It’s a timeless question, whether leaders are born or made. I certainly didn’t begin my career with the ambition of leading a business—I viewed myself as a member of a team, a “doer,” working hard to accomplish whatever needed to be done. But as I grew in my career and was coached by my supervisors, I learned how to tap into my innate desire to “control” and turn that into the ability to set direction, motivate, and lead teams to get things done. In my case, the rise to leadership was a gradual slope without a clear end goal.
The defining step in my career was relocating to Japan, because it required such a leap of faith. At the time, there were no manufacturing or engineering roles in Tokyo, so my only option was marketing, an area in which I had no experience beyond my college coursework. Leaving my home country and a discipline I knew very well for entirely new territory forced me to embrace the unknown. The gamble paid off, and I’ve stayed on the commercial career path ever since. I’ve now spent a third of my career in Asia.
Like many leaders, I am performance and rigor focused, and need to be able to add value while leading. However, when I try to characterize my leadership style, the main concepts that come to mind are fun and freedom.
I grew up in a family in which joking around the dinner table was an essential part of our daily routine, and that has influenced the way I lead. In the face of high pressure and long hours, it’s critical to make work fun. Along with that spirit of laughter, I value flexibility in all its many forms: freedom to debate, freedom to try and fail, freedom to approach work from different angles. When people are allowed to do their work in ways that reflect their personal styles, the product is all the stronger. This belief in diversity is endemic at corning with our deep belief in valuing the individual.
My advice to the next generation of leaders is to concentrate on helping people reach their full potential. Be cognizant of your style and the effect it has on others, and be adaptable in your approach (lessons I’ve learned from working internationally). Along the way, take risks, keep a sense of humor, and appreciate and leverage the differences among your colleagues. If you do, you’ll be surprised at where your career can take you.