#SWAAYthenarrative

How Women Can Empower Themselves to Be Strong Leaders

4min read
Culture

Leadership, like a great meal, requires the right blend of ingredients and a smart recipe. Add seasoning. Set the cooking temperature. Prep the ingredients. Follow the plan. Recipes are meant to be personalized and adjusted to fit one's taste. But deviate too far from the necessary steps, and your meal won't turn out the right way. My own recipe for leadership involves four essential ingredients: understanding, thoughtfulness, patience and control.


Understanding

I try my best to be understanding of people, situations and issues. Listening and critical thinking are vital to leadership.

During the early days of Fresh n' Lean, the organic meal delivery company I started in 2010, I performed every job — from washing the dishes and cooking the meals to portioning them out in trays and doing customer service.

I ended up working countless 20-hour days, pouring every ounce of my waking energy into the company.

In the moment, it was a lot to tackle. But looking back on it now, that experience was significant and meaningful. Working every job gave me an understanding of what I want from my employees, and it allowed me to relate to the work that I ask employees to do across all departments.

That background gives me a huge appreciation and deep respect for every person on the team. I know exactly what they contribute. The company is one big puzzle, and everyone is a piece of that puzzle.

Thoughtfulness

I was 18 years old when I started Fresh n' Lean.

Photo credit: Laureen Asseo

My father's health struggles inspired me. After he faced a crisis, eating fresh organic meals helped him regain his health. I want everyone to have access to nutrient-rich meals that are convenient and affordable, just like my father did.

Navigating the corporate world as a young woman has come with its obstacles. During meetings with mostly older men, they'd ask me my age, and I would feel compelled to lie and say I was 27.

I would be in meetings, and instead of asking me questions, men would direct their questions to my male counterparts. I'm right here! Hello!

Other times, people would come into the office and try to tell me what to do, or how I should do things differently, suggesting I must not know anything because I don't have the proper experience.

Those conversations were difficult and intimidating. They caught me off guard and troubled me deeply. But I stuck to my guns, and I'm happy I did.

Too many people discount others because of their preconceived notions, and that mistake can be costly. I consider who I'm dealing with and address them accordingly — my expectations and responses are not one-size-fits-all.

Patience

Change takes time.

Society has evolved during the decade I've been running Fresh n' Lean. People are doing more to empower women to be entrepreneurs and leaders and really showcase them, especially young women. That change is reflected on the cover of magazines like Forbes or Inc or Time.

Is everything 100% equal? No. But compared to the way it was 10, 20, 50 years ago, there's been a lot of progression, and I see it continuing.

It's important to remain patient in the process and realize that some things are going to take time. It may take you months or years for you to implement the changes you'd like to make.

I feel very fortunate. There are many countries that don't allow women to run their own business.

I'm grateful to be able to wake up and do what I do each day, even if there are roadblocks along the way.

Being a business leader is never easy, whether you're a man or woman, young or old.

More people are becoming empowered to take that risk.

My advice for women looking to be leaders: don't let the naysayers put you down. We can't change the way people perceive us, and in some cases, even if we are the most competent person in the room, we won't always get the attention we deserve. And that's OK!

A lot of times in a meeting I'll sit quietly and listen and observe, waiting for the right moment to make my voice heard. You don't have to be the loudest person to be the most powerful.

Control

As a leader, it's important not to wear your emotions on your sleeve. The last thing I want to do is show my employees that there's a problem or that I'm stressed, because that sends the wrong message.

I try to always have a smile and remain calm in every situation.

I never yell — all that does is tune people out. Remaining level-headed is vital. No matter how stressed I am, I make sure it's never apparent from the outside.

Empower others, empower yourself

The key to leadership is empowering people to believe in themselves and encouraging them to be the best they can be.

I want my employees to trust their judgment. A lot of people second-guess themselves. Maybe they're worried about failing or afraid of taking risks. But we can surprise ourselves when we follow our instincts and trust our gut.

Take the risk. Don't be afraid to fail. If things don't turn out the right way, you can always double-check your recipe, make any necessary adjustments and try again.

4 Min Read
Business

Today, Companies Need to Retain Veteran Employees in Order to Survive and Thrive

In 2020, as the world turned on its axis, we all held on for dear life. Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, and entrepreneurs all braced for a new normal, not sure what it would mean, what would come next, or if we should be excited or terrified.

At the same time that everything is shifting, being put on hold, or expanding, companies have to evaluate current talent needs, empower their teams to work from home, discover new ways to care for clients from a distance, and navigate new levels of uncertainty in this unfamiliar environment. Through it all, civilians are being encouraged to lean into concepts like "resilience" and "courage" and "commitment," sometimes for the first time.

Let's contrast what the business community is going through this year with the common experience of the military. During basic training, officer candidate school, multiple deployments, combat, and reintegration, veterans become well-versed in resilience, courage, and commitment to survive and thrive in completing their mission. Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

More than ever before, today's employers who employ prior military should focus on why and how to retain them and leverage their talents, experience, and character traits to help lead the company — and the employees — to the other side of uncertainty.

What makes veterans valuable employees

Informed employers recognize that someone with a military background brings certain high-value assets into the civilian sector. Notably, veterans were taught, trained, and grounded in certain principles that make them uniquely valuable to their employers, particularly given the current business environment, including:

Leadership

It's been said that the United States Armed Forces is the greatest leadership institution in the world. The practices, beliefs, values, and dedication of those who serve make them tested leaders even outside of the military. Given the opportunity to lead, a veteran will step forward and assume the role. Asked to respect and support leadership, they comply with that position as well. Leadership is in the veteran's blood and for a company that seeks employees with the confidence and commitment to lead if called upon, a veteran is the ideal choice.

Commitment

The hope is that all employees are committed to their job and give 100% each day. For someone in the military, this is non-negotiable. The success of the mission, and the lives of everyone around them, depend on their commitment to stay the course and perform their job as trained. When the veteran employee takes on a project, it will be completed. When the veteran employee says there's an unsurmountable obstacle, it is so (not an excuse). When a veteran says they're "all in" on an initiative, they will see it through.

Strategy, planning, and improv

Every mission involves strategy, planning, and then improvisation from multiple individuals. On the battlefield, no plan works perfectly, and the service member's ability to flex, pivot, and adapt makes them valuable later, in the civilian sector. Imagine living in countries where you don't speak the language, working alongside troops who come from places you can't find on a map, and having to communicate what needs to get done to ensure everyone's safety. Veterans learned how to set goals, problem-solve challenges, and successfully get results.

Service

With an all-volunteer military for decades now, every man and woman who wore our nation's uniform raised their hand to do so. They chose to serve their country, their fellow Americans, and their leaders. These individuals do not leave their passion and sense of service behind when they separate or retire out of the military. Instead, typically veterans continue to find avenues to serve — in their teams, their companies, their communities.

When companies seek out leaders who will commit to a bigger mission, can think strategically and creatively, and will serve others, they look to veterans.

Best practices in retention of veteran talent

Retention starts at hiring. The experience set out in the interview stage provides insight about how it will be to work and grow within the team at the company. For employers hiring veterans, this is a critical step.

Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent.

The veteran employee may have had a few — or several — jobs since leaving the military. Or this may be their first civilian work experience. In any case, setting expectations and being clear about goals is vital. Remember, veterans are trained to complete a mission and a goal. When an employer clarifies the mission and shows how the veteran employee's role supports and fulfills that mission, the employee can more confidently and successfully complete their work.

Additionally, regular check-ins are helpful with veteran employees. These employees may not be as comfortable asking for help or revealing their weaknesses. When the employer checks in regularly, and shows genuine interest in their happiness, sense of productivity, and overall job satisfaction, the veteran employee learns to be more comfortable asking for help when needed.

The military is a values-driven culture. Service members are instilled with values of loyalty, integrity, service, duty, and honor, to name a few. When they transition out of the military, veterans still seek a commitment to values in their employers. Veterans often tell me that they "look to work for a company that has a set of values I can ascribe to." The topic of values can serve as an opportunity for companies seeking to retain military talent. Make it clear what your values are, how you live and act on those values, and how the veteran's job will promote and support those values. Even work that is less glamorous can be attractive to a veteran if they understand the greater purpose and mission.

Today, veterans working in the civilian sector find the uncertainty, chaos, instability, and fear threading through companies eerily familiar.

Finally, leveraging the strengths and goals of any employee is critical, and particularly so with veterans. If you have an employee who is passionate about service, show them ways to give back — through mentoring, community engagement, volunteerism, etc. If your veteran continues to seek leadership roles, find opportunities for them to contribute at higher levels, even informally. When your veteran employee offers to reframe the team's mission to gain better alignment across the sector, give them some runway to experiment. You have a workforce that is trained and passionate about and skilled in adapting and overcoming. Let them do what they do best.