Kat Cole, the president of Cinnabon, seems to have had a knack for leadership since she was a young kid, beginning with helping her mom raise Cole’s two younger sisters. Cole took a job at Hooters at age 17, and within two years, she was sent to Australia to assist with the opening of Hooters’ first Australian location.
Cole, who been Cinnabon’s president since January 2011, recently gave an interview with The New York Times where she shared what she’s learned about leadership, success, failure and hiring. It’s a rich interview, filled with insights from a woman who’s created her own success from an early age.
Advice to ambitious employees who want to move up:
First, Cole says be incredibly coachable: “If you want to move up, you’ve got to get as many inputs as possible to continue to develop.” Second, be curious about the company. If you want to learn something, take it into your own hands and go learn it. Third, be a productive, not destructive, achiever, meaning mentor and help others as you’re delivering results. Cole only promotes productive achievers.
On success and failure:
“I’ve learned to question success a lot more than failure,” Cole says. “I’ll ask more questions when sales are up than I do when they’re down.” The point here, according to Cole, is to prevent an environment where people are terrified of failure and put pressure on her team to understand the inputs behind their successes.
“I learned to make sure I take the full authority of my role. When I haven’t, I knew it immediately,” says Cole. She looks out to ensure her young leaders are doing the same, giving 100% of their brains and time. She encourages her leaders to communicate and disagree, just with respect. After all, their input and brains are why she hired them, and she wants 100% of her investment in them.
On her approach to running and evolving business:
Early on in her career, Cole’s mom told her, “Don’t ever forget where you came from, but don’t you dare let it define you.” This mindset has helped frame Cole’s approach to running, innovating and evolving Cinnabon: “Don’t forget where you came from, but don’t be stuck there,” Cole says.