leadership

KATE BROWN

Kate repping some Boulder Organic! Soup gear in her hometown - Boulder, CO.

Kate repping some Boulder Organic! Soup gear in her hometown - Boulder, CO.

KATE BROWN
on self confidence and modeling what to do when you’re wrong

 

I can’t think of a better person to kick off my return to writing this blog than Kate Brown (not the Governor of Oregon, but another very impressive Kate—the Founder and CEO of Boulder Organic! Soups). I took a little break to get settled in my job and life after the whirlwind that was the MBA program. But now, I’m back at it and looking forward to learning more from kickass female bosses, and sharing those takeaways with you.

Now, let me introduce you to Kate.

Kate is the type of person that makes everyone she talks to feel like the most important person in the room. She is warm and charismatic and incredibly generous. She’s also a super savvy individual and a very hard worker that has created a successful business from a humble little venture that started in her kitchen.

Here’s the story of how she created and grew Boulder Organic! Soups: When Kate’s young daughter got her tonsils out, Kate ran to the store to get some soup that would be easy to swallow and would free Kate up to so that she could just spend time with her daughter while she recovered from the tonsillectomy surgery. What she found at the store was congealed, canned, concentrated “soup” that was full of preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients. So, since she couldn’t find what she was looking for, she decided to do something about it. She started making soup out of her kitchen for friends and family, and after a Whole Foods buyer heard about it, the rest was history.

Flash forward 13 years, and you can find her delicious soups in plastic tubs in the refrigerated section of grocery stores across the nation.

In Kate’s life before her soup venture, she was a therapist, which I think you’ll see evidence of in the takeaways from our convo that I share below. I think you’ll agree that she’s incredibly self-aware.  I hope you enjoy her perspective as much as I did.

 

TAKEWAYS

1. DON’T OUTSOURCE YOUR VALUE

While more and more women are finding their way into leadership in business, manufacturing is still very much a boy’s club.  So, when I asked Kate about her experience being a woman in leadership, I was really surprised by the response that she gave me. She said, “I just don’t accept pushback or negativity. It’s just so stupid.”  

That’s a nice sentiment, but I couldn’t wrap my mind around its simplicity. I asked her how she doesn’t get pissed off when she’s underestimated because of her gender. Her response is the real nugget: “I have complete 100% confidence in myself. I would have died on the vine if I had looked for outside sources of approval. Looking to others for approval is a guaranteed heartbreak.”

Throughout our careers, we’ll all be presented with countless occasions when our skills and qualifications are doubted, or when the people we look to for support are not in our corner. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which goes like this, “I do know one thing about me: I don’t measure myself by others’ expectations or let others define my worth.” That’s profound (and also much easier said than done).

There are a few strategies that I’ve come across that can help in this effort that I’d love to share with you:

  • Recognize when you’re outsourcing your worth – Pay attention to when you’re looking to others to validate your value. This is the very first thing to get a handle on, and it may be hard at first since many of us have been hustling for approval from others, especially those in power, since before we can remember.

  • Get clear on how you want to measure your worth. When I think about the things that are truly important to me, qualities like grit, generosity, hard work, resilience, optimism, and being a good teammate come to mind. These are some of my values and things that I choose to attach my worth to. If I’m out of line with my integrity on these things, then I’m in trouble and I need to work to find my way back to them.

Then, there are things that don’t get to determine my worth: things like how good I am at statistics, how eloquent I am when addressing a crowd, how good I am with managing the big picture (or the small details), or even how good I am at my job.

You see, these are things that I do, not things that I am. That’s why, even if I am falling short and want to improve in any of these areas, I get to choose to not allow any of them to affect my worth. It’s important to draw the distinction between those skills or traits that you want to develop from those things that you hang your worth on. This way, you can acknowledge the areas where you want to grow and lean into them without finding yourself in a full-blown identity crisis.

  • Question feedback – both the bad and the good. When you get negative—or positive—feedback, ask yourself, “Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it guiding me in the direction that I want to go?” If not, disregard (yes, even the compliments). Since you’re not hanging your worth on this feedback (see previous bullet point), then you’re able to assess feedback in a productive way.
    Now, why question positive feedback? Because it’s fickle. If you depend on the positive feedback of others to feel good about who you are and how you’re doing, then what happens if they change their mind? Or move on to the next thing?

  • Finally, get choosy about who’s opinion matters to you. Here’s a new concept for a number of you: not everyone’s opinion matters. Kate has this concept on lock down. She is selective when it comes to listening to criticism. In the case of her business, she’s worked hard to develop a strong leadership team who she trusts and welcomes feedback from and has created open lines of communication with her staff, but when it comes to people that underestimate her, she says “I know who I am. I feel totally uninterested in what someone else thinks.” She knows that she’s acting in line with her values and integrity, and that’s all that matters.

 

2. THE UPSIDE OF BEING WRONG

Because Kate is incredibly honest and totally relatable, in the next breath after telling me the value of trusting in her confidence in herself, she also shared with me that sometimes she trusts her north star too much—even when she’s wrong, she feels really right. (See? #relatable) 

While she has a sense of humor about this aspect of herself, she also pointed out that this tendency can be dangerous when you’re in a leadership position—it’s not like people are lining up to tell the boss how wrong they are.

I love Kate’s perspective on this. She opens herself up to feedback and says, “You have to be willing to not have it be an ego dig. There’s nothing wrong with being wrong. I don’t have to be right all the time.

Before I could really process that concept, she continued, “Being wrong in a leadership position is really important—you get to model for your group how you handle it. How can we learn from this?” 

There are a couple of key learnings here. First, it’s okay to be wrong sometimes**.  I know women often feel the pressure to have it all right, all of the time. But, there’s also value in being wrong—it allows us to model for our group how to handle it. There is something really powerful about a person that is able to acknowledge where they went wrong, own those mistakes, and then take the strides needed to right the ship. In addition to setting the tone for others to take risks and make moves, it also builds trust. Because she’s honest with her people even when it’s hard, they know that they can also own up when they’ve made an error.

**Note: Kate and I did talk about how not all company cultures support this, but as a leader, she feels it’s important to set the tone that it’s okay to be wrong—as long as it’s handled appropriately. This may be something to consider when evaluating culture fit at a new job, or something to model if/when you’re in a place of influence.