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What Great Leaders Do Great

In the five decades of my career, I’ve had the great privilege of learning from some fantastic leaders who created world-class cultures and leadership development programs – especially early in my career at IBM and PepsiCo. I’ve observed great leaders like Tom Watson Jr. at IBM and Wayne Calloway at PepsiCo. I’ve applied those lessons over time as I’ve had the chance to lead teams, lead transformations, build cultures and help develop the next generation of leadership. I’ve even written a book on leadership called The Calloway Way: Results and Integrity, based on the life and career of Wayne Calloway.

Here’s what I’ve been able to boil it down to in the most simple way. Leadership comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes and personalities. However, there are a few big things that all great leaders do great, and they’re easy to observe. Great leaders are great at:

  • Setting the Agenda
  • Building a Great Team
  • Delivering with Consistency

It seems pretty straightforward and, at first glance, not particularly insightful. However, when you really examine people in leadership positions, many are good at parts, but not at integrating all three. It’s not hard to find examples of leaders that can set elegant and compelling agendas, but never deliver them. We can also find really poor agendas delivered extremely well because they’ve built a capable team.

So, let’s focus on what I would call a complete leader.

A complete leader:

  • Sets the Agenda. It’s connected to larger ideas and outcomes and is meaningful, purposeful and focused on the future (See How to Pick a Good Fight – HBR article, December 2009). It’s the WHY and the WHAT (see another book I wrote titled Blind Spot: A Leader’s Guide To IT-Enabled Business Transformation) of the journey. However, most leaders focus on the WHAT, often with the help of outside consultants, but gloss over the WHY. The WHY really matters, because it’s about articulating the purpose or a cause to which people can relate. It’s also durable and will enable an organization to sustain a long and difficult transformation journey.
  • Builds a Great Team. That’s the real work of a complete leader. Too often, the leader delegates this work to each of his/her managers where the definition of “great” will vary. The only way to build a great team is to be very hands-on and, specifically, spend large amounts of calendar time on selecting, developing and coaching your leadership team two to three levels deep. This was the cornerstone of my learnings at Watson’s IBM and Calloway’s PepsiCo. Calloway, in particular, spent about a third of his time on recruiting, coaching, evaluating, giving feedback, exiting and promoting the top 500 leaders.
  • Delivers with Consistency. This was always the final measure of a PepsiCo leader. Delivery was king at PepsiCo. WHAT you delivered (the Agenda) mattered, and HOW you delivered it mattered just as much. That meant showing up, being solution-oriented and knowing the details of your projects and people. You had to be in the fight with your team and delivering “results with integrity” quarter after quarter, year after year.

If you fall short on any of these three competencies, the things great leaders do great, you have an opportunity to improve. You should do it for yourself. You should do it for your team and the mission that you’re on. You can become a great leader by doing ALL these things great.

The Feld Group Institute can help you get where you want to be as a leader, and beyond, through our Transformation Leadership Development (TLD) program. If you’re ready to take the next step towards becoming a truly great leader, review our TLD program, and let us know if you’d like to be a part of the next session.

Author: Charlie Feld, Founder, The Feld Group Institute
Connect with Charlie Feld on LinkedIn

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Russell Villemez

Affiliate, The Feld Group Institute

Head of Technology Strategy, Dialexa – a Feld Group Institute partner

Highly regarded CTO and change agent with IT strategy and enterprise architecture expertise.

Russell Villemez is an Affiliate with the Feld Group Institute and the head of Technology Strategy at Dialexa, a Technology Research, Design and Creation firm that works with organizations on initiatives such as Operational Transformation, Business Growth, and New Venture Creation.

During 17 years in operational roles and 15 years in consulting roles, Russell has worked across a variety of industries in both executive leadership positions and as a subject matter expert. Russell thrives on the scale and complexity of leading major change agendas in large corporate environments.

Recent consulting clients include AmerisourceBergen, the American Automobile Association, Brinker International, Cubic, Equifax, and Cox Automotive. A common thread is the client’s need for strong leadership during a period of change—whether motivated by acquisitions, spin-offs, competitive pressures, or other factors. Clients also benefit from Russell’s expertise in enterprise architecture, agile development, application portfolio rationalization, technology and architecture strategy, as well as business strategy and commercial software product development.

Recognized as a versatile IT executive, adept at solving complex problems with innovative solutions, Russell’s capabilities and achievements span a continuum from business-strategy formation to hands-on IT solution development. His extensive career achievements include pioneering the first use of relational databases in high-volume transaction systems in the ‘80s, applying voice recognition DSPs in public intelligent network services for consumer markets in the ‘90s, and leading large-scale adoptions of open systems, object technology, and middleware frameworks in complex business environments, often in advance of commercially available software products.

Prior to joining Dialexa, Russell served at HP as Enterprise Services Chief Technology Officer for the Americas, leading a global capability for embedded Account CTOs in large enterprises. Russell began his career at Accenture, where he first crafted his consultative problem-solving approach, later honed at A.T. Kearny and the Feld Group. Russell’s deep telecom experience is built upon numerous director and enterprise architect positions at AT&T, Bell Atlantic, Telstra, US West, Pacific Bell, and Sprint, and as V.P. and CIO for WebLink Wireless.

Russell has a BS in Business Administration from Louisiana State University and an MBA from Vanderbilt University. In his spare time, Russell participates in amateur auto racing, and is a driving instructor with the Porsche Club of America.