Investing in the Next Generation of Leaders

From a young age, I felt I had a good grounding. I knew who I was and felt like I had a responsibility to do significant things in life. I credit this to fantastic parents who were educators, being the fifth of five boys, and growing up in Jackson, Mississippi in the aftermath of the civil rights movement and school desegregation. My southern heritage and the lessons instilled in me from my parents, coaches, and my community have shaped me into the person and leader I am today.

Now, I understand not everyone has that clear of a vision from such an early age. As a leader, I have made it my mission to ensure that when I have an opportunity to walk through a door, I create new doors and bring others along. I believe if you’re blessed to have professional success, then it’s your responsibility to make things better for others. What good is power and influence if you don’t use it for good?

I’d say my personal leadership style is grounded in authenticity, the art of the possible, and inspiration. I work at my best when those around me feel they have the courage, expectation, and permission to be great.
Part of my mission is to help create that energy and mindset organizationally and then live it every day in how I lead. When you reach executive leadership, I’ve found there can be too much “perceptual distance” between you and the rest of the organization. I believe it’s part of my responsibility to shrink that distance. For me it’s about having intentional connections with every level of Associate. When I first came to Mars, I spent my first six months traveling all over North America to visit our manufacturing sites. I wanted to connect and learn the business from the ground up by engaging Associates who touch, feel, and care for our brands every day. Little did I know that a pandemic was on the back end of those first months; and all our Associates have performed brilliantly! My hope is that by making these connections, our Associates across the business feel empowered to bring their best every day, knowing I have their back, and we are on a common mission to be the best and drive purpose-led value creation together.

As a mentor, one piece of advice I always give is to value feedback early in your career. Now I have personally found this easier said than done. But it’s important to take time to really understand when people are trying to articulate things to you on your behalf, even though it can feel difficult to hear in the moment. Learning how to embrace and work with feedback will benefit you at every level and help you become a more open, humble, and effective leader.

Finally, I have taken a lot of pride in mentoring all levels. I’m particularly energized by mentoring African American young men. The teenage years can be tough with a lot going on. Invariably, I pose one question – what makes you special? It is a simple, powerful inquiry with no “correct” answer. It forces you to be introspective and reflect on a different level. But, once you discover it, bring those talents to the forefront in every environment. You can only operate at your absolute best when you take the time to really understand what makes you special. We owe it to ourselves to embrace our uniqueness and bring it with full authenticity, no matter the setting. That’s how we’re able to change our mindset from survival to mastery in corporate America. And when we thrive, we create a new narrative and set the path for our next generation of leaders.

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