NWA business leaders discuss inclusion, authenticity, passion

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 180 views 

The changing landscape of leadership was the theme for the fall Sunny Side of Leadership, a benefit event for Havenwood Home in Bentonville. The breakfast was Friday (Oct. 16) at the DoubleTree Suites in Bentonville.

The breakfast invites business leaders from across all industries to learn more about leadership and Havenwood’s mission. The organization provides “the basic needs of single parent families by providing an affordable, safe and secure place to live,” according to their website.

Friday morning’s event featured a panel of three area business leaders: David Roth, president of WorkMatters; Jody Pinson, vice president of merchandising, beauty at Wal-Mart Stores; and Kai Togami, professor of international business and Graduate Business department head at John Brown University. Togami was most recently the senior director of Global Organizational Capability Development at Wal-Mart Stores.

The first question was about how to leverage a company’s culture for inclusion and diversity. Pinson said she already works for a company that fosters that idea but in her personal leadership, she works to build her team around the idea of diversity, especially diversity in thought processes.

“If you want to grow, you need to encourage healthy conflict,” she said.

Togami said a culture is made up by those who lead, which means those people need to be diverse, include others and recognize different ideas. He spoke of his work team and how it was necessary to have diversity.

“We had to come from all different angles because we worked all over the world,” he said.

Roth said the power of diversity is what drives business, including the ability to ascertain what gaps are on a team and recruiting to fill those gaps.

The next question was about how to develop “mutual mindsets” among a diverse group of people. Roth spoke of the importance of having formal, planned communication such as productive meetings. He also spoke about creating a physical environment that was inclusive. Togami said it is important to interact and listen to all members of the team and to work at “reverse mentoring.” The idea of reverse mentoring is the intentional attempts to develop relationships with people of different backgrounds and with different tastes than you. This could be anything from a different taste in music to coming from a different ethnic background or age group.

“You need to be willing to take yourself out of your comfort (zone),” he said.

Pinson continued the conversation by admitting that fostering a mutual mindset can be difficult, but it’s necessary. It’s important to know your team members and their strengths (and weaknesses) to better handle potential conflict. This includes making sure that team members with potential alternative mindsets to the rest of the group get heard.

The next question was regarding how a leader can fail and grow from that experience.

Roth shared a personal story of how work got in the way of his family life and how he learned to find better work/life balance from that. He also said “leadership is an ongoing evolution of learning work/life balance.” Pinson, at age 22-years old, said she was in a management position at the Walmart in Harrison and she oversaw many associates who were much older than her at the time. The company was in the process of changing from paper processes to much more efficient technology, which many of the older associates struggled with.

“I didn’t realize their inhibitions to change and take the time to show them how this system would be better for them,” she said, adding that it taught her that leaders need to exhibit compassion.

Togami answered the question by saying it’s important to know what to do with the failure and the lessons learned. He spoke of a time he was fired from a project because he took too much on and wouldn’t ask for help. His leader knew him well enough to know that he couldn’t be his best in that situation, Togami said.

The next question was “what is the most important personality trait in a leader.” The three panelists agreed that passion is vital. Pinson said it’s important to keep your passion “even” and not show the highs and lows in your personal passion for a project. She also spoke about how she learned to find her passion about her work in the beauty division, which is not normally her interest.

“I realized that beauty starts from within and flows out naturally,” she said.

Roth said he learned he can’t expect others to share the same passion but leaders can inspire passion by showing how the work has purpose and meaning. He added that loving the people we work with is important to fostering passion on a team. Togami said another important quality is to focus on others, including making their growth a priority. He said it’s important to find out how they view issues and what motivates them to improve.

The next question was about authentic leadership and what that means for each panelist. The three panelists said authenticity is vital for leaders to be successful.

“Self-awareness is the first step,” Pinson said. “People will follow a courageous leader if they are authentic.”

Roth said early in his career it was standard for leaders to build a shield around themselves and not practice authenticity. He’s learned to be authentic and agrees that it’s important, especially for Millennial employees.

“It’s so important to be who we are,” he said.