Secret Sauce Sunday: Fortune 300 CEO Shares Top Secret to Success

Secret Sauce Sundays are my opportunity to invite leaders who I respect to share ideas that have changed their leadership. Today, Doug Conant shares his secret sauce.

For the past 20 years of his leadership journey, Doug has honed his craft at the most senior levels – first as President of the Nabisco Foods Company, then as CEO of Campbell Soup Company, and finally as Chairman of Avon Products.

In my over forty-five years as a leader in the Fortune 300 and beyond, I’ve developed some very clear guiding principles for how I lead. And, I’m still improving every day.

I’ve found that the more clarity I have around who I am, what I believe, and what good leadership looks like, the more I can remain anchored in my core beliefs no matter the situation.

Being unmistakably rooted in my principles helps me lead more effectively. If any leader, at any level of their journey, feels unsure about the values that guide them, they should take the time to reflect and extract some actionable self-insights. It will pay immeasurable (and measurable) dividends in their leadership. (If you need help getting started, there are some helpful prompts for reflection here and here).

So, what’s my “secret sauce”? I have quite a few principles that keep me on track. Here are 5 of my top leadership beliefs:

Give thanks earnestly and often.

I’ve developed a life-long habit of expanding my network through genuinely giving thanks.

To build your network, make sure you give as much (if not much more) than you receive and always be mindful of paying it forward. For the best results, honor this approach in life and leadership. You’ll be surprised how rewarding it can be.

In leadership, as in life, we can’t make it alone. We need help; we need a network. I learned this lesson in an important way years ago. Today, I am lucky to have an ever-growing community of incredible people in my network.

Because of my current-day penchant for networking, many people are surprised to learn I’m an introvert.

Due to my introversion, early in my career, I was shy and reserved. Hard-working, driven to succeed, yes – but I kept my head down and did my work quietly.

I isolated myself. As a result, I was sadly disconnected to the business world when I suddenly lost my job in the Spring of 1984. In the wake of this firing, I needed desperately to rely on people but lacked the skills to build my network.

With the help of my straight-shooting outplacement counselor, Neil McKenna, I began to learn the tools. Quickly, I learned this truth: growing your network starts and ends with gratitude – with giving thanks.

To better connect with people on my job search, I got the name of every person I talked to, from the head of the company to the receptionist, and sent them handwritten notes within 24 hours (and this was before the age of email).

Even after I secured my next job, I kept in touch with everyone I’d met along the way, maintaining thoughtful relationships, and vigilantly trying to be helpful in return.

Through this practice of connecting with people, honoring them, and thanking them for their contributions, I found myself with an ever-growing group of people who genuinely wanted to help me, and who knew I would do the same for them. Over the years, I’m happy to say I’ve had the opportunity to repay their kindness many times.

Next Sunday, Doug shares four more principles that guide his leadership….

What’s your takeaway from today’s post?

To learn more about the leadership beliefs that guide Doug, explore ConantLeadership’s  suite of leadership resources, learn more about his high-impact leadership model, The ConantLeadership Flywheel, or apply to attend one of his upcoming leadership boot camps. You can also always tweet Doug questions or comments @DougConant or drop him a line on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Douglas R. Conant is an internationally renowned C-suite business leader, New York Times bestselling author, keynote speaker, and leadership coach with over 45 years of experience at world-class global companies. In 2011, he founded ConantLeadership: a mission-driven community of leaders and learners who are championing leadership that works in the 21st century.

*I suspend my 300 word limit on Secret Sauce Sundays.