“My personal brand is to lead people for a living,” said Rometty.
With over 20 years of management experience at General Electric and Baxter, Rometty has made a name for herself by reinvigorating teams and meeting difficult objectives.
At a lecture to EMBA students on Sept. 19 on the Evanston campus, Rometty explained some of the methodologies that led to her success.
Why do you want to lead?
If your motivation to lead is to move higher up the ladder, Rometty claims, you won’t be able to inspire a high-functioning team.
“People often come up to me and say, ‘How can I have your job? … I don’t have that on my resume. I need that skill. I feel like to be an effective manager, I need to lead people.’ I, I, I!” she said. “They never once talk about the fulfillment they find in helping others achieve their goals, [or] adding value to our customers by bringing in people with different skills sets to actually solve customer problems.”
How will you build a team?
Rometty has often encountered two types of leaders.
The first avoids issues with team members, ignoring the signs of misplaced or missing talent. The second comes into an organization and “blows up” the team, firing or moving team members because they don’t meet the leader’s expectations of the perfect team, rather than coaching and encouraging members. Neither of these leaders is building an effective team, Rometty said.
Instead, a more efficient leader considers how each member can contribute to business goals, and how they can help their team achieve professional goals.
Can you lead with integrity?
Leading with integrity means more than don’t steal from your company. It means having to make the tough decision rather than the easy one.
“Great leaders who build winning teams don’t shy away from the tough decisions,” Rometty said. “Your employees know when you make the easy decision versus the tough decision.”
It also means being courageous enough to communicate honestly and openly with your employees. Rometty recalled her experience leading a call center during a unionization campaign. Rather than taking the advice of her PR consultants to “spin” the story, she instead tackled it directly, standing on a desk in the middle of the call center to plainly and openly explain the problems at hand and her plans to address them.
The result? Not one of her more than 1,200 employees signed up for the union.
Are you curious and courageous?
Finally, Rometty explained that being a lifelong learner, who is energized by doing things differently, will ultimately lead to more fulfillment. “Find fun and find interest in doing something different and adapting,” she said.
Curiosity goes beyond daily learning. Often, leaders are reluctant to change a strategy because their existing business strategy is working. But, as Rometty explained, many companies’ failure to innovate in the face of continued success can mean they ignore the future – just look at Blockbuster and Blackberry, who ignored marketplace trends and became irrelevant as a result.
Rometty went on to explain why she is so committed to effective leadership.
“Honestly, if my last name were Kennedy, I would not be here right now. I would be on my boat somewhere on the Riviera with my kids,” Rometty mused. “But I have to work for a living. And so I chose that if I’m going to work, I really want to enjoy what I do …and I love leading people.”