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Imagine running a world-famous company, one that you know many people depend on daily. How do you scale the business without compromising the values that inspired its start in the first place? For my latest Leadership Lessons episode, I had the chance to talk to the CEO of a multinational supermarket chain synonymous with the words healthy, local and organic: Whole Foods Market’s CEO Jason Buechel.
I picked his brain about what it’s like to oversee more than 100,000 Whole Foods Market employees across 535 stores in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
Buechel joined the Austin, Texas-based chain in 2013 as global vice president and chief information officer. He later served as chief operating officer and provided operational leadership over the grocery chain’s 500-plus locations.
Before Whole Foods Market, Buechel was allowed to soak up knowledge and experience as the managing director/partner within Accenture’s Retail Operations Practice, where he worked with leading retailers on strategic business and technology transformation.
Throughout our talk, it was abundantly clear that Buechel serves as a champion of Whole Foods Market’s culture and values and is committed to increasing access to local, quality food for the communities it serves. Here are nine invaluable lessons Buechel shared with me during our conversation:
1. The sky’s the limit when you’re following your passions
And that means not focusing on the things you want to say, but rather on the things you need to hear. Try to understand the scenario at any given moment, and don’t allow for any misinterpretation on your part when it’s your time to talk.
Related: How One Leader Has Persevered Through 20 Years of Change in the Travel Industry
2. Understand the vantage point of each stakeholder, and find a balanced approach
All stakeholders want to be involved. Let them in on the challenges you face so they can help develop or contribute to a solution.
3. Allow team members to let you know they are connected to the mission and help shape the culture
Promote a culture of co-creation with team members at all levels, and work to cultivate a culture that supports and promotes connection to a higher purpose and core values. In the case of Whole Foods Market, that’s being store-centric.
4. Be patient in your 20s
It’s not a race. Buechel told me he finished college in three-and-a-half years because he thought he was ready to be done and join the workforce. Looking back, he says it’s a benefit to soak up what people are inclined to offer you in your 20s. Be a sponge, and absorb everything worthwhile from everyone you know.
Related: Not Every Leader Has to Be Steve Jobs, And 9 Other Pieces of Advice from Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman
5. Make sure you have a rich life outside of work
Don’t allow the paper cuts of making personal sacrifices for work to add up to regret when it comes to the decisions you’ve made. You only live once. Don’t trade off on things that are fleeting: Work will always be there.
6. Never stop taking risks professionally
Switching jobs, changing clients and taking risks are all uncomfortable, but if you’re not pushing boundaries you’re never going to know your fullest potential.
7. You won’t realize how much stronger your power to communicate as a CEO is until you’re there
When you become the leader of an organization, your power of communication is hugely increased in ways you won’t fully understand until you’re actually in the driver’s seat. When you do realize that, you can take the organization anywhere.
8. Co-create what you’re looking to put into place
Have a team to build your company with, and move those people along with you. You’ll find that driving change will be difficult otherwise.
Related: How This Tech Leader Found Her Voice and Took the Reins of a Major Company
9. Don’t overthink the end goal
Buechel’s message to future CEOs is that if you do all the right work, grow yourself and support your team, good things will happen. It’s not going to be a linear experience. Zig-zags are inevitable. So get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
For more from my hour with Buechel, watch the full webinar here. The growing collection of episodes from our series gives readers access to the best practices of successful CEOs from over 30 of the biggest brands, including Wayfair, Redfin, Booking.com, Heineken, Headspace, Zoom, Chipotle, Warby Parker and ZipRecruiter, to name a few.
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