At 38 years old, Kat Cole has already held positions as an executive vice president at Hooters, president of Cinnabon, and, currently, group president at Focus Brands, which operates eateries Cinnabon, Auntie Anne’s, and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Cinnabon alone is a US$1 billion brand, reports Today.
Over the past decade, Cole has learned what it takes to be an effective leader, and now she’s coaching others as a mentor and investor at Boulder, Colorado-based startup accelerator
Merge Lane, which supports women-founded companies.
When Cole chooses her investments, she takes a good look at the founder’s leadership potential. “I have to believe they have what one of my mentors called ‘the candle power’ — that when the wind blows, they shine brighter,” she told Business Insider at Cosmopolitan and SoFi’s Fun Fearless Money event last month.
She also looks to see that the founders exhibit the four qualities she believes every entrepreneur or leader must learn to balance early in their careers to be successful.
On one side, she said, be curious and humble. “Be curious, be a student of your investors — what do they want, what do they need, what are they investing in today? Be a student of your customers. Be a student of your competitors,” Cole said.
“Be humble about the things you might need to fix. Because people will stick to you like glue if they know their advice matters and they can help shape the future of you or your initiative,” she said.
In contrast, leaders also need to be courageous and confident, she said. “[Have] the courage and confidence to make the tough calls or to take the risk.”
“At some point you do need to push back on an investor, at some point you do need to tell a customer ‘no,'” she said. “People ask, ‘Why would you ever say that? The customer is always right.’ Not if they’re an inefficient customer, not if they’re a customer that takes so many resources you can’t serve all the others,” Cole said, noting that it’s also OK to push back on business partners and employees when appropriate.
She went on to explain why it’s important to cultivate both sets of qualities equally:
“If you’re just curious and humble, and not the other part, you’re just a student. And if you’re just courageous and confident, you’re an a–hole. A–holes actually get things done in the short term, but they usually don’t build sustainable teams over time. So I look for a balance of those things.
“And that’s my advice, to constantly say, in any given week, ‘Am I demonstrating as much hustle and courage and confidence as I can? But am I also remembering to bring forward curiosity and humility?'”
Cole said that most importantly, she advises entrepreneurs to “Make sure you have a business plan that makes sense and that works. Ideas don’t make money. Businesses do.”
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