Martin Bjergegaard is the CEO and Founder at Able. Able, previously known as Frokost.dk (05/2019), is a Danish startup that Martin co-founded together with Claus Meyer and Claus Tingstrøm in 2005. Today Martin and his team provide over 13 000 lunches to companies every day.
Martin is also well-known as a partner in Rainmaking, co-founder of Startupbootcamp, TechBBQ and the author of the award-winning book Winning without Losing, a guide to improve your work/life balance while building impactful ventures.In this interview, however, we do not focus on Martin as an accomplished founder or as a bestselling author. Rather, we are interested in his unique team management skills. In the following we’ll first introduce Martin’s unique leadership philosophy and the main values he lives by, before providing you with a handful of practical ideas you can replicate with your own team to build a healthy, thriving company culture.
Martin’s leadership philosophy is to first and foremost take care of his people - as in turn then they will take care of everyone else. He believes in fostering a culture based on mutual caring and respect, rather than fear:“It's been quite a while that we humans have known that fear is actually not the best motivation strategy. But still, it's been so heavily conditioned and built into the way that organizations work. So it is actually still carrot and stick that is used to motivate people. At Able we have set out to do something very different. Much more based on love than fear. And that means authentic caring, acting with compassion and with wholehearted engagement. It’s about a bigger mission.” To Martin this “bigger mission” manifests itself in the way that he is with his team every day. Even when his days are filled with meetings from 9 am to 5 pm, he makes a conscious effort to be fully present and connecting in each and every encounter during the day. Some days, he might only answer Slack messages before going to bed at 11. While sometimes, Martin finds alternate ways to be there for his team members:“The key is to spend time with your team and to be together as human beings. In different ways and in different circumstances. For instance, the other night at nine o'clock I was out swimming in the canals by the office with a colleague. It was so beautiful. To just spend time together.”
This methodology of “being there with people” is not only descriptive of Martin’s personal philosophy as a leader towards his team members. Rather, it is the foundation of the overall operational culture at Able and the way the team members interact with everyone else. Martin wants everyone on his team to learn to be truly present and positively engaged in every internal meeting and customer encounter.
This, he believes, is crucial to creating actual and lasting positive impact:“When we are on the phone with someone and we are there leaving them brighter than when we started the call - that has a positive impact, it has multiple spillover effects. - It's very important to understand how impactful we actually are in our own lives, how we interact and influence others in subtle ways, and how we leave an energetic footprint all the time, both on the planet and on each other.”
In sum, Martin’s leadership philosophy seems to be based on two values: being caring and impactful. But is it really possible to be caring and impactful in such a kind way as a founder? Especially when sometimes critique and harsh feedback may become necessary to address mistakes and move forward.
To this, Martin has a clear answer:“Personally I do not value criticism so much. That might sound like an odd thing to say, because society values criticism. That is why we have these professions like food critics and movie critic. But all this criticism ends up sucking the joy out of life. Maybe I could have enjoyed the movie, if a movie critic had not told me all the ways this movie is not ‘perfect’ in his opinion. In a work setting feedback is of course important, but don’t come from a point of criticizing. It is much more useful to focus on building the love bond. Because one cannot really hear a suggestion for improvement from someone where they don’t feel that person actually cares for them. You can force someone to listen, but it’s not going to make any difference. More likely it is going to produce resentment”
There are a number of ways to lead a team, as well as a number of techniques you can leverage to foster self-leadership in your own life. The following 6 are examples of methods and techniques Martin and the Able team use every week and that you can replicate with your own team.
Every morning, Martin takes 3 minutes to note down what he is grateful for. At work, he not only expresses his appreciation to his employees regularly but also creates opportunities for the team to express gratitude towards each other: “We had a leadership day where we took turns focusing on one of us, and then the rest would say everything they appreciate about that person. It’s called an appreciation circle, and it is a very powerful way to connect as human beings." Learn how to conduct an appreciation cycle →
A happy mind is a productive mind. This is why, every Friday afternoon Martin and the Able team sing a song to lift the team spirit. At the time of the interview, this song was Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy. This might seem like an awkward practice at first, but do not worry. Martin explains: “It’s good for us to cultivate our ability to be together in awkwardness. Because it only means that we are expanding our comfort zone, and we want that.”
Sometimes Martin’s days are filled with back-to-back meetings for 8-10 hours or more. A handful of years back this used to bring him a great deal of stress, but today all these meetings bring him immense joy.
The main thing that he has consciously changed is his ability to be present:“The stress comes from running several mental tracks at the same time. Which is very exhausting. Whilst you are talking to someone, you are also thinking about something else. It can just be what you want to say next. It can be what you are going to do tonight, or what you did yesterday. In recent years I have come to realize that you actually don't need to think of all this. When you are fully present in the moment, and have no other thoughts, then no stress builds up. To cultivate this, meditation has been an incredibly useful practice."
For the past 3 years, Martin has meditated a full hour every morning as the first thing after waking up. This he now describes as “the most important hour of his day”. He began meditating upon discovering its benefits to the mind as well as the body. He goes on a couple of fully focused meditation retreats a year, and every Wednesday for two hours he studies online with a group of 50 like minded leaders and professionals who are also reaping the benefits of a daily meditation practice.
During the summer Martin sometimes drives an hour to a deserted beach to sleep under the stars, and to practice yoga and meditate at sunrise. Moreover, today the team at Able also meditate together twice a week for app. 20 minutes.
Upon asking Martin for one clear piece of advice for other founders he says: “Start the journey of self discovery. And remember, it's an inner journey.“ There is no one way to go about this, but Martin does suggest to free up your mind and time by not wasting another moment on social media and on following the news. Instead read profound books, and make sure that their core message is a positive one, because true wisdom is always positive. How intelligent is it to depress yourself? Also watch documentaries that give you new ideas, excitement and insights, rather than so called ‘entertaining’ Netflix series and movies about people who are angry, sad or both.
All of this is really just there to distract us and keep us from discovering how free and creative we truly are. Clear your system and reduce the amount of distractions. Then you will gradually become more useful, and more peaceful at the same time. If you are unsure where or how to start your journey to become a better leader, feel free to subscribe to the Hub Entrepreneurial Self-Growth Guide and we’ll send you our best recommendations for learning and growing as an entrepreneur every month.