Kristen Hadeed believes in the power of failure. It’s what makes us human, helps us grow and strengthens our resilience over time. So what does that have to do with leadership? As it turns out, everything. We chatted with Kristen about what she learned while starting her own company, why she believes in compassionate leadership and how she encourages blossoming leaders to take the leap.
You have learned a lot about leadership over the last few years. What do you know now that would have been most useful to you as a new leader back then (starting your company)?
There are literally so many things I wish I had known! Here are some of the biggest ones:
Go at your own pace. You don’t need to move at a faster speed than you’re comfortable with just because it’s what other people tell you you should want to do. I learned this by starting a tech company and opening a second location of my business—at the same time! Both ventures ended up failing because my heart wasn’t truly in them, and I was in over my head from the start.
You are not alone. Leadership can feel so isolating, especially if you started a company by yourself. The biggest ah-ha for me happened when I realized that I’m no longer building this culture or this company alone. When I started to see our company as something my leadership team and I build together, everything changed. I realized that I don’t have to make decisions alone, and I don’t have to decide what’s important to other people without bringing them to the table. Instead of making big decisions on my own, we make them together.
How do you incorporate humanity and authenticity into your personal leadership style? Could you give us a specific example?
The simplest, best example I have of consistently encouraging authenticity as a leader is by starting meetings with personal check-ins. In every meeting I have with my team, we begin by sharing how we’re doing both in and outside of work. There are no “rules” around the check-in—you only share what you want to share. The purpose behind it is twofold: 1) It helps build relationships, and 2) It informs how we’re showing up at work that day.
For example, if there’s something really heavy happening in someone’s personal life but they’re not ready to share specifics, they might say in their check-in, “Hey, I’m feeling really down today and I’m having trouble meeting my deadlines because of it.” That helps the rest of the team understand why that person might not be as helpful or productive as they usually are, and it also gives us an opportunity to step in and take some responsibilities off their plate until they’re in a better place mentally.
It’s a simple thing to ask someone—“How are you?“—but it can make the biggest difference in your working relationship when you’re willing to be vulnerable with your answer. As the leader of a team, I strive to set the example by being vulnerable and authentic in my personal check-ins.
You often say leaders need to learn constantly. What was a recent experience you were able to learn and grow from?
I recently asked my team for feedback about one of my biggest insecurities as a leader: how well I balance over- and under-stepping. It’s confusing for me because sometimes, when I think I’m helping, the team tells me they feel I’m overstepping. And other times when I’m hands-off, I feel I’m empowering them, but then they tell me they need more guidance.
From their feedback, I learned of recent times in which I had overstepped, which seemed to be the area where I had the most room for growth. It was helpful for them to explain specific instances where this has happened so that I could learn and reflect on what I can do differently in the future.
But we also realized that this is an area I really cannot grow in without their immediate feedback. So If they ever feel that I’m overstepping, I asked them to tell me, “We’ve got it.” And if they feel I’m not stepping in to help enough, I asked them to tell me, “We need you.” It’s going to help me better serve them as a leader, and it’s going to help us work better together as a team.
How do you encourage leaders you work with to think differently about their mistakes and to accept them as learning experiences?
My mindset around mistakes and failure is that everything is a learning opportunity. I encourage leaders to create what I call a “Resilience Resume,” where they write down failures or challenges in their past and think about the lessons they learned from them. It helps them reframe those tough moments as times when they learned something important about themselves or learned what not to do going forward. I tell them that whenever they encounter hard moments in the future, they can look back at their Resilience Resume as a reminder that they’ve gotten through hard things before, and they can do it again.
If you had to create a new leadership development program within a company, what are the most important aspects would you focus on first?
We have actually created this kind of program! Our company became known for developing leaders, so we created our signature leadership development program to help other companies invest in their people like we’ve done in ours.
Here are the six components that we focus on in our Human Leadership Program that we think are most important when it comes to developing talent and leadership skills:
- Mindset: How to reframe self-limiting thoughts and establish a growth mindset
- Trust: How to develop, maintain and strengthen trust and make others feel seen and heard
- Communication: How to facilitate authentic conversations and give clear, productive and compassionate feedback
- Growth: How to face fear and failure and find opportunities for growth in every challenge
- Self-Compassion: How to prioritize self-care and work/life harmony so that you can better serve others
- Impact: How to lean into your unique strengths and use them to make a difference
Many young people with leadership potential are afraid to take on those responsibilities. How can organizations support them to realize their potential and find the confidence to take on leadership roles?
I think that the lack of confidence in people can stem from a lack of knowledge. When we’ve never done something before, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we don’t know what we’re doing and can’t possibly be good at it.
There are a couple important things that organizations can do for rising leaders:
- Give them all of the tools, training, and resources you can that will help them develop not only their leadership skills, but their own specific strengths and talents. Feeling confident in themselves and their abilities will go a long way to boosting their confidence in leadership.
- Giving them room to fail and learn from their mistakes. This is the biggest way I’ve learned to develop leaders. Making mistakes is inevitable, and when you punish someone for those mistakes, you aren’t helping them learn. They will learn so much more from coming up with their own solutions and fixing their own mistakes!