Doug Conant: Founder, Conant Leadership Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

By Gaul, Patty | Talent Development, July 2014 | Go to article overview

Doug Conant: Founder, Conant Leadership Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Gaul, Patty, Talent Development


Doug Conant is chairman of Avon Products, founder of Conant Leadership, and chairman of the Kellogg Executive Leadership Institute at Northwestern University.

He also is co-author, along with Mette Norgaard, of TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments. Formerly, Conant served as president, CEO, and director of Campbell Soup.

WHAT'S THE MOST IMPORTANT TRAIT OF A LEADER?

I think leaders have to have three traits. They have to be a person of great character, and in that spirit they have to do what they say they're going to do.

When I was starting my marriage and my family, my wife was an actress. Because actors and actresses basically work nights and weekends (when people can go watch them), I was taking care of the kids at home. Although they thought I was a person of great character, they also knew I couldn't cook. As much as they knew I'd do what I would say I was going to do, I had to also be competent; I had to know what I was doing. I think that's another key trait of a leader.

If you were to boil that down, it would be the ability to inspire trust, which is a combination of character and competence. If the organization doesn't trust you, you're toast.

HOW CAN LEADERS ENSURE THAT THEY'RE COMING ACROSS AS BEING TENDER-HEARTED WITH PEOPLE YET TOUGH-MINDED WITH RESPECT TO STANDARDS OF PERFORMANCE?

People think, "Well, I'm either going to be tough or I'm going to be nice." And the answer, I believe, is you can do both. First, if you're running an enterprise, you have to meet or exceed the standards of performance that are expected from the enterprise. Otherwise, you don't have the opportunity to lead.

On the other hand, unless you work by yourself, you're dependent on other people for their heads and hearts being in the game. Fundamentally, I just don't believe they're going to care about your agenda as a leader unless you show that you care about their

agenda as a person. There's no evidence that I've ever seen that anyone has successfully built an enduring business proposition any other way.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR EMERGING LEADERS?

First of all, I challenge them to bring four words and one mentality to all of their interactions as they recognize that "It's not about me. It's about everybody I work with." The four words are: How can I help? …

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