near fatal crash

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It’s not often an article on leadership leaves you with a smile and a sense of personal connection to the person who wrote it.  This one does.  Douglas Conant is a man who has held positions of power and influence – CEO of Campbell Soup Company and Chairman of Avon Products, for example.  With his pedigree, he could easily pontificate.  Yet, he chooses to tell us a good story in plain language and teach us simple, universal lessons.

Conant tells about the time he nearly died in a car wreck and how he learned “two ‘uplifting’ lessons about leadership” from the people who helped him recover.  

“I have found that no matter how complicated the issue, or dire the situation, sometimes people simply need to hear from their leaders, ‘I’m right here’, ‘I’m with you’, ‘We’re in this together.’ Being present and available to others can energize them, renew their resolve, and give them the necessary encouragement to see things through. That was the first lesson that was affirmed for me as a result of my accident.”

The second: “I came to believe that the best professionals were the kindest professionals. Many people think that influence or leadership presence is earned by being imposing or austere, or by seeming busy, unavailable, or unapproachable. In fact, many aspiring leaders worry that the vulnerability that accompanies kindness, or offers of help, will make them seem ‘weak.’ But I observed the exact opposite. What I saw during my recovery was that I could easily gauge the expertise level of the staff by how confidently and generously they offered their help. That was a powerful lesson…The more we approach our work from a place of, ‘How can I help?’ the more effective we become.”

Advice to leaders: be there and help.  How simple.  How rare.  

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