Monday, June 29, 2009


“What has surprised you most about the top job? What do you like most in people you hire? What message would you convey in a commencement speech?” These questions and more are asked of corporate leaders by The New York Times reporter Adam Bryant in the column titled, "Corner Office," in the Sunday Business Section. As in my last blog, I am focusing on some of the more unique observations made by the vice-chairman of Wal-Mart Stores, Eduardo Castro-Wright, and the CEO of Darden Restaurants, Clarence Otis, Jr. which I believe we can all learn from. These are lessons in communications, if ever there were ones.

The biggest surprise for Mr. Otis is "how amplified everything you say or do is." He elaborates that if you are thinking out loud, some thought you had, suddenly becomes a directive "even though ten seconds later in your own mind, you dismissed it." On the other hand, a disappointment for Mr. Castro-Wright is that business schools don't teach certain behavioral courses that are so critical in the leadership job: "how you talk with an employee you're firing" or "how you talk with an employee who comes to your office late at night to tell you that her daughter is sick, and she might not be able to come in the next day."

I feel Mr. Otis' next point is critical. He likes people he hires to be "comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty" and not unmoored by people with differences regarding the same situation. "They've got their wits about them, so they're looking as much for the opportunity that's inherent in that as they are for the risk." Wise advice. Mr. Castro-Wright also hits on a key point, noting that leadership roles require both physical and emotional energy. "You're exposed so often to decisions that are emotionally charged, you have to have the balance and the energy, the emotional strength to actually do it."

"...Provide leadership in whatever area [you] choose to dedicate [your] life to," says Mr. Otis, as his key commencement message. It is an obligation for those of us who are so privileged to have elite educations, he points out. He also notes that what the individual wants to accomplish is crucial, but the person needs to make sure “that those things have some payoff for others." Obviously, he reminds us, nothing is accomplished alone.

Mr. Castro-Wright underscores in his proposed commencement message that there is no leader who can be one "if he or she doesn't have personal integrity, or if they don't deliver results, or if they don't care about the people they lead or if they don't have a passion for winning."

Technorati Tags: Makovsky + Company, The New York Times, Adam Bryant, Corner Office, Mr. Castro-Wright, Mr. Otis, Darden Restaurants, Wal-Mart, leadership, business, communications, public relations


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