Daniel Lubetzky, the chief executive of Kind Snacks, says creative minds can find ways not to choose between two objectives, but to accomplish both.

Were you an entrepreneur early on?

I did magic shows, probably from the time I was eight through 19. When I was a college student, I paid for my travels doing magic shows from the streets of Paris to the streets of Bulgaria.

You’re the third CEO I’ve interviewed who’s a former magician. What’s the correlation?

First of all, magicians practise a lot. It requires a lot of discipline. Second, you can’t be afraid to be a leader, to go on stage, and you learn to have presence. You need to be able to visualise and connect and create. Most important, you learn to think outside the box.

What about your parents’ influence?

My father was larger than life to me. He was a Holocaust survivor, and when the war ended he went to Mexico to reunite with two of his uncles. He had only a third-grade education but would buy used encyclopedias and read them cover to cover. He was a natural entrepreneur. He started from nothing and built a little jewellery shop. He eventually started duty-free businesses. I learned a lot just from watching him.

Tell me about your leadership style.

I’m very inquisitive. I love hanging around people who can teach me. I ask a lot of questions. And I’m very introspective and self-critical. I try hard to always question myself and wonder: “What could I have done better? What did I do wrong?” The culture at our company is to be self-critical, but you have to balance that as a leader with praise for your team.

What else?

We talk a lot about “and, not but,” which is about challenging people’s compromises. It is true that sometimes you have to choose this or that, but many times those are false choices. Our brains help us take shortcuts to be efficient, but sometimes the assumptions you take as givens — to help make decisions quickly — are no longer true or have always been false. It’s important to ask: “What do I want to achieve and what’s stopping it? Is there a way to have my cake and eat it?” It’s about being creative.

How do you hire?

I ask a lot of questions and I listen to make sure that everything is consistent, because people can be very good at interviewing. They can sound great but you really have to get to know them and understand them and connect things.

I rely heavily on references. The art of a reference check is aligning a candidate’s interest with yours and making sure the reference understands that. You don’t want the person you’re interviewing to come work for you and fail, so you really want to impress that upon the reference.

Reference checks are also an enormous opportunity to strengthen the person if you do hire them — to understand how to get the most out of that person, especially if you’re hiring somebody very senior. You learn about their strengths and weaknesses, so they’re much more likely to have a faster ramp-up and succeed.

I also have strong opinions about the concept of letting people go. There are corporate environments where a person has dedicated their life to working hard, and then they’re fired with a security person escorting them out the door. I find that so demeaning and disrespectful. There are times and places for that, like if somebody is intentionally doing something wrong. And none of what I’m saying has to do with tolerating mediocrity.

But a vast majority of people who work have the best intentions, and sometimes they don’t fit with the work. So if you took the time to hire them and to put them in that situation, and they’re doing their best but just not working out, I think the best practice is to do a few things:

No. 1: Maximum communication, because if you communicate with the person and have constructive criticism early, you might prevent a lot of issues. A lot of problems happen because the manager doesn’t address them, and then it’s too late.

No. 2: If things are not working, set a plan. You have a 30-day plan, a 60-day plan. Hopefully, they get on the right course. If they don’t, maybe it’s just that that particular job doesn’t fit them. So can you move them to another part of the organisation? You should have done enough work during the hiring process to determine if the person has your values and your work ethic, but maybe the skill set is not aligned with their job. So can you find another one for them?

Try that first, and if that doesn’t work out, then at that time come up with an elegant way for them to transition out. And we have a different model for that. As long as it’s not someone who has bad intentions — they’re doing their best but you’ve just determined that they need to be doing something else — it’s much better for them to start looking for another job while they’re employed. But they’re also going to help us find the person who will replace them and help train them.

And by the way, in exchange for this culture of us never treating somebody badly, we have an expectation of our employees that they can’t just walk out because they decide to. Everyone is a stockholder, and ownership carries responsibilities. You need to give a minimum of 60 days’ notice if you’re departing. With my direct reports, I require two years. In exchange, I’m blindly loyal to them.

What career advice would you give to a class of graduating seniors?

The most important is to make sure that you talk to yourself, that you think hard about what’s important to you and gives you meaning. When I was 19 and walking between classes, I didn’t have a phone, so my brain would take me in different directions. And it’s so healthy and important to be thinking, “Oh, I could have done that better.” Or, “What about this idea?” But nowadays, we’re on our iPhones all the time, and you don’t have time to talk with yourself, to analyse.

It’s very important for people to know what gives them meaning. But it’s hard for people to figure out if you’re not connecting with yourself and taking the time to just be introspective and daydream.

New York Times

News Service

It’s very important for people to know what gives them meaning. But it’s hard for people to figure out if you’re not connecting with yourself and taking the time to just be introspective and daydream.

More In: EMPOWER | FEATURES