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I’m a tech guy, but I’ve been watching the news around artificial intelligence with trepidation. Microsoft’s Bing has threatened Google’s supremacy and in response, the behemoth is racing to push out an AI-infused search engine — whether humans are ready to culturally absorb the technology or not.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak added their names to an open letter with more than a thousand signatories urging companies to pause their AI implementation until safety protocols are established.

It’s clear we’re in an arms race for AI-assisted technology, and like many, I fear we aren’t ready. Professionals of all stripes — from the C-Suite to developers — are exploring ChatGPT to code and communicate more efficiently. I haven’t been in a situation yet where I’ve found myself guessing if I’m speaking to a human or a machine, but I don’t think that moment is far off.

Some CEOs are already treating AI like a member of their executive team. After a particularly callous layoff email from the CEO of the cloud computing company, PagerDuty, went viral, ChatGPT produced a close imitation, raising concerns about how leaders might use the technology.

While AI can be a helpful tool for assistive workplace tasks, it’s no replacement for humanity. In fact, as we enter this new era of tech, human leadership has never been more important. Here’s why it’s a mistake to outsource your leadership to technology.

Related: The Perfect Blend: How to Successfully Combine AI and Human Approaches to Business

The CEO’s role in the age of AI

With AI trending, I’ve been reflecting on my role as a CEO. The truth is my team doesn’t need me to model how to do their jobs or micromanage the projects they are driving. Not only are my employees smarter than me in their chosen professions, but I trust their judgment on where AI assistive tools can help them find efficiencies.

The role work plays in our lives has evolved. A recent report showed 70% of workers say work defines their sense of purpose. With so much riding on the workplace experience, leaders have a responsibility to step up and ensure their teams feel connected and have an opportunity to contribute to something meaningful.

As leaders, more than ever, our role is to provide a greater sense of purpose and motivation. It’s our job to get our people jazzed up about the mission and committed to working together to achieve common goals. To do this requires a high level of emotional intelligence and human relatability — traits even the most advanced robots can’t replicate.

Computers are good at a lot of things, but connection is still a uniquely human skill — and it’s incredibly valuable. So, the next time you find yourself asking if ChatGPT could say it better, remember the most important part of your job is to make people care and no computer can do that better than you can.

Flexing our connectivity muscles

When was the last time you memorized a phone number? It’s probably been awhile. For all its benefits, technology can also make us dependent — one study found nearly 1 in 5 Americans can’t even remember their own number.

Since smartphones took over the task of keeping our friends and family on speed dial, we’ve stopped using the part of our brain that kept those number sequences sharp. Skills are like muscles, if you stop exercising them they get weak and decline.

In an asynchronous work environment, communication could be just another thing we outsource to AI, but I’d caution against it. If we start relying on AI to handle human interactions in the workplace, it’s no exaggeration to say we could lose the very trait that differentiates us from machines: empathy.

In leadership positions, it’s necessary to deliver both good and bad news. As tempting as it might be to avoid the discomfort of speaking face-to-face or typing out a heart-felt email communicating some tough truths, it’s essential that you do.

They may be difficult, but hard times are often our best opportunities to grow as leaders. If addressed correctly, they improve your ability to relate and empathize with your team. In addition, employees appreciate authenticity. Business leaders who show their feelings and own their mistakes are seen as more trustworthy and competent. In addition, vulnerability in leadership actually increases productivity and motivation.

Think about what humanity has accomplished in our time on this planet: hunting and gathering, inventing the wheel, conceiving of the internet and much more. We’ve only reached this point because we have learned to cooperate meaningfully with each other. Don’t short-circuit your ability to connect with your team, it’s the most important opportunity you’ve got.

The risk of outsourcing your heart to AI

There are other risks to over-relying on AI as a leader. By outsourcing your communication, you run the risk of being perceived as disingenuous and can break the trust you’ve built with your team. Those cracks can create disillusionment.

A 2022 survey found 1 in 3 employees said they felt disconnected from their company’s leadership. Feeling disconnected has real impacts on workers. It puts them at a higher risk of burnout, hurts the quality of their work and makes them six times more likely to leave the company sooner. When we whittle down the work experience to productivity and paychecks, we sacrifice the things that foster connection. Community, creativity and purpose — these concepts may be abstract, but they’re foundational to thriving workplaces.

Put the time in. If you’re in a hybrid or remote workplace, make an effort to get the whole team together whenever possible. When we foster shared team experiences we build stronger and more effective teams. There are good use cases for AI tools — putting together lists, assisting with boilerplate code or getting your brainstorming juices flowing — these tasks can create necessary efficiencies.

But as we navigate the age of AI and what it means for who and how we trust, there is no substitute for a leader who is committed to connecting with their team on a deeply human level.

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During the global oil crisis of the 1970s, a little-known scientist named M. Stanley Whittingham first developed the concept of the rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Over the next 50 years, others improved on his idea, and now, the lithium-ion battery is essential for everyday life.

But the creativity necessary for innovation doesn’t happen by accident. Leaders need to be intentional about encouraging their teams to examine critical issues and explore their creative sides. This is how we develop the life-changing technologies that propel humanity forward.

Why innovate?

The greatest innovations are often bred out of necessity. Humans are natural problem solvers. It’s in our DNA, and I would even argue it’s our plight as a species. Our ability to devise solutions and create new technologies has allowed us to make astounding advancements that improve the quality of life for billions of people.

How do these life-changing technologies come about? We first need to understand the problems we face — but too often, we put ourselves and others in a state of fear.

Managers and leaders who wonder why their people seem content to complain rather than innovate should take a hard look at their company’s processes to determine whether their culture fosters the freedom people need so they can create.

Related: The Importance of Creativity in the Workplace

Netflix vs. blockbuster

Netflix’s model made Blockbuster obsolete in about ten years. Blockbuster made plenty of mistakes in that time, but arguably, their biggest error was getting too comfortable. There were several times when Blockbuster could have put Netflix out of business (including buying them out for $50 million), but they didn’t. Blockbuster had become the at-home movie rental business leader, and their leadership teams didn’t see the big picture. This failure to embrace a culture of innovation led to their eventual demise.

Netflix, on the other hand, encouraged creative freedom. They gave their employees room to problem-solve, come up with big ideas, and fail. It empowered them to take risks, through guidance and mentorship. Their employees likely felt trusted and valued because of this freedom — and incredible things came from it. As a result, Netflix remains atop its perch as one of the world’s top streaming services.

Managing teams that dream

If you want a team that dreams about how to build the world of tomorrow, focus on freedom. Why has the U.S. historically been ahead of the rest of the world in creating new technologies? One major factor is that our government framework allows independent people to operate in a free market system. Even a century ago, today’s world was beyond imagination, and it was all built by people who dreamed big and had the freedom and opportunity to create something good for humanity.

It’s risky to encourage your people to be problem solvers. Many innovations fail, and failure can be expensive. But failure isn’t a reason not to try, and the leaders who underwrite their people’s failures (when they’re not a result of incompetence) will build a culture of trust.

Employees who feel their leaders trust them can feel comfortable taking risks, and that’s what it takes to invent.

Related: 5 Ways to Inspire Creativity and Innovation in Your Employees

Your people are the key to success

It’s not as easy as just telling your employees to “dream big and innovate.” They need more guidance than that. As leaders, it’s our job to provide the right environment.

For people to innovate, they need a problem to solve — so, start with that. What needs are you trying to meet as a company? Once you identify the problem, your people will succeed — as long as you have fostered a culture of innovation.

It’s critical to ensure your team understands what innovation really is. It’s the application of science and the integration of existing technologies to create something new that the world needs. Understanding this simple concept makes all the difference. As a leader, stay informed on the latest discoveries and breakthroughs, and focus on finding creative ways to integrate them. This is how transformative solutions come to be, and it’s all about the betterment of humankind.

People are the key to any and all success, so find out what makes them tick. What are their personal and professional goals? What will give them purpose? Once you know that, you can start to provide the means to get them there. With experience, you can give them enough focus to see the problem clearly, along with the necessary resources to get them started. Instead of depending on KPIs and data, leaders might see more progress if they embrace their humanity and concentrate on people development instead.

How to foster creativity:

  • Allow your team to be free in thought and expression.

  • Empower your people to own their own destinies.

  • Guide your team with vision, clarity and focus.

  • Never allow management to stall the creative process, especially when they feel threatened by incoming, innovative ideas.

Related: 7 Ways to Help Your Employees Become Better Problem-Solvers

Management isn’t about power

A culture of innovation starts with setting the cornerstones of trust, mentorship and freedom. Managers should provide their teams with a clear objective, the space to perform and a team to rely on. Creative employees feel trusted and in turn trust their leadership because they have been given the tools and support they need to accomplish their purpose, goals and dreams.

We cannot forget the dreams who made us who we are today. Therefore, the world we imagine today is what will be.

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The modern enterprise should be flexible enough that old ideas blend with new ideas. Nowhere is this truer than with the movement of data throughout the enterprise. Data must be organized and managed at the IT level so that users efficiently complete workflows. Conversely, cybersecurity is a top concern for today’s IT leaders as electronic information gets disseminated throughout the enterprise.

As technology continues to play a significant part in driving business success, IT leaders must be prepared to answer complex questions that address their organization’s technological needs and challenges. Here are five tough questions that every IT leader must answer in 2023:

Related: The Tech Landscape Has Changed and It’s Time Tech Leadership Change With It.

1. With technology expanding into AI and the IoT, how will your organization address the cybersecurity threat landscape?

The frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks will only get more complicated as workers increasingly depend on technology they don’t control. End users have a readout or other information product they inherently trust because of automation. IT leaders must be prepared to implement robust security measures that protect their organization’s data and systems.

These security measures for 2023 must focus more on the people’s side of cybersecurity vulnerabilities and less on the technology that runs it. Robust security measures should include enhanced authentication, password and encryption standards. Policies should be drafted, and everyone in the organization should be held accountable for knowing and understanding the new cybersecurity measures. Cybersecurity must be part of the organizational culture.

2. How will you manage and optimize your organization’s data?

With the explosive growth of data sources and the growing demand for data-driven insights, IT leaders must develop strategies for managing and utilizing data effectively. Here are some essential guidelines every technology leader should consider:

  • Determine clear data governance policies and procedures: This includes defining data ownership, data privacy policies, data quality standards and data security measures.

  • Implement a data management system: A robust system can help organizations store, organize and retrieve data efficiently. It is essential to invest in modern data management tools that can handle large volumes of data and are scalable and secure.

  • Invest in data quality and integration: Poor data quality can lead to inaccurate insights and business decisions. Ensuring that the data is accurate, complete and consistent is essential. Data integration from different sources also ensures that the data is consistent and provides a holistic view of the organization.

  • Use advanced analytics and AI techniques: Advanced analytics and AI techniques such as machine learning and natural language processing can help organizations gain insights from their data. These techniques can help organizations identify patterns and trends in their data, automate processes and make more informed decisions.

  • Continuously monitor and evaluate data performance: Organizations must continually monitor and assess their data management systems’ performance to identify areas of improvement and potential issues. This can help organizations make data-driven decisions and optimize their data management processes.

3. How will you implement emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain?

As emerging technologies continue to evolve and gain prominence, IT leaders must determine how they can be leveraged to drive business outcomes. This means IT leaders shouldn’t jump at the first best innovation but wait until the tech is field tested for the industry. Leaders should strategically map out what technology comes into the organization at a given time to lessen the organizational culture impacts like resistance to using new software automation.

Organizations and businesses that need complex IT management across multiple units and end users should create a culture of cybersecurity and technology adopters. Much of the implementation happens behind the scenes as information systems and algorithms understand how to manage automation. Human users should, in full transparency, know what is happening with the technology behind their functions. The work culture should be set to accept new technology as more tasks humans want to do without getting automated.

Related: 5 Tips for Integrating AI Into Your Business

4. How will you address the ongoing challenge of IT talent acquisition and retention?

With the demand for technology talent outstripping supply, IT leaders must develop strategies to attract and retain skilled professionals. One strategy is talent acquisition planning. If the IT department needs new people to implement new hardware, plan for things the organization needs to accomplish before implementation.

The IT leader must think ahead, try to picture what the organization needs in 18 to 24 months and be continually vigilant about obstacles. Talent sets good organizations apart from great ones. So, is your IT leader doing everything necessary to “attract, nurture, grow, and retain the kind of talent necessary to succeed?” If not, the organization might need training specifically for the industry. New hires must be adept at working in a platform environment run in the cloud and powered by hyper WiFi connections.

5. How will you balance innovation with cost containment?

As organizations seek to innovate and remain competitive, IT leaders must balance the need for technological innovation with the need to manage costs and resources effectively. Leaders must be strategic about innovation investment. Some tech will be automatically updated in smart devices and the IoT. Today’s IT leaders must have their finger on the pulse of the industry.

For example, some organizations are using the Great Resignation as motivation for planning future growth. With depleted talent, an organization’s IT leaders should partner with the HR department to hire talent that can grow with the organization. Balancing cost containment and innovation should result from strategic planning, not because shareholders demand profits. All stakeholders should be patient as the digital revolution plays out.

In conclusion, IT leaders must be prepared to answer challenging questions that address their organization’s technological needs and challenges. By developing strategies to address cybersecurity threats, manage and optimize data, implement emerging technologies, attract and retain talent and balance innovation with cost containment, IT leaders can position their organizations for success in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

Related: 7 Critical Business Concepts You MUST Master to Be an Effective IT Leader

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The four-day workweek: It’s a dream shared by many U.S. employees facing increasing levels of stress and burnout.

Well, one U.S. business just made it a reality for its staff.

Exos, a company that coaches pro athletes and oversees corporate wellness programs for 25% of the Fortune 100, just launched a four-day workweek and “readiness culture code” to give employees the space to recharge — and excel.

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From my Utah office, the stark whiteness of the snow outside reminds me that much of 2023 remains out of view, and only the passage of time will unveil the changes that will arise this new year. Like every year, 2023 will bring us an entirely new set of unforeseen challenges. Some of them are already here, like an economic slowdown, inflation that we haven’t experienced in nearly half a century and sky-high rates of employee burnout.

Like many leaders, I often start my days feeling like I have an obstacle course ahead of me. But as someone who’s worked in leadership and organizational development for more than 20 years, I’ve found it doesn’t have to feel that way. In fact, the new year and the challenges ahead can be positioned as opportunities rather than obstacles.

While it may seem contradictory, you can set yourself and your team up to make more gains in this changing environment than losses, especially in the form of innovation — it just requires the right framework. Here are four timeless principles that will help every leader better navigate uncertainty for themselves and their teams.

Related: How The Best Executives Show Leadership in Times of Uncertainty

1. Evolve your mindset

One of the most important habits to continue progressing in the midst of change is to practice your mindset. Recognize that you have the power to choose how you view your day and your work. If you consistently remember that you have more power than you think you do to intentionally choose a calm mindset, this shift will help you in the way you navigate workplace uncertainty. Most importantly, it helps you stay centered on those priorities that are of the most value to your organization.

If your inbox and schedule are anything like mine, you likely have unread emails vying for your attention and back-to-back meetings that, while important, feel like they get in the way of “real” work that needs to get done.

That’s simply the way it is. We can choose to allow ourselves to panic about the large number of emails and meetings we have, or we can tell ourselves, “Well, that just is…” Working ourselves up and spending our work day with high cortisol levels doesn’t help anything.

I often liken it to a hamster wheel. It’s so easy for leaders to hop onto that wheel and try to run faster and faster to get everything done. But all we end up doing is exhausting ourselves prematurely. In fact, 59% of Americans recently reported moderate to severe levels of burnout. We are spinning our wheels too fast, and are pushing ourselves beyond the breaking point. Instead, choose to be calm in the face of uncertainty and focus your efforts on what you can control. Recognize you simply can’t do it all and all at once. This calm perspective and focus allow us to complete our work more effectively, more productively and with a happier attitude. A triple-win.

Related: The 4 Things Leaders Need to Do First When Faced With Uncertainty

2. Focus on the space between stimulus and response

One thing that change brings out in all of us is a stimulus response — a gut reaction to disruptions in our everyday routines. But there’s power in the space between the stimulus and response. That’s where we have the opportunity to pause and consider our response. We get to decide what we’d like to place in the space.

It could be listening to a colleague. It could be recognizing you don’t know the answer to a problem and need to collect research. It could be going back to your business objectives and re-prioritizing your goals. That space is where you decide what comes next instead of just reacting to what’s thrown at you. Recognize that it’s healthy and important to give time to that space before you respond. Demonstrate with your own actions that that space is also valuable to your team.

3. Create a safe, high-trust environment

While the first two principles focus on navigating change as an individual, the last two principles can help you manage change within your team and organization. One key to helping your team navigate change well is to intentionally create an environment that’s safe and embraces trust. If your team is walking around on pins and needles, worried they’re going to be laid off any day or wondering which of their major initiatives is going to be cut, they’re probably not focusing on being productive or effective.

Creating a safe, high-trust environment is not as difficult as it may seem. Simple things like making a point to talk regularly and one-on-one with each of your employees and asking them about their individual concerns or pain points can go a long way toward building trust. You can reiterate to them the company strategy and your team’s business objectives while being transparent as those objectives evolve and change. You can remind them of their value and express gratitude for their contribution to your team. These simple actions will build stronger relationships and develop trust between you and your team members and peers.

Related: 2023 Is The Year and a Fear of Uncertainty. Here’s How to Navigate It.

4. Direct uncertainty toward a challenge

One of the best ways to actually take the uncertainty and do something productive with it is to direct it to a specific challenge. Take the challenge (i.e. the problem that needs to be solved) and then decide as a team to solve it. This gives you something constructive to do with that anxious and uncertain energy and provides an opportunity to work collaboratively and allow something positive to become of it. This process is empowering and engaging for employees — and it’s where meaningful innovation is born.

While none of us have a crystal ball, with the right mindset, you can break through uncertainty and help your team do the same. Recognize your employees as the brilliant individuals they are. When you seek to create a safe, high-trust environment and collaborate with your team on the changes that will come, you’ll be surprised to see the innovation your team brings forth.

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Having spent many years in the sports world, I often find that sports ideas and business ideas are not that different. During a time when I was serving as a coach in a girls’ lacrosse program, I was asked to help a team that had just had a series of tough games.

Morale was low. My coaching friend and I knew we had to inject energy into them, so we came up with a cheer called the Heart and Hustle chant. It goes like this:

Coaches: H-squared!

Players: Heart and Hustle!

And repeat until everyone’s pumped up.

Simple, right? We instituted this little cheer and suddenly these young girls — about 12 years old — got fired up. The team was playing as I had never seen them play before. The chant invigorated them and they powered through.

They won in more ways than one.

Fast forward to today, and that chant is still shared by every team that comes through that lacrosse program — which has expanded to over 400 girls playing in any given year. There’s a Heart and Hustle tournament, Heart and Hustle T-shirts and in my last year in the program, I received a necklace from a group of players with an H2, which represents — you guessed it — Heart and Hustle. It never ceases to amaze me that a simple cheer grew from one team and spread across the entire organization.

What does this have to do with business? Everything.

Great ideas run the world. But what makes an idea great? When I think back on that cheer and then on my current career, I think there are three key elements: authentic desire, channeled energy and receptive people.

Related: Authentic Leadership: What Is It and Why is it Important?

You can’t fake authenticity

There are fake intentions everywhere — and believe me, they don’t stick. We can intuitively feel whether an idea is coming from an authentic place.

Getting an idea to stick starts with not focusing on sticking but on fueling an intrinsic desire to be of service. I’m convinced that’s why so many successful businesses describe themselves as people-focused or human-centric and then follow up those words with action. A team that truly wants to make a positive change in the world or really values its company mission will inherently be more impactful than one backed only by flimsy, half-hearted slogans.

Focus on your best

We all know (and love) those happy-go-lucky people who always seem cheerful and optimistic. Maybe you’re one of them. But while that kind of positivity can be extremely helpful in creating a welcoming work environment, it won’t make or break a company.

You create force and movement when you channel your positive energy into the best projects with the highest priority. Scattering your motivation into too many projects leaves every project without the momentum needed to deliver true impact. This responsibility often falls on management. Your team may have 10 fantastic projects they’d like to ideate on, but if you only have time for three realistically, you’re doing all 10 projects a disservice by not channeling your energy. Choose your best projects and put everything into them.

Related: How to Employ a Team That Shapes Your Company Culture

Build the best team

It’s often difficult to know when a team member simply isn’t the right fit. Sometimes it’s a matter of skills, but often it’s something beyond a list on a resume.

A team member with average skills who shares your vision will work far more effectively than one who has exemplary skills but doesn’t care. When you’re building your team, seek prospects who lean in when discussing your company’s mission. These employees will pick themselves up after an unsuccessful campaign, get back to work and try even harder to reach shared goals next time. These kinds of people are often the ones who come up with the ideas that stick.

Related: How to Craft the Perfect Recipe for Persuasive Storytelling in Your Presentations

There’s no recipe

Part of what makes ideas stick is having the perfect blend of circumstances that allows all of those three components to come together — along with other far more nebulous elements like timing, community attitudes and trends — which is part of the reason why not all ideas stick. Even good ideas. So what can you do to make sure you get ideas that stick? Focus on the elements you can control and bring them together as frequently as possible.

There’s no perfect roadmap and certainly no instruction manual. But getting the best people together to share their authentic desires toward a shared goal, with targeted focus, puts your team and your business in the best possible place to stir up those world-changing ideas. As a leader, that’s the most important part of my job: to create the best atmosphere I can and encourage creativity, spark and a free flow of ideas. That, to me, is heart and hustle.

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Vitiligo is a skin disorder where patches of colored skin lose pigment and turn white. This cosmetic condition is physically harmless yet can cause “spotted” persons to stand out from the crowd. I’ve had vitiligo since I was 12. Beginning as a small spot on the side of my mouth, my mother thought I had forgotten to wipe away toothpaste. Now, at age 43, 35% of my body has lost pigment in various patches across my arms, legs and back.

Most would think of this condition as disfiguring, socially debilitating and, quite honestly, depressing. Yet my success today has been guided by a journey to gracefully be different. Below are four reasons why standing out has led me to stand up as a stronger leader.

Related: 4 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Stand Out From Your Competition

1. It’s okay to feel lonely

Growing up, I did not know another soul that looked like me. It was clear that people would talk about me behind my back as well as immediately consider me an outsider as soon as an introduction was made. The feeling of being distant and subconsciously left out, even by the most well-intentioned of people, became a normal feeling through my adolescent and young adult years.

Yet, today, we often hear leaders say, “It’s lonely at the top.” What they mean is that they struggle to find true personal connections to the people around them. This is because there is an inherent power imbalance created when a person is responsible for another person’s livelihood. How can someone generate real and meaningful human connection when their paycheck is at stake?

People who are different, and who have been different for a while, can empathize.

Great leaders, therefore, learn to be comfortable in the discomfort of feeling lonely. And for those who stand out, they’ve had years of preparation for exactly this experience.

Related: It Doesn’t Have To Be Lonely At The Top: Why Entrepreneurs Need To Take Charge Of Their Mental Health

2. The ability to cast vision can make or break you

The “looking-glass self” is a concept developed by Charles H. Cooley positing that humans see themselves as we think others see us and act accordingly to make sense of it all. In short, our identity is a self-fulfilling prophecy based on what we think others think. Relatedly, Audre Lorde says: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

I learned this while I was pursuing my Ph.D. in social and it was, to say the least, illuminating and inspiring.

Being different can teach future leaders how to not be eaten alive and how to not let what they think others think of them become a reality, reified with action. People who are different can make it their choice to define who they want to be and to cast a compelling vision of their authentic selves to others.

Importantly, for those that do make this choice, practicing the skill of casting vision among friends and family, and constantly navigating one’s sense of belonging in groups, gifts them a refined leadership presence, boldness, vision and exceptional communication skills that peers will not develop until much later in life — if they develop at all.

Related: Words Matter: Tips To Boost Leadership Communications

3. Emotional intelligence is a muscle you must develop

Wanting so badly to feel a sense of belonging, while being different, can play tricks on one’s mind. Throughout my life, I have learned to notice the slightest non-verbal cue, the smallest of voice intonation, subtle posture switches, a tiny fidget or a minute change in eye direction to understand a person and to know where I stood with them and their judgments.

The goal for those of us who are “different” is to assimilate our way into belonging and to avoid situations where we do not.

Yet mastering the skill of quickly, precisely and, at first sight, knowing what people are thinking and “where they are” in their mind’s eye can be useful in inspiring ways. This skill allows those of us that have “stood out” for significant periods of time to know exactly how to encourage others to reach their potential, how to model ways to engage with team members, as well as how to authentically earn trust and support with direct reports, customers and other important players on our leadership journies.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Is The Future Of Work

4. To lead well, you must be a lifelong learner

Rick Warren once said, “All leaders are learners. The moment you stop , you stop leading.” Indeed, an intense curiosity about people and the things around oneself is required to lead well. We all know that one grows by staying the same. Leaders must scan all ideas, topics and environments, different from their own, to forge connections, stir up creativity and build momentum in the marketplace.

Standing out with a skin disorder like vitiligo has made me so very curious about the world around me that I turned myself into a lifelong learner. Adding this to the other life lessons gained along the way, I’m grateful to have stood out so that I could stand up as a stronger leader. My hope is that you are, too.

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It’s no secret that the U.S. is facing a massive dearth of primary care providers. But when we talk about how to build this workforce, we usually focus on physicians. Greater Good Health is taking a different approach by leveraging nurse practitioners.

Greater Good Health emerged from stealth last year as a primary care-focused nurse practitioner network. On Tuesday, the Manhattan Beach, California-based startup launched a clinical leadership program for nurse practitioners to learn from one another. The announcement precedes National Nurse Practitioner Week (November 13-19), which honors these healthcare professionals’ major but often overlooked role in primary care delivery.

The program provides a series of educational sessions for nurse practitioners who want to advance their professional growth and development. The curriculum was built by nurse practitioners and is accredited by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, according to Sylvia Hastanan, Greater Good Health’s CEO and founder.

“It’s intended to be a cohort-based learning program so that nurse practitioners can learn from each other and share experiences,” she said in a recent interview.

The program’s sessions will cover a range of themes. Some will be focused on essential healthcare topics, such as how to keep up with new payment models and how to talk with patients about health misinformation. Others will focus on clinical and operational training, such as how to prevent common diseases and how to ensure patients are receiving timely care.

There also will be sessions dedicated to “soft skills,” such as leadership, emotional intelligence and communication. These kinds of skills are essential for nurse practitioners who are looking to lead a team one day, according to Hastanan.

“The intent for these leaders that go through the program is that they’ll come out of it with better skills to help lead and manage another group of 10-15 nurse practitioners,” she said. “It’s for nurse practitioners who are seeing patients, but may need some administrative and clinical coaching, as well as leadership, to feel like they’re part of a community and a team. It can help with development and learning gaps.”

Through the program, nurse practitioners can earn 16 continuing education credits. It encompasses four sessions, which take place over four months.

The program is currently only available by invitation to select nurse practitioners who are part of the Greater Good Health’s network in California, but the company plans to expand the program to additional nurse practitioners in other states “in the near future.”

Hastanan noted that for the vast majority of her career, she had been working for provider organizations “that have been mostly physicians-centric,” including HealthCare Partners. She would develop leadership programs in which physicians could learn from other physicians, but she said nurse practitioners were always excluded from these types of professional development programs.

“What we’re doing here that’s different is we’re thinking about redesigning primary care with nurse practitioners at the center of it,” Hastanan said. “Our business model is centered around what the nurse practitioners bring to the table, and that, in and of itself, sort of flips everything on its head and allows nurse practitioners to lead in ways that they weren’t able to before.”

Photo: Hiraman, Getty Images

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By all standards and metrics, Catherine Velisha is a resounding business success. She serves as the managing director of Velisha Farms, which has more than 80 employees working in all areas of vegetable production. The Velisha family has run a farm in Werribee South for more than 70 years. Velisha Farms is currently valued at $30 million; it supplies produce to Aldi stores in Victoria and New South Wales.

Velisha Farms operates a sizable packaging operation beside broccoli, cauliflower, and iceberg lettuce farm at its Werribee South headquarters. In other parts of Australia, the company grows celery, kale, coriander, brassicas, zucchini, and brassicas.

In order to inspire and educate the next generation of horticulturists, farmers, and hospitality professionals, she has also founded two education companies. However, she has had to learn to pivot and modify her business in recent years, just like everyone else, because her progress hasn’t been linear.

The initial days

Believe it or not, Catherine made the decision to take over Velisha Farms five years ago on the spur of the moment, according to her.

“I hadn’t ever thought about it or really considered it at all during my career until the opportunity was presented to me. But timing is everything; it came at the right time for me. The first 24 months were extremely stressful, and I quickly learnt some business fundamentals. Cashflow is everything. Having the right team of people is crucial, and any decision is better than no decision at all.”

Catherine says that she had spent her entire life around farming, even before she began working for her family at the age of 19.

“I had worked in the business since I was 19, so about nine years before I decided I needed a career change. I did a youth work degree while still working at Velisha Farms, and balancing studying, working and learning more about the industry showed me that there is so much opportunity. I also like how it offered me the freedom of choice and a completely new lens to see my industry through. It brought me a new sense of wonder and excitement about the fresh produce industry.”

The most significant

Catherine points out that the horticulture sector is essential, significant, and opportunity-rich. She believes that farmers, who own and own the horticulture industry, are the industry’s original start-ups and entrepreneurs.

“I knew I wanted to be in the agriculture industry because of the excitement and dynamic layers of the industry.  We have all the excitement of the stock market with fruit and vegetable prices changing in response to market influences daily, we have science and technology weaved throughout all facets of our businesses, and our supply chain is built on diversity and resilience; the backbone of all our businesses, it’s in our blood.  

“I absolutely believe that there is no more critical, important and opportunity-filled industry than horticulture. Farmers are the original start-ups and entrepreneurs, running and owning the horticulture sector. 

‘Last but not least, climate change is the greatest threat to humans and the world as we know it. Horticulture is the way we will save the world!”

Coping with entrepreneurial stress

Entrepreneurship is commonly acknowledged to be one of the most difficult careers. They must deal with uncertainty and the reality that they are personally accountable (and liable) for every decision they make. Catherine notes that self-doubt has been another obstacle for her since taking over the company.

“I think my biggest challenge was self-doubt and getting used to the 24hr pressure that being a business owner has. While I don’t work 24/7, my team will surely call me on that, but it never leaves your mind. 

“I continually manage the pressure and stress through regular exercise, self-talk, and reflection. For me, it’s absolutely fundamental that my stress levels are kept within a healthy range because if it is not, then my leadership and guidance diminish, and I owe it to my team to be the best leader I can be for them.”

Finding the balance

“As my career has progressed, it is apparent that there is obviously room for improvement within horticulture and agriculture in regards to having better representation for women and improved behaviours in the industry. Although I do see a slow positive shift, some areas can be improved, such as both women and men championing more cultural diversity within key leadership positions in our industry. 

“Our businesses are made up of workforces from a variety of different nationalities. To be a good leader, you need to reflect and embody your workforce. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of at Velisha farms; our leaders have all worked their way up within the business and are reflective of our employee cohort.”

Inspiring next-gen growers

According to Catherine, the largest obstacle has been that people don’t consume enough fresh produce—only 1 in 5 Australians consumes enough fruit and vegetables.

“Our biggest pivot during covid was creating a sister company called VEG Education. Veg Education is a Registered Training Organisation created specifically for the horticulture and agriculture industries. We think education can change everything for our industry by realistically addressing its major issues. 

“Our biggest issues in horticulture are people’s lack of consumption of fresh produce; only 1 in 5 people eat enough fruit and vegetables in Australia. The other major problem for us is attracting and retaining employee talent; education is the answer!

Furthermore, Velisha Farms has begun offering primary schools in Victoria the opportunity to participate in a practical programme to encourage young children to pursue professions in agriculture. Through the Victorian Farmers Federation-supported education programme, young children will learn about sustainability, how their food is grown, and the variety of job choices available in the agricultural sector (VFF).

“VEG education tackles these issues head-on through primary school programs, having young people experience the industry through real-world experiences and seeing them fall in love with their fruit and veg.  

“During this time, we also created a secondary school program called Food Futures which is really a first of its kind, directly linking our industry into the Secondary School curriculum. Students can now learn more about food, the supply chain, and the fabulous career opportunities it holds. 

“These were key pivots in our business which are helping to continue to evolve our business and simultaneously help the industry.” 

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“Transitioning from a homegrown success story to a new international market is challenging for most companies. Add to that the combination of a pandemic, an industry under scrutiny, and a highly vulnerable customer base – now there’s a challenge.

“My answer to anyone starting a business is to keep the product as the team’s primary focus, the advice we have held to when launching into this new market.”

Sam Bridgewater, founder of Pure Food Co.

Sam Bridgewater and Maia Royal founded The Pure Food Co in 2014 after witnessing his stepfather, Mark, struggle with food and nutrition while battling a major illness at an aged care facility. 

Sam felt that there had to be a better way to provide appropriate food for seniors or those suffering illnesses that combined taste and nutrition. He undertook extensive research and development to innovate a solution that combined higher levels of essential nutrients into beautiful meals and other snacks. 

And so Sam and his colleague were inspired to create a meal system that provided not only optimal nutrition but also good flavour and diversity to encourage seniors to continue eating enough volume. So at 28 years old, the team set out to solve that issue; that’s how The Pure Food Co was born in 2014 — an innovative food system tailored to the nutritional needs of seniors. Following significant growth and recognition within the NZ market, The Pure Food Co has launched in Australia, partnering with several sizeable aged care groups. 

The Pure Food Co offers pre-shaped food products presented in an engaging way to provide visually appealing, extremely nutritional pureed foods. Their product line also includes purees, designed for simple swallowing and created with the best local ingredients, all with protein as a vital component to help seniors with muscle maintenance and repair.

“Coming from backgrounds in banking and management consulting, it’s safe to say that my co-founder and I have had plenty of learnings – some the hard way! Food production and the complexities of this were very new territory for us, and ensuring that the food solution we were offering not only addressed the nutrition and taste problems we’d identified but was also economically sustainable for our customers was a key challenge we had to face from the outset. 

“Our solution not only had to compete with tight food budgets but deliver value well beyond this to get into networks and stay long term. Equally, we were doing very new territory from a market perspective. Fortifying foods the way we do wasn’t a ‘thing’ at the time, so we took a gamble, and it paid off; this was a critical turning point for us in creating true innovation. 

The early days

“Initially, our approach focused on the healthcare space, and we are now partnered with almost all of New Zealand’s public hospitals. More recently, we’ve seen massive growth in the aged care sector, aligning with our mission to nourish the world’s seniors. 

“After starting production within a food innovation incubator in 2017, we built our production plant in Mt Wellington, which provided the scale we needed to fuel rapid growth. We entered the Australian market in 2019 and, despite the challenges of a pandemic soon after, have seen a significant impact with the business quintupling over the past year. 

“At present, we deliver around 3 million food experiences annually across these two markets, and we’re proud to be a multi-award-winning company with multi-award-winning innovations, most notably three-time category-winner of The New Zealand Food Awards including Supreme Winner in 2019, as well as The Deloitte Fast 50. 

Sam notes that gathering insight from important stakeholders was a vital technique for them from the start. 

“Engagement with Dietitians, Speech Pathologists, Operators (healthcare and elderly care), and, of course, the people who would consume our meals was critical during the research and product development phases. Because we invested heavily in researching with our relevant audience, we came to market with a product that delivered on the value propositions they wanted and needed, as well as the elements they didn’t know they needed but now love! 

Conducting product assessment: Knowing what the customer wants

Sam insists that getting the product right has, without a doubt, been essential to their marketing strategy. 

“If those foundations aren’t in place, there’s no opportunity to grow when customers need to see a positive outcome to justify the investment. As a result, the organic referral has been the biggest driver of growth for us since the beginning—kitchens and clinical teams that use the product move around providers and bring us with them. 

“We’ve constantly agitated for awareness and representation of the nutritional needs of seniors and, in recent years, haven’t been afraid to call out the problem. Recently, we’ve been looking closely at our social media approach as another avenue to drive customer leads, with LinkedIn being one of our priority channels. 

“We see this route as a great way to engage with not only operators that could directly become customers but also to increase overall consideration of the issue of senior nutrition. For example, we’ve recently launched a campaign on our social media channels aligning with notable Australian athletes to highlight the similarities in nutrition requirements between athletes and seniors and to tap into these athletes’ audiences to raise consideration of ageing nutrition amongst younger generations. 

“We conducted some research alongside the campaign, which found that despite health and wellness being a huge priority for the everyday Australian, very few had considered how this could look in later life, and changing this is a theme we’ll be looking at across the board when it comes to our marketing.”

When it comes to learning, Sam says that he has been caught in the trap of trying to do too much at one time in the past, which resulted in them getting laser-focused on key strategic priorities to grow the offering and the customer base in a way that’s aligned with their overarching mission. 

“We still consider the day-to-day signing of a new customer or network as a significant moment; it’s a huge responsibility to implement a food system for residents and businesses and something that we don’t take lightly. 

“From our own first-hand experiences, we know just how important doing this the right way is for these residents and their families, so we never underestimate the task at hand.” 

Successfully launching into a new market 

“The Pure Food Co was inspired by a problem we identified on a personal and societal level. Put simply, no solution provides seniors with tasty, easy to eat and adequately nutritious foods while meeting the tight budgets of the public health system. Hailing from New Zealand, our focus naturally started there and saw us grow to a scale where we are implemented across nearly every public hospital and 100% of sizeable aged care networks. 

“However, the challenge is global, so in 2019 we began to launch into the Australian market. Throw a global pandemic in the mix, and you’ll see why it’s only now, in 2022, that we’re ready to talk about successfully launching into this market. 

“The Australian aged care sector is complex and highly scrutinised. With 50% of people entering senior care classified as malnourished in this country, it’s also an industry needing help. We saw an opportunity to meet the need that we had answered in New Zealand in this new market.” 

Lead with product 

Sam says his answer to anyone starting a business is to keep the product as the team’s primary focus, the advice we have held to when launching into this new market. 

“We needed to prove not only the efficacy of our product but also the affordability (working to tight budgets where many aged care facilities are required to feed their residents on around $12 a day, and often less) and practicality of our offering. In an industry already struggling to retain sufficient staffing, we need to provide a solution that makes carers’ lives easier, not harder. 

“The most important part of any product?”

“Ensuring it can get into the hands of those who need it. Key learning through the pandemic and beyond has been to ensure that we were clear, careful, and on the borderline of conservative regarding our supply chain to ensure product availability at all times. The trust operators place in us to implement their food systems is immense, and once this trust is broken, it would be extremely challenging to rebuild – regardless of the business you’re building.” 

“An organic referral is a huge driver of business growth and for many businesses looking to expand,” Sam continues.

“Investing in a dedicated Country Manager that can engage directly with potential and current customers was crucial when it came to growing our presence in this new market, supported by ab diverse and highly skilled team focused on continuous improvement. 

“Remaining nimble and evolving how you communicate your business’s offering can make all the difference when changes to the macro environment arise. It’s no surprise that the pandemic has devastated the aged care sector and the priorities these already stretched teams are juggling. In our case, we saw that health was more important than ever across the board, and people considered the role diet plays in their wellbeing. 

“However, labour shortages meant our potential customers would not consider solutions that were difficult to implement. Communicating the benefit of our pre-packaged solution became an important message with the skills shortage in mind. When testing the waters in a new market, finding new and different ways to engage with your audience is vital. 

“While our core focus is aged care and hospital environments, speaking to a secondary market of those with loved ones in such facilities and pushing them to advocate for the seniors in their life is proving fruitful. 

“We recently launched a campaign across our social channels that focus on heroing the #grandfluencer in your life (the significant senior that’s made a difference for you); it’s a step in the right direction of getting these younger audience groups to consider the conversation of senior nutrition., and start to understand the realities of senior nutrition. 

“Overall, whether launching into a new market or driving growth in an existing territory, being able to measure success, improve conversion, and reduce any risk associated with implementing your product are crucial in driving success. There may not always be a pandemic creating challenges for your global expansion, but there’s sure to be a curveball around the corner, so prepare accordingly.”

More on The Pure Foods co here.

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