The Cheesecake Labs approach to leadership development

leadership development

As we’ve all adjusted to the “new normal” of work over the last few years, one thing has become abundantly clear — good leadership makes all the difference. Here at Cheesecake Labs, we’ve always been passionate about leadership development, but the challenges of remote work have made that mission even more critical.

So how do we cook up the best Cheesecake leaders? Here’s our secret recipe for success. 

Why focus on leadership development?

So glad you asked! All of our “Cakers” live by the Cheesecake Labs values

  • Take ownership and be responsible
  • Respect people and embrace differences
  • Collaborate and help others grow
  • Deliver a WOOOW service

And we believe that the best way to live up to these values is through personal and professional development. That’s why we have several leadership development initiatives to give each Caker the support they need and help each leader become the best leaders they can be. 

What does leadership look like at Cheesecake Labs?

Leadership starts with hiring. We look for naturally curious, self-aware people when we’re hiring new Cakers (something we’ve done a lot of in the last few years as we’ve grown to 100 Cakers!). We believe that self-awareness is key to becoming a good leader. After all, you need to be able to manage and lead yourself before you can confidently lead others. 

And we find this self-awareness also helps create a cohesive team. Before the pandemic, we were a tight-knit team working together in an office. But we’ve had to adapt to remote working just like the rest of the world. And now, Cheesecake Labs is a remote-first company, letting everyone live their best work-from-anywhere life. Transitioning our team to fully remote working wasn’t easy, but we’re proud to say that we’ve managed to not only survive but thrive out of the office. And that’s large because of our agile culture that highlights transparency and accountability. 

Leaders at Cheesecake Labs focus on building bonds between team members and creating a welcoming, safe work environment. As Guilherme Rodrigues learned in our leadership acceleration program, “Mistakes aren’t mistakes, they’re lessons. And with the emphasis on ‘learning by doing’ I get to take all the advice I’m hearing and put it into practice immediately.”

That’s a motto we live by — mistakes aren’t failures. They’re valuable learning opportunities. And creating an environment where people feel safe to make mistakes is essential to everyone’s success. 

Every voice is heard

But just because some team members have titles like “Tech Lead” doesn’t mean that they’re the only leaders in the company. Every Caker is a leader in their own way. And our culture of feedback and communication is essential for fostering and maintaining a company where everyone has a say. Sure, senior leaders give feedback to more junior Cakers, but the batter flows both ways! Anyone can give feedback to anyone at Cheesecake Labs. 

And each month, we do an Employee Net Promoter Score where we check in with each Caker to see how they’re feeling in their job, any concerns they have, and any feedback they’d like to offer up. We’re not just looking to create “bosses”. Instead, at Cheesecake Labs, we want to develop humanity leaders. Our leaders listen to the people they work with, not just for the sake of the business but for everyone’s happiness and wellbeing. 

Autonomy is key

While you can go to the store and buy a cheesecake, no sweat, sometimes it’s better to put in the extra effort and make one from scratch. The same can be said for leadership development. Every leader in our program doesn’t just learn how to assign tasks and projects — they do them as well. 

We truly believe that this is the best way to create confident and compassionate leaders. Leadership isn’t just about managing people from a distance. It’s about empathizing with your team — knowing how it felt when you were in their shoes, knowing what help and support you would need, and offering up that support to them. 

Strategy, culture, and connection

As we’ve learned through remote working, leaders are essential. Because we don’t all see each other in the office anymore, our leaders must act as the main point of contact between their teams and the company and between team members. Each Cheesecake leader serves as a central hub, connecting everyone they work with to the company strategy, culture, and values. 

And this connection makes it possible for Cakers to keep up with the break-neck speed of the projects we take on. Everything we do moves fast, and it’s up to our team leaders to make sure nobody gets left behind. Leaders listen to and support their teams whenever needed and have regular meetings and check-ins to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Keeping the wheel of cheese rolling along

Everything we do at Cheesecake Labs is a push and pull process. And training leaders is no exception. As much as we can teach people about leadership development, management skills, and conflict resolution techniques (all of which are part of our leadership training programs), it’s also imperative that leaders in training get feedback from the people they’re leading. And that’s where our flat structure really shines. Since every Caker is used to giving feedback to everyone, teams must feel comfortable giving feedback about the performance and management of their leaders. 

And as a lean organization, one of our most important goals is to always remain resilient. Change will come. We’ve all seen it happen before our eyes. So being able to adapt to change, to bend and shift things as needed, is critical for success. 

That’s where this push and pull process truly shines. If something isn’t working, we can take the time to discuss it and either come up with a solution or rework our processes to better address the problem. 

Cheesecake Labs has gone through a massive transformation from a small startup to a bustling company, and our commitment to staying agile and nimble has helped us along each step of the journey. That’s why a leadership development program is essential.

How to be a big cheese

So let’s boil all this down — how do you go from a babybel mini cheese (or a Cupcaker, as we call our trainees) to a big cheese at Cheesecake Labs? Here’s how we do it:

  • First, you learn by doing. Every Caker hits the ground running on their first day with a checklist of tasks to complete, questions to answer, and people to meet with. If you’re interested in becoming a leader in the company, we’ll encourage you to pursue that dream from day one!
  • Next, you learn to walk your talk. Our values aren’t a piece of paper on the wall. They’re a key consideration of everything we do. So we’re always looking for ways to stay accountable, stay open-minded, stay collaborative, and deliver the best possible work we can. And by “we” we mean all Cakers, no matter the career level.
  • Then, if you’re interested in becoming a Cheesecake leader, you can join one of our leadership development programs. These training programs will help guide you through all the ins and outs of team management by teaching you important skills. You’ll learn how to manage a team, manage accountability, resolve conflict, how to be empathetic and emotionally available to everyone you work with, and so much more!
  • Finally, you keep going. Keep learning, keep moving, and keep working. We don’t slow down at Cheesecake Labs. We’re always looking for ways to improve ourselves and our company, and we firmly believe that the more you put in, the more you get out. Each Caker dedicates themselves to improving personally and professionally. We’re always ready for change and always ready to learn. 

Become a Caker and join the Cheesecake Labs team!

If you’re interested in learning more about what it’s like to be a Caker, be sure to read our blog post What’s it like to work at a top 10 mobile app company. And if you think you have what it takes to be a big cheese, take a look at our current openings! We can’t wait to hear from you!

About the author.

Caroline Schmitz
Caroline Schmitz

Believes we are all infinite possibilities. Psychologist (tell me more about it) and business administrator who loves study human relations, only because full-time vampire slayer is not an actual job title.