“BE WILLING TO ASK FOR HELP,” — Bill Floyd
(This is the first in a series of interviews with leaders.)
William R. Floyd, Jr. is the Chairman of the Board of Valley Forge Military Academy & College, and also is a 1963 graduate of the Academy. He served in the Fifth Infantry Division (U.S. Army), before beginning his career. He quickly rose to senior management positions, ultimately becoming the Chief Operating Officer of both Taco Bell and KFC. Mr. Floyd has served as President/CEO of Choice Hotels International, Chairman and CEO of Beverly Enterprises, Inc., and Chairman/CEO of Physiotherapy Associates. In addition to his service on the VFMA&C Board of Trustees, he serves on numerous corporate and non-profit boards.
How do you define leadership?
Floyd: Leadership is all about setting a direction for a company, or whatever entity it may be (department, division, etc.), and then having the ability to rally the organization – the employees, the people, if you will – to support and execute on that direction.
Rallying the organization sometimes gets taken for granted by leaders. It’s critical to embrace people on an emotional level as well as intellectual level. When I worked at PepsiCo, the then-CEO Roger Enrico had a phrase: “Take it on the road before you take it to Broadway.” In other words, a leader needs to tell people, “This is what I’m thinking; what do you think?” Getting feedback allows you to tweak and adjust ideas. Then, when you stand in front of a thousand people, you’re already halfway to having them on board with the vision. People always think, “What’s in it for me?” Unless you explain what it means to them, they’re not going to give you 110 percent executional effort.
Another critical aspect of leadership is one’s ability to earn the trust of the organization. People will respond very positively if they trust you. Equally important is the concept of transparency. Tell people the truth. Tell them where they stand in terms of their performance and expectations.
What qualities are most important in a leader?
Floyd: I like what Jack Welch had to say about leadership. His definition is simply: a leader has three attributes. Number one is very high energy. Number two is the ability to energize other people, and the third is they have to have “edge.” What he meant by edge is that they’ll hold people accountable. It doesn’t mean beating people down, being nasty, but it means letting people know that when they make a commitment they have to deliver. I’d also add a fourth attribute: Decisiveness. A leader should certainly be collaborative and seek input, but sooner or later he or she will have to make a decision. And sometimes decisions despite all the input in the world are not easy.
And as I already mentioned, the ability to set the direction for an organization or a company is also very important. But it is not as easy as it sounds. It is essential to spend time with your organization in the act of “active listening.” And then one must distill the good, bad, self-serving, etc. and define what the direction will be.
In your experience, what makes people follow an individual?
Floyd: Setting direction is a waste of time if you can’t get the organization to coalesce around the direction. People will follow a person they trust. And gaining that trust requires emotional as well as intellectual intelligence. Emotional intelligence enables the connection between the leader and his or her team, and that will play a critical role in ther willingness to follow an individual.
Looking back, what do you consider your first leadership experience?
Floyd: I started at Valley Forge in 8th grade. I was very fortunate that I was given leadership roles as a cadet, which was my first opportunity to have responsibility for things and people and making sure that tasks got accomplished.
What did you learn from mentors through your career and life?
Floyd: I have been fortunate to have had mentors at different points in my career. These mentors never said to me “this is what you need to do.” Rather, they would ask me questions that caused me to self-reflect. At Gillette, where I started my career, we were always expected to have a point of view. Many times mentors would force me to think in a different way. Roger Enrico at PepsiCo, used to say, “Having a point of view is worth 50 IQ points.”
What advice do you have for leaders in training?
Floyd: Whether you’re in charge of five people or 5,000 people, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who can make the organization successful.
In the Army, a junior officer is faced with many situations where his or her staff may know a lot more by virtue of their maturity and experience. You may be the leader, the one who is ultimately accountable. But a successful junior officer also knows to rely on his or her team for advice and not be afraid to take it. This same concept applies in the business world. One must develop the self-confidence to ask for help.