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Lessons from a Coffee Shop

For so many reasons, I'm writing this post. Without getting into too many specifics, my dear friend Bonnie has had a hard go lately. I absolutely hate what she is going through. I hate that she is such a good person and has to suffer so much. I'm just so sad for her. I've been reflecting on what she has meant to me as a professional, a role model and most importantly a friend.

I want (and need) to write about what I learned while I worked for her. At the tender age of 25 (or perhaps younger) she and her brother, Scott, owned a coffee shop in the heart of Vail Village named the Covered Bridge Coffee Shop (CBC). I still refer to my days at the CBC very fondly. If you asked me 10 years ago or 5 minutes ago, hands down, the CBC was my favorite job working for someone else.

For a long time the CBC was the only game in town. If you haven't been to Vail, CO before, Vail Village is pretty small. You can walk from the parking deck to the ski lifts in less than 5 minutes. When you cross over Gore Creek into Vail Village, you walk through a Covered Bridge. It's super cute and quaint. As soon as you cross over, turn your head to the right and you're at the Covered Bridge Coffee Shop. Although the coffee shop was below street level, we had prime real estate. During ski season, there was usually a line out the door, up the stairs, and onto the street for our coffee... in the freezing cold to boot! People and their coffee, man...don't stand in their way! Don't talk to me before I've had my first cup (or two) of coffee! And to be totally honest, our coffee wasn't so great. It was good, but not great. I think a big draw for our customers was us inside. And Bonnie was the leader of our awesomeness!


As a small business owner, I want to emulate Bonnie's leadership style. Looking back, I remember a collection of the little things she did as a leader. She worked, and she worked hard. I never saw her sit down. If there was downtime, she was prepping, cleaning, ordering supplies, and re-organizing. I never heard an employee complain to her or about her when she wasn't around. I've had so many jobs, and I've always loathed when my higher-ups would pull rank. Simply because their title was higher than mine, they ordered me to do the tasks they felt were beneath them. At my other jobs, my frustrations came from a place of being unappreciated or being taken for granted. There's something about working for someone who is working hard. Bonnie never complained, she just did. She also had a great way of keeping the mood light. When it was crunch time and we'd be moving fast, our spirits stayed high because of Bonnie's motivation. There's always something that goes wrong when you're working at high speed in a small place. And when things happened, she/we would manage to laugh it off. Bonnie didn't berate us if we broke a dish, burned toast or messed up a coffee order. She knew that it could have easily been her making that same mistake. Keep in mind, she was only 25 at the time. She is a leader by example. If she asked us to do the grunt work, she would get her hands dirty as well. She would always ask, never demand. I admire her because she is professional, while keeping the workplace fun. It's so hard to pinpoint, but I simply felt like we were in it together - the good and the bad.

As a parent and entrepreneur, I try to lead by example. If I ask my kids to put away their things, then I have to do my part to keep the house clean as well. I do my best not to "pull rank" (or the mom card) with them. I treat the people I work with the same way. My studio is small and we have a lot of moving parts... similar to the CBC. We have an ongoing to do list and we all pitch in to get it done. There are no small parts, only small actors, right? I believe in treating people with respect. That is a core principle of how I run my studio. More often than not, you'll hear me say, "would you be ok with...or "when you have time, could you..." I don't demand or order people around. It's amazing how far a "please" or "thank you" will go in getting the job done. I also make sure we laugh. And we laugh A LOT in the studio! It's such a great way to motivate my team. I thank Bonnie for teaching me how important it is to value the people around me even at the ripe young age of 25, Bonnie knew how to lead. She is a leader by example. She is fun yet professional all in one. She always asked, never told. I know it's semantics at this point, but it makes such a huge difference in being a leader. It's such a small difference, but it's huge in the long run.

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