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Tips From The Top: One On One With Dawn Russell

I spoke to Dawn Russell, co-founder and CEO of 8Greens, about her journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Dawn: In school, I played on the boys ice hockey team. Since I’m tall I always got pushed towards basketball but I preferred to play ice hockey. The girls team was a bit too sedate, so they humored me and let me play on the boys team thinking I would last one practice.  But that’s where I stayed and fought for my place.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Dawn: I only started a company because I found myself having to survive stage III cancer in my 20s. I never saw it coming and nothing else can get your attention or make you focus on what really matters more than having a life-threatening illness. It not only gives you perspective, but if you were lucky like I was to recover from it, nothing else ever looks quite as dramatic. You are left with a daily sense of gratitude for just being here. The product that is now 8Greens came from my experience, and the nutritional lessons I learned during my journey to recovery have been incredibly useful as I became an accidental entrepreneur.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Dawn: It’s a hard balance. The people whose leadership I respect most are those who have remained true to who they are as people while successfully leading teams, managing companies and bringing attention to causes. All of which often lead others to lose that basic humanity which is key to effective leadership. How they do this is often hard to pin down. A good leader makes it look easy, and you often aren’t quite sure how they do it. I also have found it easier to learn from those I have least liked working with, as you leave that experience determined NOT to copy their habits. I’ll answer this question in reverse, as when I look at those people I really look up to, they have mastered doing none of these things, and I am sure that is part of their success.

First stress, while being an unavoidable part of any job, it is a lousy thing to manifest as a leader. Very few people, in a very small group of organizations and generally over very short periods of time are motivated by stress. As a leader, the buck may stop with you, and that is stressful, but you need to find a way of handling it that does not involve passing it on to your team. It will demotivate your team, and paralyze your company.

Second, your ego will be a hindrance. All the best leaders of organizations I have ever met are always looking to hire people that are better than themselves and are constantly trying to make the company able to work without them. As a result it would never want to, as they build amazing teams and have the time and support to solve the unforeseen when it comes along, which it always does, because they are not critical to all the day to day tasks that must be done. Bad leaders won’t hire those they see as a threat to their position, and as a result, it limits what the organization can achieve.

Third and finally, always keep listening. Before 8Greens I had no corporate experience nor business training. This made me listen to everyone I knew who had done this before, and hire people with more experience than me. As 8Greens grows and we hire new people this doesn’t get any less vital. Every day I remind myself to keep listening to everyone who has a view on our company, our team, our customers, our suppliers and our followers on social media. I can decide what I think whenever I want, I lose the chance to listen as soon as that person leaves the conversation. Yes you have to make decisions a lot, but never stop listening.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Dawn:

1.) All you have is your people. Whatever organization you are in, it and you will achieve nothing if the other people who work in do not feel valued, have a clear sense of that the larger goals, a clear understanding of how their role supports those goals and are clearly appreciated when they do. If your team is happy and motivated it will achieve things you haven’t even had time to know are out there.

2.) You’re not going to change. By the time you are reading this article you have been around long enough to know what you are good at. Do not choose a company, role or challenge that depends on you suddenly getting good at something you know is not a strength. Find someone who is better at it and you focus on what you are good at.

3.) Small problems are infinite. Whatever situation you’re in there are probably less than 5 things that actually matter this year to your organization, but the day to day issues and problems never stop. Focus on the important things and don’t get bottled down by the small stuff.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Dawn: Trust your gut. Starting a company, and launching a product brought me into a whole new world full of jargon, acronyms and people trying to sell you their opinions. I started 8Greens because I knew something was missing and there was a solution. Everything since then has been deciding where to take our product, and who to partner with. There are no ‘right’ answers to that, and as an entrepreneur if I stay true to what feels right to me. Whatever happens next, I know I made my own choices, not someone else’s.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Dawn: That is a very personal choice, and I’m not going to tell anyone what they should be doing. All that matters is we do something that we can look back at ourselves in the mirror and know it is making a difference to someone or something important. I believe in the concept of living ‘net positive’: whatever we have, or whatever have been able to achieve, we just need to know that we have given back a little bit more by the time we are finished. That can be local, personal, educational, environmental or cultural. It doesn’t matter, as long as you choose something that is important to you, and you’ll know if you’re really doing it.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Dawn: As a mother of two small boys and founder of a company that has grown 6,000% in the last three years, hobbies are few these days! The one that I have always stuck with since I was sick, and I am very glad I did is yoga. For me it not only helps me take care of my physical health in a busy life, but the calm, detached and meditative nature of it helps me keep the perspective and balance I need.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Dawn: Listen to your parents, eat your greens! And if you don’t have time for that go look up 8Greens.

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