Leadership Skills of Extraordinarily Successful Executives – Part 2

Welcome back for Part 2 of Extraordinarily Successful Leaders! As I explained in my introduction to Part 1, I had long wondered why certain companies in our industry were very successful while others were not. Over time, I uncovered a host of reasons. However, a common factor that appeared in almost every case was effective senior leadership. So, I set about interviewing as many of those leaders as I could to learn what skills and practices made them and their companies so successful. I uncovered ten key traits. In this article, I explore emotions, leadership traits, self-doubt, inspiration, and authenticity. Then, as an added bonus, I share some life lessons that these executives learned from their pets! So, let’s get started.

Welcome back for Part 2 of Extraordinarily Successful Leaders! As I explained in my introduction to Part 1, I had long wondered why certain companies in our industry were very successful while others were not. Over time, I uncovered a host of reasons. However, a common factor that appeared in almost every case was effective senior leadership. So, I set about interviewing as many of those leaders as I could to learn what skills and practices made them and their companies so successful.

I uncovered ten key traits. In Part 1, I examined the first five: productivity, delegation, coaching, dispute resolution, and personnel challenges. In this article, I explore emotions, leadership traits, self-doubt, inspiration, and authenticity. Then, as an added bonus, I share some life lessons that these executives learned from their pets! So, let’s get started.

Managing Emotions
Some people believe that emotions have no place in the workplace. Others feel that real success is impossible without passion. So, the appropriate expression…or suppression…of emotion can be a challenge for any leader.

 

Aaron Schacht tries to anticipate which team members might have an emotional attachment to an issue because he knows that those emotions eventually will surface during discussions. “I try to think first, act next, and feel last.” If you reverse that order, Aaron says, your decisions may be more emotional than logical and, consequently, might feel good but play out in ways that are less than optimal.

Aaron’s team includes people with strong personalities and firm convictions. “That’s a very positive dynamic,” he notes. “The challenge comes when those personalities and convictions are in conflict. As a leader, I have to sincerely acknowledge their beliefs but then focus their energy on the key business issue. I become a facilitator to get each team member to view the issue from different, but nonetheless rational, perspectives.” Aaron acknowledges that his efforts toward reconciliation are not always successful. “In those cases, I let everyone know that I’ve heard their opinion and then I make the decision. I can live with disagreement, but not misalignment.”

Craig Wallace allows emotional discussions “until I feel an edge that’s personal.” He expects his team to “leave their egos at the door and do what’s right” and intervenes when discussions get personal.

Don Chew wants his team to be “passionate and engaged, but not at the expense of other people.” Whenever emotions need to be tempered, he directs his team to “focus on the issues, not on the person. Focus on what we want to accomplish.”

Jim Herbert sometimes lets the discussions run their course because he feels that “emotions need to be respected, even if they sound childish.” He sees his role as that of a guide helping his team navigate through emotionally-charged issues. When the team reaches an apparent impasse, he often suggests that they stop, think about the issue overnight, and then get back together the next morning.

Larry Miller views emotions as a big positive. “If people are engaged emotionally, it creates energy, and that’s a good thing. It means that people really care about the issue.” Like Aaron and Craig, Larry encourages his team to focus on the company’s goals and reframe the emotional issue in terms of a company priority. For him, it’s more important to “see where the issue fits in the bigger picture.”

Mark Heffernan observes that people in science and development can be very passionate. When confronted with an emotionally-charged situation, “my immediate thought is how do we solve this. It’s a matter of working around to find the right solution. And that means looking at it from everyone’s perspective.”

Niclas Lindstedt believes that there is room for emotion and passion in business. “People can be extremely productive when they are emotionally engaged. Animal health people are doing good and helping by solving problems and issues for vets, animal owners, and animals. So, for Niclas, emotion and passion drive people’s heart and mind to good outcomes.

Lisa Conte also supports emotions in the workplace, particularly if the workplace is a startup company. “You’re asking so much of people. If they care and are passionate, you need to honor that…to show them that it’s not just a job. We’re doing something more here.” In fact, when Lisa identifies a team member who lacks passion, she urges them to “catch the excitement.” If they don’t, she “weeds them out.”

Choosing Leaders
A good leader is worth their weight in gold. However, not everyone measures up. So, what makes a good leader? Authenticity, integrity, and a drive for growth.

For Aaron Schacht, the two most essential attributes are listening and courage. “They’re linked.” A leader must be willing to listen to what other people have to say. Then, the leader must have the courage to act on what he’s heard even though he may not have all of the facts. Aaron also notes that “you become a much better leader when you care less about getting credit and more about giving credit.”

Carsten Hellmann looks for authenticity in leaders. “Since most executive-level people have similar credentials, I look for those who are honest and open with their teams, who can engage their teams toward goals.”

For Craig Wallace, trust is the foundation of leadership. “Trust is such an important element of any relationship and such a critical value in terms of leadership.” Craig knows that sharing trust occasionally can be disappointing, but he thinks it naïve to expect that disappointments won’t happen. Some folks aren’t ready, while others aren’t capable.

Integrity, honesty, and doing the right thing are essential traits for Don Chew. “Work hard and treat others how they want to be treated. Understand the business, analyze the issues, and then solve the problems. Earn the respect of peers and those with whom you work.” If Don were to advise a search committee charged with replacing him, he would tell them to find a person “who has the requisite skills and experience, who believes in servant leadership, and who will dedicate themselves to the organization in an unselfish way.”

Jim Herbert knows he’s found the right leader when that person demonstrates the ability to listen. “We were given two ears and one mouth for a reason. Good leaders are those who listen to the other side.” He advises companies to create a system that will foster and encourage good leaders. Those leaders then need to hire people they respect.

Larry Miller looks for leaders who understand the entire organization and have “an appreciation of how the whole choir needs to sing together.” They certainly must have the required technical skills, but they also must be honest, reliable, and accountable. “These are table stakes.” Larry also feels that a true leader has empathy. “Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do or haven’t done.” Successful leaders don’t care what’s in it for them. Instead, they focus on developing their team members and building their company. That creates an environment that attracts more good people.

“A leader must have passion and drive for whatever they’re doing,” says Mark Heffernan. “They also need really strong emotional intelligence. They’re dealing with complex intra- and inter-organizational relationships. They can’t be someone who comes in, bangs on the table, and then expects things to get done.” Experience has been an important success factor for Mark. It has enabled him to quickly assess situations and adjust his approach accordingly. “It helps to have dealt with challenging individuals…including those who can be quite destructive to an organization.”

Niclas Lindstedt adheres to his core value of honesty. “There are certain things I wouldn’t reveal, but I never lie just to get something done.” To illustrate the relevance of his point, he says, “Look at dogs. They can sniff out who is genuine, who is really your friend, and who is just pretending. People will eventually sense if you’re genuine.”

For Rob Joseph, vulnerability is a critical leadership skill. “If you project the sense that everything you do is right, you run the risk of alienating the people around you. People know that, sometimes, everybody makes mistakes and everybody gets things wrong.” Rob notes that high productivity entails occasional failure and ads that true acceptance of failure requires vulnerability. Without that vulnerability, it is hard to get everyone to work together to overcome the failure.

“One of the most important aspects of leadership is relentless problem-solving,” says Lisa Conte. She doesn’t accept “no” until all alternatives have been explored. “For me, ‘no’ is just a strong ‘maybe.’ At the end of the day, after you’ve looked at all possibilities, ‘no’ may in fact be ‘no.’ But I don’t just accept it right off the bat.”

Self-doubt
Doubt plagues every decision-maker at one point or another. Leaders doubt if they hired the right person for a key position or approved the right strategy for their company. The key to overcoming self-doubt is whether the leader treats it as a lens or a wall.

Aaron Schacht recalls doubting if he hired the right person. While the extra resource was desperately needed, his gut told him it was the wrong person. “A quick solution that may have a fatal flaw is not a good solution. It’s always better to take the time to find the good solution. In this case, the expedient ‘solution’ cost me a lot of time, and I still didn’t get all the work done. Ignoring the doubt…my gut…creates energy vampires.”

Carsten Hellmann admits to doubting himself at times. Everybody makes the wrong decision at some point. The key is to learn from each one. “Success is making fewer mistakes than good decisions. Take balanced risks.”

Craig Wallace doesn’t doubt his decisions as much as he doubts the potential outcome. Like Aaron, he’s sometimes had a gut feeling that a decision wasn’t the right one, and later regretted that he didn’t honor that feeling. “I question a lot before we make the decision. However, once the decision is made, the questions are behind me. If we’ve gone through the questioning process, then we’ve reached a conclusion that makes sense for the organization.”

Jim Herbert is a man of action. When he must make a decision, he considers all factors, weighs alternatives, assesses shortcomings, and evaluates obstacles and pitfalls. He then picks a course of action, and moves forward.

Don Chew relies on a core group to provide input for major decisions. He contends that this improves their decision-making process. However, whenever he doubts a decision, he leans on his fundamental beliefs and values. He knows that his team is “trying to do the right thing with honesty and integrity. We may not make the right decision every time, but at least we’re going to think through the issue and give it our best effort. If we always do the right thing, our business will grow and prosper.”

Like Don, Larry Miller asks his team for honest feedback. He also examines how the potential decision will impact others. “The more of the horizon you can see, the better you can craft your response in a sensitive and proactive manner.”

In addition to his team, Mark Heffernan also relies on his advisors, all of whom have deep experience. Since big decisions often have big consequences, he makes sure he considers all aspects before moving forward.

Niclas Lindstedt recalls that “when I was a student, I thought I knew something. When I became an engineer, I found that I didn’t know much. And, when I became a vice president, I realized that nobody else knew everything, either.” Believing is sometimes seeing, not always the other way around. Being humble about what he knows and honest about what he doesn’t allows him to ask the right questions. “It’s more about accepting that I don’t always know.”

Rob Joseph makes decisions intuitively. “The organization looks to its leadership for certainty. They want them to define the vision, define the future, and to remain confident in their choices. Leaders who vacillate and waver engender fear.” Rob characterises himself as a Type A leader. “That’s not the only leadership style, but it works for me. Any leader should consider input from those around them. The reality of leadership is that it’s neither a democracy nor an autocracy. At some point, someone has to make the call. Many decisions are made collectively. But for the really tough ones, someone has to say that this is the direction we’re going.”

While Lisa Conte admits to frequently doubting her decisions, “that doesn’t mean I’m not productive and that I don’t deal with something that is thrown at me, make a decision, and move on. Nonetheless, it’s constant self- examination.” A high level of self-confidence allows her to re-examine her decisions. “Almost any mistake can be fixed or learned from.” When she was a child, Lisa’s godmother always forgave her mistakes “as long as you learned something.” “My parents wouldn’t forgive me, but she always would forgive me.”

Inspiration
Inspiration can enhance the level of anyone’s performance. But should leaders provide that inspiration…or rely on team members to find their own?

Aaron Schacht surrounds himself with people who are self-motivated. “If you constantly have to motivate people to just get the basics done, you probably don’t have the right people. The leader spends all of their time mitigating that. It’s an energy vampire.” However, with the right people, Aaron can challenge them with riskier projects to build skills and create value. For himself, Aaron loves “making a significant difference in the health of creatures on this earth through technology. I now realize what pets mean to people. My current work is every bit as gratifying as working on a human condition. And, in some ways, it’s more important.”

Carsten Hellmann inspires his team to be “stronger, faster, and better.” However, he cautions them that not all efforts result in success. “If we fail, we try to fail fast!” He encourages his team to acknowledge the failure, stop and fix it, and then move on. Failure examined is knowledge. Failure accepted is true failure.

For Craig Wallace, inspiration comes from seeing his team grow and prosper. “I get a real charge from watching people experience success and develop in their career.” He loves creating opportunities for his people to improve their lives by helping animals and strengthening the human- animal bond.

When failure strikes, Don Chew reminds himself and his team of “our vision and mission, and all of the great accomplishments we’ve had.” Don cites past successes as proof of their ability to meet the challenges of tomorrow. “Just because something doesn’t work now, doesn’t mean that we don’t have the ability to support the organization and do many more great things.”

Jim Herbert is inspired by “doing well for our shareholders by doing good for the customers we serve.” He reminds his team that they can, at any time, improve the status quo. However, he also cautions them that they “don’t always have to be right and…shouldn’t worry about being wrong occasionally.”

Larry Miller visualises what the future can be and what his company can achieve. He evaluates what they can control, what assets and resources they have, and how much untapped potential exists. “When you look at those things, you always see opportunity to do things differently. The vision of where we can go, what people can contribute, is inspiring. To have been part of it at Point A, help it get to Point B, and then see it go to Point C is inspiring.” If an effort fails, Larry leads his team to evaluate what was good, bad, and unexpected. He then sets a new course of action, which helps to get people re-engaged. “Defining new roles and priorities to complete the mission and visualizing what success looks like” helps focus everyone’s energies.

Mark Heffernan is a self-proclaimed high-energy person. As such, he’s often thinking of new, creative ways to do things. “My energy rubs off on the team. They feel that they’re on a unique and interesting journey. Everyone develops an energy and passion for what we’re doing. And that creates a culture that attracts like-minded people to join the team.”

“Failure is just a part of life,” Niclas Lindstedt commented. He inspires his team by pointing out that, after failure, they know at least one thing that doesn’t work. “I’m very competitive, and I hate to lose. When I’ve done everything that I thought was right, and fail, I figure out where I went wrong and learn from it. Then, I lick my wounds and go forward.”

Rob Joseph feels that recovery from failure starts with the leader. “Leadership really earns its money in times of crisis and failure.” To rekindle inspiration, a leader must provide clarity and direction. “It’s very important to give people a sense for moving forward.” Rob also believes that integrity and loyalty each play a role. “You have to build an organization that attracts people whose values align with those of the organization. They have a guiding light.”

For Lisa Conte, “Bringing innovative medicine to the world is remarkably rewarding. It’s not just a job.” That philosophy inspires her team. It also keeps them focused on the goal when things don’t go as planned. Their solution? “Back up and find a way around the wall.” Lisa always gives her team time to analyze what went wrong. Meanwhile, she works on “Plan B, Plan C, and Plan D.”

Authenticity
It is impossible to be true and transparent to others if you are not first true to yourself. Living one’s core values is the essence of authenticity.

Aaron Schacht’s guiding principle is integrity. “It all stems from that. If something is not integral to what I’m about, or what I said I would do, or where I come from, or what I believe in, it’s not going to get any of my time. Ultimately, if I’m true to myself, I cannot fail in all my other endeavors, even if someone calls what I do ‘failure’.”

“I believe in people until they prove me wrong,” says Carsten Hellmann. He believes that people want to do their best if they have the right circumstances. However, “if I find out that people are here for the wrong reasons, they’re not part of my team anymore.”

Craig Wallace looks for the good in people. “You really work to show people that you care about them and that you trust them. And that gets balanced with expectations.” It’s a very simple equation.

“It is very difficult to be true and transparent to others if you are not first true to yourself,” says Don Chew. “I’m a very trusting person. As an organization, we’ve been very trusting. Unfortunately, we have had to learn some painful lessons. Those lessons remind us to honor our values and develop good processes and controls.”

Jim Herbert wants this on his tombstone: “He was fair, he was honest, and he was as hard on himself as he was on others.” He also misses the time when a handshake was a bond and people recognized that. He nonetheless expects people to be true to their word.

Larry Miller frequently asks himself if he’s doing the right thing. He also encourages his team to treat people like they would want to be treated, and to be honest, hard-working, and ethical.

The essential value for Mark Heffernan is respect for others, including both peers and subordinates. “Whatever you do, and with whomever you interact, be respectful. Also, maintain your integrity. At the end of the day, you don’t want your reputation tarnished in any way.”

Like Larry, Niclas Lindstedt treats people the way he likes to be treated. Being the boss doesn’t mean a leader can treat anyone badly. “The best leadership manual is the mirror. I know I can’t change people. The only thing I can try to change is the guy in the mirror.”

Doing the right thing is Lisa Conte’s mantra. “We have many values, but ‘do the right thing always’ is the most important. Just look inside yourself and do the right thing.”

Life Lessons from Pets
Like many people, I have learned important lessons over the years from my many pets. So, what lessons have these successful leaders learned from their pets?

Rob Joseph feels that pets are so valuable to people. During an engagement with the French behavioural psychologist, Clotaire Rapaille, he learned about the relationship between people and their pets. “He told us that pets allow each of us to be the ideal ‘me.’ We often talk about loyalty and love without conflict. That’s true, but it’s actually a manifestation of ourselves. Pets tell us to not judge ourselves because they do not judge us. Leadership is very stressful. There is an enormous amount going on every day. Pets give us that moment of solitude, that moment of escape from everything around us. When we engage with our pets, we receive enormous therapeutic and cathartic benefit. We close off the world around us and just have a moment with our pet. From a stress management perspective, I absolutely can say that this is extraordinarily important.”

For Craig Wallace, the lessons are very simple…and humorous. “Don’t mess on the floor. Don’t miss the litter box. Show loyalty and devotion at home and at work.”

“Animals have been very influential in making me who I am,” says Lisa Conte. “If you need to chill out, you get that unconditional love. You pet them and everything calms down and comes into perspective. Another lesson they’ve taught me is to never give up. I have Jack Russel Terriers. They have enthusiasm for everything they do, and never, ever give up. We take them on vacations. When we’re walking through the airport with them, every single person who looks at those two dogs smiles because they’re so excited. It’s contagious to your team and everyone in the work environment when you’re like that. You’re smiling and enthusiastic, and you don’t accept ‘no,’ and you show a little sense of humor when someone is irrational rather than responding to them in kind.”

Don Chew marvels at his dog’s unconditional love. “It doesn’t matter how bad a day I’ve had, or how little interest I show, they come back with unconditional love. They help me keep everything in perspective. Plus, they are so forgiving about everything.”

 

 

Niclas Lindstedt thinks that pets always demonstrate love. He believes that a dog truly can be a man’s best friend. “Any dog owner will probably struggle to remember when their dog wasn’t good. They’ll only remember the joy they brought.” Niclas’ dog has taught him to be happy and celebrate successes in small things. “When you celebrate your successes, you rise to the next level.”

 

 

Jim Herbert learned the true meaning of loyalty from his dog. “They are loyal no matter how they’re treated. Dogs have shaped our lives in a lot of ways.”

 

 

 

Mark Heffernan delights in the effect that the mere presence of an animal can have on people.

“My appreciation of animals has really grown in the last few years. You really do see their impact. You can’t put a value on pets in your life. And, having pets in a meeting changes the whole dynamic. It calms people. It’s just incredible. I don’t think that you can underestimate their influence. In fact, I encourage people who are having a tough time in their life to get a pet because that bond will be life-changing for them. It’s amazing!”

By observing animals, Larry Miller has learned about persistence and awareness. “Keep pushing forward to where the boundary is. Animals are so intuitive and aware of their surroundings. Like animals, we should have all of our senses alert and working together to assess whatever situation we’re in.”

Aaron Schacht grew up as a cat person. He loved their independence and amazing agility and how they seemed to be completely in control of their destiny. As a family man, he’s lived with dogs. “I’m the alpha of the pack. When I come home, the first thing I encounter is my dogs. They’re waiting at the door, their attention is completely on me, and they treat me like I’ve been gone for ten years. Dogs teach unconditional love and commitment to their owner. I try to be that way to my wife so that every time she walks in the door, I treat her like she’s been gone for a month. We all should be more puppy-like to the people who matter the most to us.”

Carsten Hellman has horses and a West Highland Terrier. By working with his horses, he knows the value of training and consistency and has learned to “never give up.” But his Westie has shown him something much more important: happiness. “Westies are just happy dogs. Seeing the effect of this, it’s so positive. Their little tail is always going. They’re eager to meet the world. Westies also trust. While there may be an occasional disappointment, they just move on. And, no matter what you do, 99.99% of the time, you get love back.” So, Carsten says, “do the Westie thing.”

I am so very grateful to each of the contributors to this article for sharing their thoughts and experiences. I learned a lot…and had a good time doing it! And, after speaking with all of them, it is easy to understand why they’ve risen to their current positions.

When I started this project, I expected that one or more of the leaders would reveal some novel perspective or complex process that contributed to their success. I was both disappointed (there is no “secret sauce”) and heartened (most of their advice is common sense). The key difference between these leaders and the rest of us is their complete…and relentless…adherence to a few basic concepts. To be an extraordinarily successful leader, you must:

  1. Know what you want, where you want to go, and why.
  2. Acknowledge that you cannot achieve your objective alone.
  3. Recruit the best “helpers” you can find.
  4. Tell your team what you want, where you want to go, and why…and then get their agreement.
  5. Trust, support, and reward your team.
  6. Understand that mistakes and disappointments will occur. Learn from them and move forward.
  7. Be yourself…always.
  8. Have fun!

Acknowledgments
I am extremely grateful to the following executives who were most generous with their time and thoughtful in their insights:

  • Donald Chew, President and Chief Executive Officer, PBI-Gordon, the parent company of Pegasus Laboratories and PRN Pharmacal
  • Lisa Conte, President and Chief Executive Officer, Jaguar Animal Health
  • Mark Heffernan, Chief Executive Officer, Nexvet
  • Carsten Hellmann, Chief Executive Officer, Merial
  • James Herbert, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Neogen Corporation
  • Robert Joseph, Chief Executive Officer, Parnell Veterinary Pharmaceuticals
  • Niclas Lindstedt, Vice President, Orion Pharma Animal Health
  • Larry Miller, Chief Operating Officer, Phibro Animal Health
  • Aaron Schacht, Vice President, Global Research and Development, Elanco Animal Health
  • Craig Wallace, Chief Executive Officer and North America|Pacific Zone Director, Ceva Animal Health