Investing the in Future of Food: Focus on ‘we’ not ‘me’ to build the strongest team

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Investing in the Future of Food, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Startup company

Entrepreneurs just starting out may feel pressured to present a façade of perfection or else risk missing an opportunity, but the CEO of Lily’s Sweets, Jane Miller, argues the opposite is true – that failing to seek help managing weaknesses or bridging knowledge gaps can hold back emerging leaders and brands.

In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Investing in the Future of Food​, Miller explains how effective leaders don’t hide their shortcomings, but rather surround themselves with smart, complementary people who they then let take the credit for successes. To maximize these relationships, Miller adds effective leaders create an environment where employees feel supported enough to take the types of risk that can generate great results without fear that if they fail their careers could end.

“From a leadership standpoint, what I try to do today is to create an environment where people feel like they can succeed, but make mistakes and not be afraid that there is negative repercussions for that,”​ Miller said.

She acknowledged that entrepreneurs and business leaders don’t want to make the same mistake repeatedly, but neither do they want to create an environment where their staff don’t feel supported and are too scared to take a chance.

Miller explained that she learned this lesson early in her career when a senior executive at her company criticized her work and threatened to replace her in front of other employees, who she says were too scared to stand up for her.

“What I learned from that was not that that guy was mean or a jerk, but that … you need to have people’s backs and that you can’t leave anybody out there to sink or swim. It isn’t the school of hard knocks,”​ Miller said.

Rather, she added, successful companies are supportive and foster teamwork so that employees feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Start from a place of empathy

Miller acknowledges sharing the glory and forgiving failure can be easier said than done, but said starting from a place of empathy helps.

“If you are really trying to understand where the other people and your team are coming from, you are going to actually be much better”​ at leading, she said. “So, a lot of times someone might have just started a family, or might be grieving the death of a parent or might just be a little bit in over their heads with the job because they haven’t had the opportunity to develop all their skills.”

Once leaders recognize how these situations might impact an employee’s work, they will be able to compensate or offer the right kind of help to not only get the job done but help their staff feel more at ease and successful, she said.

Develop a strong support network

The times Miller says she has learned the most in her career have been when she has made the most mistakes. But, she adds, the weight of mistakes is easier to bear when entrepreneurs have a strong support network on which they can rely.

“I would just recommend to anyone who is starting a company is having a network of mentors,”​ she said. “I wish when I was earlier in my career I would have had the confidence to reach out to people to ask them to help me,”​ instead of feeling like I had to prove myself, by myself, she added.

Miller recognizes that finding a mentor and developing a support network can be hard. She shares strategies for doing this on her website, JaneKnows.com​ – which focuses on helping people navigate successful career paths. There s recommends that people look beyond their company for mentors in their broader community by exploring their college connections and social networks.  

She also notes that approaching a potential mentor need not be intimidating – simply ask someone to coffee or for an informal meeting. Beyond that, she recommends being prepared with specific questions and to listen.

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