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Executives reveal 'grace under fire' at NEW Forum

Sunday, July 28, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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Successful leaders have — and project — authentic confidence and courage in times of crisis, according to four senior executives who shared their personal experiences at the Network of Executive Women Executive Leaders Forum, held July 23-25, 2013 at Terranea resort outside of Los Angeles.

"Leaders need a very clear vision of what they are going to do [in a crisis] and what is on the other side, and then give their team confidence," according to Katy Barclay, senior vice president of human resources for The Kroger Co. "People are watching your body language, listening to every word you say and are looking to see if you are courageous."

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Barclay was joined by John Lewis, president, Americas for Nielsen; Lori Raya, president of Vons for Safeway Inc.; and Kevin Walling, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for The Hershey Company, for "Executive Dialogue: Grace Under Fire," the Forum's July 25 panel. Anne Fink, senior vice president, PepsiCo Sales for PepsiCo Inc., moderated the discussion.

During challenging times, "people are wondering if they should stay or leave," Lewis added. "You need to stay calm and project confidence. But the worst is to be falsely optimistic. You have to be optimistic, but identify the problems and the degrees of freedom the team have to solve them. Their eyes need to get off the leader and on the customers and market."

Great leaders have confidence that they can get a team through any crisis, Raya said. "In a time of stress, it is good the team knows you are confident enough in them to step away and let them do what they need to do. In times of crisis, I accelerate my enthusiasm for the business."

While the current business climate is challenging in general, when teams are particularly stressed, "a great leader will absorb that impact for the team," Walling added. "You don't reverberate it back to your team."

To best develop future leaders, Raya said she strives to keep younger employees excited and engaged in different components of the business and to use their opinions. "Much like how the women's perspective wasn't heard around the table for so long, we need to listen to the young people and bring them on the team," she said.

Barclay said she identifies high-potential future leaders by their ability to learn. "Take someone out of their comfort zone and see how fast they go up that learning curve and how well they take that job, do it and transform it. Then do that again. You can find CEO candidates by watching people who are able to [succeed that way] constantly. Always keep potential leaders challenged."

Sometimes, Lewis said, people need a new job no matter how good they are in their position. "They need to be jolted out of the horizontal to be more connected to new leaders, to connect to the bigger strategy and to influence peers. Sometimes people are so good with their teams, their teams will follow them to the end of the earth. But their peers won't follow them to the end of the earth. Sometimes you need to spend as much time with your peers and the people above you to get them to follow you."

(From left) PepsiCo Inc.'s Anne Fink moderated the "Grace Under Fire" panel
discussion featuring Katy Barclay of The Kroger Co., John Lewis of Nielsen,
Lori Raya of Safeway Inc. and Kevin Walling of The Hershey Company.

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