Special Report | September 2011 | By Blair Chancey

Leadership: Kat Cole Style

Why the Cinnabon president’s management style is making people take notice.

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Kat Cole represents the new breed of restaurant executives.

She’s active on Twitter (@KatColeATL). She has a blog (katcole.net) that mixes both personal and professional anecdotes. And she’s determined to leverage every level of employee to grow her Cinnabon brand.

Cole became president of the Focus Brand snack and coffee concept in January, after serving as COO at the company, and ever since has worked to focus the four generations of employees she has under her leadership on one common goal: Cinnabon’s success.

“It’s critical for a leader to have a very collaborative style, to be able to collect ideas and input from every player of the business in order to move the business forward,” she says.

“There are more generations active in the work place today at the same time than there have ever been before—Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers, and even some beyond the Baby Boomer generation.”

That mix leads to a diversity of ideas, according to Cole. Employees that are 25 approach a problem very differently than those who are 55, and Cole says that the brand can only benefit from such diversity.

“What you will find is an emergence of varying approaches to problems and challenges,” she says.

In these types of situations, Cole says she appreciates the risk aversion of young employees as well as their quick use of technology, but also relies on the experience of more veteran colleagues.

Cole explains that many corporations make the mistake of immediately getting rid of people who don’t fit its mold. Despite the fact that most executives follow this practice closely, she warns that such actions may be short-sighted.

“The mindset of, ‘If they can’t fit in here and if they can’t adopt to my style, then let them hit the road,’ is a dangerous one for large companies,” she says. “If you can’t figure out how to work with them, your competition will.”

Decisions like these make Cole stand out. She goes against the grain and works hard to be accessible to employees. For instance, she blogs about a manager at an airport location like they’re old friends, something far too casual for most of her fellow presidents in the industry.

“I think it’s really important to put myself out there so people understand who they’re partnering with,” she explains of her decisions to be so open on social media platforms.

“People can make sure they’re joining a company that’s led by a leader who they’re proud to be associated with,” she says.

Cole spoke at Dine America, the executive leadership conference hosted by Food News Media from October 9–11, 2011, in Atlanta.