December 10, 2018
The struggle is real

Why I know all of my staff's birthdays

Renee Diaz

The Struggle is Real

In 2017, Renee Diaz moved her upstart cupcake business The Queen's Cups from Millbury into a larger space in Worcester's Canal District. With a year of lessons learned, she now writes the monthly advice column The Struggle is Real to help entrepreneurs and business owners navigate their own trials and tribulations.

Read the other The Struggle is Real columns:

Entrepreneurship isn't wonderful all the time

A beauty queen and a BBQ king saved my soul

Being a baker is not my dream job

Guacamole, pink cookies and why I provide extra paid maternity leave

For the past six Thanksgivings, I was exhausted around my family. Thanks to 26 people, that didn't happen this year.

As the days leading up to Thanksgiving are some of the busiest for The Queen's Cups, for the past six years, I would be the first person at work and the last person to leave. Then, I would wake up again the next two days and repeat the whole process. Even on the day after Thanksgiving, I would wake up and go back to work. Eat, sleep, repeat.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving this year, in anticipation of again spending my whole day in the kitchen, I ran a couple of errands ahead of time. I sent a message to my newly promoted kitchen manager, Alycia Wagner, letting her know I would make all the mini cupcakes, and I asked her to leave me a list of whatever else she needed done. When I came into my business that morning, something was very different from years past. The kitchen staff literally did not need me. I was home by 1 p.m. that day and actually got to enjoy my husband's birthday with him, absolutely stress free.

The next day, we had more than 60 orders to finish, wrap and label. In the past, I would be frantic wondering how to get it all done. That morning, I asked Alycia what her plan of attack was. She had it under control, and she and the rest of my awesome crew finished all of the orders. I spent the day visiting with customers. I had missed being able to chat with customers, old and new, and I was in such a great mood.

Not being needed in the kitchen I built was a weird feeling, but this had been coming for a while. If you ask my staff now, they would lie and say they still need me in the kitchen. They are all much more talented than I am, and I know they can run the day to day without me making a mess everywhere. When I told a friend how I was still struggling with not having to work like a mad woman any more, I felt guilty. After I admitted this to her, she reminded me of the years of work I put in to make this happen: the 14-hour days, the seven-day workweek, missing birthdays and special occasions for those I love, all of those years, all rolled into one big ball of stress. She was right, I worked for this!

Letting go of being the mad woman in the kitchen has let me become the compassionate leader at my business. Over the past six months, I have been practicing mindfulness, which goes hand in hand with my love for compassionate leadership. I open myself up to learn from my staff. I cannot run my business without their dedication, so their feelings, expertise and opinions matter to me. I try to get to know them on a personal level, recognize their likes and dislikes, know their birthdays, and take an interest in their hobbies. In situations where things get sticky, I work on remaining positive. If I crumble, what will they do? I am their leader, and it is important for them to see me handle things with poise. Mistakes happen and when they do, it is our chance to show our customers how good we really are. I want to lead by example so they know how to handle the situation.

I manage 26 wonderful people. With so many, there always seems to be something going on. I envision myself in their shoes, at their age, and ask myself what would I have done. I leave the lines of communication open, hoping they feel comfortable to come to me or a manager. I teach them about saving money, passing along life lessons I learned. As a team, we have tried to create a culture where everyone enjoys coming to work and feels appreciated. We just had an amazing Thanksgiving potluck where everyone brought food ranging from American to Spanish to Kenyan! I look forward to when we all get to be together, and I can meet their loved ones, especially those who raised them.

I worked myself out of my kitchen and landed right where I am supposed to be: Compassionately leading 26 people who work hard for me every shift. For the first time in my adult life, I have started to enjoy life. I can sleep in past 5 a.m., I can enjoy time with my husband, I can take a half day to spend time with my niece and nephew, and I have continued coaching basketball at Millbury High School. Without saying a word, my staff told me they had my back, and I am forever grateful.

Renee Diaz is the owner of The Queen's Cups bakery in Worcester.

Read more

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