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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.