By David Novak, Chairman and CEO, Yum! Brands, Inc.
*Mr. Novak is the Featured Speaker at the 2012 National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (at Chicago's McCormick Place) on Monday, May 7: Noon-1:00 p.m., Rm. S404A
The best leaders understand that leadership is a lifelong process, that even if you make it to the top, you can never stop working on yourself. You have to continue getting to know who you are as a leader and how you can grow and improve.
Warren Buffett is one of the realest deals I know. I love learning from him. In fact, I have a ritual with the world’s most famous investor: Every year I have the privilege of taking him to lunch at a KFC in Omaha, Nebraska, where his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is headquartered, and we talk about whatever is on our minds.
At one of these lunches, while he was devouring our Original Recipe chicken, I asked him what he looks for when he acquires a company.
“I’m looking to buy companies that are run by painters who are working on a painting that isn’t finished yet. They know what the painting can be and they are passionate about making it as great as it can be.”
I loved that analogy because it reminded me that business is always a work in progress. It also got me thinking about what makes a great painting. A great painting, a masterpiece, is a one-of-a-kind that’s like nothing else on earth.
When you think about it, you’re like that too. No one has your DNA. No one is like you. The best leaders are the ones who understand that they are like no one else, that they have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, interests and knowledge, and that they are always going to be a work in progress.
Looking back over my career, there have been numerous times when I wanted to get to the next level and I had to decide what I needed to do and who I needed to be to get there. I always fell back on the idea that I needed to be me and build on that, rather than trying to be someone I’m not. It’s a good thing to think about as your career progresses. Here are some ways to help you be yourself no matter where you are in your career:
- Have Conviction: Being yourself is the only way to be. Acknowledge that it’s key to building trust and credibility with others.
- Know Your Stuff: There is no substitute for time and experience. Building your know-how will give you confidence.
- Know Your Environment: Being yourself does not mean ignoring the impact you’re having on the people around you. In business, you have to be yourself while also being compatible with your company’s culture.
- Build Self-Awareness: Constantly solicit feedback so you know how you’re impacting others. Ask people what they would do if they were in your position.
- Be Open and Honest About What You Don’t Know: It’s amazing how liberating it is to do this and how much more people will get behind you if you do. It builds trust and gives people a chance to contribute their own knowledge.
- Use Positive Self-Talk & Positive Thought: Reminding yourself of your strengths and your accomplishments will help you to believe that you can succeed. When the dragons of self-doubt come creeping in is a great time to look back at your lifeline to remember how far you’ve come while being careful not to get mired down in negative things of the past. We all need to realize that our outlook on life affects how we act toward people and situations in our daily lives, so tune into your thoughts and make them as positive as possible.
- Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Use your unique gifts and keep pushing the boundaries of your potential. Mark Chu, now the president of Yum! China, started out as a McDonald’s restaurant general manager. He’s a dynamic and humorous speaker in his native language but barely spoke English when I first met him in 1997. Now he presents in English to our board of directors and can crack a joke with the best of them. You never know what you’re capable of.
Self-awareness is a concept that will come up again and again because you’ll never get better at what you do without it. It’s crucial for every great leader to know who they are and where they’ve been.
David Novak is Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands and author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller Taking People With You: The Only Way to Make BIG Things Happen. Visit www.takingpeoplewithyou.com.
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