A founder's perspective on company mental health w/ Martha Bitar, CEO of Flodesk

As a leader we need to be many things for our team. A coach, mentor, teacher, boss, friend, talent agent, and shoulder to cry on. We have the responsibility to coach and support our team through these troubled times. This year it's our first priority to create honest and transparent cultures. With channels and opportunities that we build and nurture to allow our team to share what's on their mind at all times.



3/9/202132 min read

Here's the recap...In today's episode, we chatted with Martha Bitar, CEO & Co-founder at Flodesk about challenges to the founder's mental health. This was a very open and honest conversation on how founders support their team's mental health concurrently with their own. We shared ideas on how founders can create a culture of transparency, honesty, and openness. Building an environment of trust and engagement.

This is Part 5 of our series on Mental Health. You can listen to Part One here, Part Two here, Part Three here, & Part Four here.

Related References

Martha on Linkedin


Chill meditation

Virtual Escape Room

You want honesty, we'll give you honesty!!

How to keep distant teams connected

There are lots of great tools out there that allow teams to connect. Via chat, to collaborate on everything from docs to design to project cards. The key is using these tools properly, as they offer lots of value besides getting work done. Slack channels are of course a fantastic resource for creating environments of sharing. Whether it's a channel for cat Gifs (my favorite), cooking recipes, topics related to mental health, or anything in between. Your job as a leader is to use these channels and share yourself. Doing so will increase the chances of others sharing.

There's still a big missing gap in these tools that I've heard so many times the past year. Impromptu meetings. The tools definitely exist now to do those quick one off video calls with colleagues. I did this with #5minuteface time with everyone and anyone at InVision. Though it did require a bit of work. DM'ing, checking calendars, opening Zoom/Google Meet, sharing invites, etc. There is no app (yet) that makes this simple.

At the early stage, you as a leader need to be very intentional in creating these engagements and opportunities for the team to connect.

Yes, leaders have mental health challenges too

I'll repeat it again. Yes, founders and leaders have lots of mental health challenges too and that's ok!! Martha was working a full time job and running a very successful side project all at the same time. Doing both became increasingly difficult and stressful. To the point of explosion 💥. Keeping those feelings and emotions boiled up inside until like it overflowed. Where all one can do is cry, and take that first step to make things better.

Martha did take that first step, and it's the same step everyone reading this can take. We've said it before, just start talking. That first open and honest conversation led to a better & healthier path. If this sounds like you, just talk to someone. We can guarantee it will help. Talk to loved ones, colleagues, mentors, bosses, or us. We're here to listen.

Honest feedback wins the day

Like great leaders, Martha always wants honest and constructive feedback. Whether something she's doing, where the company is going, or whatever is on your mind. For so long corporate culture has shied away for transparent conversations. If you weren't an executive navigating the ship, you weren't there to give feedback. Do your job and follow what your leader tells you.

Thankfully this mentality and terrible culture is changing. Today companies are embracing things like radical candor. Forums where everyone on a team can share their feedback and thoughts. Some times with suggestions on how to improve, but sometimes without. Simply calling out something they believe isn't right. Most importantly this is rewarded and encouraged vs frowned upon and punished for.

As a leader, you'll want to create multiple forums to gather this feedback. It could be Q&A questions asked/answered in company all hands, it could be an anonymous form submitted directly to the executive team, it can be a slack channel of bad versions (an idea that probably won't have legs but something to discuss), and more.

Offering a la carte mental health benefits

Like most things, one-size doesn't fit all. Group meditation may work for some teams while access to mental health therapists may work for others. What you can do is ask your team what benefits they'd be interested. Listen to what they say and start doing. Understanding you don't want to only offer a team Headspace account for mindfulness and mental health. Yes, some of your team will love it but others won't use it. They don't need to be left out.

Find the solutions your team is looking for and implement as many as you can to support your whole team.

Check in on your team often

I'll say it again. As a leader, check-in on your team regularly. Meaning no more than a week between each check-in. Do them via video only. Slack doesn't count, even if someone is an introvert.


First, video is more engaging than text in a box. Second, you'll get the non-verbal (or text) feedback you can't get in any other channel. You'll be able to notice the usually cheery person having a down face. You'll notice the body language of someone feeling disconnected and disengaged. Those are warning lights 🚨 for you to be aware. If you see them, as gently as you can start digging in. Something is going on, and it's your job to support them.

Scott: [00:00:00] Thank you for tuning into today's episode of leading from afar. I'm Scott Markovits along with Tevi Hirschhorn. Tevi, how was your Purim?

Tevi: [00:00:09] It was great. Scott, how about yourself?

Scott: [00:00:12] Good. What did your kids dress up as?

Tevi: [00:00:14] That's a great question. One of them, I still don't know. Another one was a butterfly, another one, he made a suit out of masks.

Scott: [00:00:24] Very nice. So today is episode number five of our series on mental health. In our previous episodes, Tevi night opened up about her own mental health challenges in the past year. We learned about how companies can use data to support their team's mental health and what the financial costs can be for not doing so.

We spoke with a digital nomad, mental health professional learning, what steps we as leaders can take to best support our own mental health. At the same time, supporting our teams' mental health. And our last episode, we learned about how a company with probably one of the best cultures around supports their team's mental health.

For a little spoiler, they do a heck of a lot. So today we're excited to be joined by Martha Bitar, who is the CEO and co-founder of Flodesk. Flodesk launched a year and a half ago as an all remote startup. So kudos for jumping into the future of work before the rest of the world joined us in the past 12 months. Martha and I connected a few months back. I was really amazed at the forward thinking that you have and the passion that you have for building an amazing employee experience. Around topics like remote compensation, learning and development and promoting from within.

Martha, the best place to start is if you wanna introduce yourself a little bit more. Introduce Flodesk a little bit, and maybe tell us a little about your company culture.

Martha: [00:01:36] First, so happy to be here and have a conversation. Flodesk is email marketing software. You're probably wondering why we created yet another email marketing stuff for startups since there's one popping out every day. It's the question that we thought when we first launched.

The reason is because we felt that there was a really big gap for a really big part of the industry. And the segment, which is the micro businesses. Entrepreneurs with maybe zero employees or a couple of employees who don't have the big design teams and the big marketing teams and tech teams to compete in the inbox where the other players are showing up.

At the same time, we saw that the inbox was exactly the place to level the playing field. If you think about it if a small business owner starts growing their audience on a social media platform. For example, they're competing with the algorithm, right? They're dependent on whether that social media platform is going to be around forever.

They're not necessarily owning their audience. On top of that they're competing with people who have massive budgets. And if you think of the inbox, it doesn't matter if you're a hobbyist candle maker or you're Amazon. You're going to get the exact same spot in the inbox. Nothing's sponsored yet. Hopefully never. We looked at areas that people were struggling with, like the copy, and the design. Making it on brand and making it look really good across devices.

We didn't anticipate or imagine the kind of growth that we've been seeing? Mostly word of mouth. We haven't deployed sales. We haven't deployed any traditional marketing channels.

We grew 391%. We're about to hit $10 million ARR, and it's finally becoming a company. So in terms of culture, we still see ourselves as these individual contributors. Where we're all owning a lot of hats and doing a lot of things. Figuring out and solving problems as they come.

We're at a point now where we want to continue feeling like we have these freedom and flexibility. But we also realize that if we want to continue having this freedom and flexibility, we have to create some processes and think about how to create a company. It's something that we hadn't really until now. Which is also part of the reason why you and I connected. It's really exciting. We recognize that we have something really beautiful and we want to conserve it. But we also realize that if we want to continue bringing people more and more people, we need to start thinking really hard about the experience that we want for them.

So that they right away feel comfortable. Because someone new is not going to feel as comfortable as someone who's been there for a long time. In startup years, you could be there three months before somebody else. And it already feels like they were there from the beginning and you weren't.

So we want to create a culture where everyone feels welcome from day one and they feel empowered to speak up. Even if they have been with us for hours or days.

Tevi: [00:04:28] Wow. That's very exciting. So you have a pretty small team, as you. You're scattered all over the world from South Africa to San Francisco, Michigan to Vietnam. How do you stay connected as a team, and is there ever any culture clash?

Martha: [00:04:41] I wouldn't say culture clash, but there are cultural differences that we should be not only mindful of, but also aware of. This goes beyond just location, right? I know we're talking about mental health and this is something that's really relevant to mental health. But I was having a meeting with my team and they expressed that when they joined the company, they were coming with a lot of trauma from past work experiences.

And there are cultural contexts that get brought in because of those different experiences. It's important to respect them, honor them, talk about them, and be aware of them. Regardless of whether they're coming from a different geographies or difference in backgrounds or experiences.

People are coming from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. So there are differing points of views. Keeping it from clashing and getting unhealthy is to create a safe space where people can openly talk about things to everyone.

That means that I also want to hear things as they are. If I ever speak in a way that wasn't received well, I want to hear that in the most transparent way as possible. So I can be mindful of any context that I should be aware of. Does that make sense?

Tevi: [00:05:50] Yeah, for sure. What are some actions that you take to allow people to connect, being scattered all over.

Martha: [00:05:57] So tools are the first thing. They're amazing tools already. I feel like that's something that's been solved. We use Slack for communication and we use Clickup for task assignment and tracking. Those are the tools that we use across the entire organization and of course G suite and the Google cloud.

Slack is something that worked from the very beginning. Clickup is something that we tried. Gitlab. We tried Trello. We tried a bunch of other tools and none of them really stuck. Clickup for some reason really did stick.

It was a lot of trial and error until something really works for the entire team. There are also ways that we need to stay communicated in. That typically only happen when you have the whole team in one place. Like bumping into someone to see how they're feeling. Not necessarily just have the chat that happens on Slack.

Those are harder because there aren't great tools that replicate those kind of office bump ins or that unspoken language of how someone's feeling. And then what kind of energy they brought to work.

So those are things that we try to intentionally replicate without feeling too forced. Every now and then checking in with someone. "Hey, how are you feeling?" You really have to pay attention, but if you notice that someone has a slightly different tone, you have to trust that you might not be reading too much into it. And they might not be feeling great or having the best day. Where in a normal office you'd be seeing them trying to be alone, or maybe showing a frustrated or sad face.

So it's picking up on the little details and nuances. To stay communicated in the ways that would happen offline, but don't happen in these tools.

Scott: [00:07:38] That's spot on. In the previous conversations we've had, a lot of the focus has been how you as a leader, help your team. So today, we're lucky to have a CEO and founder. The first question that I would ask is if you want to share some insight into your past year's mental health challenges? Any kind of chaotic stories that you can share.

Martha: [00:07:59] Okay. So first mental health is something that we should all be talking about. It doesn't matter where you think you are. For me, I'm realizing that I'm the kind of person that pushes feelings down and ignores them for as long as possible. Until somehow they claim their space in a not super beautiful way.

Then it gets really hard. In the beginning of this journey, I was working full time at Honeybook. I'm just going to say it, one of the best startups that I've ever worked at. With one of the best cultures that I've ever seen. It has shaped a lot of and influenced a lot of what we currently do at Flodesk.

So it was a really healthy space, but I made it unhealthy by always doing a lot more than I was asked to do. When at the same time thinking, "Oh, by the way, I can run full time a startup that's growing 30% month over month and do both really well." I don't know who I was trying to kid. I wasn't honest with myself and I wasn't tuned into my feelings. I learned the lesson the hard way because one day I just came home and I couldn't do anything.

I couldn't move. I couldn't think, and physically I couldn't move. All of a sudden I started crying, a lot. I couldn't remember the moment that I stopped crying and I went to sleep. know that just saying how hard that was for me and knowing how hard my team has had it at different places and other experiences.

What I experienced is nowhere near as hard as they have. But for me that was the hardest part. In also understanding that a lot of that happened because of boundaries that I didn't set. That also was a moment where my eyes got open to what was the solution. What was one of the most actionable next steps that I could take to improve my mental health. Which was communication. I scheduled a meeting with my CEO at that time and I said, here's what's happening. I recognize that I have been putting these up on myself and I need to figure out a solution.

The funny thing is that the solution didn't look very different from the tactical way I was behaving. It was more of acknowledging what I was going through and understanding that I would be supported in the event that I needed to change a few of the things that I was doing. But it also made me realize that a lot of times we just complicated ourselves a lot. Because we don't have the courage to have that conversation with ourselves first and then with the people who really need to know that we might be going through a really hard time. So how that's influenced Flodesk is, I try to make sure that we have opportunities to have those conversations.

Also recognizing that sometimes mental health issues happen because of something very tangible going on in somebody's life. Sometimes there's nothing going on and they still happen. So making sure that space is created, allocated, and honored is the first thing that's most important. Then recognizing that for some people it's really hard. For me, it was really hard.

I struggled along before I even admitted it. Making sure that the right questions are asked. Sometimes it's just a matter of saying, "How are you feeling?" Starting a one-on-one with that versus going straight into the business objectives can help.

Tevi: [00:11:17] Wow. So thank you for sharing. That was very brave to share that personal story with us. I appreciate that. It sounds like you actually are touching on the next question.

Martha: [00:11:26] If it's okay to ask, I'd love to make this a two way conversation and hear what you've struggled with, and how you've handled it.

Tevi: [00:11:34] Yeah. It's funny. Scott and I were talking about this earlier and we both have a lot of kids at home. I have my own workspace and I work from home. But then when you add five kids to the home that never leave, it's hard to have my own defined space and my own defined schedules. I'm juggling all the time and I can't be successful at anything because it's just too many demands.

That was my struggle, and I don't think I solved it. It was more accepting that it's not going to be a hundred percent and trying to be okay with that, is really the only way to get through that.

Scott: [00:12:06] Yeah, piggy backing off that. Exactly what Tevi said. During the first lockdown we had probably a year, I don't think I left the house more than once a week to take a little stroll up and down the block. I've been working remotely from the house for almost nine years now, but I went stir crazy. Being confined and locked up in the house. One of the big things that really helped me was just getting out of the house. Every day I'm very specific to go for my 5k run.

Get fresh air, get sun, just get out of house. Just get that little mental break away from the space. Especially when the kids are here and there's that collapse of work space and family space. It's all emerged into one. That opportunity to get out and do something, for myself, has been fantastic. That has helped me a lot. With the kids around it, there's not so much you can do. This is what the reality is and trying to juggle things a little bit more. Maybe doing a little bit more work in the evening once the kids go to sleep.

Our biggest challenge had been in that lack of separation of family and work time.

Martha: [00:13:03] That's the hardest part, right? That even though we are a remote first company, this layer of being in lockdown is something that's unprecedented. For so many people, they did not choose to be remote and that's even harder. Even if you chose to be remote, now you have to be at home when you did not even anticipate that you'd be with the kids the whole time.

You might not have the same space to focus. You might feel like your creativity is limited or you might feel constrained or even claustrophobic. Because you have to be indoors all the time. That's something that we've really been intentional about.

Recognizing that this is probably harder, even if we were remote, because it's a different remote life. It's something that I really admire. One of our managers, Megan, leads our member experience team and she's super every single day.

She's making sure that everyone's taking a really long lunch break. If they've been at their desk for a while, " Hey, you need to go on a walk. You get out of your house. You need to get away from your screen." People laugh, but it's those little things. I couldn't agree with you more.

Something that kills me is that why is it so hard for us to just say, "Okay, I've been in front of my computer for so long. I'm going to move. I'm going to stand and sit again." Sometimes stuck on my computer and I have the watch tell me, "Hey, it's time to stand."

I choose to ignore it and stay on the computer until somebody else tells me, "Get out." That's something that someone needs to invent it. Some sort of accountability buddy system where if you haven't gotten up, it doesn't send you the reminder anymore. It sends it to your accountability buddy. And they're like making sure that you're getting away.

Tevi: [00:14:29] That's an awesome idea. You're touching on something that's really fascinating. Is that, companies focus on leadership, culture and creating a good environment. You're admitting you worked for a great company before and they have a great culture.

You're a great employee, a great worker, talented and you had a breaking point. It was nothing to do with the culture or the company. It wasn't a problem with you. It was just, you were under a lot of stress and that pushed you. I think that highlights the importance of caring about mental health as a company. It's not just culture. Individuals need to make sure that they're taken care of, so that they can be successful. That a good employee isn't necessarily always a good employee. If they're a bad employee, it doesn't mean that they're a bad employee. It could just be they're struggling with something.

That's not a question, but I guess my question is, how could a company take a proactive stance in that regard?

Martha: [00:15:24] Yeah, it's really hard. You can't force someone to come and tell you. That wasn't anyone's responsibility but mine. It wasn't until I was honest with myself that I was able to feel better. Being very conscious leaders is where we start.

Recognizing that it's things that we don't even think about, when we think of creating a culture. We think of amazing onboarding, we think of having goals, one-on-ones, team activities, and a budget for fun things. In the end of the day, it's understanding that we are humans building the company. We're not going to show up in a way that's disconnected from whatever human we are outside of work.

So far we've been living for too long in this corporate world where you're expected to show up perfect. You're expected to be perfect and to always perform right and not fail. There was some fail fast encouragement, but it's still if you were failing fast, but you weren't performing your goals, you were probably in trouble.

Maybe at some point in the past, someone said that you can't speak up. Someone said that you can't tell your manager, when something makes you feel uncomfortable. Someone said that if you're, one day, not performing you're going to be in trouble.

Maybe someone said that you shouldn't take vacation time. That you're going to be penalized or be looked as someone who's abusing the system if you take three weeks of vacation from an organization that has unlimited paid time off.

You're showing up with all of that. On top of that, you're showing up with whatever's happening in your life. Your five children that are running around. Maybe you haven't had really good sleep and haven't eaten well. Maybe you haven't been able to work out. And then on top of that, financial worries, relationship worries, and parenting worries.

We're living all of these, and somehow we're expected to just forget that and be perfect and perform.

Scott: [00:17:12] Yeah, I completely agree. For the proactive, you said it before. When you were at HoneyBook and running two projects at the same time, you just got to that point where you were proactive. You spoke to the CEO and said, "Listen, here's what's happening. I'm struggling."

Tevi and I spoke about it in previous episodes. The best thing that you can do is that first step. Just speaking up. Especially as a leader. Everyone's looking at you. If you're working hard, not taking vacation, and not talking, the rest of the team is going to see that and mirror that.

But if you're that first person says, "Hey, I'm struggling. I'm not sleeping. My kids are bouncing off the wall. I don't have the separation. I need to take a vacation. I'm taking vacation." You're leading that path. When your team sees that, then it gives them confidence. It gives them comfort to say, "Hey, I'm also struggling with things."

If my leader is talking about it in an open manner and being honest, that hopefully makes me more comfortable to be share the same. Pairing into the question. For a leader that listens to this episode and says, we're going to prioritize for the next year. What are the first few things that a leader can take on, today to help build it helps support their team's mental health.

Martha: [00:18:14] So it sounds like you're asking for more actionable things that they can implement. So one of the things that I would say, try everything. Ask your team what they need and then try it out.

The answers will not come from me. They're going to come from your team. Have those one-on-ones check-ins with everyone from the team. I do my rounds and most of the time it goes into how are you feeling kind of conversation. You'll know what to do based on that.

Some of the things that we've tried are making sure that we have that safe space to talk about issues and the hard things. Creating that culture where you can complain and bring a problem, even if you don't have a solution.

That's okay. I want to hear it. Let's discuss it together and let's find a solution together. Just because you haven't figured out a way to solve it, doesn't mean that you should carry it by yourself and wait until you're burnt out to just talk about it.

The other thing that we've tried that I really love is a team meditation. We partnered with a company named Chill and they have Daryl who conducts monthly meditations. We have them around the time of our all-hands. We'll pick a topic that's relevant to either something going on in the world that people will relate to or something that's going on in the company.

Something around goal planning or resting and making sure that we're actually tuning off around the holidays. We just come in and we do the meditation together. I think they serve two purposes. One, the actual meditation itself in helping us be more present and more mindful.

But also in opening the conversation. The moment that we start having an official company meditation, we're inviting that talk about mental health. Inviting that space to say, "Hey, I really love these. Let's do more of these things and not have some people feel awkward about the fact that they may need to take a breather."

So that's one of the things that I've really loved. One of the things that's like super traditional is, making sure that there are team activities that are not work related. This is something that is tried and true. It's been going on for ages and it works. I know we can't meet right now or have an offsite because of COVID, but we do online escape games. We're about to do a new one where we break into groups.

So finding out what the team likes to do and and then spending time away from work. Doing these things and just hanging out with each other and building that trust. Even though we, for the most part, haven't ever even met each other in person.

I'd love to hear what are some of your things that you've tried or things that you've heard talking to other people in the space.

Scott: [00:20:43] I'll start with maybe these things that we heard from get lab. They have a Slack channel for mental health where people can share honest feedback. People can share articles, tools, and things they've tried. Which is very interesting. The one thing that I really loved is they have a thing called the juice box chat which originally came from a coffee chat where you connect with somebody on a one-on-one with a colleague.

But because lockdowns, we have kids bouncing around. They're bored. They want videos and things like that. So they decided, "Hey, why don't we try to engage the kids?" somebody stood and said, "Hey, do any of your kids want to get on a zoom call with my kids?"

They can have fun and talk to each other. That's very interesting. Things that I've done with teams are online Pictionary. Team trivia and different games. Netflix watch parties.

The most important part of the programs that you do. Number one, it has to be over video. The interaction has to be with a face, voice, and mannerisms. It's just being focused on things that are fun. It's nothing work-related. It's nothing mandatory. It's something fun.

Here's an opportunity to take a break from work, to have a good time with the rest of your team. Tevi?

Tevi: [00:21:47] Yeah. Same thing. We had a virtual scavenger hunt using InVision freehand, which was fun. Before lockdown, we would have meetups. I've been working remotely for eight years, also for a long time. So we had meetups and we did dune buggy rides.

What else did we do? We did a cooking competition. We broke up into teams and had this chef teach us some dishes. We all cook together. So not work-related, but that's the team building stuff to allow you to trust each other and to experience non-work interactions.

That trust is important to allow you to connect on a more emotional and personal level so that you can check in about a colleague and make sure they're okay. They'll trust you enough to share something and get it off their chest.

Scott: [00:22:27] One of the things that I forgot. One of the things that I did it InVision was a five minute face time. So I would DM everybody and anybody I couldn't Slack and saying, "Hey, can you jump on a zoom call for five minutes now and grab a cup of coffee?" Having the opportunity to connect just to schmooze with somebody in that impromptu opportunity.

An opportunity to see them. See their faces. Are they smiling? Are they happy? What does their body language look like? It gives you the opportunity to say, "Hey, this person seems like there's a change. The person doesn't seem as bright. The conversation isn't the same. They're not sharing something as openly as they did before." Maybe there's something off. It puts up a red flag. Maybe I should be asking, " How's everything doing or what's new with the family?"

Martha: [00:23:05] That's key. I think if we really do believe that the future of work is going to be remote or at least partly remote, then we need to find a way to recreate those human interactions online. It's really hard, but it's so necessary because you have to go out of your way.

It doesn't happen just as naturally as a bump in. But it's what eventually is going to make it okay to bring your whole human self to work. To know that it's okay to seem frustrated or sad. It's okay that you are having an issue. You're not a hundred percent there at work today.

What you said before Tevi. The moment you share it and somebody else hears it, you give them permission to bring it up and say they're struggling too. I don't feel isolated because I think it's also really lonely to feel like you're the only person that's carrying something and stressed and everyone else is just okay.

In reality, it's rarely that way. Unless you have those conversations and you normalize not feeling okay and happy all the time, then you're always going to feel that pressure of am I good enough? Do I need to be fixed? It's not something that we fixed. That's normal. That's human, right? Mental health is human.

Scott: [00:24:21] Yeah, indeed. You mentioned that your team uses Chill for team meditation. InVision has a team account for Headspace. Do you offer any other apps, tools for mental health? It could be access to a mental health therapist on tele mental health or reimbursing a therapist sessions. Anything else from a benefits side that you guys offer?

Martha: [00:24:43] So we're just finalizing our benefits. We're again, just building. We've been doing health insurance reimbursement until now, and that includes therapy. Team members who chose to do therapy and have that reimbursed have been able to use that.

One of the things that we're really excited about is telehealth. One Medical has a mental health offering that's relatively new. We also work with Amylin it's a health insurance provider. They're a mediator between the health insurance and your team, and they're there to help answer any questions and assist if they have any issues. They have their own programming of mental health every single month. They make it available to our team.

Then our team decides where to go and what to do. We also try not to be prescriptive, right? So there's a balance between team meditation, that's optional, and let's do group therapy.

We also want to make sure that we're respectful of people's spaces. Because if we're not, then that's going to lead to more mental health issues. So we want to avoid that.

Here's the space. Here are the resources. Come whenever you need. Speak up whenever you need. Take time off whenever you need. But we want to make sure that it's something that every single individual knows that they can own and they can be responsible for.

So they can actually take action when they need to and not have to wait until there's some sort of programming.

Tevi: [00:26:01] Very cool. How can leaders create a more transparent environment for open feedback?

Martha: [00:26:08] Oh, I don't know. We have gotten lucky, right? We have unicorns in our team. Rock stars that just know intuitively how to do it. As leaders, I think it's easy to take it personal if someone has a problem with anything that's going on with the company. Because it's your baby. Detaching from taking things personal and being able to set the example. If there's a problem, if there's something that's not right, if I did something wrong, I want to hear it. Starting by doing it yourself and showing that it's okay to receive feedback, and it's okay to hear issues. It's okay to work on them together.

That's probably the most important one in terms of transparency. I have gotten pretty strong direct feedback from my team. Both in private and in group settings. At the beginning it was hard to detach from. My baby's not perfect. I think there was a switch at some point where I realized this is not a me game a Martha show or Rebecca show or any of the founders.

This is not me creating something. This is an us creating something that's bigger than any of us. We always felt like we're on a mission to make really big impact.

We've made a really big effort in making sure that our managers also get that, and that they're not managing because of ego.

Have you experienced that? I'm really, I'm curious.

Tevi: [00:27:32] Yeah. I have a design background. When I was a very young designer, the first few times I got to work with freelancers or stakeholders in the company, it was very hard to detach and not take it personally. Getting over that personal attachment to whatever work you're doing was paramount to getting any sort of growth or improvement.

It comes to be like you want to hear what the other person says because it could be better. So if you start from that perspective of knowing things can be better and that whatever is shared with you can help you get better. That's something that you don't want to lose. That's too important.

Martha: [00:28:06] If you can just manage to get yourself to be fully present, then it's a lot easier to listen to what somebody has to say. It's a lot easier to put that ego aside and not have a personal attachment or to the outcome.

Scott: [00:28:24] It's having that mindset of knowing that you can always improve. You can always do better. My personality has always been very black and white. Always looking to speak the truth and hear the truth. In times it's gotten me in trouble.

I think one or two times in college. I had a professor at the end of the semester asking, please tell me your honest feedback. What you thought of the course. I didn't really enjoy the course very much. I shared that honest opinion. The person said be honest, and I was honest.

In the end of the day, that didn't really work out so well. The truth. That's the right way to do it. You should always be honest with someone. You should always be truthful with somebody and give them what what it is at face value and not speak around things.

Again, for me taking that idea of always looking to improve. I'm always reading. I'm always learning. I know I'm at step two and I want to try to get to a step one hundred. The only way to get there is by learning and getting feedback.

Martha: [00:29:16] It's going to be hard and that's also normal. We're wired to want that validation and that positive feedback. If it doesn't come, yeah, it can be brutal. I can think of times that I've been brutal and I've also been on the other side of that.

It's something that more and more is getting normalized and it's crazy because how long have we been around for, and we're just starting to talk about these?

Scott: [00:29:43] Final question that I had, something that we spoke about earlier. You talked about one-on-ones. We've spoken about it a few times in previous episodes about doing one-on-one mental health check-ins. Not attached to work, business one-on-one, or team meetings.

Do you, as a leader, do those kinds of personal check-ins? Just checking in every so often, and if you do what kind of questions are you asking in these mental health check-ins?

Martha: [00:30:09] Yes. So I have them once a month. I ask, "how do you feel?" I've noticed that sometimes those work really well, but you also need another layer. Sometimes people are not ready to talk to you if they see you in a position of authority. Sometimes they feel like that is either going over their boss's head or escalating.

I don't think that we've normalized this conversation yet. The thing that I've seen as a really good compliment, is having team meetings without the manager. That means without me, but also without their manager and having that be a routine. Because a lot of times people don't feel brave to say something.

Having those meetings, it's likely that the negative things will bubble up. We want those things to be bubbled up. We don't want people to be holding them in. We want to know if there's an issue. Is it something that we can resolve? If not, is it something that we can talk about?

Is it something that just by communicating, it might make things better. If it's not something that we can resolve, at least it's something that we're aware of. It shouldn't be a cross that someone carries without having the space to at least talk about it with their colleagues. Then what happens is if something that's actionable comes up during that meeting, then it is escalated through the right channels in a way that it is never penalized.

I remember the first time somebody gave me, let's just call it, constructive feedback. It was someone from my team that was two managers in between us. We were having a conversation and she said, "Okay, I might get fired for this, but here's how I feel."

It really stuck with me because I never quite understood how hard it was for someone to tell you something in a one-on-one or in that kind of an environment. Even though I was asking, "how are you feeling?" she thought she might get fired. People might not tell you that, but that's the context that they're bringing.

Why? Because maybe their previous role. Maybe because that's how they perceive your environment to be. Maybe because of that's how corporate has been for the longest time.

I really think it's important for that same reason to create not just that safe space, where your team members can tell you , what's going on, they can talk to each other. And make sure that it's okay to talk to each other.

I think it's this unspoken rule that. Team members can't talk to each other about the sensitive things, right? Like we. We've seen companies banned to talk about their salaries and talk about how they're feeling. And to talk about their manager between each other.

Who is that really benefiting? Not the team member, just leadership. In the end of the day, it's only benefiting the company short term. You're not really creating something that's going to be sustainable and high-performing for the longterm.

I definitely recommend having those one-on-ones in those settings. They have worked for us, but they are not enough. I dunno if you've seen something similar? I don't know what your experience has been with. You're both nodding. I'm curious to hear what you've seen in that space.

Tevi: [00:32:57] Like you said. I think for those companies where in the short term, it hides the bosses from responsibility. Then those people turn to glassdoor.com later and rate the company as they leave. So it doesn't work out in the end.

Martha: [00:33:12] So true.

Scott: [00:33:13] To jump from mid perspective. For the people who are more open and like to share, it's asking me more personal questions. About their family, about what's going on with them, knowing their story.

Not, "How are you feeling or how's everything going?" Because to me that doesn't open up as much of a feedback or opportunity to share honest feedback.

For people who are more introverted or share a bit less, I like to go with, "Tell me one thing that has made you happy at work this week. Tell me maybe one thing that has made you unhappy at work this week. I'm trying to keep it focused around the work, and something that's made them happy.

To me, it's an easier opportunity for them than maybe speaking about their families. Speaking about things going on. But at least giving them the opportunity to speak about something that has been positive in their week and has been not as positive.

Martha: [00:33:59] I love that.

Tevi: [00:34:01] I've heard people ask, what are your blockers this week or something like that. I ask what are your challenges? So it's not quite like there's something preventing me from doing my work, but are there challenges that may be work-related or not that we can just discuss? Maybe they're surmountable by myself.

Maybe I need help with that. I'm not sure. So it's more open-ended and it creates a safe space for people to share something that's a little bit more than just like a blocker.

Martha: [00:34:29] Yeah, I love that, and also sometimes sharing, right? Sharing vulnerably and transparently could start opening that conversation. I think that's one of the first social things we learn. Reciprocity of vulnerability can be really big too. I love that. Those are really great.

Yeah. I'm going to start playing around with the questions too. If a review made it to glassdoor at that point, it's either too late and that conversation never happened ,or possibly it happened too many times and nothing happened around it. Which is also concerning. I would say it's probably good to hear it, even if you end up hearing it in a public platform, but very unfortunate.

Tevi: [00:35:06] So before we let you go for the day, I wanted to ask, do you have any advice for leaders on how they could handle their own mental health challenges? While at the same time supporting their team?

Martha: [00:35:17] I would say the first thing, if you really feel that you're struggling with mental health, is talk to someone. Don't take it lightly. It's a real thing. Just because it's not a broken ankle doesn't mean that it's not causing real harm. And it's going to cause harm for everyone else around you, as well.

It's preventing you from running the organization that you really want to run. There are programs like meditation coaching, yoga, right? Find your outlet. Whatever it is, and just commit to it. If it's yoga, one time a day. If it's twice a day meditation. If it's talking to a partner. Talking to a friend. Walking around and getting away from the kids for a little bit. Whatever it is, just honor that practice. Don't not do anything about it because it's just not going to disappear magically.

Tevi: [00:36:08] That's great advice. Thank you.

Scott: [00:36:10] Totally agree. The first thing is opening up and sharing for yourself. Standing up, being the first person to share as a leader. You got to get in there. I reiterate everything that you've said. It's finding those channels that help you first.

Whether it's meditation, going for a walk, that separation, time from the kids. Being very specific to make sure that you take that time.

Making sure that you stick to it and take the time for yourself. Because if you're not helping yourself, you're not able to take care of your own mental health. There's no way you're going to be able to support the rest of your team and their mental health.

Tevi: [00:36:45] My wife and I say all the time to each other, " You gotta put your own gas mask on first." When you're on an airplane, remember before COVID we were on airplanes, they give you that safety speech where the mask will drop down.

In case of a loss of cabin pressure, you gotta put yours on first before you help someone else. So if you want to be a good leader and effective in helping your team with their mental health, you gotta put on your own mask first.

Martha: [00:37:10] Fully agreed. Remember that you don't need to do it all, and you don't need to fix it. This could be something that you just enable and empower the team to also take responsibility for. Even that it's a really hard wall for a lot of people.

This has been super enlightening. I really appreciate both of your time.

Scott: [00:37:30] Martha, thank you so much. We greatly appreciate the time and the openness and transparency of the things shared.

Until the next episode, have a great day.