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Leadership Lessons From Jim Mizes: President/COO Blaze Pizza

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The spirit of innovative leadership and the power of individuality are two driving forces fueling the success of Blaze Pizza. In the short 2 ½ years since its founding, the Pasadena-based company has opened more than 40 restaurants throughout the country, and is on track to have over 100 locations by the end of 2015. My conversation with President/COO Jim Mizes reveals how Blaze’s unconventional approach is proving to be a main ingredient in the trajectory of their success.
Company Culture: Blaze encourages employees to be authentic by having a work environment where self-expression and innovative problem-solving are welcomed. “We don’t want people to feel squashed or inhibited. We value what people have to offer and encourage them to challenge old ways of thinking,” says Mizes. “If we let employees be who they are, and if they have a passion for their work, then we end up creating change for the better – better food, better experiences and a better work environment.” In turn, guests enjoy a fun, casual and engaging atmosphere where they too can express themselves by creating their very own custom-built artisanal pizza.
The Power of “And”: Mizes explains that the business world typically approaches work with the zero-sum tactic of “do this or do that” but that’s a limiting paradigm. He contends that embracing the concept of “and” is a more innovative approach. Indeed, the power of “and” has proven to be yet another ingredient that continues to drive Blaze’s success. For example, rather than choosing quality or fast, Blaze welcomes both. Their unique ability to offer quality, freshly made artisanal pizzas in a speed-driven, fast-casual restaurant format exemplifies that “and” is a powerfully successful force.
Individuality: Blaze showcases the power of individuality by encouraging originality, creativity and out-of-the box thinking. Mizes explains that leveraging the unique perspectives and talents of their team members “creates positive change and if you can change one person’s life you can begin to change the world.” Blaze’s commitment to individuality and creativity while serving a great product is also another example of the power of “and.”

Leadership: “I believe in the power of the team where collectively we leverage the strength of many individuals to push forward with new ideas, new approaches and new standards,” says Mizes. “My success depends upon others.” He goes on to say that one can lead from behind as well as from out front. Mizes sees himself as a coach who conveys the company’s vision and goals, provides employees with the tools to be successful, and then “gets out of the way.” Great leaders, he says, create an environment that brings out the best in others while showing heart, intelligence, strength of conviction and humility.
Blaze’s unconventional approach to business where innovative leadership and the power of individuality are encouraged seems to be the perfect recipe for success.
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Heather Backstrom is an executive coach, leadership development consultant and speaker. She has a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University. She can be reached at www.heatherbackstrom.com

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