was something I had to learn. At the beginning it was easy, I had nothing to lose. We were broke, in debt to our eyeballs, and so it was easy to see only the bright side of opportunity. What became more difficult was to continue to take the risks as we achieved success. Once we began seeing the fruit of our labor, and light at the end of the tunnel, my aversion to risk began to rear it’s head. I wanted to stay an artist, creating and doing and getting my hands in there. I didn’t want to risk losing my art in order to grow. I even had proof that this would happen. My selective consciousness had latched on to conversations I had with more successful business owners. Conversations that contained statements like, “I wish I only had one location like you, things were so much simpler then.”, or “If you grow your company you won’t be doing what you love anymore, you will be managing processes and numbers and people.” These statements stuck and served to enforce my desire to stay put. Until the life changing moment when I realized that my resistance was all based on fear. Fear of failing, fear of losing, fear of being alone. This was the beginning of my education on being entrepreneurial.

The third evolution has been into leadership. Could I have tapped into this earlier? Perhaps yes, but looking back with the perspective that time brings, I can clearly see that I needed to go through the steps that I did. I needed to learn to be willing to fail again. I needed to learn to take risks to build my self confidence. I needed to learn that what stops me, what stops almost everyone, is Fear. The awareness that developed in me as I learn about myself gives me the tools and the self confidence to be able to bring people along. To teach, to inspire, and to help the people I am leading see life from another perspective. I am still an artist, still an entrepreneur, but also a leader.


One session once a week is not enough when you are training a new puppy. He is excited and everything is new and he is bound to forget what you just taught him, distracted by a butterfly or the ball or the wind blowing in his fur. Quick praise when you catch him doing something right and understanding when he makes the inevitable oops is all part of the process.

New people onboarding into the organization are not unlike this new puppy. If you made a good hiring decision, they are eager, excited and anxious to learn. Too often the training is strong that first shift, day, week, then nada. The puppy training contract states “In order for you and your puppy to benefit from these classes, we recommend training in 5 minute intervals three to four times a day.”

Now I know people are not puppies, but I also know that new is new. New hires can be overwhelmed with the amount of information that they are ingesting, the new people they are meeting, the new building they need to navigate, the new rules about how to act. Invest in the time, the training, the relationship, up front while they are still puppies, follow up, and build the bond. Soon the investment pays off as you have helped to grown your team and as a side effect, yourself.

the management myth

Who’s in charge here? Can you tell by looking at someone? Do they look powerful? Tall, strong, with a take charge attitude? Some of our leaders are men, some are women. Some are tall, some are small, some vocal and loud, some quiet and diminutive. They are a diverse group of individuals, yet all share many of the same traits. They are eager to learn, they love people, they believe in making a difference, and not only the desire but the motivation to do what it takes to improve life for themselves, their families, and the people they work with.

It’s a misconception that management and leadership are the same thing. To think that because you are in charge, people should do what you say. Unless you are in the military I would venture to say that this is not how it works. It’s not that a manager can’t enforce policy, but what happens when he is not there? True leadership is the ability to influence people, even when you are not present. It is the process of creating buy-in to a picture of a better workplace, a better life, a better world. Can you manage and lead? Absolutely, it is necessary, especially in our business. Our leaders need to manage their labor costs, their food and supply expenses, the scheduling, even the flow of guests that come in to our restaurants. However, the even more important part of their job, the foundation of it all, is their leadership abilities. This begins with connecting, with listening, with serving and supporting the people you are leading, and understanding that it is all a process, not a destination.

mountain climbing over molehills

Years ago my husband and I had a habit of asking each other “stupid questions” when we were working together. Questions like, “Are these cookies done?”, or “Do you think I should schedule another person?”. It became a running inside joke for us, and is still a reminder that we the tendency is to look up for the answer. Its a harmless habit unless you are leading people. At some point you need to train someone to answer the questions that come to you if you want to grow. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I used to have my team trained to come to me with every problem that came up. It was easier I thought to just answer the questions and fix the issues than to take the one extra step to empower and teach.

What ensued was the slowly moving avalanche of stress and overwhelm for me. Through my weak leadership I had trained my team to come to me for everything, and came to me they did. The problem was that most if not all of the issues were normal problems, part of doing business, yet because I had not empowered the team, they became mountains rather than molehills. Instead of fixing the issues at the base level when they were happening, they had to move through the chain and in the process they either grew or got lost, causing even larger problems. The guest who was unhappy with their meal had to wait for them to find me and tell me and then wait again for me to talk to them and the issue to be fixed. The oven that was not heating to temperature, so was not getting used, so the baker was taking double time to do his job, resulting in overtime and not enough product to sell, had to wait until someone had time to tell me. All of the little daily problems that came to me, as well as the bigger ones that needed to come to me, had turned my job into “firefighter”. I don’t want to fight fires, though if needed I do. Instead I teach my team to nip it in the bud, to douse the issues when they are little, to look for the solution instead of the problems, and to see problems for what they are, a part of life.


A goal without a deadline is like trying to capture a cloud- elusive and ever changing, sometimes disappearing. If you have no timeline it is far too easy to slip into complacency. It’s scary to say by when, but it’s the way to get to the goal. Know that obstacles will arise, and often the timeline will be blown, but without a destination we wander, distraction is a rampant virus.