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Top Executives in 2015 – Highlights of My Interviews

As an organizational psychologist and media contributor I had the opportunity to speak exclusively with numerous top executives this past year from all across the country. Here are some highlights from those conversations:

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Set Ego Aside: Bob Unanue, President of Goya Foods believes you must put ego aside and “surround yourself with people that know more than you do.” He feels you must allow your people to shine and one way to accomplish this is through fostering a culture of open sharing. When meeting with his team Unanue encourages all of his team members to weigh-in on every topic regardless of their expertise. The idea is to get different perspectives and generate real conversation. “I can sleep at night because I have capable people” willing to share their perspectives he explains. For Unanue leading starts with listening and as a leader you have to be willing to set your ego aside and listen to your people.

Put Yourself in Their Shoes: In my conversation with Dan Lubetzky, Founder and CEO of KIND Healthy Snacks he shared his worries about empathy and kindness being seen as soft and weak in the business world. He emphatically states “it takes strength to be kind, it’s not a weakness.” Leading starts with listening and it takes enormous strength to really listen with empathy, particularly when it comes to those who oppose you. He emphasizes the power empathy can have in influencing your team members as it signals acknowledgement of their view as well as respect for their dignity as individuals. For Lubetzky it’s about building bridges and connecting with people on a personal level so as to create shared meaning. If you want to truly reach someone you must at least attempt to walk in their shoes.    

Proactively Encourage Growth: When I sat down with Salli Setti, President of Red Lobster, this summer she started the conversation by sharing the philosophy that has guided her as a leader: The fact that you can learn from anyone if you are open and willing. Setta believes that “regardless of stature and regardless of position everybody has something to contribute” and it’s the job of a leader to proactively seek out this knowledge by tapping people at every level in your organization. She explained that “when I go into restaurants I do two things: Learn from the team members about how I can make our business better and I seek to help them have the confidence to grow.” Setta explained that the opportunity for growth is a powerful motivator that must be nurtured. Her belief is that “I as a leader and the people who work with me have to help them see things in themselves they don’t necessarily see and give them the confidence to do the things they might not have the role model, experience or confidence to help them believe they can do.”  

Keep Moving Forward: I had the opportunity to speak with Robert Herjavec, entrepreneur and host of ABC’s Shark Tank. Herjavec, an ardent supporter of small business, believes leadership at any level is about working through people. He points out that you can’t do it all yourself and expect to be successful. You have to have a team that is on board with your vision and mission and excited about what lies ahead. At the end of the day for Herjavec “there is nothing more satisfying than getting a group of people to move in the same direction.” 

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