You have many leadership styles to choose from. We often look at how military leadership experience can guide us to a new level of growth. In my experience, there are advantages and disadvantages to military leadership strategies. Today’s guest is Craig Henderson, CEO at Extract Labs. Inc Magazine ranked his company #615 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. Extract Labs is a Boulder, Colorado-based full-service hemp extraction lab offering a proprietary line of boutique CBD-infused products. Craig shares how he uses his military leadership experience to drive growth. We look at how military leadership skills can get in the way of company growth.
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Craig Henderson: The Transcript
About: Craig spent most of his childhood on a Marine Corps base in 29 Palms, California. Immediately after finishing high school in Southern Indiana, Henderson entered into military service, serving as an infantryman and Team Leader with 1 Battalion 27th Infantry during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2002 to 2006. Over the course of his military career, he was twice nominated for a Bronze Star and received an ARCOM with Valor award while serving in Iraq. After retiring from the Army, Craig went back to school and earned a Master’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Louisville, with a concentration in thermal sciences and renewable energy. From there, Craig went on to become Senior Sales Engineer for Apeks Supercritical – an Ohio-based CO2 extraction technology leader. There, he performed technical sales, and managed all training and service on Apeks’ extraction systems – both domestically and internationally. He also conducted cannabis-related research and development, and taught classes specifically on advanced CO2 extraction and processing techniques.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Craig Henderson: [00:00:00] The reason it has been advantageous to us is, you know, we’re taking something that was nothing and turning it into, you know, a company that’s doing $10 million a year after three years, we’ve done 10 million the last three years. Our first year, I think we did half a million. Second-year, we did 6 million. You know, how does the military leadership effect that just evolving quickly being very direct, pushing people, training people, you know, a lot of the people in the military when you get them, you know, when I first joined the military or any new private that you get, they don’t know, you don’t get them with experience. They weren’t trained. They didn’t go to school for the military. So you have to train you to spend years training these people and developing them. And I got a lot of experience with that. I spent four years active duty, about six years inactive. So you learn to train people. You learn to coach people.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining [00:01:00] moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: Many styles of leadership that you want to understand as you improve your own leadership skills, the approaches you take, and the strategies necessary for you to drive growth now, leadership skills, come in many flavors, you can get them from many different places. Today. We look at military leadership, specifically the advantages and disadvantages of military leadership. When we look in and have this conversation, I will freely admit I’ve never been in the military, but I have this perspective. I’ve worked with a lot of executives that have been on the front lines and with our serving armed forces. And I’m really proud to do that because I can help them unlearn some of the things that they’ve had to go through. But today we have a very special conversation with Craig Henderson. He is the founder of Extract Labs. They were number 615 in the Inc list in 2021. , so they’ve grown fast and he talks about specifically, what are the things that are advantages to military leadership? And we unpack those, but we also look at some of the disadvantages, what are the things you have to unlearn? And I think all of [00:02:00] them make for great content and make for a great episode for you to learn, to be the best leader you can be. When you think about your own leadership and the journey that you have in front of you, are you curious about what does it take to handle the people issues? Manage all of the things that are necessary for you to build a culture. Will I help my clients do that as an executive coach? I want to help you too. I can reach out to every once in a while have gift sessions, and we’ve been doing this and really getting a lot of results out of it. , not necessarily in getting people to sign up for clients. That’s not the focus of this.
We are working with a few people that have come from the process. But what we’re really proud of is sharing an impact. And if you’ll let us share with you and get to know you, maybe there’s some free content we can give you too. Maybe you’re a good guest to be on the show, or maybe it’s just a conversation around what’s getting in the way of you being an extraordinary leader. If you want to take advantage of that, just going to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call, it will help you become an extraordinary leader, help you drive growth in your team. And if you create a place where people really love to come to work, just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your [00:03:00] call. Now back to the interview with Craig.
Craig, how are you?
Craig Henderson: Good. How are you doing?
Gene Hammett: Fantastic. Excited to have you on the podcast. Talk about, you know, some of the key aspects of military leadership that have impacted the growth of your company. Before we dive into that, tell us about your company Extract Labs.
Craig Henderson: Yeah, I’m the founder of Extract Labs. We are about to hit our five-year mark in December. Yeah, we’re a CBD product company. We manufacture everything in-house we started off as just an extraction company, offering toll processing to farmers, and it slowly, slowly grew into a, not just an extraction company. We’d sell wholesale ingredients, CBD oils, and islets other minor cannabinoids. And then we realized about three years ago, that products is where we wanted to be not just a processing company, but a brand, a brand of product. So that’s what our main focus is today is producing CBD products, CBG CBN, CBC Delta, eight products.
Gene Hammett: I know everyone’s probably aware of the CBD. Maybe not some of the other things you just mentioned, I’m kind of curious, what is your number one seller?
Craig Henderson: [00:04:00] CBD, I think still our number one seller, our CBD tinctures and our CBD muscle cream. There’s a lot of topicals out there. I truly believe our topical is one of the best out there for sore muscles. Just recovery athletes. Love it. , CBG is definitely a contender for best products and I think CBN and CBC will be there. They’re just so new. It’s taken, you know, they’re gaining traction. They’re just not number one yet.
Gene Hammett: Well, my aging body and all the jiu-jitsu I do, I could probably use some of that cream.
Craig Henderson: Definitely. And it’s interesting. I didn’t realize you did jujitsu that’s awesome.
Gene Hammett: Do you do to Jujitsu?
Craig Henderson: I have in the past, I do a lot of CrossFit nowadays. Not so much jujitsu anymore.
Gene Hammett: Well, we’re going to have a different conversation, pivoting a little bit into the advantages of military leadership. Why do you think your background and your use of military leadership has contributed to the growth of the company?
Craig Henderson: I’d say definitely the military leadership. , it’s had its advantages. There’s some disadvantages, something I’m learning about or trying to work myself through right now. But the reason it has been advantageous to us [00:05:00] is, you know, we’re taking something that was nothing and turning it into, you know, a company that’s doing $10 million a year after three years. We’ve done 10 million in the last three years. Our first year, I think we did half a million. Second-year, we did 6 million. Just, you know, how does the military leadership effect that just evolving quickly being very direct Cushing people, training people, you know, a lot of the people in the military when you get them, you know, when I first joined the military or any new private that you get, they don’t know. And you don’t get them with experience. They weren’t trained. They didn’t go to school for the military. So you have to train, you spend years training these people and developing and I’ve had a lot of experience with that. I spent four years active duty, about six years inactive. So you learn to train people, you learn to coach people. Maybe not the way that everyone wants to be trained.
Very direct. It can be a bit abrasive, but you push people, you get them to do things they never thought they could do. And you know, I was hiring people off the street for $12 an hour in the beginning. And teaching them everything I’d learned about distillation isolation extraction. And we just, we pushed hard. We worked [00:06:00] long hours, you know, overnight, sometimes.
Gene Hammett: I want to dive into a little bit of those advantages and then we’ll take a separate look at the disadvantages. I told you I was having a conversation with a founder of a fast-growth company, and yet an employee that was a little bit too direct in some cases. And didn’t have as much empathy. , so we’ll go, we’ll leave that into the disadvantages. And when we look at a few things that you’ve seen as well.
Looking at the advantages of military leadership, when you are bringing on people and you’re training them, a lot of companies don’t have the money to do that upright, but I guess you guys grew so fast. And you probably have some healthy margins that allow you to do this kind of training. Was, is that something that you guys do completely in-house or you do it a mixture of in-house and contract?
Craig Henderson: Completely in-house, all the extraction, all the distillation, pretty much all the science. You know, marketing, all that, something separate cells is something separate, but all the science was something I wouldn’t say we, we chose to have to train everyone. I think it was just in the beginning, there was no money. We couldn’t [00:07:00] afford anything else. I couldn’t afford to hire, you know, engineers and chemists, people with experience I could afford to hire 12, 13, $14 an hour. So I was looking for motivated people, young motivated people that wanted to be in this industry that shared the same vision I did. And then I just put a lot of my energy into them. A lot of my energy days, nights, weekends, and anyone who knows that if you’re learning something, if you’re changing, if you’re growing, it’s a painful experience. If you’re not crying yourself to sleep, you’re not changing as a, as a human being.
Gene Hammett: Well, my hope is you don’t have to always do that, but I know that from my own experience and I wrote a book on this called the trap of success, and one of those traps is complacency, and there’s probably a happy meeting, medium between, you know, crying yourself to sleep and, and finding that comfort and, and growing and relying on the team.
Craig, when you look now at your business, as it’s grown and you’re probably poet poised for even faster growth, what would we see day-to-day as it relates to the military leadership across the company?
Craig Henderson: Very direct accountability, [00:08:00] being very direct with people, holding people accountable. You know, the last thing one thing I hate to do is, Hey, can you get this done? And then a week goes by two weeks, goes by. And then I was like, Hey, did you get that done? Oh, I forgot. I absolutely hate that. If I say, Hey, did you get this done? I had it scheduled to do Thursday at this time. That’s understandable. So you have it on your to-do list. That’s great. That’s accountability. That means you’re busy. You just got stuff to do. But I hate when I ask someone to do something in it, the ball just gets dropped, and then I have to ask them again and again. Holding people accountable, spot check, giving lots of people, a lot of freedom. You teach them something. You let them run with it. A real good passionate employee is going to take what you taught them, make it better.
Best employees. I have my building. I taught them what I knew. And then over a couple of year period, they learn more and more and more and were teaching me things and teaching other people, things, just having that really good, trickle-down effect where people have the ability to experiment, to make some failures to come to me and say, can I try this? Sometimes I know it won’t work. I want to give them, you know, the rains. I want to see them figure out, you know, it doesn’t work and then them understand why it [00:09:00] doesn’t work and learn from that as long as it makes sense. And as long as they’re, it’s just not constant failure. And as long as they’re just not trying, then I’m down to give anything to try.
Gene Hammett: So we’ve been looking at the advantages of this. And I want to take that one piece about being direct because I think a lot of, of leaders actually miss this, I have a lot of conversations where they know that there’s a conversation that needs to be held. Usually, it’s subpar work or something about the way they’ve approached it or disrespected another employee. And they’re there for all, purposes. Most of them are really good employees. But they need some level of feedback. When you talk about being direct, are you talking about, you know, you and giving feedback to others and people giving feedback across the company? Is that what we see in your company?
Craig Henderson: Yeah. Yeah.
Gene Hammett: How do you encourage people to not, not to avoid, these bigger conversations because it’s uncomfortable to actually give them, it may be more comfortable to give them it is to receive them.
Craig Henderson: Yeah, I agree. I totally agree. I think everyone on the receiving side thinks that it’s so easy on the giving side [00:10:00] but it’s not, what was the question? How do I encourage people? You know, that’s a tricky one. I think some of the managers, you know, not everyone can be as direct as I can and, you know, a few people that, that style fits in perfect for them. And they’re really good at it. And they found a way to work with their employees. But I think we also realized that not every employee you can be as direct with some people can be very direct. And in that method of leadership works well for them. Other people kind of need to beat around the bush a little bit. You kind of need to approach it in a different way. I’d say those first two years, I didn’t understand that at all. It was pure directness. I’ve learned over the last three years that I kind of need to take different approaches for different people.
The one thing that frustrates me is when a manager has you know, done really well underneath me. It was grown up in the last five years with this company and they think that that method doesn’t work. So they try to not be direct. And they think that being nice and kind, and coddling and understanding of everyone. It’s like, it worked for you. Like you’ve got that tool in your toolbox. You learned it for me. Why don’t you use it more? Cause I promise you when you do it will [00:11:00] work. You know, you can’t use it for every situation, but I promise you, it works for a lot of situations.
Gene Hammett: You know, we haven’t mentioned this word. That’s come up a lot in these interviews. And I’m just kind of curious when you say direct, do you mean like a sense of transparency as well? And that goes both ways, right? You’re being transparent with the conversations. , and they’re going to be transparent back with you.
Craig Henderson: Yeah. And I love it. You know, my best managers here have no problem coming to me and telling me what I did wrong. I’ll go to them after a conversation, you know, team meeting, or like, how do you think I handle that. And, and the best managers in the building will be like, I think you should have done it this way. And I listen, sometimes I might get a little angry, not with them, but it may be, I’ll be frustrated for a day or two, think about it and be like, you know what they were right. And I’ll go back and tell them that. And I just wish everyone could do that. Cause there’s people below me. Hey, is everything good? You know, everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. And then they quit and it’s like, Then they tell me “Oh, you should have handled it this way.” Well, why didn’t you come to me and tell me what you didn’t like or the way our conversations went, , while you were here, you know? Cause I come to you, I ask you for advice all the time. Why can’t you be direct or transparent with me? I’m trying to be as [00:12:00] transparent with you as possible. It should go both ways.
Commentary: And we’ve been talking about the advantages of military leadership with Craig and I really wanted to jump in here because I wanted to share with you something that I thought of after the interview was recorded, that I wanted to put a spotlight on because I think it’s such an important piece. I end every episode with lead with courage. And I think a lot of leaders could be more courageous. They want to be more courageous and more confident in what they’re doing. And one thing that you can bring from the military leadership style is that courage, the courage to have direct conversations of courage to do. Execute on strategies and the courage to fail and pick yourself back up and keep going. Now, courage is such an important piece to all entrepreneurial growth and ventures that you want to make sure that you’re able to share that courage with others and develop it inside them. That’s a key to you continuing and using the military leadership to your advantage. Courage is something that you can’t live without inside of businesses. I firmly believe, and it is something you can S you know, model from what they have in military leadership. So just my 2 cents here, , we’re [00:13:00] going to dive into the disadvantages next.
Gene Hammett: I agree, let’s switch gears here. Craig, we’ve been talking about the advantages and I think there really are some strong advantages. But I do know that there’s disadvantages inside the military-style that just don’t translate into work. One of them is empathy when I’ve never been in the military. So you’re going to be able to share a lot more insights around this. I know there is empathy in the military, but it’s probably not to the degree that you would say is in our companies, is that fair to say?
Craig Henderson: 100% and in the infantry or any elite military unit, I would say there’s little to no empathy.
Gene Hammett: And when you bring, you know, you’re having this military-style and you have this directness. If you don’t have it with empathy or even accountability with empathy is a very necessary thing. What happens inside the organization?
Craig Henderson: You’ll lose your weaker employees.
Gene Hammett: Is that a good thing or is that a,
Craig Henderson: I don’t know that that’s something I’m learning right now. This last year or two, it’s something I’m really trying to understand. You know, you, you know, someone’s weak. , they see [00:14:00] it from day one. How bad do you want to keep them? And, sometimes they do a really good job. You really giving any kind of feedback though, them whatsoever just seems to make them cry. And it’s like, you could beat around the bush and it’s like, but they do a really good job. So I’m really torn. Do I just not be direct with this person at all? And let them just continue doing what I think is a good job or, you know, if I do have feedback, how do I, you know, like a marketing person, a marketing person should be a thick skin person. Like they bring you ideas. You should be able to tell them you like them, or don’t like them. Some people just cry. And I don’t know if it’s because I’ve spent too much time hiring 22 and 23-year-olds. Maybe I need to hire 35-year-olds it’s something I’m really struggling with right now.
Gene Hammett: It can happen either way. But one of the things that I see as a disadvantage inside the military leadership is today’s business requires a different approach with different people. Whereas in the military, it’s fairly, it is what it is. And get in line because they know that you’re under some kind of contract or agreement and they got you for a certain amount of [00:15:00] time. And that there’s really not many options for you to leave. You just got to suck it up buttercup.
Craig Henderson: And I agree with you. That’s how I felt about the military for my first year. Maybe the first two years, once you get it, once you get it, you know, cause if the military gave me the option to quit, I would have quit. Cause I was a weak, young, you know, ignorant child at 18, 19, 20 years old. But once you’re there for a few years and you see what they’re, you know what they’re trying to get across. Then you start to, I wouldn’t say, start to believe it, be understand what they’re trying to teach you. And it works really well. Unfortunately, I agree with you. We don’t have, and you want under contract at businesses, so they never get to stick around long enough to learn what it is you’re trying to accomplish, you know, in the military, like I said, you’re hiring. 18-year-olds and you’re turning them into leaders. You know, how difficult it is to take an 18-year-old out of high school.
And by the time they’re 25, they’re leading 12, 20 people as extremely difficult. And it’s a little different in the, in the business world because they start at 18. They go to college. And they worked for 10 years, then they become a manager, but that’s what I was trying to do [00:16:00] and did accomplish. I was taking 20 to 23-year-olds teaching them how to be leaders. They’re 28 years old now, no engineering degree. They’re making 80 to $120,000 a year. And you know, they’re the best leaders I have in the building. But a few of them, even though they’re making 85,000 a year, you know, they did just broke after two or three years, but I promise you, their resume is beautiful today and they’re going to go on to make good money. And one day they’re going to look back at everything I’ve taught them and the directness, and they’re going to use those tools when they’re my age and they have to lead 45 people.
Gene Hammett: I do believe that as well Craig, anything else we’ve missed on as far as what you’ve seen as disadvantages of military leadership?
Craig Henderson: Maybe the way you talk to people in the military. It’s a, there’s a lot of yelling. , there’s a lot of degrading. There’s a lot of shaming of people, especially in the infantry. And I think sometimes that comes out in me when I don’t want it to, and it backfires, you know, a really good strong employee. After the conversation, I think back about the way I talk to them and, and I regret it sometimes and it’s something I’m working on. I can’t be as direct as I [00:17:00] can’t, you know, in the infantry. It’s like you said, they’re saving lives over here, here. I’m just trying to get the label to look right. Maybe I didn’t. You need to use that kind of tone with someone underneath me.
Commentary: Let me recap the disadvantages of military leadership. You know, a few of those things that we talked about was having more empathy inside military leadership, not very common inside of our business is very necessary. There’s also psychological safety. When you have a place where people are able to fail and they don’t feel judgment, and they’re able to learn through that and keep pushing forward, you’ll get more innovation, creativity, and people will speak up more often. They’ll share the right. And you want to make sure you have that and foster that it’s probably not very common inside the military because they don’t care what you think. It’s just what their orders are. I say that jokingly, but you know, you want to make sure that you are coaching people up in these different areas. And I also want to add in here specific to coaching. I was having a conversation with a client and he goes, I have this employee who’s a little bit more direct than they need to. They’re not really have a good word choice. And sometimes that gets people a little bit twisted. And so I asked him, what’s the [00:18:00] missing conversation. I asked my clients this quite a bit. I share this move with you because when you realize what’s the missing conversation and when you haven’t had yet with this employee, you start to see where you could be more clear where you can be more open and vulnerable and what’s necessary. And you want to make sure that you use a coaching style inside these conversations because that means you’re asking more questions. You’re reflecting back. You’re telling stories and allowing them to truly do this. Now, this is a very short primer around this. We do full in-depth training. We, we, I share this with all my clients, but I wanted you to understand some of the key aspects of coaching someone up when they’re, a little bit using something that they can’t use. This military leadership sometimes can get a little bit twisted. So saying that love for you to keep turning in here to the podcast and allowing us to serve you to be better leaders back to the interview.
Gene Hammett: Well, I appreciate, you knowing You’ve got to evolve, but there are certainly advantages from your military background. And I know that have helped you build stronger leaders and a strong set of people that are going to go on, hopefully, to stay with you for a long time. But if they do leave, they will look back and [00:19:00] see the advantages you gave them. Craig, I know that we’ve been talking a lot, a lot about this military leadership. You’ve probably made a mistake or two in this journey. , since you’ve started this business, what do you reflect back on in the lesson you learned from those mistakes?
Craig Henderson: The same thing that I think helped us succeed in the beginning, trying to teach people. Everything I think is also, you know, it worked great in the beginning when we didn’t have money. That’s all I could do. I could put in as much time as possible. I didn’t have money today though. I think it’s starting to bite us in the butt a little bit. , we can’t train everyone. We have this big, you know, that was our company culture for a while is that you don’t need an experience to work here. We’ll teach you what you need to know, but now it’s really nice to hire someone. Who’s got a college degree, who’s got five years experience, who’s got some management experience. It’s really nice to get more mature people on our team that are more specialized in different areas. You know, we used to be at a company of 10 people wearing 10 hats. Each. Now we’re turning into a company of, you know, 45 people that might only be wearing two or three hats each in one day, maybe [00:20:00] only one hat each.
Gene Hammett: Yeah, that happens as you create more systems and structure in your business and, and the experts that go along with that. And then it comes with its own challenges when you get there too, as you can imagine.
Craig Henderson: Yeah,
Gene Hammett: Craig, I really appreciate you being here, sharing your wisdom, and sharing what has worked for you, and growing Extract Labs.
Craig Henderson: I appreciate you having me on here. This was an honor. Thank you for, yeah. Thank you for this.
Gene Hammett: I always like to reflect back what our conversation was with our guests and Craig was really able to share with us what advantages of military leadership. I think really being direct, is one of the biggest areas as an executive coach, I see people avoiding the hard conversation. They see them as difficult. I invite them to see them as opportunities for improvement. I know that’s a mindset shift, but you know, having these direct conversations and having the courage, you certainly want to do it with empathy at times, and you want to be able to do it where you are engaging people and inspiring them to continue to grow. But it really is. There are some advantages to the military leadership and looking at the disadvantages and seeing the [00:21:00] humbleness that Craig shared with us about how he’s evolving and the things he’s learning and letting go of and realizing maybe yelling is not the best for all situations. So it is great for us to be able to reflect back on.
My job here is to help you become an extraordinary leader. My mission is to change the world to through extraordinary leadership, and I want to help you grow your leadership, grow your team. We have a few different programs. We’d love to talk to you about what’s going on inside your company and use specifically, I, I call these gift calls, not strategy sessions, not enrollment calls or sales calls or anything like that. But I want to gift you a chance to talk with a, an experienced executive coach about what’s getting in the way of you being an extraordinary leader. Driving growth. Really know the companies potential.
So if you want to do that, just go to GeneHammett.com, schedule a call, love to talk to you and get to know you and serve you. As we build this relationship together, I’ve done this, you know, hundreds of thousands of times, and it really is impactful. And it only allows a few of these calls per month because I just don’t have that much time, but I want to make sure that you’re listening in here. You’ve got something on [00:22:00] your plate. You want to think through just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule a call with me today.
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