6 leadership lessons I learned from running an organic meal delivery company

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Leadership|6 leadership lessons I learned from running an organic meal delivery companyCooking the perfect meal takes time, planning and foresight — and so does great leadership.

My journey as CEO of Fresh n’ Lean, the country’s largest organic pre-prepped meal delivery company, began in 2010 when I was 18 years old.

The early years were the hardest. I consistently worked 20-hour days, tackling any task that was required, including cooking meals, washing dishes and customer service.

There were other challenges, too. I’d be sitting in meetings with older men, and they’d ask me my age (I’d feel compelled to lie and say I was 27). Or they would direct questions to my male colleagues instead of me.

People would question my decisions or my tone or my voice or my demeanor or the way I dressed. Constructive feedback can be so valuable! But much of the feedback I received wasn’t constructive and came from a place of insecurity — people’s own issues working for a young, female leader. It took me years to block out the negativity. And I was so much happier when I did.

Here are some of the other lessons I’ve learned while running Fresh n’ Lean, takeaways for other women navigating the corporate culture to become strong leaders themselves.

Find your deeper calling.

I was inspired to start Fresh n’ Lean after my father faced a life-threatening health battle. He was eating for convenience, so his diet was full of heavily processed foods. He recovered after shifting his eating habits to nutrient-rich, organic meals. His journey motivated me to find a balance between nourishment and convenience — and to help busy people lead healthier lives.


It’s stressful being a boss — you’re inevitably going to encounter difficult situations.

But instead of showing how overwhelmed you are, make sure to keep your emotions in check. Employees will look to you for guidance and stability, and if you’re visibly stressed, everyone else is going to be stressed, too. Be the steady presence guiding the team forward.

Be patient.

As a boss, it’s natural to want to make changes. But how will those changes impact your company’s day-to-day operations?

You may need to wait months — or even years — before your staffing, workflow or facilities changes are implemented. That was the scenario we faced when building our own kitchen and manufacturing area, a goal that had been in the works for a long time. Since Fresh n’ Lean didn’t rely on outside capital, we had to be pragmatic about growth opportunities and only moved forward when the timing was right.

It was so meaningful to fulfill that dream, and I’m glad we didn’t rush the process.

Trust your employees and empower them.

Believing in your employees and giving them opportunities to succeed will give them — and the team — a better chance of reaching full potential.

Too many people second-guess themselves, afraid to fail or worried about taking risks.

Employees should trust their judgment and follow their instincts. That culture of trust begins with the boss.

Lift up other women.

Women too often try to tear each other down in workplace settings instead of building each other up.
Look for growth opportunities for women, and empower younger women to be entrepreneurs and leaders. Go out of your way to showcase their talent. And help them recognize the leader within.

Don’t let the naysayers get to you.

As a strong female leader, it’s frustrating to face labels. Difficult. Loud. Moody. A man can act the same way and it’s celebrated. He’s passionate.

But don’t feel like you need to compromise your leadership style in order to get your point across.

If I’m in a meeting, I’ll often sit quietly and observe and wait for the right moment to speak up. Being the loudest person in the room doesn’t make you the most powerful. You’ll find the right moment, and the right way, to ensure that your voice is heard.

About the Author
StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Laureen AsseoLaureen Asseo is only 27-years-old, yet she has become a pioneer in leading the nation’s organic food craze. She’s the CEO and founder of LA-based Fresh n’ Lean, the largest nationwide organic meal delivery service in the country. It’s her mission to make eating organic easy, affordable and accessible – reclaiming the phrase “fast food”. She was inspired by her father’s ailing health due to his eating habits, and started the company from her one bedroom apartment.

Leaders: Stop Standing in the Way

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Leadership Strategy|Leaders: Stop Standing in the WayCollege graduates often get the same career advice: be yourself, disrupt the status quo. Meanwhile, their future employers cling to status quo by putting people in boxes and telling them what to do, in the name of efficiency or team cohesion.

People are frustrated and exhausted, not from overwork but from a particularly demoralizing kind of “underwork.” They’ve got skills, ideas and talents that they want to use but can’t, because to do so would disrupt everyone who finds comfort in the status quo.

Most organizations and leaders say they want to empower people to contribute at their fullest capacity. But most leaders are never taught how to do that.

We’re stuck in the age of standardization – an age when organizations didn’t see the need to value one’s individuality or personal perspectives.

But as a society, we are more diverse than ever. We are more informed than ever. We are aware of and proud of our individuality. We’ve entered the age of personalization, but our leadership strategies have not caught up.

If we don’t interrupt ourselves the cycle will continue.

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article | Leaders: Stop Standing in the WayStop emphasizing conformity.

People feel boxed in because they are boxed in. In our workplaces we have fooled ourselves into thinking we have welcomed diversity of thought (a phrase we love to throw around) – when in actuality we have built shrines to conformity. We hire people who think just like we do, and we reward and promote people only when they meet the standards set by someone else.

Does your organization have a system for training leaders to identify individual capability when hiring or forming teams, so that everyone can look beyond experience and education as the only indicators of potential and invite new thinking into the mix? Inclusion is an action that constructively interrupts the process of always seeking more of what’s familiar.

Stop hiring for ‘the right fit.’

That’s code for you need to be just like everyone else. Your individuality is not welcome here.

Sure, most people want someone who is easy to get along with, in the name of productivity. They want someone who is easy to work alongside, in the name of efficiency. They want someone who is easy to like, in the name of team cohesion. Those are all great things for a team to achieve.

But too often productivity, efficiency and cohesion become the goals themselves, and the pursuit of those gets in the way of the original objective – which might be better served by a wider range of personalities and working styles.

It’s easier to be with and work with people who are similar to us. But if we really want to expand the capacity of our teams and our people, we have to interrupt our preference for ease and invite the discomfort of working closely with people who think differently.

Gear up.

If you threaten the status quo, the status quo fights back. Hard. People who have made the rules and benefitted from those rules are not happy when those rules change – even if that change is good and necessary and just.

Most organizations operate in a certain way: follow this path, get this experience, demonstrate these skills, move up the ladder rung by rung. A subset of people have benefitted from this system the way it is, but they don’t see the system at work because they’ve never bumped up against it. When that system changes, they lash out.

But disrupting the status quo is worth it.

Leaders everywhere tell me they have felt restricted their entire professional lives, and they want to be free to be who they are and empower others to contribute at the highest levels of their individual capacity.

This is where to start.

About the Author
StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Glenn LlopisGlenn Llopis is a Cuban-American entrepreneur, best-selling author, speaker and senior advisor to fortune 500 companies and organizations in healthcare, financial, consumer packaged goods and beyond.

5 Leadership Traits You Didn’t Need 50 Years Ago

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Leadership|5 Leadership Traits You Didn’t Need 50 Years AgoThe role of a leader is always evolving, so it makes sense that the traits of a modern-day leader may be different from the leaders of half a century ago.

Of course, some traits have remained pretty consistent throughout the years, such as being a role model and having strong communication skills.

The following are some of the leadership traits that are important now that might not have been in the past.

1. An Ear for Employees

Perhaps one of the most drastic differences between modern-day leaders and leaders from the past is that today’s leaders are interested in what employees want and need.

50 years ago, managers simply had to be charismatic enough to bark orders at their employees to get the job done.
The goal was always to satisfy the company’s owner without paying too much attention to the employees. Leaders weren’t too interested in complaints, concerns, and feedback from their employees. That kind of leader will not work with today’s empowered workforce and may even be counterproductive.

Today’s managers encourage employees to express their points of view and discuss or bring up tough issues.
Leaders in the past would not talk about mistakes, but today’s managers are expected to highlight mistakes along with employees so that everyone can learn from them.

2. Ability to Change

CEOs, managers, and any other type of leader of today cannot be the kind of person who sticks to what works but rather a person who can change at a moment’s notice. The reason today’s authority figures cannot stay stagnant deals with the nature of modern-day business.

The internet has been creating all sorts of changes that affect business almost at lightning speed. A new internet-based concept could cause a chain of events that could break a company that refuses to change with the times.

Take video streaming, which basically has defeated regular DVD rentals and is taking a serious bite out of the entire movie-making business. Leaders in the past were taught not to rock the boat too much because it could disrupt a well-oiled machine, but that kind of leadership could sink companies today.

3. A Reflective Spirit

Another thing that is unique about today’s authority figures is their ability to be reflective. This sense of self-awareness is unique to modern-day leaders, and it helps them improve their leadership skills and work on weaknesses.

This skill also allows modern-day directors to hire employees that will actually complement them by looking for individuals that are strong where they are weak.

Leaders from the past were not too concerned about finding individuals who might help them become better because that kind of collaboration simply did not exist back then.

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Leadership|5 Leadership Traits You Didn’t Need 50 Years Ago4. Aware of the People’s Heart

Generation X and Y employees are a different kind of workforce. These individuals know how important they are to companies and use that as leverage to get what they want.

This workforce does not mind jumping from job to job and a workforce that values experience more than pay.
A leader from the past might just alienate today’s employees so much that it might be hard to fill certain positions.

This is the reason contemporary authority figures need to be able to keep employees happy by listening to them and finding ways to create a good corporate culture.

Company culture actually helps keep employees in their positions and helps employees feel more invested in their positions, which increases productivity.

One way modern leaders do this is by rewarding the entire team instead of individual efforts, which makes employees collaborate better rather than compete with each other.

5. A Focus on Diversity

Another trait that is quite important for modern overseers is the ability to connect with all sorts of workers. The new age workforce is filled with all sorts of people as the country continues to become more diverse.

Being sensitive to all the cultural differences is important in order to make individuals feel welcomed and to respect other people’s customs. This is a trait that simply was not too important in the past.

Yesterday’s authority figures barely communicated with their workforce; the only thing that was important was getting the job done.

Leaders back in the day could have been offensive, yet they might have still been valued by their employers.
Well, new age authority figures definitely need to be more sensitive because failing to do so could not only alienate employees but could also put the company at risk of lawsuits.

StrategyDriven Podcast Special Edition 2 – An Interview with Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength

StrategyDriven Podcasts focus on the tools and techniques executives and managers can use to improve their organization’s alignment and accountability to ultimately achieve superior results. These podcasts elaborate on the best practice and warning flag posts on the StrategyDriven website.

Special Edition 2 – An Interview with Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength explores the relationship challenges that can hinder optimal team performance and how to overcome them. During our discussion, Diana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer and partner at the Monitor Group, a global management consulting firm, shares with us her insights regarding:

  • the importance of relationships to team performance
  • tools executives and managers can use to improve their business relationships
  • how third parties support, accelerate, and solidify improved relationships
  • how personality types, as defined by measures such as DiSC and MBTI, fit into her relationship improvement model
  • the complex web of relationships that exist within organizations and teams

Additional Information

Complimenting the invaluable insights Diana shares in Divide or Conquer and this special edition podcast, are the additional relationship building materials and resources found on her websites, Diana McLain Smith (www.DianaMcLainSmith.com), Action Design (www.ActionDesign.com), and Monitor Group (www.Monitor.com).

About the Author

StrategyDriven Expert Contributor | Diana McLain SmithDiana McLain Smith, author of Divide or Conquer: How Great Teams Turn Conflict into Strength, is a partner at the Monitor Group, a global management consulting firm and founding partner of Action Design, a small firm specializing in organizational learning and professional development. For the past 25 years, Diana has advised leaders and their teams on how to build relationships strong enough to master their toughest challenges. She has taught courses and delivered lectures at the Harvard Law School, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. To read Diana’s full biography, click here.

Why collaborative leaders will always win

StrategyDriven Management and Leadership Article |Collaboration|Why collaborative leaders will always winCollaboration is the biggest buzzword in business right now. Along with company culture, it is the zeitgeist of the modern business landscape. In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, agile, innovative businesses that are able to attract and retain talent, are those with the greatest chance of success.

Collaborative leaders understand this. They know instinctively that everyone in the organisation has something to offer. They believe in their human assets and create an environment that allows employees to offer ideas and opinions of their own.

You will only find truly collaborative leaders in organisations with strong and positive cultures. They go hand in hand. This is because real collaboration can only happen in a psychologically safe space where people feel respected, supported and comfortable speaking up.

So, what is it about collaborative leadership that helps a business succeed? Here I’ll be putting collaboration under the spotlight and exploring the reasons why collaborative leadership is so effective. First, let’s take a look at what collaborative leadership is.

What does collaborate leadership look like?

Leaders who understand the importance of collaboration in business have a belief system that everyone has the ability to develop, learn and contribute. This approach is known as growth mindset.

Collaborative leaders with a growth mindset have a very significant set of traits (see more on these below). Importantly, they are able to facilitate interactions, are highly effective communicators and always seek to inspire others. They flatten the traditional hierarchy seen in so many businesses and allow leaders to emerge. There is no place for micromanagement.

Justin Aldridge, Technical Director at Artemis Marketing, understands the importance of his team in the drive to be the most forward-thinking and innovative digital SEO agency around. “Listening to our people is what helps us to be thought-leaders in a highly competitive field.

“Our Rocket Projects draw on people across teams from the highly technical SEO team to our exceptionally creative in-house content writers. I’ve been blown away by the ideas that have come from the most unusual combinations of people in our business.”

In an article for Forbes on the crucial behaviours of collaborative leaders, Carol Kinsey Goman, international keynote speaker and leadership coach, says “A collaborative team isn’t a group of people working together. It’s a group of people working together who trust each other.”

Why collaborative leadership is so effective

Collaborating in business doesn’t really have any drawbacks (unless it is implemented clumsily as an afterthought, and not led by someone who truly understands the benefits, in which case it’s not really collaboration in the true sense).

Collaborative leadership is effective largely because of these three things:

1. Learning and problem-solving

Collaboration propels a business into a culture of on-going learning. This is vital for both company innovation and the progress and development of staff. When employees are encouraged to pool knowledge and skills to overcome problems and find solutions, everyone benefits. Projects move forward, employees learn new skills and learn to trust each other, and the business achieves goals and delivers to clients. This forward-looking approach enables businesses to be infinitely more agile. See more about why businesses need to be agile here.

2. Honesty, openness and trust

Collaboration, when facilitated correctly in business, creates a culture of honesty, openness and trust. Honesty is perhaps one of the most important principles of leadership.

Honest leaders are much more able to build loyalty and trust. There is great power in telling the truth. This doesn’t mean using truth to hurt people. Being radically candid is about being open and honest and not trying to protect people by underplaying problems.

The key difference in the approach of a highly successful collaborative leader is in their ability to listen, understand and discuss problems. For collaborative leaders, the focus is on solving a problem, not blaming a particular person.

Being a highly successful collaborative leader isn’t easy. It’s actually hard work. Sometimes uncomfortable truths have to be shared. But, honesty, metred with integrity, helps and encourages people. It doesn’t shoot people down.

3. Collaboration improves communication and boosts morale

When people are given the opportunity to contribute, grow connections and work together, morale gets a boost. Collaborative efforts rely on effective communication, but in reverse they also contribute to an improvement in working relationships and better communication.

Consider the opposite. In a business where collaboration is poor and teams operate in silos, it is impossible to build trust. Where there’s a lack of trust, you’ll find low morale. See how to make communication and collaboration in the workplace easier here.

Crucial behaviours of a collaborative leader

Collaborative leaders recognise the importance of interpersonal relationships and cross-team collaborations. Truly collaborative leaders are:

  • Curious
  • Generous
  • Appreciative
  • Exceptional listeners
  • Deeply knowledgeable
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest
  • Respectful
  • Diplomatic
  • Accountable
  • Team focused

Good at asking the right questions

They don’t balk at uncertainty or bad ideas. They embrace ambiguity, they discuss it. They turn every idea over and over to find the best ones. Crucially, successful collaborative leaders coach teams to feel OK about failure and not feel stupid if an idea is binned. Every idea is part of a process, and that includes the ones that don’t amount to anything.

Last, but by no means least, collaborative leaders act with integrity at all times and genuinely care about ALL of the people in their business.

Collaboration is no longer a nice-to-have philosophy. To win in business, collaboration is an essential part of business strategy. This can only flourish in businesses with leaders who have what it takes to unleash the best from their people.