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Lifestyle and Travel

Here’s what 6 million meals taught me about leadership

You don’t have to yell to be a great leader — there are more effective ways to be heard.

It’s taken me years to fine-tune my leadership skills as the CEO of Fresh n’ Lean, the organic pre-prepped meal delivery company I founded in 2010.

I was inspired to start the company after my father faced a health scare. He was eating for convenience, so his diet was full of processed foods, and his health declined. He needed to make big changes in his life.

Luckily, he was able to recover by adjusting his lifestyle and replacing processed foods with nutrient-rich, organic meals. Seeing him bounce back and thrive motivated my mission to give everyone in the United States — regardless of where they live and their socioeconomic status — access to nutritional, balanced, affordable meals. Our society thinks of fast food in terms of drive-through lanes and meal delivery apps, heavily processed foods like burgers and fries and pizza and subs. But fast food can also mean organic, pre-prepped meals that are delivered to your door and ready to eat in minutes.

Being a CEO is such an empowering experience, and it’s broadened my perspectives and understanding. My employees have taught me so much. It makes me proud to do my best work for them.

At this point, Fresh n’ Lean has delivered more than 8 million meals.

I’ve faced challenges and struggles along the way. Early on, some people (generally older men) didn’t take me seriously because of my age and gender. I was 18 years old when I first started Fresh n’ Lean, and in those early years there were times when I felt compelled to lie about my age (I said I was 27). I’ve sat in meetings and had people turn to my male colleagues and ask them questions I was better suited to answer, assuming a man was the boss, and not this young woman.

I’ve also had people criticize my voice and demeanor, or explain to me unprompted how I should run my company — mansplaining my company’s vision or the organic meal delivery industry to me.

Ultimately, I learned how to block out the noise and rise above the negativity. And it’s made so much difference for me.

Here are my biggest takeaways during my time running Fresh n’ Lean — lessons that could be helpful for other aspiring female leaders.

Don’t hold back, and don’t let the naysayers get you down.

Women, more often than men, are worried about taking risks. But it’s important to speak up when needed, to take a chance, to take your shot.

The most powerful person in the room doesn’t need to be the loudest. In meetings, I’ll often listen and observe, weighing in where needed — but not speaking only to hear myself talk.

Remain humble.

During the early days of Fresh n’ Lean, I consistently worked 20-hour days, performing every duty imaginable. Washing dishes. Cooking and portioning out meals. Customer service.

The company now has more than 220 employees, but I’m always ready to help out wherever needed.

Because I have experience with every aspect of the company, I’m respectful and appreciative of every employee, and make a point to learn everyone’s name. I understand the needs of their job and the obstacles they face to complete that job. Every employee contributes to the company’s success. And while it’s exciting to oversee such a large team, the same work ethic applies from my 20-hour days when I was doing every job imaginable.

Stay calm and in control.

Lots of leaders think they need to yell to get their point across — but all yelling does is tune out your employees and show that you aren’t in control of your emotions. You can get your point across without yelling!

During stressful times, employees will look to you for guidance and leadership. If you’re visibly stressed, that stress will trickle down to your team.

Take a deep breath or take a moment away from your desk to collect yourself if needed. But it’s important to be a steadying presence for your team and convey a vision of professionalism and calm.

Be understanding.

Don’t let impulse and emotions guide your decisions.

When an employee makes a mistake, your first instinct might be to fire them on the spot. But what if the employee was improperly trained? What if they’re being asked to complete tasks that are outside of their comfort zone? What if they’re facing difficulties in their personal life?

Each employee is different … it’s important to understand who you’re dealing with and the right way to approach them.

And keep an open mind as you address issues that emerge. There may be an out-of-the-box solution to the issue. But you’ll only uncover that solution by approaching the situation from the proper mindset.

Stay patient.

During the early years of Fresh n’ Lean, I had a dream of building our own kitchen and manufacturing area, but it wasn’t feasible because we didn’t rely on outside capital.

We had to be smart and thoughtful because we didn’t have tons of excess funds. But as the company expanded, the commercial kitchen space became a necessity. It was a difficult process requiring collaboration with contractors, architects and city officials.

It’s been so fulfilling to complete the project and vital to Fresh n’ Lean’s growth.

The changes you’d like to implement may take months and years to carry out, from building the right team to improving facilities and processes.

Be smart and thoughtful about your company’s growth, and in time you’ll get the chance to implement your plans.

Have you read?

# Global Passport Ranking, 2019.
# The World’s Top 100 Most Successful Unicorns, 2019.
# GDP Rankings Of The World’s Largest Economies, 2019.
# Most Expensive Countries In The World To Live In, 2019.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Lifestyle and Travel - Here’s what 6 million meals taught me about leadership
Laureen Asseo
Laureen Asseo is the founder and CEO of Fresh n' Lean, a meal delivery service specializing in fresh, nutritious and unprocessed food. Laureen is an entrepreneur and passionate foodie from California. It's her mission to make eating organic easy, affordable and accessible - reclaiming the phrase "fast food". Laureen Asseo is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.