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(Reuters)

America’s Top Execs Talk Leadership

Last week I attended The 2015 EY Strategic Growth Forum and Entrepreneur of the Year National Awards where America’s top business leaders gathered to share their perspectives on executive leadership. Their comments were mainly focused on the topics of people, trust, leadership, and the future.

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Getting Your People Right 

Paul Grangaard, President and CEO of Allen Edmonds Corporation, pointed out that “you hire the whole person,” not just the output they produce. This is why it is critical that you take the time to understand who your candidates are and how they will fit with the values and culture of your company. Vetting candidates for values and fit with culture is something that is often overlooked in the hiring process. 

When it comes to bringing those new folks on board Rorke Denver, Commander in the Navy SEAL Reserves, believes it’s important to engage your new hires upfront by immersing them in the business. “Get your rookies into a gunfight right away” he explained. There is no better time to evaluate their potential than at the outset. He went on to point out that their enthusiasm can raise the level of focus and effort across the team, particularly with your veterans. Let’s face it, your veterans don’t want to be outshined by the new guys.

Building Trust

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“The only solid ground is the trust and good will in your business” explained H. Fisk Johnson, Chairman and CEO of SC Johnson. Trust is about authenticity and transparency, which is something Johnson believes has been critical to the success and longevity of the family owned and operated SC Johnson.

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According to Jennifer Morgan, President of SAP North America building trust starts with your team. You have to allow yourself and your team members to be vulnerable, so that you can be open with each other. Morgan believes that “vulnerability is not being afraid to ask for help.” Without trust there is no foundation for honest conversation and transparent decision making.  

Leading People

“If you have no clue how you impact people you have no chance of leading them” exclaimed David C. Novak, Executive Chairman of Yum! Brands. You really have to be aware of yourself and those around you. Counter to conventional beliefs about management Novak does not believe in emotional distance. He believes you have to really get to know your people and make the effort to catch them walking the talk every single day. He really believes making personal connections has been the hallmark of his style as evidenced by his long standing tradition for delivering personalized novelty awards such as rubber chickens (during his time at the helm of KFC) to outstanding employees. The key to these awards are his personalized messages of genuine gratitude.

In a similar vein Jayshree Ullal, President and CEO of Arista Networks and winner of this year’s EY Entrepreneur of the Year National Award (along with founder Andy Bechtolsheim) emphasized the need to put ego aside and truly connect with your people. After her acceptance Ullal noted that “high IQ and low ego is a great combination. There are a lot of individuals in our company who could build their own companies, but what we are doing is bringing the best of our talents together to build a team and company together.”

Bob Unanue, President of Goya Foods also believes you must put ego aside, “surround yourself with people that know more than you do” and allow them to shine. One of the ways he allows his people to shine is through a philosophy of open sharing. Unanue encourages all of his team members to weigh-in regardless of their expertise. “I can sleep at night because I have capable people” he explains. Leading starts with listening and as a leader you have to listen to those you have decided to surround yourself with.

Looking to the Future

When asked about her greatest concern Jennifer Morgan, President of SAP North America shared that she constantly asks herself: “Are we moving fast enough?” because the pace of change has “never moved faster and will never be this slow again.”

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