I first met Doug Conant when he was the CEO of Campbell Soup and his communications team invited me to speak at the annual leadership meeting. I was amazed at how down-to-earth and well-spoken he was, and after we bonded over our mutual alma mater (Northwestern University), we kept in touch.
Doug has just recently retired from Campbell's after overseeing an exceptional period of progress and prosperity in the company's history, and he's sharing his leadership insights in a new bestselling book called Touchpoints. Here's an excerpt:
It’s nearly three-thirty in the afternoon. You’re holed up in your office, trying to grab some time to finish a proposal that’s critical to the future of your department — and your own career — when a team member knocks on your door to ask for advice with a tricky problem. How do you respond?
Do you give in to the flash of irritation you feel at being interrupted and tell him to come back later? Or do you stop what you are doing and help him right now? It’s your choice.
As a leader, you make those choices all day, every day. The ‘‘knock on the door’’ happens over and over
again — phone calls, meetings, emails, and text messages, all with questions to answer, concerns to address, problems to solve, and fires to put out. Some days it feels as though the information age has morphed into the interruption age.
But what if you could step back and look at all those interactions with a fresh perspective? What if, instead of seeing them as interfering with your work, you were to look at them as latent leadership moments?
Each of the many connections you make has the potential to become a high point or a low point in someone’s day. Each is an opportunity to establish high performance expectations, to infuse the agenda with greater clarity and more energy, and to influence the course of events.
Doug shows that interruptions can be good for us if we look at them in the right way. While it can be frustrating when things come up that prevent us from getting to the work at hand, we need to recognize their role in pursuing the path that's meant to be. Not only does this viewpoint allow us to be more nimble and flexible in our work, but it also makes us happier, since we accept what's out of our control instead of fuming about it.
If an extremely successful CEO can do it, so can we.