Leadership Lessons From P&G


Inevitably, when somebody learns I retired from Procter & Gamble, they ask me for insight into effective leadership. P&G has a reputation for nurturing and developing outstanding leaders. One of the key reasons is P&G Managers believe deeply in the Company’s promise of “Touching Lives, Improving Life”. To a P&Ger, this is a calling, not simply a statement. Over my 33-year career at P&G I had the opportunity to work with some outstanding leaders – John Smale, Ed Artzt, John Pepper, Durk Jager, A.G.Lafley, and Bob McDonald. Each nurtured a generation of amazing leaders that dedicated their energy to helping P&G fulfill the Company mission.

These leaders taught me a lot over the years. I thought it might be helpful to pass along some of the things I picked up in the process.

10 Lessons For Leaders

  1. Get to know people as individuals. Group activities are great for building teams, but one-on-one interactions build trust.
  2. Be predictable by being constant. It is okay to change your mind, but if you do, explain the rationale so people can trust you. Walk the talk.
  3. Never “take” credit. A leader gives credit to others. It is okay to accept credit, but you should never proactively take credit.
  4. Make certain expectations are clear. Most people want to succeed. It helps when they know what good looks like. Failure to deliver against fuzzy expectations is not the employee’s fault; it is the manager’s.
  5. Be open and honest even if it is uncomfortable. Hidden agendas never stay hidden and they breed mistrust. Take people into your confidence.
  6. Have your people’s back. Never let your employees take big risks alone. When something goes wrong, train in private; personally take the accountability in public.
  7. Listen for cries of help and respond quickly. When your employees raise a problem to your attention, it is usually viewed as a big issue in their mind. Take action so it doesn’t end up growing into a big problem in your mind.
  8. Take a personal interest in your people’s success and let them know you are doing so. When employees understand you genuinely care about their well-being and career advancement, they will give you their best performance.
  9. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves and make them feel important. Be sincere in your comments and give your full attention.
  10. If you are wrong, say so quickly and emphatically. On the other hand if you believe somebody else is wrong, don’t shut down conversation by telling them so. Instead, seek to understand why they believe the way the do.

The above are just a few of the things successful leaders at P&G do consistently. I want to amplify Tip #3 a bit by sharing a personal story.

In one particular training session, the facilitator commented that in a typical week in an average work place, an employee would hear 20 negative comments from their manager for every positive one given. That claim really seemed unrealistic to me, so when I went back to my office I decided to track the number of negative and positive comments I received and gave in a week. I purposefully did not change my behavior so the test could be as valid as possible. I discovered the claim was actually conservative. In the course of a week I found myself in a number of project reviews where we focused on what was going wrong and the negative messages flowed. I also found it was rare that the opportunity to give praise would occur naturally. My ratio was closer to 100 negative comments for every positive. On the flip side, I also found that I went the entire week without every receiving a single positive comment from my one up manager. I decided to make a change in my behavior and set a goal of giving at least one positive comment to each of my direct reports each day. To be clear, as simple as it sounds it was hard to execute. I had to track it and make time every day. The opportunities for giving positive feedback had to be created. Ultimately, I adopted a practice of starting every meeting with the question “What has gone right on this project this week that we should celebrate?” As this approach became a habit, it didn’t reverse the ratio of negative to positive comments, but did make a meaningful difference.


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