Stepping Up

How Leaders Are Rising to the Occasion

Throughout the Small Giants Community and beyond, leaders are doing what’s right when it matters most. These are their stories.

How to Care for Your People and Invest in Their Growth


Life’s Abundance provides an array of superior quality, safe and effective products born out of a commitment to improving the health of people, pets and the planet. Life’s Abundance is a 2019 Forbes Small Giant.

For Small Giants, no matter what in the world around you changes, your core purpose remains the same. At times, it may feel like everything in the world has changed — but purpose-driven leaders are relying on the strength of their culture, its purpose and values, and most of all their people to see them through.

A leader is only as good as their team, and putting your people first and investing in them is not only the right thing to do, it’s good business. But with so many teams working from home, how do you provide meaningful growth opportunities for your team? How do you cultivate a caring culture in times of change? And what kind of training is most beneficial to your people and your organization right now?

Meaningful Growth Opportunities for Your Team

If you ask leaders what their top priorities are right now (and we did!), one of their top answers is growing their people. That’s because purpose-driven leaders know that the innovation, collaboration and dedication of their team members is what will help them thrive through this time and come out stronger on the other side. Training is especially important for those roles and positions where there’s limited upward mobility. Training offers a path for development even when there’s no role to grow into.

But prioritizing training right now isn’t easy — many teams are dispersed, the mental load is heavier than ever, and there are distractions abound. But offering your people opportunities to grow is a great way to support them through this time, show you care and offer them the chance to level up, personally and professionally. Here’s how three leaders are putting training first.

In this installment of Stepping Up, we’re talking to leaders with creative, bold ideas for training and caring for employees in order to come out of this a stronger, more connected team.

Put Your Best People on the Biggest Problem

It’s the worst-case scenario for any business leader: someone on your team has COVID-19. At Life’s Abundance, it was someone on their warehouse team, so everyone in that warehouse had to quarantine for two weeks.

Life’s Abundance makes and sells mail-order health products and pet supplies, and they weren’t willing to allow any delays in shipping to their customers. Instead of shifting people around from other warehouses, Lester Thornhill gathered his own personal all-star team from around the company: himself, their Project Director, Operations Manager, an employee from the compliance department, plus his son and his best friend, and they took over warehouse operations themselves.

“Always put your best people on the biggest problem,” says Lester Thornhill. “I knew we would get it done, and I knew we were going to come out of it stronger. Within a few days, we uncovered tons of operational inefficiencies that we can fix in order to make the warehouse team’s jobs easier and more consistent, and specifically, save them time.”

Sasha Stephens, who is developing her own leadership skills through the Small Giants Leadership Academy, was immediately game to shift gears and help out in the warehouse. In fact, she’s since earned her forklift certification so that she’s ready to step up again in the future.

“Having a desk job isn’t an excuse,” says Stephens. “We believe that by putting your best people on a problem, you get the best innovations. We’ve already put two major changes into practice in the warehouse that will give us a competitive advantage.”

Caring for Employees

Right now, purpose-driven leaders are feeling the weight of caring for and supporting their team members through such a difficult time. They’re checking in more frequently, they’re looking for ways to facilitate connection, and they’re trying to create a sense of calm.

Purpose-driven leaders believe in caring for team members in the totality of their lives — not just in times of crisis, but always. It’s a staple of the Small Giants philosophy, and emerging leaders learn in-depth practices for creating caring cultures as part of the Small Giants Leadership Academy curriculum.

But with our work lives turned upside down, caring for employees — from mental health and wellness to professional development — requires new levels of creativity. Here are a few great ideas from Small Giant leaders.

Daily Cultural Storytelling

At the beginning of this crisis, Lester Thornhill had a singular message for his team: how is this going to make us better?

“In every situation, figure out how you’re going to come out of it better,” says Thornhill. “I don’t want to just get through this — I’d consider that a personal failure. How is this going to make us better?”

One way Thornhill has reinforced that message is by instituting daily morning meetings on Zoom for all 53 team members. Some days, it’s a brief, 15-minute meeting to check in, share updates, and motivate one another. Other days, Thornhill invites a guest speaker to address the team and share a story or life lesson.

“I invited one of our co-founders to come speak to the team,” says Thornhill. “He exited the company 12 years ago, and many of them haven’t had the chance to meet him and hear the company story from his perspective. Now, he’s more than just a picture on the wall for them.”

Thornhill also invites some of his peers to these meetings, including CEOs and leaders from other companies. For him, talking to other leaders is commonplace — but for some team members, it’s access to a level of mentorship they usually don’t get. These meetings have been a source of inspiration and professional development for the team, and Thornhill doesn’t see them going anywhere, even when they return to the office.

“During one of our first 15-minute morning calls is when Lester addressed the team with the idea of ‘how will this make us better?’” says Sasha Stephens. “It surprised some people, because so many companies were in the mode of just trying to survive the crisis. But it really set the tone. We’ve stayed true to it — the company is productive and moving forward, and we’re all in it together.”

Small Giants know that their team members are getting them through this downturn, and they’ll be the ones leading the way for the upturn. The leaders you met in this article all have one thing in common: they never stopped investing in leadership development.

Growing confident, emotionally intelligent leaders who understand the business, can set clear expectations, and inspire teams is the best way to future-proof your business. Atomic Object, Life’s Abundance, and Vivayic all have certified Small Giants on their team, and they are thriving today thanks to a deep bench of leadership talent.

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What do these leaders have in common?

These leaders are part of Small Giants companies — companies that prioritize their purpose and culture and invest in their emerging leaders.

One way Small Giants companies invest in their next generation of leaders is by enrolling them in the Small Giants Leadership Academy. This robust one-year certification program consists of virtual learning sessions with expert leaders and coaches, an extensive resource library, on-the-ground meetups with your cohort, a leadership assessment, and your event ticket to two Small Giants gatherings.

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