Topic: Leadership


Failure, Bravery, and Leadership with Guest Kat Cole

season 2, episode 2

This episode, we talk with Kat Cole about failure, bravery, leadership, and what the workplace of the future might look like.

Kat Cole is the COO and President of North America at FOCUS Brands, which is impressive in and of itself, but it’s how she got there that will really blow your mind. It began with her meteoric rise through the ranks at Hooters, where she went from waiting tables to opening an international franchise at the age of 19. She then jumped to Cinnabon, where her presidential prowess turned the company around and paved the way to her current role at Cinnabon’s parent company, FOCUS Brands.

Kat was interviewed by Lindsey Nikola, a communications director and a prolific doodle-parent.

Host: Andrew Scarcella
Guest: Kat Cole

Topics covered:

  • What can startup culture teach us?
  • Reframing failure
  • Questioning success
  • Making bold business moves
  • The relationship between alignment and autonomy
  • Freedom within the framework
  • Breaking “move fast and break things”
  • Consequences and conscience in leadership
  • Encouraging innovation through hackathons
  • Influencing workplace culture
  • Getting intentional about culture
  • What will the workplace of the future look like?
  • Radical transparency

“Question success more than you question failure. When there are mistakes it’s typically pretty obvious what went wrong. But yet when things are successful we just say, ‘Oh, it’s successful because of how we're structured, it’s successful because this leader is great.’ Maybe not. Maybe something was successful despite your structure, despite the fact that that’s not a great leader, despite the fact that that team is weak, because the marketplace is just in your favor or the competition hasn’t really stepped up yet.” - Kat Cole

Tangible Takeaways:

1 - Question success more than you question failure. With mistakes, it’s often pretty easy to see what went wrong. Hindsight, and all that. But when things are successful, we often just crack open the champagne and pat everyone on the back, without examining why it worked. Maybe it was successful by accident, or in spite of something we did that should have derailed it. Our instinct is to draw a straight line between our actions and the big win, even though it might have succeeded for a totally different reason.

2 - If you’re looking to convince leadership that cultural change is needed, give them experiences, not presentations. Take them to the problem, rather than bringing the problem to them. Literally. As Kat puts it, “Instead of having a meeting where you do a presentation and you show worker conditions, get them in a car and take them there.” First hand experiences matter, and could be a secret weapon in the fight for better workplace culture.

3 - Hackathons beat brainstorms any day. One is a timed attack that empowers teams to be creative, question the status quo, and work together to create real solutions to real problems. And the other is a thinly veiled vanity project for people that want to appear creative without doing any of the work themselves. That’s right, brainstorms. You sound like a natural disaster because you are one. Next on HOT TAKES from The Work Place: is “moving forward” the most passive aggressive phrase in the english language?

That’s it for this episode of The Work Place. If you liked it, or even if you didn’t, please rate, review, and, of course, subscribe to The Work Place on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. This episode was written and produced by yours truly, with editing and original music by Daniel Foster Smith, who also composed our theme song.

If you have a burning question about workplace culture, or a story about why YOUR workplace culture is the best (or worst) send it to

The Work Place is sponsored by O.C. Tanner, the global leader in engaging workplace cultures. O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud️ provides a single, modular suite of apps for influencing and improving employee experiences through recognition, career anniversaries, wellbeing, leadership, and more.

If you want your organization to become a place where people can’t wait to come to work in the morning, go to

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