Leadership comes with the burden of responsibility. It is a one-to-many relationship that requires vision, doggedness, passion, and smarts. What leadership is not about is power. It’s obvious, based on the onslaught of news about its abuses, that many don’t understand that fact. Leadership is a privilege, not a right.
In the startup world, an oft-used term is disruption. It can be argued that it is overused. Everyone is looking to disrupt an industry, a category, or consumer behavior. But, I like the term and I’m looking towards those same entrepreneurs to disrupt leadership. We need a new generation of leaders committed to doing what is right for people, planet, and profits.
I work with them daily, interview them frequently, and read about them often. It is they who sustain my faith in humanity. It is they who help me believe that there are leaders who are not narcissistic, divisive, or misogynistic despite all we hear and see in the media.
The ascension of these entrepreneurs into bigger and bigger leadership roles is what’s going to reshape our narrative. In their words, to follow are some thoughts about the true meaning of leadership that have been shared in past interviews:
“My approach to leadership hasn’t changed -- I’ve always strived to lead with the values that have guided KIND since 2004, including respect for one another, kindness, empathy and humility. I think it’s important to lead by example, listening to those whose opinions are different from mine and seeking to understand them, and I encourage our team to do the same.” - Daniel Lubetzky - KIND Healthy Snacks
“It's habits that you form, and do every single day, and you're consistent. To be a great leader, you can't just go speak in front of the company, and communicate where we're going, and be a great leader. You’ve got to do it every day. It’s helping people. It's asking what their problems are. It's being present. It's having a vision, being decisive, too.”- Peter Rahal - RXBAR
“It sounds very elemental, but basically putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand how they're looking at the enterprise instead of how you're looking at them looking at the enterprise. Feel their emotion, their pain, their interest, their needs, their wants and try to meet them and serve them as you would a customer or a vendor or anybody else that you're doing business with.”-
“It starts with treating everybody with great reverence, great respect, and putting people in a position to be successful. That means the right job, right person. They must have all the requisite tools to go and do their job. I motivate people by the teachings of the pursuit of excellence ... Building a framework of conscious language so that everything about the way you approach things comes from a solution-oriented productive frame of mind. Your thought process, your conscious vocal expression and language are the most important tools in your life, in business, for sure.” – Bill Weiland – Presence Marketing
“I think leadership is one of the greatest honors you can have as a human. The opportunity to lead other people is a real special thing.”
“I think the human side of leadership is really key, and it starts with truly deeply caring about people. The people at your company and the people that you serve in your business.” – Kevin Cleary – Clif Bar & Co.
“It’s all about connecting with people on a human level. If I can do that, and it works, there is no better way to drive commitment, motivation, and great performance than to show people that you understand and respect them as human beings. That you want them to win and be happy.”
He added that “Authentic leaders tend to attract authentic people who want to work with them." – John Foraker – Once Upon a Farm
There is no reference to power, influence, or authority in the quotes above. Rather, they talk about leadership in the form of empathy, respect, commitment and shared values. That is the form of leadership I welcome. And, I for one plan to work tirelessly to see that these leaders and those coming up behind and alongside them succeed. I invite you to join me. Let’s disrupt leadership.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.