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‘Lessons On Leadership’ From Coca-Cola’s Former Head

By Amy Radishofski, Staff Reporter, recently spoke with Jack Stahl, former president of Coca-Cola and CEO of Revlon, about his book, “Lessons On Leadership: The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders at All Levels.” Could you define the seven frameworks for leadership you identify in your book?
Jack Stahl: Well, I think the first and probably most important and overriding framework is about leadership itself. It focuses on everything from setting a destination for your organization all the way to day-to-day execution.
The second key framework is about building the capabilities and capacities of your organization to achieve success. It focuses on core processes and skills that are necessary to build strong capabilities.
The third one is about developing people on a one-on-one basis.
The fourth one is about positioning a brand. It can be a brand, a product, or a service in the mind of your customers or consumers.
The fifth one is about managing customer relationships and creating value in those relationships.
The sixth one is about financial strategy and management — how to think about creating value through your financial management strategies.
And the seventh one is influencing skills, which really underpins everything else in the book.
MNET: Is there any one that is more important than the other?
Stahl: It really depends on where a professional or a leader is in their own development. If someone is new to a leadership role, I think the leadership chapter itself can be particularly valuable. If someone is working to understand customer relationships for the first time, framework five on customer relationships can be quite important. They all fit together — it really depends on where someone is in their development.
MNET: When you discuss setting goals in your book, you suggest leaders be ambitious because they’re the only ones who are going to set sky-high goals. Does that mean you’re not one for baby steps?
Stahl: As you’re setting a destination for your organization, a place where you want your company to be in say three years, I think the leader’s responsibility is to be ambitious and be aggressive because that will be compelling for other people. Now, having said that, along the way you’ll be taking thousands and thousands of baby steps to achieve your progress, but that’s about planning and execution at that point.
MNET: You write about how to be an effective leader, but several parts in the book cover valuing your employees and helping them achieve their own individual success. Why is that?
Stahl: Particularly today, I think employees and associates have a lot of career choices and a lot of career flexibility for themselves, especially those that are capable and skilled.
Today, people want opportunities to continue to grow and develop their skills in whatever job that they’re in. If you’re going to meet employee expectations and attract the kind of workforce that you want to drive results, then you — the leader — have to take charge and really model the behaviors for developing people that are going to help build an attractive workforce.
MNET: How do you motivate everyone from the top down?
Stahl: It starts with taking the time to invest in your own direct reports, having coaching conversations with them, helping to set expectations for them. If you invest in your managers, they’re going to feel more responsibility for pushing that throughout the organization.
MNET: So you would say communication plays a large role being a good leader?
Stahl: I think communication is critical but I don’t think all leaders take the time to do it. Maybe it’s because it makes them uncomfortable or they don’t have the skills or they don’t have a model for coaching, or it hasn’t proven to be effective in the past. But it’s important that they do take the time to do it and utilize a model for coaching that gives them the confidence to demonstrate what’s required.
MNET: Other than coaching, are there other strategies can a company can employ if they’re having difficulty getting their message across?
Stahl: At Revlon for example, I set up a weekly email to everyone in the organization. It was designed to share the company’s progress in the last week, telling them where we were succeeding and where we were failing. It gave people a sense of progress compared to our strategy.
I also set up a weekly forum once a week for an hour where anyone could sit down with the CEO and ask any question they had about the company or the business. We used teleconferencing to do that. It was another way of setting the example and showing the importance of communication and helping people understand that it was critical to communicate broadly across the organization. So we would talk about new products, we would talk about cost reduction actions and the weekly email.  I would answer any question that was on the mind of anyone who wanted to sit down.
MNET: So, even though it was a huge, billion-dollar company, everyone still had a means to have their voice heard and see the progress that everyone at Revlon was making?
Stahl: Exactly. We also had quarterly presentations where we would have employees stand up and present their own successes in the company in the areas of manufacturing, distribution and marketing. It gave people a way to reach out and share their own excitement about what had been gained.
MNET: If you’re the leader of an organization, how do you know you’re doing a good job?
Stahl: At Coke and Revlon, we measured employee satisfaction. I think that gives you an indicator as to whether or not you’ve got a workplace that is engaged and focused on creating success. You can measure it and you can take routine surveys.
We built our human resource strategy around what we learned. If there was a belief that our training programs could have been more developed in certain areas, we used the feedback to help structure our human resources activities. We tested routinely for employee satisfaction. I think there’s a definite role for that kind of measurement activity.
MNET: What would you say is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Coca-Cola and Revlon?
Stahl: I think probably the most important thing for me was the lesson about being flexible in your approach to leadership and management. It meant that on a given day you could be focused on the details of execution, but then later that day you could be focused on the view from 60,000 feet. As a leader you have the responsibility to do both — to focus on details at one point in the day in a granular way and then you still have the responsibility to think for the long-term. The importance of having the willingness and the flexibility to do that I think is critical for a leader.
If you’re interested in learning more about Jack Stahl’s experiences — including what tiny mistake forced him to immediately return to the U.S. after a 13 hour flight overseas — click here to view his book in’s bookstore.