Leading with Humility with Doug Conant and Lisa Osborne Ross
This week, we speak with two incredible leaders with unique perspectives on tackling the complex world we live in with humility, humanity and humbleness. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.
In our increasingly complex world, leaders have to manage more challenges, stakeholders, and scenarios than ever before. To grow an organization amidst all of this, how can leaders create a proactive profile that enables them to manage in a constructive way? How can they put people first, without sacrificing growth, and still be remembered as an impactful leader?
In this episode, host Gautam Mukunda speaks with founder of ConantLeadership and former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, Doug Conant, and the CEO of Edelman U.S., Lisa Osborne Ross, about how a leader’s ability to orchestrate an organization with integrity, empathy, and confidence can leave an enduring contribution.
The more you sharpen your leadership skills it’s amazing how much better your gut gets.Doug Conant
If you put people first, profitability follows.Lisa Osborne Ross
Follow @GMukunda on Twitter or email us at WorldReimagined@nasdaq.com
Literature Referenced on World Reimagined Season 4, Episode 4:
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins
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Guest Information for Leading with Humility:
Doug Conant is the only former Fortune 500 CEO who is a New York Times best-selling author, a Top 50 Leadership Innovator, a Top 100 Leadership Speaker, and one of the 100 Most Influential Authors in the World.
A devoted leadership practitioner and teacher, Doug’s 45-year career has been defined by achieving high performance through an intentional commitment to studying, practicing, improving, and spreading the tenets of “leadership that works.”
He is Founder and CEO of ConantLeadership, former President and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, former President of Nabisco Foods, and former Chairman of Avon Products. He has also served on multiple corporate boards including AmerisourceBergen and RHR International. He began his career in marketing at General Mills and held leadership positions in marketing and strategy at Kraft.
Doug is also Chairman of CECP—Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose, and proudly serves on the boards of The Center for Higher Ambition Leadership, the National Organization on Disability, the Partnership for Public Service, and Hope College. Previously, he was Chairman of The Conference Board, Chairman of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and Chairman of Enactus.
His new Wall Street Journal bestselling book, co-authored with Amy Federman, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps to Lift Your Leadership to New Heights, is available now and is a seminal treatise on leadership and practical guide for leading effectively in a chaotic world. He is also the New York Times bestselling co-author with Mette Norgaard of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments.
Finally, he is the ever-so-proud husband of Leigh and father to their three remarkable children. Find him at conantleadership.com, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter at @DougConant.
Lisa Osborne Ross serves as Edelman’s U.S. Chief Executive Officer. Prior to this role, Ms. Ross served as Chief Operating Officer, where she oversaw day-to-day operations and strategy for the U.S. region and led Edelman’s Washington D.C. office as President where she was responsible for overseeing the firm’s U.S. operations and providing strategic oversight to its Washington D.C. office. She is known as an in-demand counselor to senior executives at Fortune 500, higher education, and government institutions.
Prior to Edelman, Ms. Ross served as Managing Director of APCO Worldwide’s flagship office for over 2 years, arriving there after a 15-year career at Ogilvy Public Relations. Over her tenure at Ogilvy, Ms. Ross held several titles, including Founder of the Multicultural Practice, Head of the Public Advocacy Group and Practice, and Head of the Public Affairs Division.
Prior to joining Ogilvy, Ms. Ross held several roles in the Clinton Administration. At the U.S. Department of Labor, she served as Communications Director for the Department’s effort to create and promote high-performance workplaces, and later created and directed the Office of Public Liaison under Secretary Alexis Herman. She also served as the Deputy Director of the bipartisan Federal Glass Ceiling Commission, and was a member of the inaugural team of the White House Office of Women’s Initiatives and Outreach. In her early career, Ms. Ross spent time at FleishmanHillard and at the Tobacco Institute.
Ms. Ross devotes considerable amounts of time to her philanthropic endeavors, particularly her efforts to build a better Washington and to empower women. She co-founded and led the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fund grassroots organizations addressing the needs of women and young girls throughout the Washington metropolitan area. At Howard University, she helped establish a scholarship fund for students seeking careers in public relations.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
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Gautam Mukunda (00:16):
The world is more complex than ever. How can you lead it?
Lisa Osborne Ross (00:22):
When I hear people say, "I can't take a break. I can't take a vacation." I'm like, there is a problem in your infrastructure.
Doug Conant (00:29):
The three things I always look for are competency, character, and have good chemistry with the team.
Lisa Osborne Ross (00:34):
When something happens, I should never be in a situation where I have to gather people because if I'm doing my job correctly, I already know what they think.
Speaker 5 (00:46):
World Reimagined with Gautam Mukunda, a leadership podcast for a changing world. An original podcast from Nasdaq.
Doug Conant (00:54):
This is a grow or die world, right? You either grow or you die. And we recommend people choose the former, not the ladder.
Gautam Mukunda (01:10):
Once, during a product launch in 1986, Apple Co founder, Steve Wozniak turned to Steve Jobs and asked him what exactly it was that he did for the company? Jobs' response, "Musicians play their instruments. I play the orchestra." It's a great line although it was actually said by Michael Fassbender in the 2015 movie and not by Steve Jobs himself. But it points to something true in an increasingly complex world with a mushrooming number of stakeholders and a host of new concerns that were unheard of a generation ago. Leaders need to keep their eye on more than they ever did before. In order to keep everything running smoothly, you have to be a really good conductor.
Doug Conant (02:06):
The evolution of the role of the CEO is you are now truly the orchestra conductor with all of your stakeholders, not just your investors and maybe your employees. And that requires a different set of skills. And one of those ... First of all, I believe you have to be more proactive and more purpose-driven because you can't possibly react to all those stakeholders at once every day or you'll drive yourself crazy.
Gautam Mukunda (02:34):
Doug Conant is the Founder of Conant Leadership and the former President and CEO of Campbell's Soup. When he took over that iconic company in 2001, their sales and morale were declining rapidly leading to what Doug describes in his own words as a circle of doom. Under his leadership, Campbell's was able to reverse the declining culture and tanking market share to once again become profitable and reaffirm its place of primacy in grocery stores everywhere.
Gautam Mukunda (03:03):
The same year that Doug assumed control of the struggling soup company, the former Communications Director of the Clinton Administration began a journey that would eventually lead her to the top position at Edelman US. Lisa Osborne Ross became the firm's CEO in 2021, making her the first black woman to lead a PR company of that size. Since then, she's driven a dramatic push towards inclusive hiring that saw 30 percent of their new hires be BIPOC employees in just five months.
Gautam Mukunda (03:31):
And both Doug and Lisa agree when it comes to effective, ethical leadership, the path ahead is getting anything but easier.
Doug Conant (03:38):
So today, I think the challenge for leaders, not just CEOs, for leaders, is to pay attention to all of their stakeholder groups in a proactive way. And that changes what you do too. Historically, your field was helping CEOs like me react to difficult circumstances. Now, you're helping all of these organizations get out in front of it and create a proactive profile that enables you to manage all the stakeholders in an integrity-laden and constructive way. It's a different game. It's a totally different game.
Lisa Osborne Ross (04:17):
I'm curious, Doug, because many of us have watched your style and your process and your effectiveness at one of the biggest brands in American and a brand that we feel very close to our hearts. And as we are advising clients now, you're right. And the time that it takes to talk to every stakeholder and then unfortunately, they don't all agree. You have a conversation with eight different groups of stakeholders and they don't all agree. But I'm very curious from your perspective, do you then take all of the information, this orchestra is a beautiful visual. But do you take all of this information or do you, at some point, you also have to listen to what do you think is right? What do you think is the best thing? And then sometimes, that's at odds with the majority of your stakeholders. And then trying to navigate that is another whole situation.
Doug Conant (05:09):
Oh, when I define leadership, I talk about the art and the science of moving groups of people in a particular direction. And I believe there is a science to it. I believe it helps to have sharpened your leadership skills and to go to school on the craft of leadership. And to always be learning it.
Doug Conant (05:31):
But at the same time, you also have to be trusting your gut. Interestingly, as you grow your skills and as you have a growth mindset in your job which is job one for leaders today. Job one is ... This is a grow or die world, right?
Lisa Osborne Ross (05:47):
Doug Conant (05:47):
You either grow or you die. And we recommend people choose the former, not the ladder. It's a much more fun journey. And so, in terms of growing, you've got to grow and you've got to be in a position to help all of your stakeholders understand your purpose and be on the journey with you, knowing that everyone will not always agree.
Doug Conant (06:11):
I'm going to give you a quick example. When I was CEO, and this is a long time ago at Campbell Soup Company, our sense of purpose was all about nourishing people's lives in small moments which is what Campbell's Soup was about or Peppered Farm, or Godiva Chocolate or the many other brands we owned. What we could do was then say, the most important stakeholder for us to nourish were our employees because they had to carry that charge out into the world every day. And the people that managed the investor relations had to figure out the strategy for nourishing our investment community. The people that managed sales had to figure out an appropriate posture for nourishing our customers. The marketers had to figure out how do we nourish our consumers? The global supply chain had to think about how do we nourish our suppliers and our contractors?
Doug Conant (07:03):
And all of that had to be orchestrated from the top against the mission of nourishing people's lives. And I think the key for leaders today is to create that kind of architecture in their organizations so that everybody's moving in the same general direction at 30,000 feet, and then making their decisions at 10 feet on demand, understanding the context of where the organization is going and knowing everyone won't always agree.
Doug Conant (07:37):
The last though I'll tee up here is that, you know, the more your sharpen your leadership skills, it's amazing how much better your gut gets. So what we encourage people to do is just learn. Soak it all in. You've done that your whole career. You're always alert to learning and growing. As you do that, your instincts are going to get better and your ability to lead on demand from the gut will improve as well. So gut-level decision-making is essential. We both have great examples of it, I'm sure. But I don't want to suggest that you shouldn't be sharpening your leadership skills, either.
Lisa Osborne Ross (08:16):
It's both, and.
Doug Conant (08:17):
Yes, absolutely. And to your point, you really have no choice.
Lisa Osborne Ross (08:21):
Doug Conant (08:22):
If you want to have an enduring contribution profile, we all may have a home run in a year. Then we have to lap it. So if you want to have an enduring contribution profile that gets better and better, you've got to do the both, and.
Lisa Osborne Ross (08:38):
Gautam Mukunda (08:39):
So I'm struck by this discussion in any number of ways but let me latch onto one in particular which is it strikes me there are a bunch of forces that are making the job of the leader more complex and that would actually push you towards taking time. The larger number of stakeholders, our incredible capacity to do data analytics in a way that would have been unimaginable to anyone a generation ago. My standard explanation is that my watch has more computational power than the Apollo Project. So these are all things that might say, okay, you should take the time. You need to both manage these incredible, complex decisions, much more so than they used to be, and to do the data analysis. You need time.
Gautam Mukunda (09:17):
Now at the same time as you've both emphasized, the world is just moving so much faster than it used to that it's actually harder to take even as much time as we used to make, much less more. So how do you balance this idea of being able to analyze the data and work the models and do this incredibly rigorous decision-making? Or flip side, use these gut instincts that you sharpened over such a long span of time to make the snap decision when you need to.
Lisa Osborne Ross (09:42):
I'll take a stab at that because I was thinking, Doug, if you don't mind. There is a dynamic nature to our jobs that we have to constantly be in learning mode. We have to constantly be in communication so that when something happens, I should never be in a situation where I have to gather people. Because if I'm doing my job correctly, I already know what they think. I already know what they're worried about. I already know what their aspirations and their ambitions are. And so it is time-consuming on a long-term basis. But in the moment, this is a little judgemental. But in the moment, if you have to gather people on something, perhaps you should approach it differently. Because you should be in ongoing communication, ongoing conversation.
Lisa Osborne Ross (10:29):
The other thing that I think is incredibly important and different now is we have to create safe spaces. Because as confident as Doug and I sound on this call, sometimes it doesn't go well. Sometimes we make the wrong decisions. Sometimes we make a mistake. And we have to create environments where the mistake can't be material but we have to create environments where look, I may say the wrong thing. And that's something that I learned during COVID in terms of my own management style. I'm like, "Look, I think this is the right way to approach it but I don't know. I know enough to give you confidence to follow me in this but I may be wrong." I learned during COVID to show I'm an emotional, I'm comfortable with my emotions anyway. But I became comfortable saying, "I'm afraid. I am worried." And it almost gave people license to realize that what they were feeling was okay.
Lisa Osborne Ross (11:28):
Simultaneously, I had to say, while I'm worried, while I am afraid, while I'm not 100 percent sure this is going to work, I feel pretty good about it and I'm brave enough to make the decision. I am confident enough to deal with the consequences. And I have done enough preparation that you should not be worried that what I'm about to do is going to put us in any peril at all.
Doug Conant (11:53):
Man, that's great advice. To build on it, one of my now old friends, Jim Collins, when he wrote Good To Great, and he defined the level five leader, he talked about the two essential qualities that he found in level five leaders who lead over decades performance in their sectors by a wide margin. And the two things were humility and fierce resolve. And that's what Lisa's talking about.
Doug Conant (12:20):
You have to display great humility. And today, I would argue also empathy. And then you have to have a resolve to get the job done. And everybody knows that you've got that fierce resolve. You're going to complete the mission. You're going to do it in an honorable way. And if this doesn't work, we'll shift over here. And they also have to know that you're always open to learning.
Doug Conant (12:41):
So to me, what Lisa is saying rings true. I would build on it one other way. And that is when I was a CEO, out of a thousand decisions in a day, I was in the room for one of them. The other 999 were being made when I wasn't in the room. And by the time I would hear about them, they would be reimagined and be so articulately presented to me that of course it made sense.
Doug Conant (13:11):
So the reality is, it's not about you. It's about the team you assemble. It's all about the talent. 999 of those decisions ought to be made by people who are blue-chip, A plus contributors. And who are attracted to the mission and attracted to the opportunity to contribute. Who, the three things I'd always look for are competency, character, and have good chemistry with the team. And as a CEO now, I would say, your biggest single job is to be the chief talent officer. To attract, engage, develop, leverage, and retain talent so that in those 999 times when you're not in the room, that talent is carrying the ball and you can go with confidence.
Speaker 5 (14:01):
This is World Reimagned with Gautam Mukunda.
Speaker 1 (14:12):
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Gautam Mukunda (14:46):
It's intuitive enough at face value. Who wouldn't want to surround themselves with the smartest, most capable people. After all, if you're auditioning musicians for your orchestra, you're going to pick the best. But that also means surrounding yourself with people who might be smarter and more capable than you are. For whatever reason, that's really hard for some leaders to do. But as a leader, you need to be able to handle that even if it means taking your own ego out of the equation.
Lisa Osborne Ross (15:14):
We can't talk about CEOs, we can't talk about leadership, without talking about ego. You have to be confident enough regardless of the size of your ego to say, "Look, I need to have people around me who are smarter than I am. I need to have people around me who can teach me." And that doesn't take anything away from me, but I have to be confident enough to surround myself with capable people.
Lisa Osborne Ross (15:37):
And I always say this, I say this especially to my husband who is retiring as a CEO at Wunderman Thompson this Friday. And one of the things that he was always so good at was putting people around him that were better than he was in a lot of different places. And when you do that, it also shows your humanity. When I hear people say, "I can't take a break, I can't take a vacation." I'm like, there is a problem in your infrastructure if you can't take a break. Because you should have ... Don't brag about that, honestly. Because you should have people around you so that if you take time off, you can take your week at the beach. You can do whatever you're going to do and step away because you have built an infrastructure that supports it.
Lisa Osborne Ross (16:19):
The other thing, I just don't want to lose this thought is, during COVID, the head of our employee engagement practice, Cydney Roach, coined this phrase and she redefined the CEO, rather than a Chief Executive Officer, she said it's got to be Chief Empathy Officer. I think you both talked about the importance of empathy earlier in the day. And that allows you to be the Chief Talent Officer because if you don't have empathy, you can't do any of the things that we're talking about.
Doug Conant (16:48):
That's a good point. That's highlighting something that has probably always been essential for great leaders but is unmistakably essential today. I can't imagine trying to attract talent and leading in a way that would be enduringly successful without demonstrating a high degree of empathy. And I would add another E to it. I would say the Chief Engagement Officer. Because you want to get everybody's heads, hearts, and hands, in the game. And empathy is required to do that. But you want to get them in a game in a way that they feel good about it and are going to make choices that will reflect positively on the enterprise.
Gautam Mukunda (17:38):
This is almost word for word what I wrote about in my first book, Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter. And yes, I promise, I did not ask them to say it beforehand. At the end of that book, I described my research on what distinguished high-impact leaders, the very best, like Doug and Lisa, and the very worst. From the normal leaders who do their job and don't leave much of a mark.
Gautam Mukunda (18:02):
It turns out that the best and worst leaders actually have a lot in common. They both tend to be what I call unfiltered. People who take over an organization from the outside or over the opposition of the old guard. So how does someone unfiltered become a great leader instead of going the other way? My research shows that the best leaders share a unique blend of confidence and humility. They have the confidence to do the right thing, to stick to their course in the face of opposition and to surround themselves with smarter and more qualified people.
Gautam Mukunda (18:36):
But they also have the humility to listen to those people, to admit when they're wrong, and to change their mind when the facts warrant it. It's the very rare leaders, the ones who combine these seemingly opposed traits who have the potential to be truly great.
Gautam Mukunda (18:52):
So how have Doug and Lisa, two very confident people, dealt with humbling points in their careers? When I asked, Lisa seized the opportunity to put her philosophy of humility into practice.
Lisa Osborne Ross (19:05):
God, I mean I don't know if you have enough time for me to talk about all of my mistakes. No. And let me be clear about the mistakes. Let's real talk. You also know that they can't be numerous and they cannot be materially significant. But, they do happen.
Lisa Osborne Ross (19:21):
I'd say during COVID, I made a judgment call on terms of how and when people returned to the office. And if I were to do it again, I would have done it differently. I believe the best way for people to grow, to thrive, to enjoy work, we've talked about how fun work should be, is to be physically with each other. Simultaneously, we have proven that we can also work remotely. And so as we're trying to navigate this hybrid approach, I look at some of the decisions that I made and I may have crafted them differently.
Lisa Osborne Ross (20:04):
As I'm sitting in this conference room, I'm also reminded of, and this is very personal. I took on a piece of work that I still stand by because I thought the ultimate goal of it would bring about significant positive change for a population of people that are often ignored, abused, disregarded, et cetera. But the approach that my client was going to take in terms of helping this group of people, was unpopular. But I took this account and it upset a great many people in my organization. And I, to this day, will say that I'm sorry that we had to walk away from it but I wish that I had listened more carefully to what the concerns were but I was so convicted that the outcome and the good that the outcome would deliver outweighed the challenges that people felt. So I don't know that I would have changed the decision that we made, but I think I would have ... I think I made a mistake in not listening to people more closely.
Doug Conant (21:16):
I understand that perspective. I'm just going to build on it a little bit. Look, leaders, it's not just CEOs. Leaders are going to make mistakes, they got to get over it, first of all. It's just, as we said, large, complex, fast-moving, lots of stakeholders. You're going to make mistakes.
Doug Conant (21:35):
What I found are two things that are important. The first thing is building relationships proactively that can endure through the mistakes. The time to deal with the mistakes is before you make them. If you build up equity with people, what Stephen Covey used to call the emotional bank account, and you're building their confidence in your decision-making and the fact that you have empathy, you care, you're still performance-oriented, whatever your collection of traits you want to display, whatever that is. If you build up that emotional bank account, when you make the mistake, people will say, "Okay, I understand Doug made that mistake but I'm balanced. I got to say, he's headed in the right direction. But he made a mistake." So that's the first concept for me. I'm always endeavoring to build that relationship so that when that mistake inevitably comes, I can work my way through it with whatever stakeholder group is there.
Doug Conant (22:34):
The second thought is, very early on in my career, I think my first global leadership meeting with our top 350 leaders from around the world, we were in 38 countries, marketed in 125 countries. We had 350 get together and I gave them my commitments, a list of my 10 commitments to them. Most of them hadn't met me yet. And the last commitment was, I will inevitably make mistakes. I will work with you to acknowledge them and to swiftly remedy them and move on. And so you know you're going to make them so get out in front of it.
Lisa Osborne Ross (23:11):
Doug Conant (23:11):
Build the relationship, tell them that you're ready to own the mistake if it happens and that you're going to work to remedy it and then you're going to move on. So all of a sudden, you've created a context that I think is real world because it's going to happen and you have a proactive process in place that allows you to move through it. I am pretty much known for driving world-class employee engagement, attracting talent, developing talent, leveraging talent.
Doug Conant (23:41):
But you know what? I've screwed up more than once. I was terminated in a horrible way at one point in my career. I said I'll never do that again. Guess what? I did it. And there were a whole group of extenuating circumstances but I did it. And then I had to live with that. I had to own it and I had to move through it. I think what made it work was the fact that in the interim, I had built relationships that would allow me to move through that in a constructive way. If I was not in a positive relationship with all of the associates, I would have been at risk. Look at what's going on with Disney right now. A lot of chaos, a lot of not confident in where our leadership is headed here. You're sitting on a powder keg as a CEO so you need to proactively manage it.
Lisa Osborne Ross (24:32):
Bravery and humanity. That's what you just ... What you just talked about are such beautiful examples of bravery by acknowledging up front that I am not perfect. And humanity in that, look, it's something we all do and it demystifies it. I love that.
Gautam Mukunda (24:51):
I do too and I want to build off of it because I would like to add a third quality of superb leaders that I think has been an undercurrent here but I want to surface it a bit. When I talk to students and I counsel CEOs about empathy and how important it is as a leader, I often get some pushback. We're not here to hold hands and sing Kumbaya. Like that warm and fuzzy stuff doesn't actually make the numbers. Okay. But just know ...
Gautam Mukunda (25:18):
So Doug, I said I think you might be the warmest human being I've ever spoken to over Zoom. But you also turned over 300 of your top 350 employees. There's a toughness to that. There is an ability to understand people to get them to do what you and the organization need them to do. That empathy is not a cushion of the weak, it is a took of the skilled leader that is at its most powerful under the most difficult of circumstances.
Doug Conant (25:47):
That's a great point. And I'm going to go back to a concept Lisa surfaced, this concept of abundance, both, and. Look, if you're a leader, you've got to be tough-minded on standards. And you have to have a certain performance ethic. Quite frankly, if you don't, you won't be a leader very long.
Doug Conant (26:11):
As I think you and I spoke before Gautam, as a leader, you've got three years and I'm being gracious. The first year, it's the other guy's fault. The second year it's our fault but we're learning and we see some green shoots of opportunity. And the third year, you own it. You own it. So you've got to have a performance ethic. At the same time, you have to realize that you alone cannot do this job and you have to perform with others. You have to be tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. Not one or the other, but both. You really have no choice. If you want them to care about your agenda as a leader, you damn well better evidence that you care about their agenda as people.
Doug Conant (26:53):
And I'm telling you, the old architecture which was hierarchical and do what I say is gone. Organizations are flattening, people are being challenged to make decisions on demand without getting prior approval on everything. If you want to be fast, agile, high-impact, you've got to have an organization that's going to have your back when you're not looking over their shoulder and that knows you care about them.
Doug Conant (27:20):
The thing we've observed in this pandemic, and I just encountered this in a conversation yesterday, someone said, "Look, the world does not have my back." And all the Edelman research says that. The world does not have my back. I can't trust my government. I don't trust the media. I don't have confidence in the academic sector. Nobody has my back and I feel like I'm in this sea of victims. You, as a leader, have the opportunity to be the one person who has the back of your associates. More so than anybody else. Now you don't have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but you damn well better be tuned in to what's going on their lives and how they're feeling about things. Otherwise, you're not going to get their head, heart, and hands, fully in the game. And another point Lisa made is you don't have a choice.
Lisa Osborne Ross (28:17):
Right. I think we now realize that, and this has been my approach, you put people first, profitability follows. So you have to understand the people that you work with and that work for you and that work alongside you. Because without them, you don't have a service, you don't have a product to sell, you don't have a problem to solve. It's all about the people. And you've got to put them first. And then when you do that, everything else falls into place.
Gautam Mukunda (28:49):
Doug and Lisa both have a wealth of experience with leadership. They're comfortable with owning up to their mistakes and sometimes even stepping aside if it means someone on their team can thrive. And with all this accumulated wisdom, I wanted to know who had done those things for them? Who in their careers had most impressed that and why?
Lisa Osborne Ross (29:08):
I'm going to cheat. Historically, and I'll see if I can do this without getting weepy. My mother who passed away nine years ago, was my mentor, my muse, my motivator. She was a mixed race woman who wasn't able to graduate from college because it was World War II and her family ran out of money. And she worked her way up in the federal government. And I have three older brothers, two of them much older than I am and my mother tells this great story of having this baby girl in the mid 60s with all of the legislation that was happening and the opening of opportunities for people of color. And her feeling this really deep responsibility because she now had a woman to raise and she had a woman of color to raise. And by the time she retired, she was the highest ranking woman of color at what was then HEW.
Lisa Osborne Ross (30:02):
And throughout my life, gentlemen, I could be anywhere in the city and my mother had a very distinct voice. And people would say, "Thelma Osborne, is that you?" And my mother would say, "Yes." And they would look at me and they would say, invariably, this happened to me all the time, "Lisa, because of your mother, I went back to school and got my degree and now I'm doing this. Lisa, your mother told me to stop chewing gum in a meeting." And, "Lisa, your mother told me my skirts were too short. Lisa, your mother told me how to present myself. Your mother told me to not be afraid. Your mother told me not to fail."
Lisa Osborne Ross (30:38):
And my greatest honor, greatest honor, was at her funeral when a colleague delivered the eulogy. When I walked out of the church, my team at the time was like huddled in a corner and they almost looked shell-shocked. And I was like, "What is going on?" And they said, "She is you. And you are her." And for me, that has been a guiding force in the way that I lead, the way that I am lead, the way that I manage. So my mom.
Lisa Osborne Ross (31:09):
And most recently, if you haven't met her, you got to meet the President of Gallaudet University, Bobbi Cordano. She is killer. And I love the way she sees the world and I love the way she's changing it for all of humanity. So those are my two people who inspire me most.
Doug Conant (31:26):
I wish I had Lisa's. Her mother was amazing. As was mine but not on the same level. I would say the person I would pick would be a fellow who no one's ever heard of. His name was Neil McKenna.
Doug Conant (31:41):
I was once fired summarily from a job after nearly 10 years where I walked into the office, the receptionist said, "You need to go see the Senior Vice-President." And I went up there and he couldn't look at me. And he said, "Doug, your job's been eliminated. You need to be out of here by noon." And my career seemed to be over in a snap. I went home to my wife, my two small children, and my one very large mortgage, feeling every bit the victim. It was a horrible day. I had worked there for 10 years. And it was a downsizing.
Doug Conant (32:15):
But at any rate, I was sent to an outplacement counselor and this outplacement counselor's name was Neil McKenna. And I called him up late that afternoon and I said, "Mr. McKenna, I've been given your name. I know it's late today, I'd like to schedule an appointment to talk to you." And he said, "No, I want you to come over here right now." I said, "It's almost dinnertime." He said, "I'll stay." And, "Okay, you're 40 minutes away. It'll take me a while." "No, come over." And he was there and he was there for me completely for the next three hours.
Doug Conant (32:46):
And for the rest of his life, he was one of my dearest mentors and friends. And every time you would call him, this was before cellphones or caller ID, they were touch tone phones. It wasn't rotary dial. I'm not that old. He would answer the phone, whoever was calling and he'd say, "Hello, this is Neil McKenna, how can I help?" And he was always there to help the person on the other end of that conversation. And that is how he chose to walk in the world. I want to help. And I was so, in the fullness of time, so inspired by that, I decided many years ago that that's the path I want to take. So every time I engage in something, even on this call, what I'm thinking about is, "How can I help?"
Gautam Mukunda (33:35):
There are lots of traits required to keep the musicians in your organization playing on key. Thoughtfulness, speed, empathy, toughness, confidence, humility. See the pattern yet? It sounds inherently impossible, I know. And being a good leader means more than just walking a fine line between them. It means living confidently with a foot in both worlds. Because to go to work every day, putting on an act that's all confidence or all toughness, is to court the old dictatorial model of leadership. A performance of someone who just commands while others obey.
Gautam Mukunda (34:17):
Doug and Lisa are as warm and empathetic as it gets and yet they are dazzling strong leaders not despite their warmth, but because of it. They've realized how to combine traits we normally think of as antagonistic because at the end of the day, to be a mass of contradictions isn't paradoxical. It's human. We all have different sides of ourselves that we balance every day. It's being unafraid to show it that makes someone a great leader.
Gautam Mukunda (34:48):
What about you? Can you be tough and empathetic? Confident and humble? Are you brave enough to be human? If you are, you'll be the type of leader who keeps your team in harmony.
Speaker 5 (35:12):
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/worldreimaginedpodcast.
Speaker 6 (35:26):
Gautam Mukunda does not speak on behalf of Rose Park Advisors LLC or any of its affiliates and is not soliciting investments or providing investment advice.