EMBA student Robert Chen, WG’19, an executive coach at Exec|Comm in New York City, highlights takeaways about leadership from Alex Gorsky, WG’96, CEO of Johnson and Johnson.

Students in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives learn not only from professors, but also from each other and alumni. This is because EMBA students bring experience from a diversity of backgrounds around the world, and alumni speakers are top leaders in their fields.

A good example is Alex Gorsky, WG’96, CEO of Johnson and Johnson, who recently spoke in Prof. Michael Useem’s core Leadership course. Alex shared leadership lessons from his time in the military and his business career.

1. Keep learning – there is a difference between being educated and being intelligent

Intelligence is amplified through education. Find ways to educate yourself and continue to learn throughout your life. Read a lot from different sources.

2. Understand how to bring diverse teams together towards a common mission

When Alex was in the Army, he didn’t get to choose his team, yet he needed to complete high-stakes missions that put his and other people’s lives at stake. In most situations, you don’t get to choose your team, but you still need to work with them effectively to achieve your organization’s goals.

3. Don’t admire the problem

It’s easy to get stuck eloquently talking about the problem. Effective leaders figure out how to move forward despite the high walls that are in the way. Are you someone who is resourceful enough to solve whatever comes your way? How much time do you spend admiring the problem?

4. Take on bigger roles before you’re ready

It’s hard to be 100% ready for the big roles in your life because these roles are typically riddled with uncertainty. You can train and prepare, but at some point, you need to step up to see if you have what it takes. You won’t know if you can ride a bike if you don’t take off the training wheels. Alex did caution us to be careful of what we wish for through this admonition: “Remember that as you move up, news either gets really good or bad.”

5. To be an effective executive, go global

Find ways to live outside the country and expose yourself to new experiences. Learn to deal with uncertainty effectively and learn more about different cultures to better connect with people. These insights will help you cope with the demands of senior leadership.

6. Know your business

Alex works at least 6-8 hours every weekend to prepare for the next week. It’s important to be in a business that you’re passionate about because you’ll need to spend a lot of time on it. Alex reads 200-300 pages a week to stay on top of his business. When you are in the know, your people know that you care.

7. Take care of yourself

You can’t perform at your best if you don’t take care of your health and manage your energy. Carve out inviolable times to work out, especially when traveling, and eat right. If Alex, a Fortune 50 CEO, can dedicate time every day to exercise, you really don’t have an excuse.

8. Connect with people a few levels down from you

One of Alex’s mentors told Alex that “one-minute of your time matters,” especially to those who work for you. Spend time speaking to all levels of your organization to get a pulse on what’s happening. Ask those who work for you: What are you working on? What are you worried about?

9. Know when to parachute down and when to pull the team up

People will come to you with their problems. Your job is not to take on every problem as your own and alleviate your team of its responsibilities. You want to support and help, but not take over. At the same time, there will be situations where you will need to level-set the group to help them see the big picture. Strike the balance between getting your hands dirty and providing direction – it’s not your job to be the hero, but it is your job to be the guide.

10. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Come up with a clear list of priorities and communicate them constantly. Your goal is to build alignment throughout your company and to do so, you’ll need to give the same performance all the time.

11. Create an environment where people can speak up

It is important to have an open dialogue with your employees, clients and other stakeholders. Psychological safety is key to all effective teams. Openness allows you to access the feedback you need to hear to help you and the firm improve and grow.

12. Remember your main job

Your #1 job as CEO is to make sure that you’re on the right strategy, that the company is running well, and that you win the hearts and minds of people. You don’t need to be a perfect leader, just a great leader that gives a damn.

— Robert Chen, WG’19

Posted: January 3, 2018

Related Content

Read More Stories