What Pop Tarts Can Teach You About Leadership


If you’re a leader of any size organization–large company or small team–you’ll probably reach a point where you feel frustrated. You’ve told team members what to do, but they’re just not getting it. They keep asking questions instead of taking action.

Driving to work one morning, you decide that what team members need is a tough talk: the kind that makes it clear that it’s time to stop whining, straighten up and fly right, eat their vegetables. By the time you get to the office, you’ve mapped out your approach: part Big Ten college coach, part drill sergeant, with a touch of fire and brimstone thrown in for good measure. This is going to shake things up!

Please, I beg you: Put down that megaphone! As satisfying as it may feel to give a barn-burning stump speech, doing so is as likely to demoralize employees as it is to motivate them.

Instead, take a lesson from that popular breakfast treat, Pop Tarts. Yes, that’s right: Pop Tarts are a better role model for leader communication than all the kale and quinoa you could ever eat.

What’s so great about Pop Tarts? Let’s start with performance. Pop Tarts sales have increased annually for the past 32 years; in 2013, sales reached $800 million. And although kids certainly love Pop Tarts, adults are avid fans of such not-found-in-nature flavors as Wildilicious Wild Cherry and Frosted Pumpkin Pie.

But the best part about Pop Tarts is that they’re the embodiment of that old expression about communication: You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.

Or, put another way: For leaders, positive communication is much more effective than such negative approaches as scolding, haranguing, lecturing or–worst of all–yelling.

I’m not suggesting that you sugar-coat your communication (although the sprinkles on Hot Fudge Sundae Pop Tarts sure are yummy). What I’m advising is that you approach communication with the attitude that your role is to encourage your team members, not chide them. That means:

  1. Be sweet (and kind), not sour (and disapproving). Use a warm tone. Even if you need to talk about something negative, start with respect.
  2. Make sure you’re concise and clear. Use Pop Tarts as your inspiration for making things easy. Your mission should be to simplify communication so that everyone can easily understand it–not because people aren’t smart, but because they’re busy and could use the help.
  3. Remember that tomorrow is another day. If you do express some crankiness, resolve to come back tomorrow with a fresher, sunnier approach.

And if you need some extra help, forget the Greek yogurt and chia seeds. Go Pop Tarts!


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