Can leadership be learned? Robin Peppe Sterneck, who delivered a presentation on “Learning Leadership” to the EMBA 46 class Tuesday, gives “a resounding ‘yes’.” Sterneck’s presentation was part of the EMBA 46 Leadership Residency, in which students from the Kansas City and St. Louis programs converged in St. Louis for a week of networking, classes, and panels.
Sterneck is well-positioned to coach others on the topic of leadership. Her resume boasts impressive positions at Lehman Brothers and GE, where she served national and global roles in pricing, actuarial, marketing and talent development, in addition to leading the company’s $1 billion commercial insurance business portfolio and division.
While, Sterneck admits, some leadership traits may be genetic—she cited starting a one-person newspaper in second grade and later becoming class president, the beginning of what she jokingly called “a benevolent dictatorship”—Sterneck believes any passionate worker can become a successful leader. She described her career path as “one very long on-the-job training program,” and shared her own experiences and lessons learned throughout that process.
Among Sterneck’s advice for learning leadership:
- The most important skill of leadership is change management—understanding how to leverage the company’s culture, values, and talents to produce results
- Check your ego at the door.
- Data is your friend. No matter what job you’re in, you have to know the numbers. You also have to learn to make decisions that rely on data and knowledge, with as little emotion as possible.
- Leverage your networks. Networks are not a crutch. Women can especially benefit from such networks, she said, but may avoid doing so if they feel they “don’t need help.”
- Learn to rely on others’ expertise when making hard decisions.
- It is important to start your career narrow and deep (specializing) and then to generalize your work. Specialization builds credibility, and while there is a risk of being pigeonholed as an expert in a specific area, she encouraged the audience to continue leveraging their expertise in other areas.
Sterneck also pointed to two important ‘leadership tools’—the say-do quadrant and the values-numbers quadrant. If you say you’re going to do something, you have to do it, Sterneck says. It may seem obvious, but promising one thing and acting upon another will kill others’ trust in your leadership.
Employees who make the numbers but lack values shouldn’t have a place on your team—even if it hurts to lose your best producer.
The values-numbers quadrant provides a measurement for employees. Sterneck says the best employees are those that have values and make the numbers. Employees who make the numbers but lack values shouldn’t have a place on your team—even if it hurts to lose your best producer. The real potential lay in those employees who have values but may struggle to make the numbers. Coach these employees.
Streneck wrapped up the lunchtime presentation by defining “leadership report cards.” There are two real measures of your effectiveness as a leader:
- What your employees say about you around their kitchen table, and…
- If at the end of your career you can successfully answer, “What did I do?”
The goal is to learn how to pass those tests, and to thrive while doing so.