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Peaks & Valleys – Jan Kaminski

About Peaks & Valleys

The Peaks & Valleys podcast is a series that looks at the unique challenges of running a seasonal business. Although interview guests run agribusinesses, the discussions are applicable to any seasonal business. Each episode ends with tips and best practices related to the given topic.

About the Episode

In this episode, Jan Kaminski discusses leadership and why he feels leadership is not a position, but a process with the objective of using one’s influence to effect positive change.

For more information on the podcast or to suggest a speaker or topic, contact


When you think of leadership, does position or process come to mind. I’m Lisa Courtney Lloyd and you’re listening to the Peaks & Valleys podcast where we talk about the challenges of running a seasonal business.

Although many of our guests work in agribusiness, these discussions will be applicable to any small and mid-size business. Today’s guest is Jan Kaminski, who has a long and impressive track record of developing high performance teams. Currently he’s executive chair of CryoStasis, a director at Market Maker and president of Colonnade Investments.

Lisa: Hello Jan, and welcome to the Peaks & Valleys podcast. Now, I’ve had the opportunity, the fortune opportunity, of working with you for many years in several different companies, and if I had to say why those experiences were so positive, I would point to your leadership.

Now, I know that’s an easy to use, often misunderstood word, and I also know that you have spent a lot of time reading and studying and talking and thinking about that word. So to get us started in this conversation, would you tell us a bit about how you think about leadership?  

Jan: Thanks Lisa. It’s great to be here. It’s always great to be talking about leadership because over the last 35 years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. From a leadership perspective, I think the most fundamental definition for me is trying to use your influence to affect change. But when I think in context of what we’re going be talking about, I’ll enhance that: we’re going to try to use influence in a positive manner. Not intimidation, but influence in a positive manner as well as the outcomes. Good leadership is making things better. So, taking a situation, making a change that actually results in something better.  

Lisa: We talk about influence making something better. Building on that more general description, what do you do to make it more authentic, more personal?  

Jan: From a perspective of effecting that change is really implementing leadership as a process and not looking at it as a position. Often people think about leadership as a position, the role that you have, where I think of it from a process perspective. If you start thinking about followership and gaining followership, whether those people report to you or your peers or people that you report to, if you can gain that followership, my view is that’s more of a process. And to personalize that process. The personalization is the most important part. It’s understanding some of the key issues that motivate people to follow and understanding how you personalize some of your own behaviors, your own values, your own beliefs to be able to get people to want to be with you and do things that you want to get done. That is kind of the essence of good leadership turning to great leadership.  

Lisa: So if I may, can we talk a bit about your beliefs? I know you often talk about leadership being intentional, so have you made a list of beliefs?

Jan: I have made a list of beliefs. 35 years of being a student of leadership, I did a big reflection this last year and actually went through and tried to understand all these different ideas that I had about leadership and tried to document them into something a little more succinct. Now it’s 35 slides later. But, I did come down to seven core beliefs that I think are fundamental to the way that I think about leadership.

Beliefs about leadership:

  • The first is competency. I think that leadership is a competency. It is something that can be developed. There are people with natural capabilities, but I believe it’s a competency and I think there’s opportunities to kind of create moments not only for you to learn, but for you to help other people to learn.  
  • Never forget that the purpose of leadership, in my view, is to create high performance teams.
  • Number three is always respect and be learning the complexities of leadership because it is complex. You’re talking about humans, human emotions, trying to change behaviors. There are lots of different nuances and mechanisms that motivate people to behave the way that they do.
  • Number four: strong leadership results from avoiding failures. There are leadership failures that I think you need to avoid if you want to be a great leader. A lot of people think you’ve got to do great things to be a great leader. I believe you have to avoid doing bad things to be a great leader. That’s a fundamental belief.  
  • I think the other thing too is you’ve got to seek out and find your truth tellers. We are all biased. There’s nobody, you can do a lot of self-help work, but there’s one thing you can’t self help is your own biases because you can’t see them, you’re biased. And so finding truth tellers within your group, within your sphere, who you can really, truly talk to and who can help you battle those biases is critically important.
  • Never compromise your leadership brand. I think leadership goes beyond the context of walking into an office or walking into whatever your organization might be. I think you have to live this, you have to live this all the way through, as best as you can. The brand really, really does matter because it only takes one fatal mistake to go and destroy your leadership.  And there’s all sorts of crazy examples about that.
  • Always be advancing all beliefs because things are unpredictable, things are going to happen. The idea is to develop those beliefs with new opportunities, with new situations that are being put in front of you. And I also think that doing all of those first six is what allows you to be able to get through the proverbial when shit happens…which is going to happen. Exercising great leadership when terrible things are happening isn’t enough. You have got to be advancing it so that you’re ready when it does happen. So that you have the appropriate followship when you don’t have time to explain yourself and you just need a lot of support.

Lisa: Right. So you’re living it, it’s intentional, you can’t turn it on and off.

Jan: Right. So those were the seven things that are my priority “ones”, which doesn’t sound like it’s great leadership at all, but those are my priority “ones”.  

Lisa: I could spend the rest of the afternoon talking to you about those different beliefs because I know that there is a lot behind each of them. So I’m going to suggest that we do a series where over the next three or four podcasts we look at each of those beliefs because I feel there is a lot that you can share with people and they would want to hear it.  

Jan: Love to do that with you, Lisa. Okay.

Lisa: Perfect. So with that said, I am going to thank you very much Jan for your time today. I’m really excited for the next conversations. I know you’re on your way to Wales, so I’ll catch you on your way back hopefully with, some good golf under your belt.  
Jan: Yes, thank you so much.  
Lisa: Thanks Jan.  

You’ve been listening to Peaks & Valleys, the podcast on seasonal business. Peaks & Valleys is presented by Market Maker Agriculture, a long term hold private equity company that invests in agribusinesses across North America that have seasonal cash flows. For more information about Market Maker or suggestions for a topic or guest, contact: seasonal at market maker