Former Coca-Cola CEO Jack Stahl shares leadership tips with EMBA students

What skills and qualities make a great leader? Although opinions may vary, there actually is a framework for becoming a successful leader, according to Jack Stahl 75C, former president and chief operating officer of The Coca-Cola Company and former CEO of Revlon.

Stahl is a noted authority on leadership, having written “Lessons on Leadership: The 7 Fundamental Management Skills for Leaders at All Levels.”

Stahl shared his formula for success as part of his presentation titled “The Work of a CEO” to a joint session of 2019 Modular and Weekend Executive MBAs recently at Goizueta. The framework for success consists of four essential pillars:

  • Leading the organization
  • Managing your work
  • Managing constituencies
  • Leading the development of people

For Stahl, leading the organization” means first establishing and communicating a vision and strategy for where you want to take the organization. For a CEO, this involves recognizing the need to communicate to help align employees with the overall strategy. At Coca-Cola, this involved a 360-degree landscape in which they looked at the big picture of how the company fits into a stakeholder’s community, even using murals to help paint the picture internally.

During his early days with Revlon, for example, he set an ambitious goal to have 100 “one-on-one” conversations each week to communicate the new strategy during a challenging time.

Operating at the “60,000-foot level” is critical to success, but you also have to have a “6,000-foot perspective” as well and learn to manage your work. This means being close enough to the details so you know if something is working, which will then allow you to focus on other priorities. Having the right team in place to help you manage those details, he noted, is a critical part of success.

And the higher up you are in the organization, the more complex and challenging your job becomes to manage your various constituencies, from your board of directors and shareowners to your employees and regulating bodies. Find the “broadcast towers” or those top influencers in the organization to help make your job of sending the right message and strategy easier, and don’t forget to listen to and address skeptics’ concerns as well, Stahl advised. 

And finally, successful leaders know how to develop their people, which starts with being clear on what skills are important for success and being involved in their progress. Leaders should know where their people are in their development and provide coaching and feedback along the way, he noted, providing alternatives to approaches that may not be working.   

The ability to lead and develop your team is actually what Stahl hopes his leadership legacy will be.

“When I reflect on my success, I hope that I see people I have mentored and worked with moving inside an organization and having an impact,” he said.

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