Schools of Business Students Get Leadership Advice from Reynolds American CEO Susan Ivey

10.22.2010 Article, General, School News

CEO shares some secrets
WFU students get advice on how to be an effective leader
reposted from Winston-Salem Journal | by Richard Craver

Susan Ivey has become one of corporate America’s most prominent female executives during her time at Reynolds American Inc.

One reason why is that she’s never forgotten a simple message from her mother — you have two ears and one mouth for a reason, Ivey told a group of Wake Forest University business students yesterday.

“Great leaders listen, they learn and then they lead,” Ivey said during a speech filled with playful and succinct advice learned from 30 years of sales and management experience.

“The common wisdom is that great leaders are great communicators. Most of them are, but the less-common wisdom is that 80 percent of good communicating is good listening.”

It was one of Ivey’s first public appearances since last Friday’s announcement that she plans to retire as Reynolds’ chairwoman on Oct. 31 and as chief executive and president on Feb. 28. The company said Ivey planned to move to Florida to spend more time with her family.

Ivey, 51, said she could find her decision “rather freeing” because she had accomplished two major goals — putting a succession plan in place and leaving the company in good shape and in good hands.

Part of being an effective leader, Ivey said, is recognizing that there is almost always more than one solution to a problem.

“You have to trust others and value and solicit input as you look for the best answer,” Ivey said. “Your job is to sort through all that input and arrive at the outcome that has the best possible trajectory for success.

“People follow leaders they believe in. Leaders accomplish that by sharing their vision and helping people buy into doing what’s best for the organization. Sometimes, that means sharing the vision and then getting the heck out of the way.”

Ivey compared leadership to salt in that it can be used to season potential executives. But it also can hurt when rubbed into a wound.

She compared power to pepper, to be used sparingly and in the right amount as a motivational tool to get the desired effect.

Ivey said that after having 18 jobs in her career, being exposed to good and bad leadership has shaped her management style.

“Some of you may be familiar with the phrase ‘We learn from our mentors and from our tormentors,’” Ivey said. “Learning how not to treat colleagues and subordinates can be very useful.

“One of the most powerful things that a leader can do is also something your mother taught you. It boils down to four words: ‘Thank you’ and ‘Great job.’”

Ivey said that companies can pay big consultancies “hundreds of thousands of dollars to tell you how to motivate your employees.”

“But my secret CEO decoder ring has the answer very clearly. Sincere gratitude and praise for a job well done — coming from a leader that somebody respects — paints a message that, as Mastercard would say, is priceless.”

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