Are you in search of a leadership style that combines empathy, decisiveness, and continuous personal growth? Kat Cole, the dynamic President and COO of Athletic Greens, is a testament to the power of such an approach. Her journey from working as a waitress to leading major corporations is nothing short of inspirational.
Growing up in challenging circumstances, Kat learned the importance of hard work early on. This experience instilled in her a blend of humility, empathy, and a relentless drive for success. Her story is a reminder that your beginnings don’t dictate your future, but your choices and actions do.
Kat introduces us to the “hotshot rule,” a unique self-assessment tool. It involves imagining a highly competent person in your role and asking, “What would they do differently?” This practice encourages us to step out of complacency and strive for continuous improvement. Whether you’re leading a team, managing a project, or just starting your career, applying this rule can ignite a transformative journey. As Kat says, “Every decision is a chance to learn.” Let her insights inspire you to embrace growth and make decisions with empathy and courage.
To learn more, and for the complete show notes, visit: the1thing.com/pods.
We talk about:
- The value of seizing opportunities and learning as a currency
- The power of saying ‘no’
- Empathy, customer focus, and decision-making skills in leadership roles.
- The ‘Hotshot Rule’: A self-coaching practice for personal and professional improvement.
- ‘Ask, Answer, Act’ Framework: A method for continuous personal and professional development.
Links & Tools from This Episode:
- Connect with Kat Cole on LinkedIn
- Follow Kat Cole on Instagram: @katcoleatl
- Free Resources
- Want to be a guest or share feedback? Email email@example.com
Produced by NOVA Media
Hey everyone, and welcome back to The ONE Thing podcast. I have a guest that personally I am just so, so, so excited to have here. Kat Cole is president and COO and board of directors of Athletic Greens, a growth stage wellness consumer brand, and one of the fastest growing nutrition companies in the world.
Chris and I are also huge fans personally. And she was previously president and CEO of Focus Brands, the global owner, franchisor, and operator of Schlotzky's, Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe's Southwest Grill, McAllister's Deli, Auntie Annie's, and Jamba Brands doing billions in omnichannel annual sales across over 70 countries. She's also an angel investor in over 70 early-stage companies and advisor to growth stage founders and funds. Welcome, Kat. We're so excited to have you.
Thank you for having me.
I have to say getting through that bio just makes me very, very hungry. I'm just going into holiday and craving mode now. Well, like I said, Chris and I are big fans of AG, one of the actual product itself. We've both been using it for a long time. And I know prior to this, you have sort of an unconventional rise, meteoric rise to the top from an executive perspective. And I'd love if you could share that. I'd love if you would just share for those that don't know you, if you could just share a little bit of your story.
Sure. The very short version is I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. I'm the oldest of three girls. I have two younger sisters. When I was nine years old, my mom and my sisters and I left my dad. He was an alcoholic, great person, terrible husband and father. Both sides of my family were very poor. It was incredibly difficult. My mom fed us -- and we did leave. My mom fed us on a food budget of $10 a week for three years. She worked multiple jobs.
I started working at a very young age, as soon as I, well, even before I legally could, anything I could do to earn money around the neighborhood. And then once I could legally be employed, I started working. I cleaned gym equipment at the age of 10. I became a mall salesclerk at the age of 16. And then the age of 17, I added in a 3rd job. So I kept all of these to be a hostess at Hooters restaurants.
And a few really interesting things happened. One, I graduated high school. I was the first person in my family to get into college. And so being a waitress because I had then turned 18 so I could legally be a waitress was my way to pay for school. That was it. And I thought I was doing great. I was completely independent. I moved out. My mom was so proud.
And then Hooters as a restaurant chain started growing very rapidly, including internationally. That created opportunities for me while I was in college to start traveling, traveling within the state to help train employees and other restaurants, to work shifts in other restaurants. But then, by the time I was 19, that included the opportunity to start traveling internationally and be a part of the training team to open new franchise locations, first one of the brand, in multiple countries. And in fact, first on multiple continents.
And as a result of that, I ended up traveling so much. That first and second year of college, I started failing. I was never there. I was literally getting Fs because of being gone. And so right before the completion of my second year in college, I dropped out. Luckily, the Hooters corporate office was growing. As a result of the unit growth, offered me an opportunity to interview for a job. Took my first corporate gig. At 20, moved to Atlanta.
That's how I got to where I live today still. And then as the company grew, I grew. And over the next many years, I moved into an executive role by the age of 26. I was an executive leader there for many years, then was recruited to be president of Cinnabon. So I left Hooters after in total fourteen year time there between hostess to top executive suite and became president of Cinnabon. Turn that brand around out of the great recession, built an incredible team.
Then took a larger role in the parent company, Focus Brands, managing the CPG e-commerce business, then became president and COO of Focus Brands, nine presidents reporting to me, multiple billions in sales, multiple continents, nine brands or eight and a half brands. And then I left to take a year off. So I thought and ended up getting recruited to advise Chris Ashenden, the founder of Athletic Greens, the company behind AG1. And I was already a customer and a total fangirl. And that turned into my next chapter. And I've been the president, COO, and a board member at AG for two years, little over two years.
So incredible. Such an amazing story. And I think that when someone hears something like this, there's an element, especially early on that someone might say you were in the right place at the right time, which certainly is an element of us getting to anywhere we want to go. But all I hear when you tell your story is you had a hard go when you were younger. Our stories aren't dissimilar, but I just have you be, because I have seven sisters and I know anyone who has multiple sisters, like just feels the pain. I always say it's like if someone wants to imagine it, it's like Hunger Games without weapons.
Mostly without weapons.
Yes. And may the odds ever be in your favor.
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so when I look up, I see someone who had a hard go and probably learned really young. And if I'm projecting, correct me, but probably learned really young that if it was to be, it was up to you.
Like if you wanted something, you had to go and get it. And you probably built this insatiable work ethic, which is the theme that I see through all of this. You don't get to where you are now without having a true grit, which I have to imagine was developed when you were younger.
And as you grew, can you talk about that? Like, was that the thing that really got you? Because you had this meteoric rise relatively young. And I have to imagine that you were having to outwork people who had been around for a really long time. And is that what you credit it to? Do you think that built the foundation for what you were able to do?
Yeah. I mean I don't know how you remove that from the equation and get the same outcome. One in particular was that for me, work, well, my currency was learning. Anything that was new was different. Anything that was different as a result meant I was getting farther away from the past I did not want to be a part of. That was gold to me, literal gold.
And so in the early days, that meant I said yes to anything. Want me to clean the bathrooms? Love to. Want me to drive you to the airport? Happy to, it would be my honor. Want me to pick up a crappy shift that no one wants? Absolutely. It's extra money, extra hours and extra opportunity for me. And so it was just like, everything was a ticket to somewhere. I didn't know where, but that somewhere was different than my past.
I didn't want to end up like my dad. I didn't want to end up like so many people I saw who it appeared to me did not get fully connected to their potential, whether it was because they stayed very small in their thinking or were a product of their environment at the time and didn't change their environment.
And so, my currency was learning. Work was my ticket to new experiences. Therefore, my ticket to learning and it felt honorable to me. Work felt like cool. I mean, anything. And it was all hourly labor, but I felt so cool because I was making my own money. I felt a level of independence as a result. Because these were hourly jobs, it also meant the more I worked, the more I made. It was just this like very positive feedback loop for effort.
Now, as we know, it's not all about working more, it's about working smart and that would get layered in later. But in the early days, I just said yes to so much. And that gave me many, many more experiences with people that led to leadership capability at a very young age, that led to a level of confidence in trying new things, that opened up new opportunities. So those were all the things underneath the work ethic banner that were driving it.
It was a little bit of I was running from something. I was running from my past. I was running from what I felt like was a state of being or a way of showing up in the world that I didn't respect, that I didn't want for me, something I felt was better, but I didn't know. And so, my curiosity and my humility, yet my confidence and my courage, these four mindsets that I talk about a lot were enough to carry me through that.
And certainly, that was modeled by my mom. I saw it, I applied it to myself. And I was personally energized. I don't know if it was nature or nurture, but I was personally energized by the journey of work.
Did you -- I hear you on this just kind of motivation to run from the past, but also just saying yes to the opportunities in front of you, building momentum. Like as, you kind of alluded to this, but as you developed more professionally, can you share how your goal setting process has evolved in that? And like how you become more dialed in on what that next step is and how you orient yourself.
It's funny. My husband is insanely goal driven, right? It's in his DNA.
He's rode across the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat. He rode across the Caribbean. He's trying to circumnavigate the globe on only human power. He has to have something that's --
Just that. Just a regular old Wednesday.
Yeah. No big deal.
And that's his like side hustle. It's actually -- and so what I have witnessed to is someone who is goal driven to the extreme, who must have a goal, who must be working towards something, who must be training for something to be fulfilled in this world. I am the opposite. And my natural state is learning and exploring and this feeling of abundance that when I'm doing the right thing, that feels right, where I add value, just more opportunity comes, and I lean into that. So I have been on the more opportunist side than the I know where I want to go and I'm breaking down the milestones from there and then I follow that in that path. So that's my innate approach, how I show up in the world.
As I have started to lead businesses and lead more teams and mentor others, I have learned and read and listened and recognized that some goal setting mechanic is best for most. And so, I have learned to teach it. And then as a result began modeling it a bit for me, but I want to give you that context so that no one listening is like, oh, she knew where she was going, and she set the path. It was never that. Never ever.
But I will say when I was a hostess at Hooters, when I was a waitress, all my customers, my peers, they would say things like, you're going to run this place one day. You act like you're the president. But it wasn't, I want to be the president. I wanted -- I thought I was just paying my way through college. My plan was to finish my engineering degree, go to law school and become a lawyer. That was the plan. Waitressing was just a means to that end.
But yet, the feedback I was getting from everyone is like you're a leader in this industry, in this place. And whether it was that affirmation or some of my deep beliefs that I could do it, whether or not I yet wanted to, was the guide that led me to, oh, I got the phone call. Can you be on a training team when you're 19 years old? I've never been on a plane and don't have a passport to go to Australia to open the franchise. The answer was yes. Why would I say yes if that's not my goal, if that's not my mission?
And so I do think my goal setting matured late in life relative to what people see me achieve. And it's because of this work ethic. It's because I joined high growth companies. So there was opportunity all around for me to take. There were leaders who saw potential in me, who didn't have a dated view of what talent could look like. And that's a huge piece of the story. But once I started running companies, so I was president of Cinnabon at 31 and got into that for a few years. You know when you're 31 and people are like, you've made it, this is the peak. And you're like, this is the peak, this is it, what do I do?
And so that's when my goal setting became more meaningful. And it actually started in my personal life before it started in my professional life. I was seeing people around me get sick. My mom had breast cancer. I was thinking very heavily about my personal and most intimate relationships and what worked for me. And so, I put more effort into intention setting, manifesting goal setting for my personal life.
Because the professional, it was just like clicking because of that intersection of work ethic opportunity and advocates. And so, it focused on my health, my fitness, my nutrition. Those were my goals. And when I started to see achievement against those goals, that goal setting muscle then connected more to my professional world of what is most important to me and how do I want to think about money and income and financial health? How do I want to think about affiliations and my ego and what matters to me and gives me my sense of self? How do I want to think about where I can lead and add value versus where I want to grow and how I want to learn? And these are actually three columns I developed in this big life decision spreadsheet.
And that then began my era of professional goal setting by being much more aligned in my values in what was next, what is my worth, and how do I connect my values with how I'm being valued in whatever my endeavors are, whether they were investing and entrepreneurial and that really sprung up at this time, or my larger corporate executive roles.
So much to unpack there. I love this idea that you get clear on your values. This is something we're talking about in The ONE Thing to get clarity on your values, which you connect to, we call it purpose, right? We connect our purpose to our priorities and to our productivity, which just basically says that who I want to be in the world, what I want to stand for and the impact that I want to have is what informs what I need to do today.
But I have to imagine, you talked earlier that you showed up in the world with this just amazing work ethic and you were the person raising your hand saying, I'll do it. So you probably got a much faster learning experience. We probably had a PhD in the industry before most people ever got through elementary school because you said yes to so many things, which I think from a leadership standpoint, and you correct me if I'm wrong, but I think from a leadership standpoint actually makes it easier to lead.
When you've done all of the jobs that you're training, I think it actually makes it easier to connect, much easier to lead, easier to translate. So I have to imagine that helped on that journey too. But at some point, I imagine your responsibilities got so vast, you had to start to narrow down what you said yes to. So without these big goals in mind, what did you -- how did you learn through that? And how did you start to narrow it down?
I mean, I just went through a chapter that you would imagine would eventually occur to someone who said yes to a lot of things. I started being able to deliver on my commitments. I started canceling things. I started procrastinating, which is a hallmark of being over scheduled and overwhelmed for many people.
And I can remember this season of my life so clearly because I had been such so in sync on purpose, I love saying on purpose because the double the intentional, but also in line with my purpose. I was so on purpose. And then when it was like, now I had just as much inbound as I had outbound and then I had more inbound than I even needed to go look for, my yes muscle was stronger than my no muscle. And it took the people pleaser in me to feel the disappointment of letting people down to then say, this is not okay. I am not okay with letting people down. I don't like this feeling. I don't want to procrastinate things that I myself have layered on to my list and my yeses and my commitments, et cetera.
And so I don't remember the particular day or thing, but I remember the feeling of there are actually ways that are right for me to start saying no. And I just started saying no with vigor. No, that's not right for me right now. No, not me, but let me introduce you to someone who could help you. No, that's not in line with my priorities. No, my schedule won't allow that. I'm so sorry. No, period. No, thank you, period. And I just started saying no.
And the crazy thing was the more I said no, the more things came. And so, it also was this reminder, this world of abundance if you're thinking, well, if I don't do this, then I won't have a connection. Or if I don't do this, I won't. And well, talk about the opposite of what we just talked about was my beginning, which was my power. It was saying yes to so many things. And then eventually, it had to be saying no and figuring out which things to say no and not being scared to say no for fear of not only letting someone down, but of removing my own on seemingly unending opportunity, whether that was mentoring or investing or speaking, right? At some point, we have limited resources.
So I just learned a lot of ways that felt in really honoring my style to say no. And then I got better at the few things I was saying yes to. And now, I'm a master at saying no.
It's a good skill to have. I have a question about, Nikki mentioned earlier that we're both fans of Athletic Greens and AG1. I've been taking and drinking Athletic Greens for a couple of years. Love it. Almost every day. But I want to ask you a question about the organization and kind of the customer orientation, because I want to explain my experience and I promise it's a positive thing.
But I get this sensation from being a customer with Athletic Green, so you guys make it really easy to be a customer. And specifically, I can go in and adjust the frequency of when I get my Athletic Greens. Like a couple of times, I've wanted to be like, you know what, I'm not sure I want this every month or every day. And I've been able to adjust it based on my need or the holidays or whatever's going on.
And I think there's something really powerful from a customer perspective and for the business owners and leaders out there to learn from what you guys are doing about making it really easy to be a customer and kind of fine tune my experience to build the value for myself. And I just want to hear your perspective on how you guys do that, if it's intentional or what you could share.
It's certainly unintentional, but it makes me so happy to hear you say that because when I joined, the founder and I both agreed, that it actually wasn't easy enough, that while there were capabilities to do the things you say, not everyone could find it easily. And then as a result, we had this evidence of people who were like, well, if I can't change it, I'll just cancel, or I won't change it because I'm not sure how to do it. And then I end up with too much and then I cancel.
And so it's like, if you don't do the right thing for the customer, even if it feels like giving them flexibility to spend less, to behave differently or less than optimally to your highest value customers, if you don't do that right thing, you will pay for it in the ultimate way. And I have lived this example so many times in my consumer business career, where if you don't offer the affordable option or the convenient flexibility, whatever it is, the customer ultimately votes with their wallet and their feet, and sometimes their mouth, and they tell other people that it's not easy.
And so one of our internal mantras a few years ago on this exact topic was don't make me call you. Meaning for the customer, we were envisioning the customer saying, don't make me call you. Meaning if it can and should be easy, make it easy, make it technological, make it seamless. So I am filled with joy to hear you say that your experience, I still think it's not exactly where it could be. We have made it easier to not only be flexible, change your date, modify your schedule, but to switch from pouch to travel packs, to add travel packs, to add a shaker bottle, if yours is lost or broken or damaged to add a scoop.
I mean, all that's new, but we had so many customers asking us for these things, like the data was there. People were screaming, give me this flexibility. And so it wasn't always what you describe, but our obsession is for a product that is so premium, that is about health. And if it's about health, I mean, it's an all-in-one comprehensive foundational nutrition product. You shake it up in water, you put it in your body to help give your body the foundation that it needs for gut health and energy. If we're about health and therefore the north star, the relationship is trust, we can't do other things technologically that create mistrust.
And there's a lot of companies that make it hard to cancel, that make it impossible to call. And ultimately that's shady, right? It feels shady. It feels like this isn't right. As a customer, you assume you're going to be able to do what you need to do that's right. And when you can't, it feels icky, and it makes you mistrust that company and then makes you angry. And then you ruin this relationship that you held in people's minds.
So for us, what you described is the minimum, it is the bar. It is the least we could do to create a beautiful, long-lasting relationship and help people on their health ownership journey.
Kat, I just want to echo this. And I think it's really important in business. I've always said that whether you're dealing with an employee or a customer or a relationship, how you get out of relationship, whether it's business or personal, I would offer is almost more important than how you get into it.
And I just want to asterisk what you just said, because I think it's so important and I don't think enough businesses talk about this, care about this, but the lift to get out of the subscription, the lift to change the subscription, the lift to do whatever that isn't qualified as getting into relationship is just so heavy that it creates that, you articulated perfectly, you stop trusting and you don't know why, and you can't really name it. It just gives you the ick.
And so I want to just echo what Chris said that I love the flexibility to change, to increase, to decrease, to stop, to start whatever it is that you need with AG1, because it does create this relationship of trust. They are there for me when I need them.
Yeah. And there's a lot to take away for I think any business because you're going to have customers. So make it easy to be in business and stay in business with your customers and treat them that way. And I just love that about you guys. And I think anybody listening can take a lot away from that. Like you said, maybe price of admission, it's probably the right mindset to have. Like this is the minimum expectation, but boy, do we not operate that way in most industries.
Kat, you're well known in the business world as just this really high level operator, really high level leader. And I think sometimes operations to people who aren't in them can feel really esoteric. Like what does it mean to be a great operator? What do you think is the skillset that you have or that you've developed? Maybe I'd love to hear the innate one that you had, because I do think that we always have innate skills that we're able to apply. Maybe it's that unique thing that you really do well naturally. And then what you've had to develop in order to operate these enormous companies.
On the innate side, I boil it down to likely a very high, high degree of empathy and the way that empathy showed up early was just customer and employee obsession. Like I was just constantly putting myself in the position of the customer and our employees which were my peers --
Was the customer too, right?
Yeah. And so I would think about what made it easy for the customer? And again, it's so hard to know what's nature or nurture. And maybe there's something about that industry in particular where you're so close to the feedback of the customer. The feedback loops are very tight. I mean, they're almost overlapping, right? You do a thing, you walk three steps, and you order the thing. And then someone three steps away makes the thing.
And then three steps more, they give you the thing. And then you take three steps and give the customer the thing. And then you're right there. You see their face. Do they like it or not? They ask you more, do you like it or not? Then they transact in the same hour and then you have, at least in that case, since it was a full-service restaurant, tipping, which was also a method, not always, but often a feedback. So you had the human feedback, the transactional feedback, and that loop happened 30, 40 times a day, working for me, two shifts a day, six days a week for years.
And so you just think about the sheer math of those inputs. And so, the customer and their experience was the center of my thinking. So even when I became a corporate leader just a few years later, and a top executive just a few years later, that wasn't a lot of time between those experiences in store facing the customer, having them yell if they're upset, or cry with joy if they're so moved, or tipping a lot or tipping what they could, or coming back another day or sending their friends and saying -- you get all these feedback loops that the volume of those was so great that I didn't unlearn them or forget them when I was sitting around a board table.
And so I believe that was the somehow innate part, this empathy and this customer centeredness that drove all of my decision making as an operator. The learned part, the journey I had to be on, man, that list is long. One is as I became a leader of leaders who were leaders of leaders. So the distance between me and the customer got longer, messages get filtered, fragmented. You have to say something many times, very consistently for it to be heard because there's layers, which means really you have to say fewer things and do fewer things down to the one thing.
Like you just have to learn that I can't do all the things because all the stakeholders aren't right here in front of me right now anymore. There are layers. There's space and time. There are hundreds of thousands of employees who don't even work for me anymore. They work for franchisees who are my business partner, not my employee. And they have their own mission, vision, values. They have their own culture. And now we've got to integrate these.
And so the learned part over time was the reality of focus, prioritization and communicating. There may have been parts of that that were innate, but the way they had to be applied at scale as a global executive were to the extreme. And I had to be far more academic, and intentional, and planful about those things as opposed to I'm in the store, I'm on the shift, I can modify on a diamond. Oh, that didn't come out right, let me try again. You don't get a lot of do overs. You don't actually have to make a lot of decisions as a chief executive, but the few you make have extreme ripple effects.
And then the other learned piece was hiring and just interviewing, hiring, how to get at what really is the right talent for the work you need today versus the work you needed yesterday. And so getting really good at just people development, hiring, training, development, firing people into their potential, as I like to say. Those are all learned. Those capabilities are more learned less than eight for almost anyone and require a lot of scar tissue. You got to make a lot of mistakes to get good at that stuff.
You said you opened up a lot of new locations early on when you were in, and so I'd imagine you were a trainer and doing that. So you had to train a lot of new employees. Do you find that skill pulls forward for you just evolved it over time?
Definitely. The idea of my job is to help you be good at your job. It’s ultimately leadership. It's leadership. I mean, at that time it was a shift. It said trainer, right? And so you come here on this shift and instead of just waitressing, you're waitressing and teaching someone else to waitress, or you're cooking and teaching someone else to cook. And you've got a checklist to follow, and you do it and they watch, and you explain it, and then they do it and you watch and explain it. And then you let them do it and you give them feedback and then they're off on their own and they fly the nest.
And so that, but ultimately that is coaching. And coaching is an element of leadership. And so, it was a fantastic training ground for developing people.
Yeah, yeah. It feels like that's a skill that you said it's a component or a hat to wear as a leader that you need to sharpen. But if you don't have that opportunity to develop it, it can be a deficit. And a lot of leaders that I see, and if you missed that skill, then you missed the opportunity to grow the people around you. And it seems like you default that way. And as a result, it's been a huge benefit for you.
The other balance to that skill that was developed as a trainer, ultimately when I started leading the teams, which happened just a few months into being a trainer, a couple openings, a couple countries, and all of a sudden, I wasn't a trainer on the team. I was the leader of the entire opening, leading the training team. And so, the partnering skill to that is decision making.
Like ultimately people want to be led. Ultimately, people want clarity. The only way they get clarity if a decision is made. And a decision made, even if imperfect is better than a decision not made because then people can't follow. And if it's wrong, you'll figure it out faster and then you can make a different decision.
But this partnering of training, coaching, helping others develop into their potential with being willing to be the person to make the call and fully owning the downside that may come if it doesn't work out well, but if it does work out well, fully putting that light and celebration and recognition on the team who brought like those things come together in a really important set of puzzle pieces.
I think also when you're training like that, I hear your perspective and you can hear that it's authentic, that if we fail, we fail. If it's the wrong decision, we'll figure it out. And that perspective from a team's view, I think also empowers them to fail, and empowers them to bring forward ideas, and empowers them to say, maybe this is the right path, because then they're not so afraid that whatever suggestion they provide, if it's not the right that they're going to get the hammer for it.
Kat, I have to imagine, and as someone who sort of grew up in business too, I have to imagine that you might have felt at some point when you look up and you're 31, leading this huge company, or 26 and an executive prior to that, or 19 and training these teams, that there might have been some self-talk or what now we would name as imposter syndrome. And I have been a big fan of yours. I followed your career for a long time.
And I read an article, maybe it was in Fortune. I read an article where you talked about something that you called the hotshot rule. Can you share what that is? Because I thought it was just so powerful. And I thought for any young person or any person really listening to this, who might be feeling shaky or feeling like their foundation is shaken because they just took a really big job and maybe they feel like, why me? Or I have all these people around me who are more qualified or older or whatever it is. I thought this could be really helpful.
Yeah. The hotshot rule is it's essentially a self-coaching practice where I use the perspective of an outsider for my immediate situation as motivation, clarity, and to drive action. And it is in a way it can be used as a tool that is almost an antidote to what people would call imposter syndrome. I've only often called it the internal saboteur, the voice in our heads.
And if anyone has read books on this or listen to discussions, you often get to a similar point, at least the modern take on it, which is what we consider self-doubt is in a way good. It can be good. It's a sign of humility. It shows that you are reflecting and considering your place in a situation or a moment or a team. So it can be a tool, but for many people, it becomes almost a weapon against themselves to create smallness, shame, I don't belong here, who am I to question them, who am I to speak up, I'm so lucky to be here. I've told people like, you're not Miss America. You were hired here to do a job in the sea.
We pay you.
Yeah. And so it's okay to have those thoughts. This is my first, it's normal. We all have them. But as my chief people officer at AG often says, it's okay to have a negative voice in your head, just don't set up residence there. Don't get your mail sent there. Just visit and move along. It's serving a purpose. Don't give it a lot of oxygen because -- and certainly some people will give it more oxygen than others. And that can remove the energy that should be going into the work because you're in your head. So that's my thoughts on negative self-talk or imposter syndrome or the internal saboteur or self-doubt.
Then as it relates to the hot shot rule, I remember when I was an executive at Hooters, I went through a period of time where I had some amazing mentors in the company. Obviously, I wouldn't have gotten to where I did without people who believed in me and gave me a shot at a very young age. And I can name them all by name, Kimmy, Cheryl, Mike, Kobe, Colleen, like the list just goes on and on. And yet, I had trouble getting external mentors.
I worked for Hooters for a long time. I had a business card with an owl on it. Many of the people I wanted to be my mentors were women. If I walked up to the average female executive, who was often two times my age at a minimum, “Hey, I'm Kat. I work for Hooters. Will you be my mentor?” I mean, not exactly what people would line up --
Not the pitch they were looking for.
And so I developed a self-practice that actually heard from a restaurant consultant. It was at a conference. I heard a restaurant consultant talking about the importance of thinking of people you admire and imagining what they would do in your situation. And so I started doing that. And it was quarterly and then it was so powerful, it became monthly and then weekly.
And the hotshot rule is essentially this, you give yourself a few minutes, not even a few minutes. It can be like a minute. It will take me longer to explain it than it takes to practice it. Close your eyes, envision someone you admire, anyone, doesn't matter. It can be your mom, your coach, someone you met at a conference, a celebrity, just someone you admire, imagine that they are in your seat tomorrow.
So for whatever reason, you retire, you're on an island, something positive, and they take over your gig, they inherit your Slack, your email, your team, your meetings, your cadence, you have no time to say thank you, goodbye, fire that person, hire that person, have that conversation you should be having. They just take over. And there's something very powerful about the psychological experience of someone you admire inheriting everything, the good and the not so good that you know very well is real in your situation.
And then you ask yourself when they're sitting at that desk or in that team meeting that day one, what is one thing and the first thing that they would immediately do to make things better? And for whatever reason, it comes to mind very quickly because in the back of our minds, we know the things we're putting off or that used to be big problems, but now they're small problems, but they're still today's biggest problems or that the team's bringing up. You just know, but we are blinded by our own progress.
And over time, I have so much success that I realized my complacency. I realized I was blinded by my own progress. I was hiring new people who are like pounding the table for things and I was thinking it's not as big of a deal as the thing I dealt with two years ago, yet they're like why aren't you making this decision.
And so you envision someone you admire, you imagine them in your role, you ask what's one thing in the first thing they would do differently to make the business better. The answer comes to mind, ask, answer, but then you act on it in 24 hours. If you can't do it fully without involved stakeholders, you at least schedule the call, book the flight, send the note. You put something in action, ask, answer, act. It is the meta framework for all my frameworks.
The hotshot rule is one of many versions of ask, answer, act. The question is just what would someone I admire do in my role? Answering it is happening in my head instead of from someone else. And then acting on it is within my control. But the last step of the act is I tell my team. So I practice this every Sunday. On Mondays when I have team meetings, you don't even have to say I practiced the hotshot rule. You can just say, I was thinking if one of you were in my role, you would do X, Y, Z, and you can see people's faces. And sometimes they will just say it, some version of finally, what took you so long. It's about time. Every week I get a reaction that there's something I finally decide to do that I could have and should have done sooner.
The key with the hot shot rule is to use it as a tool, not a weapon, as motivation, not shame, as not I suck, I should have done this. Man, I'm going to wallow in. No, it's just I'm going to get better at this one thing every week through action. It's not a thinking exercise. It's not a meditation. It's not an intention. It's not a reflection. It's also not running with scissors and taking crazy wild action without thoughtfulness.
Ask, answer, act.
In this single practice, sometimes I practice it for my personal roles. My role as a wife, my role as a daughter. Mostly, it's my professional roles, but I weave in personal. So I think there are a lot of people I know, at least now at this age of my life, who've lost their parents. And so when I think about the fact that what would someone I admire do if they had my parents who are all alive, my husband's parents and my parents and healthy, what would they do? And it motivates me on Monday to call, to send a note.
So sometimes it's little things and sometimes it's big things, but the point is it's one of the exercises that helps me be on a path to actual growth, and improvement, and not getting complacent and stagnant and being truly humble because every Sunday, there is something so obvious that I have to acknowledge I should have done, could have done, and have not. And so it's this humility and confidence, humility and confidence. Like over and over, those are two of the four mindsets, but all four kind of inaction, humility, curiosity, courage, confidence, because I'm going to my team acknowledging there's something I should have done that I didn't and then we're taking action on it, but we're not wallowing in it, right? We're moving on.
And Nikki, to your point, over time, more and more people start doing this themselves. They start bringing problems to me more aggressively instead of being like, well, it's not that important to Kat so it's just not the hill I'm going to die on. They charge the hill because they actually have seen me revisit something, change something, even if it was of my own doing in order to make the business better. So they feel more empowered, but I'm also modeling a lot of vulnerability. It doesn't feel like vulnerability to me. It's just like what I do and the culture we should set, but it is viewed as an unusual level of vulnerability.
I love that so much.
Yeah. So that's such a cool exercise because it's so difficult I think for people sometimes to separate themselves from the story that they're telling about why they're doing what they're doing. And what you're saying in that hotshot, the hotshot is like, hey, this is a process you can lean on to do that and it will help you separate yourself from the story and then some tools. I love ask, answer, act. I don't know if you call it the three A's, but I'm going to. And that's really good. Thanks for sharing that.
Kat, I heard this thread in your story about your connection to your mentors and the leaders who believed in you and were part of those opportunities. And I think I love when I hear Incredibly successful people like you call this out because I sort of loathe this phrase that we've come to use a lot, the self-made phrase. Like no one is -- literally, no one is self-made. Like it was, everyone got a boost from the relationship or the opportunity or whatever it was. None of us succeed alone. None of us.
And I have to imagine that this is probably still really important in your life. So I'd love to hear how your mentors have evolved. And then also how I have to imagine you're probably now mentoring people in your life too, and how you have approached this too.
Yeah. In the early days, it was more the way -- because I had trouble finding more formal mentors, as I've mentioned, outside of those who advocated for me in my company. I mean, I cannot stress how many people in my companies have been incredible mentors, but the outside in is so important too. And mentoring, which is very different from coaching or advocacy is about perspective and sharing experience so that -- Chris, just like you said, you're kind of getting out of your own head and your own filter.
So I coined this phrase mentoring moments about, I don't know, 15 years ago. And it's because it was what I started pursuing since I had such a problem with formal mentoring. And I just started going to people. Two seconds. I'd go to an assistant, or I'd go to, didn't matter the level.
If I thought you had experience in something I was pursuing excellence in, I would go to you and say, do you have five minutes? I'd like to ask you a question. Or when I was in a physical office, can we grab coffee? I'd love to hear more about your experience here and learn. And I would honor what I was saying that it was a snack. It was a conversational snack, which is important because it's not overwhelming. It's not daunting. I'm not asking if I can be your mentee. And therefore, there has to be something you're signing up for.
Yeah, we're not signing a contract for life.
Exactly. And that was so daunting to so many people. So I've seen that you have experience in this or I've read or I've heard. How did you do X? What happened with Y. Few minutes, thank you so much. I would apply that learning. And then somewhere in the near future, send a thank you note. Thank you for that. This helped me have this conversation. Thank you for that.
And some of those mentoring moments became so frequent with some people that it naturally and organically evolved into what you would call a more formal mentoring relationship with a regular check in, why are you doing this, think about it this way, how should I think about this? And so that was the first evolution, mentoring moments, to then kind of cream rising to the top, if you will, of some of those very organic relationships. And then that being a bit more of the way over time.
And then certainly, I felt obligated to give mentoring moments, whether people asked or not. And then became known as someone who, if you ask me for five minutes, make it five, ask me a question I can answer in five minutes. People come to me and say, what's your career advice? I'm like, I don't have time for that.
I don't have time for that today.
That's a whole year's worth of podcasts. And so very specifically, I'm in this situation, what should I think about? What question would you be asking? Who's an example of? Right. Really specific. And so that evolved into me being more open to mentoring moments for other people and being clear. Even when I give speeches or I go and I'm lecturing, a guest lecturer at a university, and I say, look, I'd love to be helpful to you going forward, DM me on LinkedIn or any social platform. But when you do, ask me a brief specific question and I will answer you. Like no tweet left behind, no DM left behind. Is it even a tweet anymore? I don't know what it's called.
It's an X, isn't it? Yeah.
Ad so, but then when it's really big, I'll just like ignore or like or something, but I just can't honor that question because back to our first question, I can't say yes to everything. I have to be good at saying no, which is shaping expectations. And so my mentoring journey has very much evolved. And still today, there are a few people who have been a decade or more thought partners, they're on the journey, truth tellers, and I've changed industries multiple times and they might still be in that industry, but their thinking, their integrity, their seasoning in this world is incredible to have access to.
I love that. Kat, on this subject, I want to honor your time. I wish I could keep you here all day. I would take a full year of podcast with you, and I want to honor your time. Thank you so, so much for being here today. If people want to connect with you, where should they find you?
All the places. So LinkedIn, certainly I'm very active there, Twitter/X, IG, wherever your platforms are. I do my best to check DMs regularly. So yeah, get me up there.
Thank you so much for being here today. This was an incredible conversation.
Yeah, absolutely. Kat, if you could have the listeners just take one thing away from what you shared today, what would it be?
It would be build this muscle to ask, answer, act. So many people do one of the three or two of the three, and real growth continually over time, despite most circumstances improves greatly when you are just constantly asking, answering and acting. And of course, it leads to learning the best questions to ask, but the right questions are more important than having the answer because the world changes, things change, life changes. So have the questions, ask them often, ask them of yourself.
We talked about the hotshot rule, which is reflective, but ask them of others. I've got another body of ask, answer, act frameworks. It's about checking in with your spouse, your partner, your most important relationships, your direct reports, your customers, right, your employees. There's a whole body of questions you can ask to check in with them. Create an environment where you get honest answers, which is about making sure people see how you react to honesty and candor and see you take it with humility and give candid answers when people ask.
So the ask and answer have some asterisks to them of how to get the most out of it. And then just take action. And that is often the hard part. If you're just asking questions, you're a student, nothing wrong with being a student, but most people won't want to follow you over time. If you only walk around with the answers, you're going to be wrong a lot. And again, people won't want to follow you. And if all you do is act, you will drive decisions in the short term, but you won't build teams over time. It's the three together.
So whatever is your way, whether it's some of these frameworks, check ins with others or the hotshot rule, or just asking for feedback, whatever it is, ask some type of reflective question more often, solicit candid feedback and give it an act on it. And you will see mountains move in areas where others seem to struggle.
Awesome. Thank you, Kat.
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