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Career Coach: Leaders on leadership

By Susan Taylor
Monday, October 11, 2010; 26

Top executives from some of the region's biggest companies shared their insights on leadership with an audience of more than 200 businesspeople Oct. 1 during the inaugural conference of the Robert H. Smith School of Business's new Center for Leadership, Innovations and Change at the University of Maryland.

Several talked about the secrets to their success. Here are some of the big takeaways:

Attract the very best, diverse talent. Offer stimulating work, great benefits and leadership development. The millennial generation coming into the workplace now really values work-life balance, but its members will give you a creative energy that can lead to great innovations for your organization. Bob Stevens, chairman and chief executive of Lockheed Martin, discussed how Lockheed is dealing with the challenge of a workforce that is aging, with an increasing number of its employees near retirement. He said the company is committed to hiring the best talent available and that it is working hard to bring diversity of backgrounds, opinions, culture and ethnicity into its workforce.

Develop leaders from within. Challenge and invigorate your team with mandatory rotational assignments. Find out what really excites your employees and give them a chance to work on those types of projects. Pair up less experienced workers with senior employees in mentoring relationships. And remember leadership and management aren't the same thing -- management is dealing with moving parts and leadership is about showing the way and preparing the organization for change. Lockheed has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in leadership development. "We want leaders who model personal excellence, integrity and responsibility," said Stevens. "We believe the quality and character of our leadership will be crucial to our success."

Don't be afraid of change. Deborah Alder Myers, general manager and executive vice president of programming for Discovery Communications' Science Channel, set out in 2008 to transform the outlet from dry report-based programming to thought-provoking television. Myers' leadership strategy was to find the gems on her staff and then protect, promote and motivate them. The channel's staff was given a chance to adapt to the change of organizational culture, but those who could not were encouraged to move elsewhere. "The hardest thing to do is to make a change in a time of recession, but you have to have those people with their hair on fire about the brand," she said.

Engage the world. Alan Gregerman, chief executive of VentureWorks, pointed out that innovations and inspiration are all around us. Museums, artists and simple everyday challenges can be the jumping-off point for innovation.

Skate to where the puck is going to be. Leaders need to be able to anticipate the future and work to inspire their teams to innovate for what the market will be like then. Julie Moll, senior vice president, portfolio strategy and research for Marriott International, defined innovation as the profitable implementation of strategic creativity. Marriott developed a formal but flexible process for innovation that involves four phases: invention, where employees are encouraged to come up with new ideas and concepts; the development of working models to validate an idea; pilot programs to make sure an idea works on a larger scale; and deployment to roll out a new innovation.

Focus on opportunities in bad economic times. Some of the best firms today were born during recession or bad economic times, said Rajshree Agarwal, chaired professor in strategy and entrepreneurship at the Smith School. Innovation and entrepreneurship are the critical drivers of economic success. During bad economic times, smart companies don't think about cost-cutting, they think about how they can spend more on innovation.

Lead by example. Susan Schwab, former U.S. trade representative, said it should be every leader's goal to leave any institution better than it was when he or she got there. Added Stevens: "Values are a true north in an age of change. ... We can survive a loss, but not the loss of our reputation."

Be a constant learner. Always ask questions and always make sure you are listening. Kathleen Matthews, executive vice president of global communications and public affairs at Marriott International, discussed how she led the company though a transformation of its communications processes to incorporate new media.

Think bigger than your organization. Social responsibility is a business strategy. It gives you an advantage with customers as a differentiator and can have a halo effect across brands, Matthews said.

Susan Taylor is the Smith chair of human resource management and organizational change in the department of management and organization at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is also co-director of the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change (CLIC).

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