Creating A Culture Of Connection with Heather Neary, CEO of Auntie Anne’s

15 Aug , 2018 podcasts

Creating A Culture Of Connection with Heather Neary, CEO of Auntie Anne’s

CMO 8 | Culture Of Connection


Heather Neary is an inspirational leader who creates a true sense of community within her team. After moving from CMO to CEO, she continues to bring her love of the brand into everything she does. Her connections to others, her willingness to maintain a beginner’s mind, and her genuine dedication to her own growth as a leader allows her to model authentic leadership. Heather’s true connection and curiosity for others makes her an inspirational model of how high EQ leadership translates into dynamic results and builds a culture of connection where people can bring their entire self to the endeavor. Heather shares her personal journey and the lesson she has learned along the way.

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Creating A Culture Of Connection with Heather Neary, CEO of Auntie Anne’s

I am so pleased to be able to share with you the conversation with the CEO of Auntie Anne’s, Heather Neary. I want to make sure to do justice to her impressive background and share a little bit about her journey with you. Heather was named President of Auntie Anne’s in November of 2015 after creating amazing results in her role as CMO. She originally joined the company in 2005 and has held roles of increasing responsibility over time. Overseeing marketing, communications, the franchise business consulting team, R&D, product innovation, franchise leadership team and most recently served as Vice President of Global Marketing. She’s also really involved in the community.

She’s on the Board of Directors for the Lancaster YMCA, the Board of Advisors for Penn State Harrisburg and as a mentor for the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Women in Business Program. As a regular participant in the CMO Summit, heather would always bring such a sense of true connection and curiosity for others. She’s an inspirational model of how high EQ leadership translates into dynamic results and builds a culture of authentic connection where people can bring their entire self to the endeavor. I thought she would be an ideal guest on this podcast because of her robust experience and her transition from CMO to CEO. Most importantly, she’s an amazing person and she really models generosity and kindness within a model of visionary leadership. I hope you’ll really enjoy this episode with Heather Neary.

First of all, I want to say thank you for hosting me here at your offices and for taking the time to talk with us.

It’s my pleasure. Thank you for asking me.

I meet you years ago. It was a meeting in DC. Brad Taylor hosted the meeting and we were all there and you came in and you were so kind to talk with us about what was going on. That was the first time that I met you and then when the Summit got kicked off, you’ve been one of our early community members. We are expanding it into something called an Innovation Collective and we’re working with startups so we’re going to be doing some innovative lab testing with brands.

I made sure our new VP of Marketing will absolutely be there. I told him how valuable it was.

What we’re going to do is we’re going to take you through a couple of things. I’m going to start out broad and I’m going to ask you definitely about your wisdom because the people reading this are our community so the people that have gone to the summit and internal people at Coke. We certainly share this with them as well, the more the merrier to get in on the fun. We’re going to talk about branding and marketing and a lot of that, but we’re going to talk about you because sometimes I find the best lessons, especially leadership come from your own story and not just the theoretical things that we all believe. I’m going to start out with a general broad question about you and your story and I know it’s hard to tell a life story in a moment, but highlights. How did you find your way to Auntie Anne’s and a little bit about moving through that journey?

My career was not a linear one. It was not A to B to C. It was more jumping around. I’ll try and keep it brief for you but I’d like to start with the fact that it took me six years and three colleges to get a Bachelor’s Degree that my parents were not, by any means, thrilled about. It was mostly because I was having a lot of fun and I was waitressing and bartending and coaching the swim team and just enjoying myself. I’ve got to a place where my friends had all graduated and we were 22 and I hadn’t graduated and was nowhere close to it. I was 23 and they were all in grad school and then I was 24 and they were finishing grad school. I’m like, “I’ve got to get this cleaned up. I am going to wrap this up.”

Enjoy Life

I’m just really enjoying life. I had this weird rhetoric back at the time that I didn’t want to get to the age of 30 because in my mind when I’m 21, 30 is ancient and I didn’t want to get to the age of 30 and have some regrets about life. I was doing crazy things. I went and spent a summer in Europe on credit cards. I had no money but I just spent the summer in Europe on credit cards. I would travel all the time to crazy places with friends just because somebody said, “Let’s go here.” I would roll quarters to get enough money to fly to Costa Rica or some random country in the world. I’m having a lot of fun. After I graduated from college, finally, a Bachelor’s in English, I moved to San Diego.

In the early part of my career, I worked in publishing because I had a Bachelor’s Degree in English and everybody made fun of me and said I would never have a job in my field. I had to get a job in my field. I met my husband, got married. His job took us to New York City, which is the publishing Mecca of the world. I quickly learned that publishing was not for me. I was bored to tears. I needed much more human interaction than I was getting and I also needed a little bit more dynamic world. Publishing is very cyclical. It used to be on the traditional print media 100 years ago when I worked in the field. I just needed something a little more dynamic so I started over as a marketing assistant. It was pretty much getting coffee, making travel plans, ordering lunches and then occasionally being able to weigh in on marketing things. I thought, “This is a pretty fun field.”

CMO 8 | Culture Of Connection

Culture Of Connection: This was a pretty special place at Auntie Anne’s. It wasn’t just another company that I was going to work at and collect the paycheck and go home.

I had an amazing mentor at the time who I still consider a friend to this day and she just really helped to guide me and said, “If you want to learn, I’ll be happy to teach you.” That’s when I got into marketing. I was there until 2005 and my husband was going overseas for a year with the military. I could have stayed in New York or I could have gone to Pennsylvania where I’m from originally and thought, “Maybe I’ll go home for a year and see what happens.” That’s when I took the job at Auntie Anne’s. I thought at the time it’d be a year gig and I move on from there wherever my husband’s career took us. About six months in, I figured out that this was a pretty special place at Auntie Anne’s and it wasn’t just another company that I was going to work at and collect the paycheck and go home.

There were never days that I dreaded coming to work. They were never days I was watching the clock. The days were going by so quickly. The company was in a period of incredible change. The company just sold from Anne to the second owner and it was a lot more open-mindedness to how to run the business. They were turning in from a pretzel company into a brand. They were understanding the world around branding, which I really appreciate it. It was excited to be involved in. I worked for an amazing woman at the time who was the CMO and she was really encouraging and really nurturing and helped me grow in my career. Here I am thirteen years later.

It’s an amazing story but there are a couple of things that I want to actually hone in on that you said. First of all, I think the fact that you did all these adventurous things says a lot about you and that probably even translates now into how you think about marketing and branding and the fact that you want to include that adventure in your life. I’m always amazed at when people, “They’re accelerated and they’re going to graduate from college early.” I’m like, “What’s your rush? Have a really good time. Life is long hopefully.” The other thing is mentorship. You mentioned there are some people in your life and career that really helped you along. How has that made a difference for you having those people to guide you and give you advice?


It’s made all the difference in the world. The first person that I look back to as my mentors is my mom, incredible woman who is a single mom, multiple degrees, worked her tail off and then retired early and is enjoying her life. She’s actually traveling now a lot more than she did when she was younger. She’s always been incredibly nurturing in the regard that she never told us we couldn’t do something. There was never, “That’s a cute idea, you’ll never do it.” I told her I wanted to move to California and she’s, “Have fun. Enjoy yourself.” In hindsight I’ve said to her, “Did you freak out when we moved to California?” She’s like, “Yes, a little bit but I knew I’d give you the foundation you needed to make the right decisions in your life.”

Just a quick comment on that, before you go on through the mentor, I was at a conference, there was a woman, and I can’t remember her name, but she wrote a book. She interviewed all the mothers, very successful entrepreneurs. The common thread that she found is they have never questioned their dreams. There was never, “You need to get a real job or why are you in music?” It was whatever their kids were doing, they fostered it so your mom did the same thing.

She absolutely did. My brother and I, both of us have done pretty big jobs. My boss in New York was a female Vice President of Marketing in a very male-dominated organization and very homogenous. There was not a lot of diversity there. I reported to the Vice President of Marketing and I was effectively her assistant. I was doing a little bit more than that, but effectively her assistant. I will never forget, she’d give me some projects to work on because she knew I had a Bachelor’s Degree and maybe had some aptitude for marketing. I remember my first review with her and I remember walking into her office and we had this technology where you had to give yourself a red light, yellow light or green light for all your different goals for the year. I probably had seven or eight goals on a sheet. I walked in with my sheet, really proudly gave her my sheet with my goals and they were all greens and maybe gave myself one yellow to be a little humble.

I saw the sheet across from me on her side of the desk and I could see that there was a lot of yellow and red. I’m like, “She must have the last person’s review on her desk, that can’t be mine.” We started talking. That was actually my review and there was a lot of red and yellow. She goes, “This is a bad review, Heather. You’ve been here six months. You’re just learned in marketing. If I give you the review you just gave yourself, why would you need to even learn anything else?” At the time, I remember going home being a little bit, “That’s not really fun. That didn’t really feel good.” I really thought about what she said and she made a lot of great points. I didn’t know about marketing. I didn’t know the role I was in. The things that I’ve given myself greens on, I didn’t deserve those greens, I deserved the yellows and the reds and she wasn’t thinking about it as a bad review. She was thinking about it as this is where we are right now and this is all the room you have to grow. The sky’s the limit for you career-wise. You don’t have anything to hold you back. She said, “You need to learn some of these things.”

The best leaders I’ve ever had have been the ones that have been really honest and challenged me. I think people who are high performers, they expect that, “I’m an A student and A student is a bunch of green dots. An A student doesn’t get red.” You have to change your paradigm into this one of growth, if I don’t have opportunities to work on, how am I going to grow and develop and those were the greatest gifts for us.

Feedback is a gift and how you accept it is what defines your future. Click To Tweet

That was one of my big takeaways from working with Candy was that, “Feedback is a gift and how you accept it is what defines your future,” because I could have easily walked away from that meeting disgruntled, annoyed, frustrated and I probably at the time was frustrated, but I remember thinking a lot about what she said and I remember reading her comment. I still have that review at my binder at home. I haven’t read it this year, but I’ve read it periodically over the years and it’s a really good reminder to myself that, “You’ve come a long way, but you always have a lot further to go and you could always be learning and you can always be improving what you’re doing.” Don’t be ashamed of a review that includes yellow dots and red dots. That’s just simply room for growth.

Beginner’s Mind

There’s this whole idea of beginner’s mind, which you just remember that we’re still beginners. No matter how many years we’ve had. I was doing my homework on you in advance in your Twitter feed and you re-tweeted a Simon Sinek quote, “If your mind is closed, all you hear is criticism. If it’s open, then you hear advice.” That’s so true because one of our first podcast was with Kelly Leonard and he had just done an interview with Kim Scott who wrote Radical Candor. It talks a lot about this ability to have really open, honest conversations, which is a skill because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings and we want to be really careful, but when you do get that and you actually hear the truth, especially as a leader, when you get that, that is so important for us.

I’m grateful to her every day, to this day. She and I have stayed in touch and we’ve actually worked together. She went to an agency at one point and we’ve actually used her agency for a while. She’s now retired and enjoying her grandchildren and her family, but I think back a lot on that and I could have gone two ways in that. She could have whitewashed the conversation and made it seem like everything was hunky-dory and fine and she didn’t. She was really honest with me and said, “This isn’t a bad conversation. This is a good conversation. You’ve been here six months. You’ve got a lot to learn. Here’s what you’ve got to learn.”

The Power Of Relationships And Conversation

I find that establishing this community, this network, these people that support us, it’s the most important thing that we can do. Of course, the Summit is about creating a community of leaders who can rely on each other. I read that you have a group of people, a network of help that you tap into when you want guidance and advice. Talk to me about the importance of those relationships.

I think the relationship is the foundation that gets us through every day. You’ve got your personal relationships, you’ve got your professional relationship, sometimes the two combine and that’s awesome when that happens. I’m fortunate that I have a lot of really deep relationships, people that are in the business and people that are not in this business. I have a really good friend of mine who is a consultant in a completely different field and he spent many years working in the industry and he now is in a totally different field but when I talked to him about things.

I’ll text him and say, “Do you have a chance to talk?” He knows I need some advice and I’ll bounce ideas off of him and his answer to me is, “You know what the right answer is here.” It’s usually his answer to me. I think I almost know that when I called him but he’s just an incredible human being that’s been able to offer me really candid advice and usually he’s like, “You know what the right thing to do here is or you know what the right next step is.” He’s a great resource for me.

CMO 8 | Culture Of Connection

Culture Of Connection: You’ve got your personal relationships and professional relationships. Sometimes the two combine and that’s awesome when that happens.

I have a ton of really amazing friends who have awesome careers. I’ve just been fortunate to meet really cool people that do really fun things in their lives. I think developing those relationships is absolutely critical. Even within my organization at Auntie Anne’s, I am incredibly humbled to work with some of the best people on the planet. My friends that I worked at Auntie Anne’s, they are my colleagues but they’re my friends as well. I know their spouses and their kids and we’re all really close.

We all work hard. We all work for the same mission. We all work together to make our franchise system a better system. I feel really fortunate to work with just an incredible group of people that I can call my friends. I also have a network of people that I can reach out to that are just social friends. My husband forgets to put the laundry away and I can complain about that to somebody because at the end of the day, we all still have those personal things. We still need to go to somebody and be like, “I can’t believe that laundry sat in the dryer all afternoon. Now, everything’s wrinkled.”

You could always be learning and you can always be improving what you're doing. Click To Tweet

I actually find it so funny how people think work and life were separate. The way you describe the company and the culture that’s reflective of your leadership, because if a leader comes in and says, “Leave everything outside the door,” it’s a very different field. When you know that we are all here trying to do the same things, find purpose, meeting, provide for our families, be connected, then you realize you can have a great experience just having that personal and professional be all one big thing which is amazing.

There’s No Such Thing As Balance

It’s been fortunate at Auntie Anne’s that we all just got along really well. We all work together well. It’s difficult to separate your personal life and your professional life. People ask me about work-life balance all the time. There’s no such thing as a balance because balance is 50/50, At the end of the day, I spend more time at work family than my personal family, my real family, my husband and my children because that’s just how it works out. It means I need to make my biological family really important and really meaningful and spend that time really wisely.

I also have a work family that I spent a lot of time with too. It’s not really about balance. It’s about choosing to be meaningful and in the moment when you’re with the right people. There are times when I put my phone away when I’m at home and I’m done for the next couple of hours. At 10:00 I pick my phone back up again, but for the evening we’re going to sit and hang out and have dinner together or go for a walk or do whatever. Understanding that you can’t separate the two is important and just knowing that you’ve got people that you can rely on to take care of stuff for you and you go to for advice is just so important. I can’t imagine being in a world where I didn’t have the network that I do. I feel so very fortunate to have an incredible network.

It is definitely less about balance and more about harmony. Tell me how you do this because this gets into this ability to be present, turning off your phone. I know I felt as a working mom that sometimes you feel like when you’re at home there’s all this stuff going on at work and when you’re at work there’s all this stuff happening in your personal life. There’s such a power when you’re there. Wherever you are, you are there. How do you manage that because you’ve got a full plate?

It’s just about understanding what’s important and what’s happening at the moment. There are some times when you know, “I’ve left work early because my daughter had a bad day at school,” and maybe it wasn’t the end of the world but for her, it was a bad day. If I have the flexibility at work where my colleagues understand that family is important to me too, that it’s okay that you can leave work and go take care of that stuff at home, I think that’s important.

Also knowing that there are times my husband and I just need to go away and we just need to go out for dinner and nobody else is joining us. The kids aren’t invited. Sometimes they get insulted, sometimes they don’t. That’s just important to understand that you need your girlfriend time, you need your family time, you need your husband time one-on-one and then obviously your work also needs to be a priority. I don’t think there’s any perfect answer to that question. It’s a matter of knowing the business that you’re in and the business that you need to do and the goals need to accomplish and how you’re going to go about doing that.

I find that you have to recalibrate it constantly. I always advise my team that you have to have, I call it, your North Star. What are your values? What’s your compass? Whenever the decision comes up, even when your friend said you know the decision. Usually we do know the decisions, we have that gut, but our mind or analytical side starts to overwhelm. We just have to trust and if you do that work up front, you know what’s important then it’s actually not too bad. You know the answer as you go.

I’ve got amazing colleagues and if they’ve got something going on with their kids, were all very supportive of each other, “I know this meeting is this afternoon, can we move it tomorrow morning? I have to go home. My daughter had a really bad day.” I think we’re all supportive of that. We all know that we’re all better when we’re supportive of each other’s personal lives too.

Brand Marketing

I’m going to transition a little bit into brand marketing. I have to acknowledge you. You can correct me if I’m wrong on this stuff, but I read a couple of articles that when you were CMO. Before taking on Brand President, you drove system franchise sales by 80%, which is an unbelievable number. Tell me a little bit about how you approach that? How you did that? Maybe in that, how did being CMO prepare you to step into the Brand President role?

CMO 8 | Culture Of Connection

Culture Of Connection: Teamwork is how you do it. You identify what the consumer wants, you talk about consumer insights, you figure out where the trends are going.

First of all, nothing is done by myself. I get to work with a team of amazing people and that number was grown by adding units and also growing sales with our existing unit. We’re a small little pretzel company when I joined the company in 2005. I became CMO in 2008 and we’ve just gone through a massive rebranding project. We had hired outside help. It was the first time the company had brought in a large outside agency to do a major brand positioning work. It was a fun and exciting time.

Teamwork is how you do it, you identify what the consumer wants, you talk about consumer insights, you figure out where the trends are going. You also look at where you can grow, where you can add units, not just increasing same-store sales, but also looking at adding units to your portfolio. We grew tremendously during that time with a lot of nontraditional units. We’re at Walmart, we are in a lot of airports, we are in universities, we are in train stations, we are in travel plazas. Any place where you have walking pedestrian, people traffic is where Auntie Anne’s makes perfect sense. That’s where we continue to look at growing.

How about CMO moving to Brand President? How different is it? How much are you taking with you?

It’s different. Now, I’m responsible for the P&L completely, which has been a lot of fun. I’ve been in the role for about two and a half years now and I have to say that I love 95% of the days I have at Auntie Anne’s. It’s not many days that I go home miserable. It doesn’t mean that every day is perfect, but there’s a lot of fun problems to work on and I don’t mean fun in a cavalier way, but there was a lot of interesting propositions that we have to think about. We’ve got really awesome franchisees that we need to understand what their position and where they’re coming from.

I have franchisees that own one store and franchisees that own 90 stores and their two competing needs are different as well. It’s relationships. We talked about that at the very beginning, relationships are so critical to that and really listening to people, listening to what they need, hearing what they’re saying, giving folks a chance to vent and giving them a voice, giving them a chance to know that you care. I think that’s a really critical part of my job.

Relationships is the foundation that get us through every day. Click To Tweet

One of the things I did do over the years was in 2009, I took on operations at Auntie Anne’s. We had had some personnel departures and the CEO at the time and I were talking. Operations and marketing have just never really seemed to get along. They always seem to live in their own silos. Marketing has this ideal world they live in. Operations is like, “Yeah but this is how it really happens.” I remember he and I were sitting in his office having a conversation at the time. As we’re looking to restructure the organization, we have some holes to fill personnel-wise, “How do we get past that?” I said off the cuff, “I’ll just take both teams on.”

He looked at me like I was crazy and he said, “I’m not going to pay you anymore.” I said, “You don’t have to.” He said, “Why do you think you’re going to do this?” I said, “I think if they all get to know each other better as people and build relationships and understand how marketing impacts operations and how operations impact marketing, maybe we can begin to bridge that gap.” I think that really prepared me probably more so than just the marketing role alone, but just having operations and marketing understanding the full perspective helped prepare me to take on this role.

I think a lot of it goes back to just understanding people want, need and balancing lots of different opinions and lots of different requests. I talked to franchisees and one will call me with a very distinct opinion and I’ll come with a very distinct, different opinion. I’ll say, “I take all of your feedback into consideration because I have 450 franchisees representing 1,300 stores domestically. I need to weigh all of that and do what’s best for the brand,” which means that not everybody’s going to always be happy all the time, I’m not going to make everybody happy all the time. If I do, I’m not doing my job properly. I think that’s part of what makes the brand strong is because we make decisions that are strong for the brand and are the right decisions for the brand while understanding how those different decisions impact different franchisees and their business.


There are a million books on leadership and a lot of times they all have their points of view about what’s the most powerful quality and then we get very cerebral like its strategy. I think this whole idea of emotional intelligence, understanding having people be seen, be heard, help create a community within a company is such a powerful thing. I think that’s what you do. That’s what you’re describing. Seek to understand, it doesn’t mean you’re acquiesced with everybody’s needs but everyone can be heard and then we go forward, agree, disagree but we commit to the outcome, which is fantastic.

I had a franchisee conversation. He and I were talking and I’ve known him for years. He’s been around for a long time and he was like, “You’re not listening to me.” I said, “John, you’ve known me for a long time. You know that I’m going to listen to you and I’m going to make the best decision for the brand. You may not love the decision but it’s going to be a fair decision. Can you give me that?” He said, “Yes, but I still don’t agree with this.” I said, “That’s fine but give me that I’m trying to make the best decision for the whole organization.” That’s not always easy to do.

This is a question that may seem unusual certainly for a discussion like this, certainly on leadership. I know once again in doing my homework that you’ve had a couple of posts recently around kindness. One of my good friends, we had a debate one day about the difference between nice and kind, that there was this whole idea of nice, there’s a level of weakness in nice but kind is actually a very powerful choice to be kind. Where do you think kindness fits into leadership and into life?

I think a lot of it goes back to that golden rule, “Treat others how you want to be treated.” Know that we all are human beings and we all bring a lot to the table. I think the world we live in today lacks some kindness in a lot of regards and I don’t need to be political about it. I can just say that the world lacks kindness and that’s a missing part of the puzzle. A lot of things can be solved and worked through by showing kindness to others and showing empathy to others and putting yourself in somebody’s shoes who doesn’t have the same privilege as you do, who doesn’t have the same background that you do, who didn’t have the same upbringing you do.

I grew up and my mom was a single mom and my dad was very involved. They’re both educated. They both have very good jobs and they were able to afford a lot of things for me that I have friends who didn’t have that same kind of upbringing. It’s important that we all understand that we bring a lot to the table when we’re talking about a diverse workplace and we’re talking about a diverse group of people and being kind to each other is so important when we do our business. That makes businesses more successful. I think the businesses that show kindness to each other are the ones that are ultimately most successful.


Community is not a new idea. We’re tribal by nature. If you didn’t get along in your tribe, you died in previous times. The isolation, you die another way. If you’re isolated, you’re not going to survive because we live in a world that is so complex and I think part of the lack of kindness is the stress and the pressure and the complexity that life has taken on and people are just feeling that there’s a sense of divisive nature of us versus them versus trying to understand each other. This is not something we’re going to solve in this one conversation, but I think leadership fundamentally is modeling. When you model kindness and you show that with your organization and encourage it, then it can spread around you.

CMO 8 | Culture Of Connection

Culture Of Connection: If you take a few minutes to realize what people are going through, you have a lot more appreciation for what you do have instead of whining about what you don’t have.

I think kindness leads to respect for each other, it leads to asking questions, it leads to listening to other people and it leads to a lot of positive benefits. It’s very easy to forget about other people because you’re living in your own world. If you take a few minutes to realize what we’re going through, you have a lot more appreciation for what you do have instead of whining about what you don’t have.

Something that my mom has always said but she didn’t make it up. I don’t know who to credit the quote to but it was the whole, “Be kind because everyone is fighting a great battle and when you know that and you live that way, it can make a huge difference.”

As a leader too, I know this is how I felt for a long time, is that I always saw my leaders in my world, their life just seemed perfect. I think nobody’s life is perfect and we all are facing battles that nobody knows about and we all are going through challenges. It’s okay to show a little bit of vulnerability and it’s okay to show that your life’s not perfect. When my husband didn’t fold the laundry, I’m being a little bit tongue-in-cheek there, but nobody’s life is perfect and it’s okay to share the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s okay to talk about that because it just makes everybody more approachable and it makes it easier to show kindness to each other.

Understanding that you can’t separate your personal life and your professional life is important. Click To Tweet

Whenever I speak at a women’s conference or on a panel, I will talk about that vulnerability of not having everything figured out all the time and people will come up to me and be like, “I thought people like you just had it all figured out.” I’m like, “No.” It’s a hot mess on certain days. Knowing that there’s no perfection, that we’re like linked arms and be in this together. That’s why when we started the Summit and I thought, “People are going to be in the same room and they are competitors and are they going to talk?” But what we found is people really do want to reach out. They want solutions. They want people who are living a similar life that they are to talk about what they’re up against.

Just showing vulnerability, asking for help, those are all potentially perceived signs of weakness. In my mind, it’s showing strength because when I asked for help it’s because I need help. There’s no reason to sugarcoat it because I don’t have it all figured out. My dog needs to go to the vet or my kid needs something or whatever different things going on in the world and it’s okay to say, “Can you just run past my house and drop this off for me because this needs to happen.” It’s okay to show vulnerability and ask help. That is something that I’m learning as I mature, but I don’t think I would have had that same perspective twenty years ago. I would like to say that if I would have heard about that in my twenties, I might have approached things differently, but I also think that we all get to where we are for certain reasons and everything happens for a reason.

We have to have the experiences that we have in order to get that sense of, “Now, I get it.” As we close out the conversation, because this has been a great conversation, you’ve already shared so much from a sense of leadership acumen and what you know, but think about the people listening to this and there’ll be anyone from your peers out there to sales and marketing associates within our company, what would you say to them as you reflect on your career about, “This is something that was an a-ha thing for me over time?” Are there any key themes you’d want to leave people with?

The Power Of Gratitude

I think one thing that I’ve learned over time is the power of gratitude. I’ve shared this analogy before, this anecdote before is we had done 360 reviews many years ago at Auntie Anne’s and I got some feedback from a couple different people that were my direct reports. I didn’t know who it was. It was anonymous that one of the comments was, it was largely positive, but one of the comments I got low ratings on was something around showing gratitude and it caught me off guard. It made me pause, it made me think about it and I then asked each of my direct team members to share that with me and I said, “If you don’t feel comfortable talking about it, I understand, but I need to learn more about what you meant by this so that I can understand how to fix this and how to improve myself.”

I had two amazing colleagues, they worked for me. They’re now really dear friends of mine who shared with me that I never said thank you. I never did it on purpose. It was never anything intentional or conscious. They said, “We get a lot done here. We crank through when times are tough. We pull things together out of the hat when there’s no way that could have possibly gotten done in that time. It just feels like you never say thank you.” It was like a smack in the face for me because of course, I appreciate everything they did but the power of gratitude is so incredible to the point that literally from that day on, it’s probably 2010 or 2009, I literally have a tickler on my calendar every day. It’s marked private 50-minute meeting. It’s for myself to remember myself to show gratitude to somebody that day.

A lot of things can be solved and worked through by showing kindness and empathy to others and putting yourself in somebody's shoes. Click To Tweet

I don’t even need it anymore. I do it so regularly. I think it’s so important because some people that work for you, they just want to know that you recognize how much they are working for you and how hard they’re working for you. They just think the power of gratitude goes a long way. When you’re running a team, when times are good, when times are tough, no matter what’s going on say thank you. Show some gratitude, write a little note, leave it on their chair for them the next morning. Recognize that they stayed late to get something done that needed to get done at the last minute, even though they had other plans that evening. Just making sure you’re showing gratitude all the time I think is really critical.

Just another powerful gift of feedback that changed the course. Gratitude is a practice because most often it’s not intentional. We’re just moving fast. We have a lot going on and we think it and we don’t always say it. I try to think about that even in my personal life, as I am going about my day, “Who do I need to express appreciation to?” It’s so important. It goes back to cultivating kindness and connection. That’s how we connect with each other. Heather, this has been so much fun and I’m very grateful to you, speaking of gratitude, for taking the time to talk to me and share some of your wisdom with the Community. Thank you so much.

Thanks for chatting. This was fun.

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About Heather Neary

CMO 8 | Culture Of ConnectionHeather Neary was named President of Auntie Anne’s in November 2015. Heather joined Auntie Anne’s in 2005 and has held various roles in the company in which she was responsible for the oversight of marketing, communications, the franchise business consultant team, research and development, product innovation, and the franchisee leadership team. Most recently, Heather served as Vice President, Global Marketing. Prior to joining Auntie Anne’s, Heather held roles in marketing and as a managing editor for a business magazine. Heather received a B.A. from Millersville University and an M.B.A. from Penn State University. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Lancaster YMCA and the Board of Advisors for Penn State Harrisburg, and is a mentor for the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce Women in Business program.

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