Julie Krivanek on 25 Years of Cultivating Leaders
DENVER, CO - This year marks the 25th anniversary of a program that has successfully shaped industry potential into a sprawling network of 300 leaders. The United Fresh Leadership Program has created a worldwide legacy, and while its newest members may not cross a stage next month, they graduate at a time leadership is needed most.
“There is so much ahead, the majority of it unknown and out of our control, and I keep coming back to the fact that leadership is the answer,” Julie Krivanek, Founder and President of Krivanek Consulting, tells me. Julie is the mentor that has seen each United leadership student on their first and last day of the program. She was there day one of Class One in 1995 and for every class since, and has watched them all forge separate, powerful pathways.
These 300 alums have now made their way up organizational ladders and across the globe, spanning every board and council our industry offers.
“These amazing leaders have a presence around the world, both geographically and professionally, and, like the rest of us, they are struggling through something right now,” Julie shares, explaining that she donated a free hour-long consultation to each of her former students. In helping navigate those challenges in recent weeks, she decided the best way to honor them and the program they stem from is to share what she has learned about leadership in produce.
“We absolutely thrive in chaos, but chaos for which we have always had a roadmap. This situation has no roadmap, highlighting how we are particularly weak in certain areas—areas like soft skills, self care, communication, and acknowledgment. People keep looking to this supposed ‘new normal’ when everything is new and nothing is normal,” Julie shares.“But I am so optimistic and proud of the leadership examples we are seeing now. We have seen companies develop new consumer channels, feeding the hungry, successfully lobbying for change at the highest level of our land, and unlikely partnerships are blossoming. So many amazing solutions are springing out of thin air, showing us what we have always been capable of.”
So how do we take these opportunities to the next level?
Communicate with your team on a frequent basis and be transparent...
“If the company is working on something, tell them. If you don't have an answer, say so. If there is a rumor, talk about it. There is nothing more unsettling at a time like this than secrets,” Julie shares on playing things too close to the vest.
If you have annual budgets or sales and operating plans, set them aside for now...
Instead, Julie suggests thinking of 2020 in manageable bites, using 90-day chunks of time for goals and KPIs.
“Review these 90-day plans in 30-60-90-day increments to stay on track and adjust to the unexpected,” she recommends.
Don’t go it alone...
“People want to help—let them,” Julie says simply. “Special project teams, collaboration, and empowering others not only helps a leader to multiply themselves but will always produce superior results.”
Fix what you can now, but don’t get “post-pandemic amnesia.”
Every business had problems before COVID-19, and despite our best wishes, they will still be here after it’s finally dissipated.
“Some companies have cracks in the foundation magnified by current conditions—absent succession plans, a poorly diversified customer base, or outdated legacy systems and practices, to name a few. These are not to be ignored,” Julie shares, leading to her final tip any leader can apply.
Look at the framework of the business’ strategic plan...
This, Julie reminds us, includes core values, culture, your company mission, strategy and vision. In doing so, she recommends asking: Does it stand the test of time? Does it ring true? Are the behaviors of senior leaders aligned?
“Don’t forget to work through today's problems with the optimism, hope, and boldness of tomorrow intact,” she shares.
Even as the initial panic surrounding COVID-19 ebs, the crisis and the lasting effects we can’t yet know are far from over. Yet, as professionals and people of produce, we look to the horizon.
“Leaders need to steady themselves for a long and sustained effort. Of course there are a few exceptions among businesses in our supply chain, but even these may have unexpected impacts both up and down stream from forces not within their control,” Julie concludes. “We are wired to face down adversity. Companies, take the time to acknowledge this critical mass of leaders exists—from United’s program and others we are seeing now. They are going to lead the charge to a better, stronger future.”
In a last thought toward this 25-year milestone of United’s Leadership Program, Julie’s business voice softens as she tries to summarize the experience.
“I am a strategist by profession—that’s what I do,” she says. “This program, for me, is two days a year. But it has become my legacy.”
A legacy of leadership, established and still rising. That is someone I am more than eager to look to as our industry continues to steady itself both in the eye of the storm and after that storm has dissipated.