Laurel J. Richie (W.N.B.A) in “The Corner Office”
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Laurel J. Richie, president of the W.N.B.A. She says she’s learned to encourage employees to express their own points of view. At meetings, she says, she has even played with Silly Putty “to give people time to think and create and develop.”
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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Bryant: What do you consider some of the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
Richie: There were a couple of pivotal experiences for me. I had just been made a vice president at Ogilvy & Mather and I was running an account that was incredibly successful. I went on vacation thinking I deserved a break. I came back and my entire team had gone to H.R. and said: “We can’t do it anymore. It’s a great account, but we don’t like working for Laurel because working for her it feels like it’s all about her and not about us. So we want to work on another piece of business.”
Bryant: Welcome back from vacation.
Ritchie: Exactly. I remember feeling shocked, and defensive at first. But then I really stepped back and listened to what they were saying. I really thought I was a terrific leader because if you looked at all the metrics, we were successful. But I learned very profoundly in that moment that if there is not shared ownership of the work, both our successes and our failures, people aren’t going to have a satisfying experience.
Bryant: So what did you do?
Ritchie: I redefined my job as a leader to create an environment where good things happen, and where people feel good about their role on the team, and they feel acknowledged, they feel empowered, and they feel visible. I thought that in many ways I was protecting them from bad things, and they were saying, in effect: “No, actually we want to see those bad things. We won’t grow unless we experience them.”I went back to the team, and we all went in a room and I said: “I got the feedback. Thank you for doing that. I had no idea. Can I have another chance and can we work together on this?” And we all came together. One of the greatest things is that at the end of the year, somebody on the team came to me and said, “I’d walk through fire for you.”
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
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