THE BLOG

Leadership Is Not for the Faint of Heart

04/21/2015 09:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

I'll be the first to admit that my family and close friends were initially surprised to hear that I run a "corporation." Maybe it's the tattoo sleeves or the fact that I wear Vans to work, or maybe it's because I will forever be seen as that kid who never followed directions, colored within the lines or did what was "normal." I never would have imagined being a CEO of a "corporation." When I became a parent, I simply wanted to start a business that provided nutritious food to kids and that was also engaging, inspiring and challenging. I wanted to work at a place I felt connected to. A place -- as cliché as it may sound -- with heart.

When I started Plum, I had little experience running a company. But I quickly learned one thing: our customers and employees responded most to our values. We wear them on our sleeves. Heck, they're even painted onto our walls. So as the leader of what organically became a "mission-driven brand," that's where I focused: How can we flip the definition of "corporation" on its head and show that a company can grow and succeed without losing sight of its mission -- and most importantly, without losing sight of what enticed its employees and customers in the first place?

Too many companies these days are unfocused. They get so caught up in revenue growth, investor demands, and in-fighting that they ultimately forget about their original goal, mission, value proposition -- whatever you want to call it. But at the end of the day, where does that get you? Yes, you have may have incredible numbers to show your stakeholders, but can your employees honestly answer this question positively: "Do you LOVE your job? Not like your job. LOVE your job."

I'm not saying that I have the end all, be all answer here as to how to be a true mission-driven brand and guarantee 100-percent employee happiness. But I have discovered a few tidbits along the way that certainly have propelled Plum's growth over the years.

1. Make it personal. For me, business is always personal. Every company is founded on principles that ladder back to a personal experience -- an experience that appeals to employees and keeps them engaged on a daily basis. Whether it's a new father looking for better food options for his daughter or two friends with $5 and a desire to make ice cream euphoric, brands are born from human interactions and experiences. I have found that it's important to discover that connection and remind each and every employee of what brought them to the company every chance you get.

2. Don't forget to inspire. As a united group, rally behind your company's mission and give each employee the tools and opportunity to live out that mission each day. Build a conscious culture that embodies the higher purpose of your company, inspiring employees to join the mission as well. They will thrive on the passion, which in turn will produce better experiences and products for customers -- and ultimately boost the company's bottom-line.

3. Don't play it safe. Inspiring your employees to take risks and tackle big initiatives outside of their job responsibilities is one of the best ways to energize your team. We've always encouraged our employees to go above-and-beyond the call of duty -- and their job descriptions -- and take part in something bigger, better and more impactful.

4. Transparency is about vulnerability. This is especially true for a company experiencing growing pains. An employee's personal connection with a company develops into a relationship, and it's important to nourish that relationship by staying transparent and truthful about all aspects of the business lifecycle. During rough times, I've held "Why It Sucks" brainstorms with our entire organization -- we didn't want to mask the hardships, we wanted to collectively work through the issues. After all, we're in this together from the executive-level on down.

5. Keep the passion alive. Throughout a company's fiscal year, pepper in touch points for your employees to revive your purpose and mission. At Plum, we're truly building a family and that extends beyond our employees, directly to their significant others and children. We just held our annual family retreat, to not only reenergize our employees, but to drive the passion and company mission forward. The passion for your brand should live well beyond the walls of the organization.

Again, success may lie in any or all of these tidbits. But one thing rings true throughout: You have to have heart. Yes, I know that sounds like a line, but it's true! You spend 10-plus hours a day with your employees all working toward the same goal - to bring your mission to the world. I know I wouldn't want to spend that amount of time working toward something that I didn't wholeheartedly believe in. Do you think your employees do?