World Reimagined

Leading with Character: A Conversation with Indra Nooyi and Col. Everett Spain

Published
Feb 22, 2021

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How can leaders across industries cultivate good character within their teams and among peers? Nasdaq explores this topic, and much more, in the latest episode of World Reimagined, a leadership podcast for a changing world.

Leaders model behavior and inspire others to emulate them in their personal lives and on a bigger scale. Just as we have a choice to do the right thing in our personal lives, business leaders have that choice at work. Many strive to be people of good character in all aspects of their lives. But, what does it really mean to be a person of good character? Or, from a business perspective, a company of character? If character is the critical component of ethical leadership, how do we cultivate it in ourselves and in our organizations?

In this episode, Gautam Mukunda speaks with the Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point and Soldier’s Medal recipient, Col. Everett Spain and the legendary former CEO of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi about how today’s leaders can model courage to do the right thing.

The character of a corporation is not the personality. The character of a corporation is the integrity and morality of the company. How much does the company believe in the betterment of society? How much does the company believe it cannot succeed at the expense of society? That is the true character of a corporation. I don't want us to lose sight of that.
Indra Nooyi

Follow @GMukunda on Twitter

Books Referenced in World Reimagined Episode 7:

The Arc of Ambition, by James A. Champy and Nitin Nohria

2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, by Mauro F. Guillén

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi

The Captain Class: The Hidden Force that Creates the World's Greatest Teams, by Sam Walker

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall Rosenberg

The Colored Cadet At West Point: Autobiography of Lieut. Henry Ossian Flipper, U. S. A., first graduate of color from the U. S. Military Academy, by Henry Ossian Flipper 

World Reimagined Guest Information -- Leading with Character:

Colonel Everett Spain is a Professor, USMA, and the 7th Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point. Everett has served with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, 1st Cavalry Division in Iraq, V Corps in Europe, 1st Infantry Division in Kosovo, Multi-National Force-Iraq, U.S. Army Special Operations Command, and as a White House Fellow under the Bush and Obama Administrations. A native of Pensacola, Florida, Everett received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering from West Point, a Master of Business Administration from Duke’s Fuqua School, and a Doctor of Business Administration from Harvard Business School. He actively researches and writes about talent management. Additionally, he serves as a senior advisor to the Army Talent Management Task Force, is the president of the Harvard Veterans Alumni Organization 501(c)(3), and volunteers as a Holocaust Legacy Partner. Everett and his spouse Julia live at West Point and enjoy raising their four children, including a West Point cadet, a college freshman enrolled in Army ROTC, and two high school sophomores.

Indra Nooyi is the former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo (2006-2019); a Fortune 50 company with operations in over 180 countries.

In this role, Mrs. Nooyi was the chief architect of Performance with Purpose, PepsiCo’s pledge to do what’s right for the business by being responsive to the needs of the world around us. As part of Performance with Purpose, PepsiCo was focused on delivering sustained growth by making more nutritious products, limiting its environmental footprint and protecting the planet, and empowering its associates and people in the communities it serves. During her tenure, PepsiCo grew net revenue by more than 80%, and PepsiCo’s total shareholder return was 162%.

Before joining PepsiCo in 1994 Mrs. Nooyi held senior positions at The Boston Consulting Group, Motorola, and Asea Brown Boveri.

Currently, Mrs. Nooyi is a member of the board of Amazon and sits on the Audit Committee. She is a member of the Board of Trustees of Memorial Sloan Kettering, she is a member of the International Advisory Council of Temasek, an independent director of the International Cricket Council, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She is also a Dean’s Advisory Council member at MIT’s School of Engineering and a member of the MIT Corporation. Additionally, she is the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership at West Point.

Mrs. Nooyi has received many prizes, accolades, and honorary degrees over the years. In 2007, the Government of India awarded her the Padma Bhushan, the country’s 3rd highest civilian honor. In 2007, she was named an “Outstanding American by choice” by the U.S. State Department. In 2019, her portrait was inducted into the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

She holds a B.S. from Madras Christian College, an M.B.A. from the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta, and a Master of Public and Private Management from Yale University. Mrs. Nooyi is married and has two daughters. 

Transcript

Gautam:

How do you do the right thing, even when your job or your life is on the line? How do you cultivate that character in other people? We ask a decorated combat veteran who is now head of the leadership department at West Point and a legendary American CEO.

Speaker 4:

Ten, nine...

Neil Armstrong:

That's one small step for man.

Speaker 6:

The reality can no longer be ignored...

Eleanor Roosevelt:

We stand today at the threshold of a great event.

Speaker 6:

...that we live in an interdependent world.

Speaker 4:

...Two, one.

Announcer:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world.

Malala Yousafzai:

I want there to be peace everywhere.

Speaker 10:

We look for integrity, we look for intelligence, and we look for energy.

Speaker 11:

Every country, including the United States, is going to get impacted.

Announcer:

An original podcast from NASDAQ.

Jawaharlal Nehru:

Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity?

Gautam:

Since both of our guests are currently employed by the United States Military Academy, we need to emphasize that the views expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

Gautam:

My first guest is Colonel Everett Spain, US Army. He is a professor at the United States Military Academy where he is Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, tasked with cultivating the next generation of leaders for the US Army. He is a decorated veteran of the Iraq War, a White House Fellow, has a Duke MBA and a Harvard doctorate, and received the Soldier's Medal for his lifesaving actions during the Boston Marathon bombing.

Gautam:

Quick note: this episode contains some sensitive material about that day.

Gautam:

He's here with his now colleague Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi, who, in the face of fierce opposition, pivoted Pepsi away from sugary drinks and toward making nutritious foods available and affordable all over the globe. Even as her competitors doubled down on sugar and salt, she created and implemented Pepsi's Performance with Purpose strategy and transformed a 270,000-person company.

Gautam:

Both of my guests have been tried and tested in situations most of us could barely imagine. They're shared touchstone? Leading with character. I asked them what character meant to them.

Everett:

Well, that's the golden chalice, is to figure out how to develop character. A simple model is that our actions over time lead to habits which become internalized which become our character.

Indra:

It's interesting because when we often talk about somebody has good character, it's a very complex word because it reflects integrity, honesty, courage, loyalty, all of that together. But increasingly, I've come to realize that character is contextual, because you can be loyal to a mob boss and you're considered a man of character because you're a great mob person. So I think the first thing we have to be very careful about is, character from whose definition?

Indra:

I think from Colonel Spain's perspective, the Army has certain rules for what is character. In a corporate perspective, many of those definitions are the same. But for example, the whole question of loyalty and honesty, you can't speak up much in the Army, but in a corporate environment, the C-suite, my direct reports would disagree with me publicly and I encouraged it. And we would have a really tough back and forth, which is all expected in a corporate environment. So it's much harder to get them to march in formation in a corporate environment, it takes a long time, and you've got to go through so much argument and discussion to get to the right outcome. So in a way, that's what I consider good character, sort of this trust and [inaudible 00:03:55] going back and forth.

Everett:

Indra, I think you could get anyone to march in formation, including PepsiCo back in the day knowing you, frankly. And also I love your idea about having teammates disagree with you in public, it's so healthy. And I'm trying to do that here as well. And thanks for that example.

Indra:

Every time I go to West Point and came back to PepsiCo, I'd say, "God, I wish I had a bunch of West Point cadets working for me because they'd salute me and say, 'Let me do it for you.'" Men of character. Uh-uh (negative), never happened that way. So I think character is a very, very weighty, contextual word, and it stands for uprightness and a lot of morality. And yes, you can teach and you can train for character, but it's also largely dependent on how you are brought up and your background.

Everett:

When you think about character, I think there's more of an appetite for it now than maybe ever before. It's a neat time in our country and world to talk about character. And we talk about happiness a lot, but if you think about happiness, it can be immediate, just something nice to eat or something comfortable or encouragement from someone else. But I think the happiness literature is moving towards something more meaningful and being part of something bigger than yourself, and contributing to society often brings people meaning and contributing to others and having a positive effect on others. So I think there's more of a yearning now for character than potentially ever before. So I think we have an open canvas on which to write if we can just draw on it correctly.

Indra:

It's interesting. These days, we're talking a lot more about the character of a corporation, which has taken together what's the soul of the enterprise, what's the morality of the enterprise, what kind of business is the enterprise? And I think [inaudible 00:05:48] character is now creeping into a much broader canvas than it did before. Character of a corporation is not the personality; character of a corporation is the integrity and the morality of a company. How much does the company believe it's embedded in society? How much does the company believe that it cannot succeed at the expense of society? That's the true character of a corporation. I don't want us to lose sight of that.

Gautam:

The character of a corporation is something Indra has thought deeply about. She joined PepsiCo in the mid-90s, became President and CFO in 2001, and in 2006 initiated Performance with Purpose. Her strategy allowed the company to significantly rethink its identity, vision, and mission, and to pivot in ways that would grow as portfolio while addressing issues like obesity and undernutrition. She created the context that would shape the character of PepsiCo's employees.

Indra:

So at every point, we judge them on integrity, loyalty, fortitude, courage. Courage is very important, because you can be a person of character and just not speak up. For us, courage is very important. And so we get a chance to observe people as we promote them to see if they are people of character. And if they're not, if they're weak, if they don't have the courage, if they don't have the ability to stick it out when things get tough, then they can't be leaders. The good news is that we have assessment tools as we go along, observational tools, and actually watching them on the job do certain things that tell us if these are people that have the character required to be leaders of PepsiCo.

Gautam:

So, character exists in a context. But truly good character transcends context. A monster who maintains omerta is showing character of a sword, but it's a twisted sword. We have different expectations for soldiers and CEOs, but we know that the test of their character is if they can rise above context, if they can do the right thing even when they're being pressure not to. I asked Everett how he teaches that kind of character to his cadets at West Point. What does he look for in a person of character?

Everett:

Yeah. So some of this stuff you can define as moral character, integrity and not lying, cheating, or stealing. Others is social character. Are you the same person 24 hours a day? Do you treat everyone that you come into contact with, with dignity and respect? A third one would be civic character. Do you do more than your share? Do you vote? When you're walking down the side of the street and you see a piece of trash, do you bend over and pick it up? It's certainly not your piece of trash, but do you see that as your sidewalk? Do you help others? Do you go out of the way to serve your community? Do you have civic character?

Everett:

Another one we look forward to performance character. The military and most organizations are goal-oriented and they need to accomplish things. Do you show resiliency? Do you show grit? Do you fight to achieve? Do you lead others to do the same?

Everett:

The last one that's really special for us at West Point, do you have leadership character? We put those together, we mean are you an upstander. When you see something, a character failure going on around you that will affect other people, do you intervene? And if you do, you have leadership character. But here's why it's so important. If you're a leader and you're in a division somewhere isolated, or if you're in a platoon somewhere in someplace far away, and your organizational value shifts slowly to where they're not of high character, if they get a little off track, we are reluctant to intervene and get that back on track because there's a lot of social pressure not to do so. That can be a kid in the high school hallway as well.

Everett:

But unless you have this leadership facet of character, which is the courage which you referred to earlier, to put yourself at physical risk or social risk or professional risk, reputational risk, financial risk, it all comes with risks, to intervene when your country, your company, your family, need you to do so. That's leadership character.

Gautam:

So just to recap, Everett highlighted many different types of character: moral, social, civic, performance, and leadership. I want to highlight just how clearly he defines each one. I think most of us carry around a vague sense of what character means to us. Probably most of us have never tried to really define it. But Everett has. So one big thing to take away from this is simple. Character is tested in moments of crisis, but it's built on a foundation of thought. If character is the critical component of ethical leadership, how can we cultivate it in ourselves? Everett offers an example from his own life.

Everett:

I was in a leadership role as a company commander, I had 150 teammates on my team, and their families [inaudible 00:10:48] my actions definitely affected them. And so what I decided to do was, every Friday I'd write at least five appreciation notes to people, a couple that we call subordinates, one or two peers, and one or two people that were above me or in the community that affected our team. And what I found when I wrote those notes, and I'd hand write them and I'd tell what they did that we appreciated or I appreciated or how they helped one of my soldiers or one of my family members, I found it affected me. And it dug that value into my character [inaudible 00:11:21] whatever they did started sinking into me. It was like, "Hey, maybe when that comes up, that opportunity to do what they did, I'll do it now." And I realized I was being transformed by those Friday writings.

Gautam:

I applied this practice, which I learned from Everett, in my own classes at Harvard and it transformed my relationship with my students. The notes I sent took me, at most, a couple of minutes each. I found out how important they were when I got an email from the father of a student I had sent one to. He had accidentally included me in his reply to his son, who had proudly forwarded my note to his father. Even seemingly small gestures by leaders can have an impact far greater than they ever anticipate if they're grounded in connection and character.

Everett:

And then probably the biggest key to it all is reflecting on those experiences and that new knowledge to make sense of what you learned, especially with regard to character, it'll nail those lessons down. And especially if you have an accountability partner or a mentor to help you make sense of it and to hold you accountable to apply those lessons to your life. And the next time you apply them, it becomes a little easier, developing those habits, which become internalized [inaudible 00:12:22] become your character. So I'd just say a character development strategy is as many things you can do [inaudible 00:12:28] especially in a social way, involving others as partners or mentors. You have to be vulnerable to do so, but involving others in your process. Character is a team sport. We need to work on lots of things at once.

Indra:

You can model courage, I'll just speak from my perspective, you can model courage and hope that when people see the success that comes from people taking courage [inaudible 00:12:49] they want to be that way, too. And that's the best we can do. If somebody is just not courageous, I don't think you can change them completely. It's just very, very difficult. People might just be afraid. People may just not have the fortitude to come forth and take unpopular stands, because courage is when there's unpopular stands to be taken.

Gautam:

Being human is a team sport, being a good human even more so. If you've listened to our episode on togetherness with Vivek Murthy and Tsedal Neeley, you know why. Personal character is rooted in community, a group of people who lift each other up, teach each other right from wrong, and provide examples of doing the right thing, even when it's hard.

Everett:

One way to build character is provide role models of that character. And the more stories and rewarding can do with people, the better. The only challenge is, as you know, the same people you want to reward don't want to talk about what they did, because they don't want to bring attention to themselves, which makes all kinds of sense, and that's another reason they're probably the high character folks. But you need them to at the same time.

Everett:

I would also say there's a cultural component to courage. And that is, you have to know the man or woman to your left or right of you would expect you to be courageous for them, and you expect them to be courageous for you. And I think that social component of it can make the difference when someone's making a decision to be courageous or not.

Gautam:

Character is tested every day. Do you give the extra money back at the grocery store if you get too much change? Would you if you knew that the money comes out of the pocket of the cashier? But the supreme test of character is in moments of crisis, when jobs or even lives are on the line. Most of us will never face a moment like that, and I think we can all be grateful for it. But Everett has, not just from his time at war, but here at home. In 2013, he was at the finish line of the Boston Marathon acting as a guide for a runner named Steve Sabra, who was blind.

Everett:

I had the last seven and a half miles of the course, and I would basically hold his elbow as we ran and I'd help him avoid obstacles and encourage him. And it was a wonderful day. And about a half mile before the finish line in downtown Boston, the sun went behind the clouds and it started getting cold. And as we approached the finish line, and about four hours and eight minutes into the run, all of a sudden an explosion, and I don't know the exact measurements, maybe 175 yards to my front left, a building second floor window shot out over the crowd, and I had no idea what was happening. And about five seconds later, an explosion about 200, 300 meters behind us happened, which we now know was the second bomb.

Gautam:

Thousands of people were there. Maybe, like me, you were watching it live on television when suddenly this beautiful, peaceful Patriot's Day, this celebration of what's best about humanity and best about America, was shattered by terrorist violence. When the bombs went off, everyone there had to decide what to do. What would you have done? Do you know? Can you know? I hope I would have done the right thing, but I can never know for sure. This, in his own words, is what Everett did.

Everett:

I felt it were my responsibility to take care of Steve immediately because he was visually impaired, and it was a very hectic situation, not knowing what's going on. So I knew his family was on the far side of the finish line, so I ran him the rest of the 50 yards to the finish. I did my best to help as many people as I could at that time. And so I was worried the buildings were on fire and there was smoke everywhere, and so I ran through several buildings trying to find anyone that was in there to get them out. It turns out the buildings weren't on fire, that was legacy smoke from the explosions, and the fire alarms went off from the shockwave.

Everett:

And then a few minutes later, I don't know how long it was, I was ordered out of the area by emergency services personnel, and I told them I was a military officer and I was going to stay and help. And that worked for a little while, but after a little more time, they succeeded in throwing me out of the immediate area. I only had pants on and I didn't look like a military officer, excuse me, shorts on, I had lost my shirt in the aftermath.

Everett:

And then a bystander came up to me, I don't know if he was a watcher or a runner, a crowd or a runner, and I had a lot of blood on me at that time, and it wasn't my blood, and he said, "You need to get over to the medical tent." It was a tent set up to take care of people for dehydration and cramping and it had been turned into a triage facility. Very, very amazing emergency leadership by doctors, nurses, and other teammates. And I did what I could to try to help there as well, just comforting folks, frankly.

Gautam:

Everett received the Soldiers Metal, a rarely awarded metal given by the Army for heroic actions when not in uniform, for what he did that day. He found several severely wounded people on the sidewalk. He identified one man bleeding profusely from his lower leg and used his shirt for a tourniquet, tying it around the man's leg. He then used a jacket from a nearby sporting goods store to make a second tourniquet for another woman's wounds. He saved a number of lives that day.

Everett:

That was a really difficult and tragic day. So the last thing I want to do is pretend like I should be recognized in any way. I just frankly wished I could have done more, to be honest with you.

Gautam:

Everett would never accept someone calling him a hero, but he is mine. Not because of what he did at the marathon. I felt that way long before that day. And heroes are important. We all have tough moments in our lives. And when we do, we can look at our heroes and say, "If she could do that, I can do this."

Everett:

The whole character notion boils back to your identity. And when we try to develop character, we're really getting at the root of someone's identity. How do we get to people's identity, is what I ask. How do you get to the spot where you feel better about yourself when you're helping others versus [inaudible 00:19:18] better about yourself when you're helping yourself? How do we change that identity so the meaningfulness and the satisfaction in life comes from serving and helping other people and organizations do good? And that's what I'm interested in, for me and others.

Gautam:

But Everett's not the only person on this episode I admire. Indra Nooyi became the CEO of one of the world's largest companies and pivoted its strategy to make health just as important as profits. That takes that grit that Everett mentioned earlier. It also takes ambition. But as James Champy and Nitin Nohria described in their book The Arc of Ambition, in today's world "ambition" is a dirty word. Ambition is what gets you sorted into Slytherin, the bad house in Harry Potter. So where is the line between productive ambition and making horcruxes? I asked Indra, in this competitive corporate world, can ambition and principle coexist?

Indra:

I think ambition is very good. For example, if I say I have a burning ambition to cure cancer, you should love me for it. If I said I had a burning ambition to solve the childcare crisis in the country, families should hug me for it. So ambition is good. It's how you fulfill your ambition, how you accomplish your ambition, is where all the problems come about. If you say, "I want to cure cancer. Incidentally, I'm going to take the credit for everything that's done, share it with nobody, I want to steal all the technology I can get. And incidentally, I intend to make a lot of money off of it," that is, to me, ambition with a lack of character. So I think it's really, ambition is awesome. We want everybody to be ambitious. We want them to be ambitious the right way.

Gautam:

Ambition is one thing. Arrogance is another.

Indra:

A CEO where the power goes to his or her head is a dangerous thing for the company, because then the CEO is more interested in their personal agenda than they are in the agenda of the company. A good CEO by definition has to be selfless. They've got to put the company before them. They've got to run the company for the duration of the company, not the duration of the CEO. And to me, an arrogant CEO is a disaster.

Gautam:

Both of my guests today learned from the best. Their characters were shaped by challenging circumstances. And now they work together at the United States Military Academy, teaching the next generation of Army officers. Given their two careers of extraordinary and extraordinarily different accomplishments, I wanted to know, what have they learned from each other?

Indra:

When I see him in West Point, I see a very strong person, a colonel who does not yell, scream, he doesn't stomp around. He uses what I call "quiet leadership" to get people to respect him, to follow him. He's soft-spoken, he's got a smile, but he's got a steely look and he's determined. You can see it in his demeanor. And when he smiles, his heart comes through. And to me, I'm a person that really believes that somebody has to have a very good heart before you engage with them, and that's what I saw in Everett: a terrific leader with great humanity. I wanted to hitch my wagon to Everett. I wanted to be known as one of Everett's troop members.

Gautam:

Naturally, I also wanted to know what Everett has learned from Indra.

Everett:

Well, Indra, where do I start? She's a voracious reader and learner, she's just amazing in that way. Whenever she learns about a problem, she reads and talks to as many people and reads as much as she can. And she runs to the sounds of the guns, as we say in the service. When there's a need in society, she goes to help without anyone asking, she immediately is drawn there. And she minimizes her own profile, but maximizes her own contribution.

Everett:

A couple examples just during the recent coronavirus outbreak. She and her husband, Raj, heard that the kids in Connecticut didn't have books to use at home because they were going remotely. And the elementary school kids were going to do it without books, which just didn't work. And within, I don't know, a few hours or a couple of days, she didn't have husband Raj donated 180,000 books to Connecticut schoolchildren to ensure that they can learn. Think of that. Just instantly seeing a problem, doing something about it selflessly.

Everett:

Another example related to the coronavirus as well. She volunteered to co-lead a task force for Connecticut to safely deal with the coronavirus and maintain its businesses at the same time. She led that selflessly for hours a day for weeks and months on end, working with the governor's office. And just amazing leadership, just as a volunteer, because she cares deeply about her community.

Everett:

Indra is a glass ceiling breaker as well. Just look at her career and all the things she's accomplished. She's had to do so with the biases that she's faced and she just is a wonderful role model in that way to keep achieving, keep showing that performance character, it's just amazing.

Everett:

She's also a leader developer. She cares deeply about building other people to be their best selves. And she also cares about how they're doing. And she always asks you and she listens, she really listens. And last thing but not least, she played in a rock band when she was younger, and who doesn't like that about somebody? Indra, one of my all time just favorite people and role models. I'm deeply thankful for our friendship.

Gautam:

If you've listened to our past episodes, you know I always like to ask my guests what book or books they'd recommend to listeners.

Indra:

I read an interesting book called 2030 Predictions. And it talked about the kinds of trends we might see in society over the next decade and how do we prepare for that today.

Gautam:

Indra is referencing 2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, by Mauro Guillen. I think this is the perfect Indra choice. Think about it this way. A hundred years ago, if you could invest in a magical technology that could take you from anywhere on earth to anywhere in 24 hours in complete safety, or in carbonated sugar water, which should you choose? Airplanes or soda? It's not close. Definitely soda. Almost nothing has ever been as profitable. What made Indra a legend was her ability to see around corners. Moving a company that had helped to define the softdrink industry for a century into healthy foods based on the expectation that a market for them would appear, it's easy to support it in retrospect. But at the time, it was visionary and brave.

Indra:

The other books that I'm reading now are to do with inequality, I've been reading Evicted. I read How to Be a Non-Racist. And I'm trying to understand why we have these issues in society and what we can do about it. I'm just trying to understand what the future could be.

Gautam:

I posed the same question to Everett.

Everett:

An interesting one that Indra has me on is The Captain Class. It talks about the role of team captains. Another one's Nonviolent Communication. Nonviolent communication is a way to talk reflectively and thoughtfully to others, and not let your emotions drive how you come across to especially those you love and work with.

Everett:

Another one that really was important for me was The Colored Cadet at West Point. It was an autobiography of Henry O. Flipper, the first African American graduate of West Point. It puts my current work in context of leader development, it puts the importance of inclusiveness and belonging in context about how we should lead today. How do you make someone know they belong? And you build trust in an institution and each other? How do you build love, frankly, for our fellow man? It also ties in that leadership facet of character [inaudible 00:27:15] are you willing to stand up when bad character is happening around you?

Gautam:

The final question is always who have you gotten to know over the course of your extraordinary career, who most impressed you and why? And I will preface that the podcast now has a new informal rule that you can't name Everett because too many people already have.

Indra:

In PepsiCo, we had a secretary who had incredible family problems, incredible. And she would come to work every morning with a big smile. And then bad luck, she slipped and fell in the walkway outside PepsiCo, and the entire right side of her was paralyzed, her hand, she couldn't drive. And I was devastated, because why does one person get so many misfortunes thrown at them? So I went to her and I said, "How are you doing? How can we help?" She said, "Indra, don't worry. We're fine. We're going to manage. Sometimes these things happen. This is just a test for me." And I sat back and I always applied the Jane Doe rule to everything I do. I still do it. I said, "Look, if she could have been so cheerful about the issues that she was confronting and just viewed them as blips and life's got to go on, why do I get myself pulled down by stuff that is just so simple and so irrelevant?"

Gautam:

I asked Everett the same thing.

Everett:

I was a captain at West Point many years ago. We had hosted a bunch of cadets at our house for an Italian dinner and to get to know the cadets, it's something [inaudible 00:28:45] traditional at West Point [inaudible 00:28:46] and if you cook an Italian meal, it's pretty messy, right? And it was into the week and we were exhausted. And my wife and I said goodbye to the cadets at about 11:00 and then we sat down on the couch and said, "Should we do this now or later?" And if you let Italian dishes sit, that's a rough day the next day. And I had a friend of mine named Steve Ruth, he's still active duty in the Army, he's like, "Hey, Everett, let's go do the dishes now. I'll help you and Julia do them. No problem."

Everett:

I was like, "No, Steve you've already helped me like three hours entertain these cadets. Go home to your family. I really appreciate it." He goes, "No, no, I'm serious. I don't mind." I said, "I know you don't mind, but I'm not going to take advantage of it. Go ahead and go home, we'll take care of it. Thanks so much for coming over." He said, "You sure?" I said, "I'm sure." And he said, "Okay, see you later, buddy." And I looked at Julia, I said, "You ready to do the dishes?" She said, "Let's sit here and think about it." So we just sat there and talked about our week. We hadn't caught up. We hadn't seen each other much, to be honest with you. And we just caught up for about 30 minutes.

Everett:

And then I was like, "You want to do those dishes?" It was time to go to bed. I was probably the one that said "No, let's wait and do them tomorrow." And we started walking up the stairs and when I got to the landing, she went ahead of me, and I got to the landing [inaudible 00:29:53] back up to go backwards to the second half of the stairway. I heard a clink, like, "What? I'm hearing things." I kept walking up the stairs and I heard a clunk. I'm like, "What was that?" So I started sneaking back down the stairs, maybe we had a rodent in the house or something. When I got to the bottom of the landing, I heard a clank, and that time it was unmistakable. So I started to turn to the right and headed back towards the back door, which goes through the kitchen. And when I got there, I saw Colonel Steve Ruth, or Captain Steve Ruth at the time, drying off the last dish that had just got finished getting cleaned.

Everett:

He'd walked out on my front door, around to the back, inside, and then silently washed all our dishes while my wife and I had sat down on the couch just kind of catching up on our week, exhausted. And he was just as tired as we were. And so what I learned from that was the value of true friendship. And a true friend is someone that helps you carry life's burdens on your shoulders. And when Steve did that for me, I just challenged myself to be a Steve Ruth kind of friend to others.

Gautam:

Funny. Everett is my Steve Ruth in that I'm always trying to be an Everett Spain kind of friend. At the two worst moments of my life, it was his voice on the phone, once from when he was deployed, that did more than anything else to help me through. Ever since I got to know him, whenever I've had a difficult choice to make, I've asked myself, "What would Everett do?" So leaders model behavior and inspire others to emulate them in their personal lives and on a much bigger scale, too. Just as we have a choice about whether to do the right thing in our personal lives, business leaders have that choice at work. And around the world, people feel that business leaders are failing that test.

Gautam:

In 2017, Edelman found that only 37% of people trusted CEOs, barely a third. Why? Maybe it's because too few of them think the way Indra does, that a good CEO puts the interest of the company and of society before him or herself. Character matters. It matters in anyone, but it matters most in leaders. Leaders have power, and power changes who you are. Research by Adam Galinsky shows that for most people, power makes you a worse person. It makes you more aggressive or Machiavellian and less empathetic.

Gautam:

We trust people enough to give them power, and then that power turns them into someone who isn't worthy of trust. Research by Michael Kraus, Stefan Cote, Katherine DeCelles, and Serena Chen, among others, however, shows that not everyone becomes worse when they get power. Some people get better. They become more altruistic and more pro-social. Power is a liberating force. Once you have it, you are free to act the way you really want to. And while some people want power to help themselves, others want it to help those around them.

Gautam:

Those are the people who have good character. Those are the leaders we need. We will all have to make hard choices. Some day, every one of us will have to choose between the hard right and the easy wrong. Some day, when you face such a decision, I hope you're in an organization led by someone like Indra, I hope you have a friend like Everett, and I hope you lead and choose the way they'd want you to. How are you leading by example? Who are you serving today? Let me know. Send an email to worldreimagined@nasdaq.com or reach out on Twitter @gmukunda.

Announcer:

World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world, an original podcast from NASDAQ. Visit the World Reimagined website at nasdaq.com/world-reimagined-podcast.

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