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.
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
Laureen 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.