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 Scott Greenberg. He helps businesses grow and leaders boost performance. For more than two decades, he’s worked full-time as a speaker, consultant, and business coach, giving presentations in all 50 states and throughout the world with clients that include McDonald’s, RE/MAX, Allstate, Great Clips, the US Air Force, and countless other organizations. Scott specializes in the human elements of business operations that include leadership mindset and brand culture, employee management and coaching, and customer experience and retention. For ten years, Scott was a multi-unit franchisee with Edible Arrangements. In addition to building a top-ranked flagship location in Los Angeles, Scott acquired a second struggling location and made it profitable within the first year. His operation won the Edible Arrangements “Best Customer Service” and “Manager of the Year” awards out of more than 1000 locations worldwide. Scott is the author of the book The Wealthy Franchisee: Game-Changing Steps to Becoming a Thriving Franchise Superstar, being published by Entrepreneur Press on November 17th, and is a VIP contributing writer for Entrepreneur.com.
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 was a film student at New York University when I was diagnosed with cancer. After a successful year of battling the disease, I was invited to share my story on stage at a conference and relate my journey with cancer to leadership and human performance. That one presentation led to more and eventually to a career as a motivational speaker for business leaders. When my wife and I started a family, I wanted another stream of income that would enable me to speak a little less and be home more. I bought what would be my first of two Edible Arrangements franchises. That experience eventually led to more invitations to speak about business mindset, building high-performance teams, and creating memorable customer experiences. I sold my stores a few years ago, so now it’s back full-time to helping business leaders operate at a higher level.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Early in my speaking career, I delivered a motivational speech at a high school assembly in a gymnasium. I shared my story of battling cancer and encouraged the teens to face their “cancers” head on. I was passionate, vulnerable, and gave them everything I had. When it ended and the kids started climbing down the bleachers to get to class, one boy approached the hot microphone and mockingly cried, “I have cancer!,” generating an enormous laugh from the exiting teen crowd. My takeaway? Always switch off the mike!
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?
My father was a serial business owner. He never really had a career, just a bunch of businesses with a few jobs in between. Some were successful and others weren’t. But overall, he made more than he lost — and we never missed a meal. My mom also deserves credit for projecting stability when times were lean. Both of my parents have been instrumental my entire career, helping me navigate the emotional journey that is entrepreneurship. When my book comes out in November, they get the first signed copy.
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?
I gave that first speech with no ambition to become a professional speaker. I just wanted to derive some meaning from my own experience with adversity and use it to help other people with theirs. That mindset really served me. I’ve learned that what grows businesses the most is the value they put out into the world. As important as profitability is, it’s too narrow a focus. When you’re driven by a higher purpose rooted in improving the lives of others, you make decisions that also happen to be the most profitable. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but it does require some faith.
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?
My decade with Edible Arrangements was a rollercoaster of ups and downs. We were only open for a year before the global financial crisis that started in 2007. I felt the effects of that, both in the franchise and in my speaking business. But honestly, some of the most stressful times were when things got busy. Edible Arrangements has spikes of activity during holidays. Valentine’s Day would stretch my team members to their limits. Orders would roll in and they’d panic about having to fill them. One year, our fruit vendor ran out of strawberries. Again, some team members would freak out. My job was to hide my own panic, keep the team calm, and solve one problem at a time. It’s really the only way to manage adversity.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Many times — most recently, this last Spring when the pandemic cleared my calendar of speaking engagements and income. But then I took myself through an exercise I’ve used with others. I charted my life and career on a graph, plotting the various highs and lows as a sequence of dots over a timeline. The visual showed a pattern of highest moments always following the lowest moments. Adversity has always disrupted what I was doing and forced me to see things and do things that would ultimately improve my life. I now have a book coming out and am working on some very exciting pivots and endeavors. I’m totally confident I’ve got great times ahead. Adversity is never pleasant, but it’s often highly productive. The first step is to remember that.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Be a servant. Use your position and influence to improve the lives of others. That means leading with clarity and confidence. It means making decisions based on facts rather than emotion, while remaining empathetic to the emotions of those you’re leading. It’s means working to improve your team’s mindset as well as their skill set. Both are important for high performance, especially during tough times like these when mindsets are so vulnerable.
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?
Tell stories. We need examples of human resilience. The answers to our problems aren’t always clear, but sometimes just knowing that resolution is possible is enough. I learned that as a motivational speaker. My primary topic used to be overcoming adversity. What audiences connected with most were my personal stories. It humanized the experience and normalized their feelings about their own. There’s no better way to teach, encourage, or inspire.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
My presentations often follow a CEO’s state of company speech. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t — no matter the circumstances. The best format I see for these is: what’s going well, what the challenges are, and what the plans are, in that order. First, clarify what’s going well and what’s working. Then, explain the challenges and problems that need to be addressed. Be direct, with more emphasis on the facts and less emphasis on blame or who’s at fault. Then, share your plans to make things better. Action is reassuring, even when there’s still uncertainty. This is the best approach, whether you’re talking to a nervous team or an angry customer. Be direct about everything and convey your intentions to improve things.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Create both short-term and long-term plans. Short-term plans help you survive and buy you time. Long-term plans enable you to anticipate the many possible circumstances and prepare for all eventualities. Be bold about your long-term plans. Aspire to perform better than you’ve ever done. That requires shifting your perspective. You must be able to see current conditions as an opportunity rather than a crisis. It’s hard to know the difference when you’re in the middle of it. That’s why, no matter what, always start by clearing your head of emotion. You must first get control of your internal world before you can effectively navigate the external one.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Always, always be of service. Use your products and services to improve the lives of everyone your company touches. And don’t just focus on what the customer gets; pay attention to how the customer feels. The brand that makes people feel the best is the one that wins–especially in times like these.
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?
Knee-jerk reactions are always bad. The pandemic is actually creating three problems. The first, of course, is the health crisis. The second is the economic one. The third will be the aftermath of all the bad choices people and companies are making out of fear.
Other companies are being too quick to serve themselves. Their pivots are all about their own survival and ambition. Consumers are noticing how businesses are behaving right now. They’ll remember the companies that really worked to play a positive role in the community. They’ll also remember those just trying to make a buck.
Finally, many companies are scaling back when they should be ramping up. Now’s a time to market, to rebuild, and to retrain. It’s a time to be bold. You can get a lot for your money right now. Many people also have more available time. That time can be used for professional development.
Generating new business and increasing your profits — or, at least, maintaining your financial stability — can be challenging during good times, but 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?
Keeping the word out that you’re open for business is key right now. I’m actively re-engaging my clients and letting them know I’m set up for virtual presentations and webinars. Generating new ways to serve customers won’t help if they’re not thinking about you. Of course, you also have to generate those new ways. I’m reinventing the mechanisms I use to deliver content to my business owner clients, such as one-on-one virtual coaching and creating an online course. I probably should have done these things a while ago. That’s one of the gifts of disruption. Sometimes, we need a kick in the pants to do what we should have been doing all along.
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.
- Always start by clearing your head. Breathe. Meditate. Wait. Delayed action is better than impulsive reaction. Regain control of your emotions first. Then, take control of your situation.
- Take a walk. Physically move away from your problem and get out into the world. I create very little while sitting at my computer and much more when I take my dog around the block. The movement of blood combined with outside stimulation reveals answers and ideas that weren’t coming to me before.
- Lead your team with empathy. Empathy is less about what you do and more about what you don’t do. Empathy is not giving advice. It’s not fixing people’s problems. Mostly, it’s about just being there. It means listening, validating feelings, and ensuring the person doesn’t feel alone. When someone we care about falls into the pit, our instincts are to pull them out. What they really need is for you to just jump into the pit with them, offering support as they work through their emotions and climb out on their own. Obviously, as a leader you’re responsible for more than emotional support. But when that’s what someone needs, an empathetic approach is the most effective. It seems like so little, but it does so much.
- Be of service to others. That includes your customers, your community–everyone you come into contact with. There’s a boomerang effect of the value we put out into the world. And focusing on others’ problems puts your own into perspective. One of the best things that happened when I was battling cancer was my mom breaking her leg. I got to be the caregiver instead of just the patient. That role reversal — that sense of purpose — did wonders for my head.
- Operate with gratitude. Anyone can be grateful when circumstances are accommodating. The trick is to find things to be grateful for when they’re not. There’s the old story of the farmer who faces a stream of circumstances, each connected to the next. His neighbor describes each situation as good or bad fortune, to which the farmer replies, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” We need time to judge our conditions. Many things aren’t pleasurable but wind up being highly productive. It’s hard to know in the middle of them. It’s best to just be glad for it all.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If it’s not a good time, it’s a good story.” I’m not sure who said this, but it’s always improved my perspective. Who doesn’t want a good story to tell? No one wants to hear about your wonderful vacation. But your moments of humiliation? I’ll make the popcorn!
How can our readers further follow your work?
My website is www.scottgreenberg.com. You can find links to my social media channels there as well. My new book, The Wealthy Franchisee, can be purchased on Amazon or through most booksellers.