Can you easily describe your leadership attitude? This might surprise many, but attitude is more important than you think. After all, attitude is the pivot point of BRAVE leadership.

As I’ve written about in previous columns, BRAVE is an acronym for behaviors, relationships, attitudes, values and environment. While you can certainly choose where to play, over the short-term your environment is a given. Underlying values are discovered, not created. But you can actively choose your attitude – how you will win: strategy, posture and approach. Those choices directly impact how you relate with others and those few behaviors with the greatest impact.

Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

I recently spoke with Lifeway’s CEO, Julie Smolyansky, who is living proof of the impact of attitude. Julie’s attitude is infectious, but it became clear that  her gratitude for the opportunities that she has had compels her to do even more on her “mission to repay.” Let’s take a closer look at her story:


Kefir in Progress

Kefir in Progress (Photo credit: Healing and Eating)

Julie’s grandparents survived the holocaust. Then, her parents emigrated from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in 1976. At that point, her father started making yogurt-like Kefir in his Chicago basement, selling it himself and delivering it by hand. He turned that into a robust business and public company before he died of a heart attack in 2002 at age 55, leaving 27-year-old Julie as CEO.

In reflecting back on all that and on the “long decade” since she took charge, Julie told me “It’s absolutely amazing that this country gave us and continues to give us these opportunities.”


At the time of my conversation with Julie, Lifeway’s stock had just hit an all-time high. The company had just announced the purchase of the shuttered Golden Guernsey dairy plant, increasing their capacity four-fold. Julie was feeling “the wind at our backs.”

That wind is driven from within the company. “Lifeway is not just a corporation. It’s symbolic of what’s possible.” Lifeway’s people “intrinsically want to leave the world a better place and lift communities.” They “interweave a core set of values and sense of service in everything they do from ingredient sourcing to solutions for families.”

Those core values are brought to life in the company’s strategic choice to expand on its own. They choose to stay small since “small can be remarkable” and this gives them the freedom to be fast and nimble with their innovations. They choose to be proactive. They choose to stick with their “family company” approach, playing this out in “everyday transactions at every level,” putting an emphasis on communicating and sharing to engage the community of employees and the communities in which they do business.


Julie hopes her legacy will come out of her “fight for the underdog, leaving a healthier, safer community for her daughters.”  She quickly adds, “When I see any child, I see my own children and the need for equality and opportunity.” She lives this through her family, her company and the many charities with which she is engaged.

Scaling Lifeway further is not going to be easy. Julie has already grown the company from 70 to 300 (and soon to be 400) employees. She is convinced the key to this growth is communication, and that social media provides critical tools to help her keep connected with her organization and other key stakeholders. While it won’t be easy, don’t ever bet against anyone with an attitude like Julie’s.

This is an example of the heart of The New Leader’s PlaybookBRAVE Leadership

We’re all new leaders all the time. So remember all the time that leadership is about inspiring and enabling others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. With that in mind, BRAVE leaders pay attention to their Behaviors, Relationships, Attitude, Values, and Environment – all the time.