Leadership Matters: Stirring up the C-Suite and Apple Pie Candles

tea candles set into hollowed out apples sitting on a white wood table in front of a pie
By Shawn Nason

4 minutes

Sharing stories can inspire buy-in from the board and fellow leaders—and reignite your own passion for transforming member service.

You know the importance of member service. After all, credit unions exist to serve members, not shareholders. And you know how complicated it has gotten to acquire, serve and retain members due to digitization, cybersecurity threats and shifting demographic shifts—oh, and a little thing called COVID-19.

So what does it take to offer world-class member service when the world is turned upside down? It might take an $18.95 apple pie-scented candle.

Let me explain.

My company specializes in helping our partner organizations fuel their disruption efforts and empower them to find big, bold solutions to their biggest, hairiest problems. We do this through research and life-centered design. A lot of that work comes together at in-person or virtual design sprints where we guide our partners to dive deeply into their customer and employee experience by interacting with personas and journey maps that our team has created.

We’ve run some amazing (and amazingly fun) design sprints over the years, but we learned a long time ago that even the most amazing sprint is really just innovation theater if the C-suite hasn’t bought in. Until your fellow leaders’ minds are changed and their hearts are stirred—especially that last part—the only thing that will change are the pages on the calendar. That’s why we spend a lot of time doing what I call “C-suite stirring.” By this, I mean getting executives to see their organization through the eyes of members and employees, which can be really hard to do when you’re sitting way up on top of the org chart. (By the way—sometimes the executives are all in, but it’s the board that needs stirring. Either way, the same truths apply.)

C-suite stirring doesn’t mean rearranging the deck chairs or tossing the org chart in the Cuisinart. It means reconnecting to what really matters: people.

The Smell of Success

Which brings me back to that apple pie-scented candle.

A few years ago, we were working with a partner in the medical-testing industry to improve the company’s customer experience. A member of the C-suite was overseeing but not at all engaged in the process leading up to the design sprint.

In our research, we had interviewed employees about why they’d gotten into the business. One woman talked about how her grandmother had died of a heart attack and how much she missed the smell of her fresh-baked apple pie. That memory reminded her that the company served people, not numbers, and that those people deserved respect and support as they navigated their healthcare journeys.

At the design sprint, we set up activity stations where the participants could interact with stories like hers. That apple pie-scented candle—lit, of course—sat on one of the tables. The scent, along with the woman’s story, stirred a lot of hearts.

One of those hearts belonged to the C-suite member I mentioned. He dropped by the sprint more or less out of obligation but stayed a lot longer than expected because he too had been stirred by the stories he was hearing (and probably by the apple pie he was smelling). In fact, he ended up becoming a huge champion for our work.

Kissing Your Dragons

Recently, I published a book called Kiss Your Dragons with my colleagues Robin Glasco and Michael Harper. In it, we talk about the difference between mindsets and heartsets. A mindset, of course, is a set of attitudes or beliefs that drives our behaviors (or sometimes holds us back). It’s widely understood in the business world that your mindset shapes your opportunities.

But heartsets—emotional connections to our work and our relationships—are just as important. In fact, we argue that real power and possibility come when you combine your mindsets and your heartsets. Mindsets allow you to focus on how you think about the most important things in your life, including your family, your friends, your work and the world. Heartsets focus on how you feel when you trust your heart, your empathy, your caring and your love for others. When you’re able to use both, you can live from a new space of possibility.

C-suite stirring (and boardroom stirring and branch-office stirring) happens when people hear stories, see pictures and even smell $18.95 apple pie-scented candles. It can transform the way you do business.

Shawn Nason is author of KISS YOUR DRAGONS: Radical Relationships, Bold Heartsets & Changing The World and founder and CEO of MOFI and the Nason Group ecosystem. For more information, please visit

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