Whether it’s a classroom, boardroom, or small startup team, each leader develops their own distinct management style unique to their personal life experiences. For Justin Smith, founder and CEO of the all-in-one handyman app Contractor+, the path to successful leadership was particularly one of a kind: he spent six years in federal prison. 

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While this background might not seem like the ideal training ground for leadership development, for Smith, it was the perfect recipe for success. If he didn’t spend time behind bars, he might never have learned what’s now his North Star of management: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, commonly known as CBT. 

The premise of CBT is simple, but the results are unmatched: it’s a concentrated form of talk therapy that helps subjects become aware of negative thinking to more effectively respond to challenging situations.

CBT dramatically altered the course of Smith’s career. Though he always had ambition, discovering the treatment was the missing piece of his professional puzzle. 

Even as a child, Smith had a knack for leadership and gravitated naturally toward entrepreneurship. As a young teen, he and his mother teamed up to start a dial-up internet service provider. In high school, he used his tech skills to build a website for his local paintball team. By the time he graduated college, Smith worked for one of Florida’s largest real estate, property management, and handyman companies and was quickly promoted to Vice President of Operations. 

When he moved on to start his own venture, Smith made the unfortunate decision to fund his entrepreneurial goals by buying and selling herbs from China. Though they fell into a legal gray area, Smith admits that poor judgment earned his arrest by the DEA and a federal prison sentence. 

CBT came into the picture when Smith opted into the prison’s Residential Drug & Alcohol Treatment Program, which used Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Though he signed up in order to shave one year off his sentence, Smith walked away with so much more: he became more rational, accountable, open-minded, and objective. 

The lessons Smith learned are still with him to this day - so much so that he’s structured his entire startup culture around its values. When he founded Contractor+ during and after his sentence, he decided to apply CBT within the structure of the company to boost productivity, creativity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention.

As a result, Smith and his team don’t shy away from discussing their feelings at work, both in their Friday end-cap meetings and during management check-ins. Rational Self Analysis (RSAs) and Attitude Checks are used routinely to improve employees' cognitions to aid on the path of growth, both personally and professionally. 

In Smith’s view, there’s no reason CBT shouldn’t be implemented in every structure people are a part of. Baking its principles into K-12 schools and any Senior Leadership Team is exactly what communities need right now: between the pandemic, economic uncertainty, and neverending current events crises, it only makes sense to address personal well-being at every leadership touchpoint. 

As Smith expands into new ventures, the tactics he developed from CBT will continue to motivate his professional leadership style. 

Author's Bio: 

A Passionate Blogger and Content Creator.