As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebekah Goldman.
Rebekah is the founder of Taking The Wheel Consulting. She specializes in offering permanent solutions for businesses in the food and beverage industry. After 20 years of working in the food industry, she decided to launch her consulting business to help the industry she fell in love with. She understands the struggles and shortcomings these businesses face and provides solutions that truly work. It’s simple really, “True success lies in the success of your team”. Although Taking the Wheel Consulting is a full service consultancy, their primary focus is on Leadership and Team Development. At the end of the day, this is an industry made up of people who work hard and mastering the art of workplace leadership is key behind the success of every business. That is why her goal is to help aspiring businesses learn how to “Take The Wheel”. She is also a huge advocate for women in Leadership and has a tremendous passion contributing time and expertise in supporting women to grow their businesses and careers.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started cooking at a very early age for my family. My brothers and I were raised by the best person I know, my dad. He worked a lot so it became my responsibility to cook dinner most nights. What began as something out of necessity quickly turned into a passion. I knew by middle school that I would end up pursuing a career in the food and beverage industry. After culinary school, I worked my way up from a dishwasher position to Executive Chef of a multi million dollar catering company. I ended up overseeing most aspects of the business from sales, staffing, operations, logistics, and more. Even though working in that environment is difficult most days, it allowed me to gain an incredible amount of experience and knowledge that I still use today. That’s when I learned the true recipe to business success is your team. I learned that my leadership abilities became an invaluable gift I could use to build rockstar teams and I wanted to share it with the world. That is when Taking The Wheel Consulting was born. Year after year I watched this industry run rampant and take over people’s lives. It was frustrating to watch restaurant owners that worked so hard but lacked organizational skills which creates many dysfunctional problems such as turning a profit every month and experiencing burnout. I couldn’t sit back and watch it happen any longer since I had been creating solutions for these types of problems for years. So launching my consulting business has been the best decision ever.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was living in Michigan at the time, which is where I am from. A friend called and invited me to travel to Arizona. He knew I would fall in love with this place immediately and that’s exactly what happened. Those blue skies and red rocks in Sedona sold me. I remember leaving thinking I would love to live there but I was way too scared to leave everything I knew. I was working at a diner at the time, serving and making desserts for the restaurant when the unimaginable happened. I was on a ladder putting away stock in the back, and when I stepped down, I stepped into what I can only describe as liquid fire. A cook had placed a pot of au jus on the floor. Ask me why he did that? I have zero clue… but in my foot went. It was his first day on the job and he should have said something, and I definitely should have looked down but my hands were full. I spent the next 6 months in recovery. I had to get surgical skin grafts and go through physical therapy to learn how to walk again. I almost lost some of my toes in the process. During that time I remember thinking, nothing will ever be as painful or as hard as that was. As soon as I recovered, I bought a truck and moved to Arizona. I didn’t have a job or friends there, but I was determined to make a name for myself living in the valley of the sun. That experience gave me the courage to go after things that I wanted. It was an experience that has guided me ever since. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Always remembering that something painful or hard is only temporary and if you get through it, the opportunities are endless.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This is really tough to answer since there have been so many. I have to mention my dad first because I am who I am because of him. Hands down he has been and continues to be my hero. But if I have to pick someone who has had a direct impact on helping me get to where I am in my career, I would have to say Lex Heijligers. Lex was the executive chef at the catering company I worked for. One day he came to me and said “I’m retiring, and you are going to take over as executive chef”. At the time, I had zero experience in a big role like that. I was a pastry chef who didn’t know the difference between a filet and strip steak. I asked him why he thought I was the right person for the job and he said “because you have what it takes and I will teach you the rest”. After giving a 2 year notice, we got to work… and for those 2 years we were inseparable. We spent all of our time working together and all I focused on was soaking up as much knowledge as I could. At 27 years old, I took over as Executive Chef. To this day, he is one of my best friends and is someone I admire and look up to.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When I first started, I hired my business coach Morningstar Hayward. She coached and mentored me along the way to help me lay the groundwork and build the foundation of my business. My vision was to always help businesses I knew very well restore their own purpose driven businesses, which in turn fills my purpose. Most of us didn’t decide to enter this industry because we particularly liked working nights, weekends, and holidays. We didn’t wake up one day and think “Geez… I would love to work 16 hour days!’ We do it because we are passionate about it and it’s our purpose. The problem is we love to create amazing products and services in this industry, but we allow it to come in and take over our lives. Which sometimes raises questions like why do I do this? Why didn’t I choose something easier? Why didn’t I go to law school? It would have been easier! So what we do is fix this problem so that people can experience the joy of running a passion filled and purpose driven business without giving up so much to do it.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I feel like I do my best work under pressure and during uncertain or difficult times. Like I mentioned earlier my purpose is helping others and that’s usually when they need it the most. The one thing this pandemic is finally doing is making businesses more scared of not changing. Currently, this industry is fighting for its survival and is forcing a lot of changes. By getting businesses to understand that change is inevitable and leading them in the right direction, they learn to trust me. They have to understand and believe that I’m all in with them during the changes. If they bleed, I bleed. As a leader I am never embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the answer, but I always promise my teams and clients that we will figure it out together, every step of the way! It’s important to acknowledge the uncertainty, but equally important to be proactive in finding the solution. A great leader keeps seeking solutions, even if the problem seems impossible or requires a lot of effort.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Just like everyone in business, I fail at times and feel defeated. When projects aren’t easy, it’s usually because they’re hard or sometimes seem impossible. There are countless things that are out of my control that will negatively impact my business and the businesses that I consult for. My motivation comes from looking back on some of the hardest things that I’ve encountered and have challenged me. If most of us look back on some of the challenges we’ve faced and think about going through it again, most of us would say yes. Yes, that was hard, but now I know how to navigate through it. So really when you think about it, challenges are necessary to help us develop our craft and the tools to keep building and growing our business.
The biggest thing that sustains my drive is focusing on serving others instead of what I believe the outcome should be. As long as I’m serving my clients with pure integrity and purpose, the outcome will be exactly what it should be. I’m never concerned that my clients might be unhappy about our accomplishments together as a team and that’s really what I expect and what I live for.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I believe the most critical role of a leader is their ability to influence. This becomes even more prevalent during challenging times. With the power of influence, comes great responsibility. It’s up to us to keep control of how our business is being influenced. You can choose to be the leader with the wrong mindset that complains how unfair the times we live in are, or you can be a leader with the best mindset that doesn’t get discouraged and recognizes what opportunities challenging times can bring.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Acknowledge the fact that times are uncertain. Being honest at what that could mean. Asking for input. Allow your team to express their concerns and validate them because they are real and need to be taken seriously. Be there for your team and express gratitude for a job well done. You would be surprised at how much a thank you can do to inspire and motivate. But above all as a leader your job is to protect your team. Don’t put your needs in front of theirs. Show them that you are here to support them. Get in the trenches with them and show them you appreciate the job they do. Allow them to make decisions for themselves. Put yourself in their shoes. It always amazed me that I could tell my team during our slow season that I would not have any work available (which is common here in Arizona) and invite them to come back in the fall. Most of them would come back in the fall because they were loyal. If you’re honest, transparent, and communicate your expectations with your team they will stand with you through anything. One person can make a difference, but armies can change the world. A great leader knows this and focuses on building their armies.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
You should always explain why, and then offer a solution. Most people are reasonable. I’m usually the person who shares the difficult news. I have had to tell team members to throw out the product they’ve spent hours or days working on simply because it wasn’t up to standards. I always explain to them why. “The reason those muffins aren’t acceptable is because they are over baked. Let’s make them together so you can see how they should be”. With clients it should be similar, “I’m sorry but we are not serving our beef fajitas tonight because there is a shortage going on with everything happening right now. Our vendors are working on fixing the problem and will have them available soon. Would you like to try our slow braised machaca instead?” That’s much more effective than just saying “I’m sorry we are out!”
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
True leaders lead they don’t follow so in reality it’s always unpredictable because it’s always a path untraveled.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Be more scared of not changing or pivoting than of change itself. Everything is figureoutable.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Giving up
- Assuming it will pass
- Passing on opportunity, due to uncertainty
- Waiting for things to go back to “normal”
At the end of the day this world is moving and shaking, pandemic or not, the ones who are going to make it are the ones who don’t give up, who pivot according to what is happening around them, who look for opportunities always, and the ones who seek growth instead of comfort. One of the most common things I hear from my clients is “that’s just how we have always done it”. It’s their normal process. But is it smart? Is it working? Is it actually beneficial? Most of the time they are stuck in the comfort of normal processes instead of being motivated for what could be.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Most businesses focus on generating new business and new growth opportunities. I am completely on board with that as long as what they were currently doing is generating a profit to begin with. Oftentimes we focus on the problem being “I don’t have enough business” instead of focusing on making money with the business we have. When you shift gears and really focus on that portion of your business, all of a sudden you realize what you actually have. The truth is if you were not making money before turbulent times you were not running your business that way it could have been run. Now is the best time to really streamline your systems so you are ready to 10X it when the time comes and make even greater profits. Think Catering: I love catering because you order and staff according to what is sold. Plain and simple.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Stay Positive- Remember you are the leader so how you react to a situation will directly influence how your team reacts
- Set the Example- Now more than ever is the time to be the example every day. Remember that you as the leader are not the exception to the rule. In most cases in this industry our customers are choosing to come to us and it’s up to the leaders to make sure that experience is flawless and we meet the expectations of our customers every time.
- Communicate- Be honest about how these times are affecting your business. Your team needs to know what is going on and what the plan of attack is. It is also important to let your team know what the expectation is of them. Be honest and direct. Saying the hard stuff is never fun but in order to compete during these times you have to be as good or better than your competitors.
- Be open to change- The ability to pivot at any moment is a must. The days of “That’s just how we have always done it” are gone. In order to make it through these times we have to be willing to change our way of thinking and doing business.
- Get rid of dead weight- Everyone has those people on their teams that give it their all everyday and those that do the bare minimum or less. Remember that right now it is so important to focus on the success of your team. Show that you appreciate the team members that are giving it their all by getting rid of the ones who aren’t in it for the long haul. Remember that we are fighting for our business and we only want to employ team members who are ready to fight as well. Those rockstar employees will appreciate knowing you took the lead on not allowing the business to have dead weight.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Nothing great will ever be handed to you on a silver platter”
My hero, my dad, worked hard and still does. Sometimes he worked three jobs at once. He taught me if I wanted something I needed to work for it. He also taught me that nothing great will ever be handed on a silver platter. Those bumps and bruises that we get are what make us who we are. They are battle scars and something we should be proud of because they prepare us for what’s to come. I was never handed anything. I worked hard to get to where I am and just like my hero, I will continue to do so.
How can our readers further follow your work?
They can check out my website https://takingthewheelconsulting.com/
Or my social media platforms: