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Kevin Bauer: Learning to lead when plans meet reality

July 20, 2020   By Jim Cuene

Radical Candor as a Tool to Keep Teams Focused

Kevin Bauer is, in some ways, a modern marketing unicorn. He has deep e-commerce experience, matched data and analytics experience, general management/P&L experience, plus intrapreneurial experience gained through starting new corporate ventures internationally. Now, he’s getting his entrepreneurial merit badge as the founder of Kessel Digital. It’s safe to say he’s been around the block, and done so in more countries than most of us.

Due to the breadth and depth of Kevin’s experience, I was curious about some of his most formative experiences. You know that saying: “No business plan survives first contact with the customer”? Well, Kevin lived it as a key part of a team that was launching a European subsidiary.

“We were the huge dominant company in the U.S. and were so sure that all we were going to do is, you know, right click, copy and paste,” he recalled Of course, there were surprises and hurdles and, as you might imagine, things didn’t go exactly according to plan. Most importantly, one of the key consumer behaviors that drove the business in the U.S. didn’t exist in Europe. The team had to start over after trying for months to get established.The key leadership lesson he gained: You have to support a team through the various stages of frustration, even when you’re feeling it too.and support them through the pivots. And you have to do it all without decreasing the level of effort or intensity.

Pivots are hard in any situation, but especially when the urgency for results is mixed with the pressure of a business closure if those results aren’t met. Leaders like Kevin have to make a tough ask of their team members who might be battling fear; he needs them to embrace that fear.

Kevin told me that if you’re the leader, and you’re asking your team to embrace their fear, you have your own special obligation and that’s radical transparency.

“I had to be radically transparent about the plans, and how we were going to achieve it, and who was going to have to do what and what the risk was,” was his insight.

This sounds pretty straightforward, but there’s a critical piece woven through the commitment to radical transparency. You better have a really good plan. “If you’re radically transparent but you don’t have a plan, or if you’re not organized in your communication,then we’re all just running off the cliff,” said Kevin.

As Kevin and I wrapped our conversation, I was looking at the concept of transparency differently than I had before. Transparency is obviously a clarifier, but it’s also the most effective way to respect the people you’re working with and to keep the focus on the action plan, not the anxiety your team might be feeling. It’s a key tool to help keep energy and effort up through uncomfortable pivots.

Co-Founder and CEO

Jim has over 20 years of digital brand building experience. From running a start up digital agency to leading digital strategies for global brands at Ameriprise and General Mills, he’s been at the front of digital marketing his whole career. He loves the web and the opportunities it is creating for people and businesses to actually make the world better. Jim has an entrepreneurial mindset, the ability to see how the dots will connect in the future, and the knowledge & experience to put plans and teams in place to get results now.

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