Honest Tea’s Seth Goldman On Mindful Leadership

Published: Oct 05, 2016
Modified: May 22, 2020

By AMA Staff

We chatted recently with Honest Tea's co-founder and "Tea-EO Emeritus," Seth Goldman, about the importance of mindful leadership in today's business world.

Laurie Russo, AMA: Do you have any daily mindful leadership practices?

Seth Goldman: I’m a little fanatical about making sure I exercise every day. That’s my meditation, reflection and solitude… and working out aggressions and tensions. It also helps to ensure that I sleep effectively. In a schedule-constrained environment, if you can get in an hour more of either sleep or exercise, always opt for the exercise!

LR: Where did your journey to mindful leadership begin? 

SG: My journey has definitely evolved. One of my first jobs after college, I worked on a presidential campaign doing press advance. I found that at events, I’d be really tense, nervous, rushing around and soaked in sweat. I spent some time with a colleague doing the same job, but he was so relaxed! I learned from him that I could be just effective if I chose to be more calm and centered. So I began to evolve in that direction.

LR: Can you describe your mindful leadership journey?

SG: My oldest son is dyslexic, and it was frustrating at first—we thought he was just uninterested in learning. It turned out that he just saw the world differently. Certain things just didn’t resonate with him. Seeing him struggle and then be empowered helped give me the perspective to appreciate and understand that all people really are unique. That translated to how I manage the people in our company, and I think I’ve gotten progressively better at appreciating what everyone brings to the table. No one ever leaves behind their story when they walk in the door. So learning to see everyone for all their experiences has been an important evolution for me.

LR: What changes have you noticed in employee engagement, productivity, and personal well-being as a result?

SG: One of the benefits of having a very transparent, empowered team is that everybody has a line of sight to the company’s overall fortunes. If we’re doing things right—and I believe we’ve gotten there—they understand how their individual efforts contribute to the company’s performance. You can’t have empowerment without transparency and accountability. If you’re giving people the tools and the information they need to do their jobs, no one ever has to wonder what expectations are. They know whether or not they’re delivering. Our employees are engaged and inspired, and we have great retention and spirit. They feel that their work has meaning, and you can’t take that for granted.

LR: How does mindfulness connect your own core values to your company values/mission, and then to your employees’ mindset?

SG: Employees always need a context for their work. You need to understand how what you do plays into the bigger picture. Everyone wants to have meaning in their work, no matter how mindless it may seem. I could tell my employees that they’re moving cases and selling liquid. But really they’re helping people on their own personal path to better health and supporting communities around the world seeking to move to an organic agricultural system that's less dependent on chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They're investing in fair trade labor standards that help promote economic self-sufficiency and empowerment in these communities. Same work, but framing it in a larger context gets people excited and inspired about what they do. We talk about having a “mission in a bottle,” and that’s very much how we think about the business.

LR: How important is it for leaders to always be fully present and authentic, and why does mindful leadership matter today more than ever?

SG: You have to strive to be as authentic as you can. Morning exercise, as I said earlier, helps to digest everything from the day before and clear my mind for the day ahead. Running a company, everything filters down through me. If I were coming in disjointed, hectic and intense, the culture of the organization would take its lead from me. But when I can come in and be centered, not get angry, and stay balanced and rational, it helps set the tone.

LR: Do you have any advice for other leaders?

SG: Always make sure that the mission and benefits of the work are communicated and reinforced. Don’t assume that the context isn’t important. Everyone wants to feel like they’re doing something they can believe in and get excited about when they wake up in the morning.