Tag Archives: leadership

141 — Kip Tindell

Podcast Summary:

Since I was a kid I really enjoyed being organized. Maybe I was a bit unusual. I organized my closet once a quarter. My desk had everything in its place. Even the books on my shelves were categorized by topic.  So, when I interviewed Kip Tindell, Co-founder and now former CEO of The Container Store, he said something that really resonated with me. He said, “Life is better if you are organized.” I couldn’t agree more.

Kip’s enthusiasm for life is infectious. And, his leadership principles are inspirational. You may be hard pressed to find many people who put the words “love” and “business” in the same sentence. But, Kip does just that in this interview and shares so much more about his personal journey from Co-founder of a small retail store to CEO of a business with 6,000 employees and more than 80 stores across the United States.

We recorded this interview in August of 2016 a few months after he stepped down as CEO. He served in this role for many years.  We talked about a very challenging time during the fast-growth stages of his company and what he did to overcome it. And, we also talked about his decision to step down as CEO.

If want to hear what successful entrepreneurial leadership through hard work and humility sounds like, give a listen to this interview with Kip Tindell. My bet is you’ll feel uplifted just like I felt while I interviewed him. Let me know what you think: todd@fromfoundertoceo.com.

Continue reading

“Communication IS Leadership”

Tindell-KipIt doesn’t matter who you are, or how long you have been a Founder & CEO, there is a direct connection between your leadership development and your company’s profit development.

I was reminded of this when I interviewed Kip Tindell (Co-founder and now former CEO of The Container Store) last week.

Until this year, Kip was at the helm as CEO of The Container Store since he co-founded the iconic retail establishment in 1978. That’s a 38 year run as a very successful Founder & CEO.

He candidly revealed many of his ups and downs in his 2014 book, “Uncontainable.”

It’s one of my favorite business books. I was struck by a key section of his book. He writes on page 125, “…in August of 1988, we were plunged into a real crisis the day we opened our seventh store, in Houston.”

Kip spoke with me about this challenging growth time period during our podcast interview. We both agreed that it’s a scenario that most fast-growth Founding CEOs face.

Here is what he said in the interview. “The business had been…so successful…it was too fast…it was too many sales…we had to figure out how to get it back to the culturally high- service ,employee-first business we had always been…We realized we had to formalize our culture.”

At some point in time many of you reach that level of success. It certainly is a nice problem to have. The switch from Founder to CEO often comes with growth issues like Kip’s Houston store challenge. The team grows larger and that size requires much more intentional leadership than was ever needed in the past.

So, how did Kip choose to respond to his Houston rapid growth issues? Communication! In fact, during my interview with him he emphasized that “communication IS leadership.” He decided to codify and communicate the key principles that all employees need to understand about being a member of The Container Store team. He called them “Foundation Principles.” And, he and the organization spent a lot of time embedding these principles into the company culture.

So, when you find your team growing, when things seem to be spiraling out of control, and when confusion seems to be the new norm, communicate. Below are some key communication considerations when you experience these growth inflection points like Kip experienced:

  • GET CLARITY: As CEO, clarity is king and queen. You need clarity before anyone else can truly support your company’s mission. Get clear on where the company is at right now. Get clear about the culture you want to create. Get clear about your expectations of your leadership team. Get clear about the impact you want to have on the world. It starts with you.
  • SYNTHESIZE YOUR MESSAGE: Boil down your clarified message in a way that everyone can understand. Complexity is your enemy and simplicity is your friend. Can an eighth grade student understand your message?
  • MULTIPLE VEHICLES: Once you are clear and your message is synthesized, adapt it to multiple communication vehicles. Can you create a weekly video? Can you host a weekly podcast? Can you have a monthly e-newsletter? What about town halls or webinars? What about small group huddles? Do you have time for one-on-one meetings with key influencers? The point is to get your message out in all the different ways people respond to communication. It’s not necessarily what works for you, as much as it is what works for your team members.
  • REPETITION: Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 times before we actually hear something. It may take another 3 or 4 times before we take action on what we hear. You may want to remember this when your feelings of CEO communications boredom prompt you to stop. Just when you may be tired of what you are saying, others are hearing it for the first time. Don’t stop.

Successful founders become great CEOs when they realize, “Communication and leadership really are the same thing,” as Kip writes on page 138 of “Uncontainable.”

What works for you?

Please consider sharing your your communication practices below so your fellow Founding CEOs can learn from your successes and failures.

The Three Signs You Are A Reluctant CEO

51-Reluctant CEO-Pic#1-08AUG2016“Our investors said I would be a better CEO than my Co-founder.”

“We flipped a coin and I became the CEO.”

“I was the only one left to be the CEO.”

“No one else wanted to be CEO.”

These are some of the things I have heard from some Founding CEOs over the years. It’s a really tough job to launch a new company…get traction…build a team…and get a new business off the ground. It’s even harder to sustain that success and scale the company as the CEO.

What exasperates this challenge? When you are a “Reluctant” CEO.

Many of you are experienced Founders and inexperienced CEOs. That fine. You may not be adept at hiring, but you are interested in learning. You may not be skillful at speaking in front of your employees, but you are interested in practicing. You may not know how to always motivate your team, but you are interested in figuring that out. You may not understand exactly what processes, procedures, and systems your company needs at each stage of its growth, but you are interested in seeking guidance.

The point is, when you are a new Founder & CEO, at some point in time you have to decide you want to get better at the CEO thing.  For some of you it’s a gradual understanding and for others it’s more intentional.

What about those of you who are “Reluctant” CEOs? You seem to embrace the thrill and excitement of your Founder duties, but as for the CEO role, you seem indifferent at best and reluctant at worse. In my experience, this is a recipe for disaster for you and your company, which I will go into greater detail at a later time.

So, how do you know if your are a “Reluctant” CEO? Here are the three signs that I have seen.

  • POOR PERFORMERS: Many of you tell me you understand the importance of building a strong team. But, when it comes to confronting poor performers on your leadership team, you seem reluctant. Your other team members see your reluctance. Don’t fool yourself. It’s challenging to be an effective CEO without confronting poor leaders on your team. You appear like a “Reluctant” CEO. Committed CEOs accept the responsibility for their team members’ performance.
  • VISION CLARITY: Someone must help the people in your company connect their individual contributions with a clear and vibrant future. But, when it comes to spending the time necessary for you to get clear and create a compelling vision, you seem reluctant. You may want to hedge your bets of success on multiple scenarios. You may be uncertain about your funding. You may worry about a competitor. You appear like a “Reluctant” CEO. Committed CEOs accept the responsibility to create and regularly communicate a clear vision.
  • CULTURE SHAPING: A culture exists in your company. It can be a default culture or one you actively shape. When you avoid or put off the development of a fair compensation plan that influences your company culture, you may be a “Reluctant” CEO. When you allow employees to treat each other with disrespect, you may be a “Reluctant” CEO. When you don’t care about your own behavior and pay little attention how you may be a poor role model for others, you may be a “Reluctant” CEO. Committed CEOs accept the responsibility to actively shape the culture of their company.

These are the three signs that I see most often. At some point in time on your journey From Founder To CEO, you have to make a decision. Do you really want to be the CEO? Do you really want to do what it takes to scale the company?

It can’t be a half-hearted decision. It calls for intention. It calls for you to leave behind the novelty of being the Founder and more fully embrace the things that call for an active CEO.

If you are a “Reluctant” CEO because you just aren’t sure about being the CEO. That’s ok. Take the time to get clear. Talk about it with other Founding CEOs, your family, or a mentor. Let that be one of your first tasks to figure out.

But, if you are a “Reluctant” CEO and you stay in this state indefinitely and muddle through, you are putting the company you founded at risk. Your past efforts, your business idea, your employees, your partners, your investors, and your customers all deserve a leader who wants to be there and who wants to scale themselves as a leader while they scale the company.

Are you a “Reluctant” CEO?

3 Counterintuitive Leadership Success Secrets from Top Startup CEOs

50-CounterIntuitive-Pic#1-01AUG2016I thought I knew about successful leadership. Sports. The U.S. Army. Corporate America. Executive Coach. Founder & CEO of a successful entrepreneurial endeavor. I have all these experiences under my leadership belt. I’ve even read more than 200 leadership books.

But, over the past year and a half I have interviewed nearly 150 Founding CEOs on my popular podcast, “From Founder To CEO,” and I realize I am just getting started.

These men and women have surprised me time and again by their unique business models, creative solutions, inspiring missions, and their leadership success secrets.

Three counterintuitive success themes have emerged that really fascinate me. 

1. New Insights From Old Ideas

Matthew Scanlon decided that he was going to cut through the messy logistics web of sourcing cashmere and go directly to one of the main sources – Mongolia. He now has a thriving relationship with the goat herders that roam the deserts of this country, a yarn business in Italy, and a clothing line of sweaters, hats, mittens, and scarfs that defy the traditional high prices of cashmere. 

He took something old, goat hair, and found a new way to bring it into the world.

Prem Thomas noticed some wooden sandals on a wall in India that were in the same design style that the famous leader of the Indian independence movement, Gandhi, had once worn. Inspired by the simplicity of the design and realizing its unique functionality, Prem created Gurus, a sustainably produced sandal with the same design as the ones Gandhi wore. 

He took something old, sandals, and found a new way to bring it into the world.

There are so many other examples of this success idea throughout my podcast interviews that it struck me how very simple, but powerful it is. Find new insights from old ideas. That’s where you can find much success.

2. Use Tech To Buy Time

Productivity. It’s a topic that is on everyone’s mind. So, when I started the podcast in 2015 I knew my audience wanted to know the productivity tools and tricks that the successful founding CEOs on my show use on a regular basis. We compiled a list of all their amazing apps, software, and techniques. 

While creating this e-book of information, I noticed something interesting. While there was a group of successful CEOs who advocated for their favorite software that made them more efficient, there was another segment that was using technology to buy time. They were using technologies that actually replaced routine activities rather than shorten routine activities. This was a HUGE revelation.

Dennis Mortensen launched x.ai. His amazing artificial intelligence coordinates meetings via email. It doesn’t help with this task. “Amy,” as the AI is called, takes care of the entire process.

Bart Lorang launched FullContact. His technology magically keeps your contacts up to date by mining your emails, social media, the internet, and your own databases. 

Both Dennis and Bart are creating technologies that buy us more time. 

Your success is closely tied to how you leverage your time. These two leaders know this and are pioneers in creating success through task replacement rather than task accomplishment.

3. Do Less To Accomplish More 

“How do you strike a balance between being focused and working on the things that really matter the most for now, but painting this grander vision to the rest of the team without creating a temporary distraction?”

This was the profound question and insight from Tope Awotona during episode number 90 of my podcast interview with him. Tope is the Founding CEO of the popular scheduling software, Calendly. He and his team have grown the company by focusing like a laser beam on those things that are only essential to the growth of the company. Focus is the answer.

Matt Ehrlichman discovered this too. In a recent USA Today piece, he publicly shared that his company got “distracted.” 

Here is his money quote: “We were as high flying as they come, but after some big bets with new products not working out and with the financing markets changing as they are, we decided let’s take some early action and focus on the most important things…”

Tope, Matt, and a growing number of Startup CEOs that I speak with are having much more success because they know that less is more. Focusing on a small set of discernible objectives will help you and your team accomplish much more. 

This just doesn’t apply to your company goals. It applies to your time, too. Do less to accomplish more.


If you bring a new angle to old ideas, replace tasks with technology, and focus on doing less to get more done, you too can experience tremendous success like the Founding CEOs I have the privilege to interview every week.