Kim Jordan | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kim Jordan


New Belgium Brewing is the fourth-largest craft brewery in the United States. It is based in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The Mistake:

My words had an impact that I failed to understand.

It wasn’t until I had done this for a while that I realized how much people really look to the boss for insights. When you are really casual about something or flippant, it’s taken more seriously than it would in other contexts.

I’ve had experiences like that. There have been times when I was just wandering through something, not necessarily complaining, but unpacking a dynamic and there’s a judgment in there. I have said things where I thought I was thinking out loud, but I heard later that so-and-so was concerned. It’s kind of a telephone game, and it lead to miscommunications that I regret.

I had a learning moment on this years ago. Back when we had a different kind of review process, I got feedback from a coworker. It was something to the effect of this: “Kim should be more careful about what she says. I don’t think she realizes the impact.” I don’t remember the specifics of the situation, but I do remember how incisive that insight was.

This was not a peer or even a direct report; it was further removed. I remember thinking, “Wow, that was really brave of that person to tell me that.” The stakes were high, but it was really good feedback. That person took a chance, and I needed to honor that.

The stakes were high, but it was really good feedback.

The Lesson

On one hand, judgment is a part of understanding. You have to know if someone dropped the ball or if they were not able to be in control based on circumstances. On the other, I’ve learned that it’s just part of the process and that it’s best to do privately or with a tight circle of trusted advisors.

You have to think, “Is this a good time to be casual?” Sometimes you’re thinking out loud with someone, and they’ll take your words for the truth.

This is especially timely now with the never-ending parade of people saying things you just can’t believe at the leadership level in our country.

The other thing that is really important is to not assume that you know all the questions and all the answers. Rather than assuming you have all the aspects of the dynamic, you can let others tell you what happened to influence the outcome. That helps people unpack things with you, and you are not in a position to dole out judgment that may not be appropriate.

Helping people unpack things with you is really important.

New Belgium Brewing is on Twitter at @newbelgium.

Photo courtesy of New Belgium.

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