Kat Cole repaves the path to success in her new flight template series

Flight Templates are templated flights, or sets of questions, written by some of the world’s preeminent business leaders. With Flight Templates, Balloon users get unparalleled access to seasoned perspectives and proven business strategies across all areas of business, including leadership, product, marketing & sales, innovation, employee experience, culture, and more. This feature is part of a series on The Insight that profiles Balloon’s Flight Template authors.

Kat Cole is many things. She’s the COO and President of Focus Brands and a former Hooters waitress-turned-Hooters Corporate executive by the time she was 26. She’s the proud eldest daughter of a single mother, a mother of two herself, and the kind of meteoric success story most people only hear about in the movies. She’s an undergrad dropout and an MBA holder—rare, she said, but not impossible. She’s an empath and what she described as a “witchy hippie” (she got married at Burning Man, after all). She’s also a strategic expert, an executive mentor, and a leader at the top of her game.

“I lead leaders, who lead leaders, who lead leaders,” Cole said. “It’s a delicate balance. I have to let the leaders under me lead, but I also have to influence their decisions. It’s the art and science of leadership.” 

Luckily, Cole has better-than-average leadership skills, which have made balancing the art and science of it a successful experience throughout her 22-year career. Many people have speculated on the root of Cole’s exceptional talent for leadership, mentorship, decision-making, and culture-building, but after decades in executive roles—she secured her first corporate position at Hooters when she was only 20 years old—and a lot of time to reflect, Cole credits a large portion of her success to a number of frameworks she’s conceptualized during her early career and eventually operationalized throughout nearly every company she’s worked with. 

“Think about a lattice that leans against a wall in a garden. Those are the frameworks,” Cole explained, referring to her frameworks for growth and improvement, including her Hotshot Rule, her Four Mindsets, her Three A’s of Self-Improvement—the list goes on. “Then the vines that grow around it and through it are the culture, the execution, the success of a company.”

As a COO, it makes sense that Cole finds deep joy in operationalizing the more minute aspects of leadership, including constant self-improvement, high EQ, and a penchant to expect the unexpected. Now, she’s distilled her skills, her lessons, and her many tried-and-true frameworks into her three-part flight template series, Constant Improvement in Culture and Operations.

  • Culture Retrospective
  • The "Hotshot" Test
  • Identify Strategic Blindspots

The three flight templates within her series each focus on different areas of business, but the process of identifying where you are, where you want to go, and the best avenue to get there connects them. It’s a method Cole not only encourages her teams (of leaders who lead leaders) to do, but also one she practices herself. In fact, she practices it weekly.

“It used to be quarterly, then it was monthly, now I do it every Sunday,” Cole said. “So my team sees that, every week, I am acknowledging there is something I should be doing better, saying it to my team, and then, taking action on it, which is badass.”

This practice betrays Cole’s deeply positive attitude toward growth: She sees setbacks not as demerits on one’s professional record but as opportunities to learn and do better next time. That growth mindset, Cole said, is the only way to guarantee progress—if not achievement—in both the goals you set for your business as well as your professional and personal narratives.

And yes, that’s one more thing you can add to the Kat Cole list of monikers: Bonafide Business Badass.

Check out Kat Cole’s Flight Template Series

President and COO of North America for Focus Brands.