How these characteristics create remarkable leaders with Dean Idie Kesner

Idie Kesner, Dean of the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, lives by the school's desired characteristics of a Kelley student. She believes great leaders must have the talent to succeed, the humility to grow and the tenacity to persevere. As a Kelley School graduate herself, Idie knows what it takes to run a successful organization, motivate others and overcome business challenges. In this episode of The ROI Podcast, Idie discusses characteristics of impactful leaders and gives helpful insights to women executives.

Show Notes:

Shane: What’s going on, everybody! I am so excited to kick off a brand new series we are starting on this episode which is a CEO series! We’re going to be talking to a range of CEOs from all different types of industries. We’ll learn how they got into their position, we will talk about their “why”, and see how they deal with pressure, stress and everything that comes along with being an executive leader.

(The ROI Podcast Music)

Shane: Welcome back, everyone! It’s a great day for The ROI Podcast, we’ve got 36 episodes under our belt, and we’re kicking off what’s sure to be one of the most valuable series of podcasts we’ve recorded yet! Of course, I’m Shane Simmons, and I’ve got Phil Powell here with me, who’s the associate dean of academic programs at the Kelley School. Phil, are you ready for this CEO series?

Phil: Absolutely, Shane. When talking to leaders of these large and successful organizations, there's just so much to learn. I'm so excited today because I get to interview my boss.

Shane: This is going to be part one of a two-part episode with Idie Kesner – in this episode we’re going to talk about the characteristics that make a great executive, and really narrow in the female leader – and some of the characteristics that have helped Idie get where she is today.

Phil: Idie has studied executives, she’s an executive herself, and I asked her what are two or three things that she believes makes a great executive.

Idie: Well certainly, the characteristics of the executive are very important. Phil, you are well aware of the fact that we talk often about characteristics of the ideal Kelley student, and ultimately, the ideal Kelley alum. Fortunately, those same characteristics are also important for successful executives. We talk about the talent to succeed, the humility to grow, and the tenacity to persevere. Now that talent piece, clearly, we’re talking here about skills and knowledge sets, so talent is important – it’s important for every executive to have talent in order to do the job that he or she is assigned or is tasked to do. But those other two dimensions are less obvious but extremely important – humility means that you recognize that as an executive, there is always more to learn. It means that you’re willing to be able to intake feedback, to make changes based on that feedback, and it means you are willing to admit when you make a mistake and fix it. Then there’s that aspect of tenacity – some people might refer to it as “grit” if you will - the ability for an executive to roll up his or her sleeves, get the job done, and to persist against obstacles and hurdles. We like to think that those characteristics that we train and look for in our students are also characteristics important to executives.

Phil: And Idie says those characteristics translate for women leaders as well. Women executives obviously have a talent or skill set that got them there, they need humility to grow as a leader, and of course, they have to be tenacious to persevere… But, Idie says women also face other challenges.

Idie: But there are some unique challenges that women have that they need to think about, and one of them is to try and overcome doubts or lack of confidence. Based on information that’s presented in a wonderful book that I highly advise all women executives to read, it’s called The Confidence Code, it’s by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay, and in that book, there are many great points that they make. They cite a one really intriguing study, in particular, done by HP – it focused on when men would apply to take on a new assignment or role, versus women. What they found is men only needed to be about 60% confident in that they could meet those objectives, versus women, [who] felt that they had to be 100% there, 100% confident that they had those experiences in order to achieve that new role. That’s a big gap! I think sometimes women hold themselves back from taking on new assignments and growing in them. I definitely think that women need to basically turn off that voice in their head that says, “No, you’re not good enough to take on that assignment”. My advice is to overcome those negative kinds of communications that you do internally and talk yourself into something as opposed to out of something.

Shane: That’s a good point that I want to take time and reemphasize. Think about how many times you’ve talked yourself out of something, rather than talking yourself into something. And when you look at the definition of who a leader is and what makes up their character, it’s someone who may not always have all of the answers right away, but they will do what they can to find them.

Phil: Think about the ways men and women communicate. In general, we communicate differently, but that diversity is what can empower an organization… Idie talks about that here.

Idie: I also think that we need to recognize that men and women communicate differently, and it’s the diversity that can actually enhance the organization if it’s embraced properly. Interestingly enough, even when men and women communicate similarly, it’s often interpreted differently – men may be direct to the point, women are bossy in those cases. Men may be passionate or enthusiastic, women are emotional. We have to recognize that communication styles are different, and that difference, that diversity, is actually a good thing for the organization. My advice is don’t get discouraged by the negative comments that you may receive as a woman executive, don’t worry about your communication style is different from your male counterparts.

Phil: And Idie insists that women executives solicit feedback, she says this is very important.

Idie: I think women are very good at listening to negative feedback, sometimes I think they integrate it too much. What I’m advocating for is having effective women executives solicit feedback, you can and should go out and find people who will be mentors, coaches, sponsors, and advisors for you. It doesn’t have to be one person, it can be a team of people. Doesn’t have to be all women, it can be men and women. Doesn’t have to be from your industry, can be people from other industries as well, and it doesn’t have to be from your own functional area. In fact, I encourage you to solicit advice from people from other functional areas, and it doesn’t even have to be at your level!

Phil: But here’s the tricky part about holding a leadership position… Many times someone has developed into a role because of their technical skill and doing the job very well, but when you’re put into a position to lead, you have to know how to help others achieve greatness – and that will reflect on the executive.

Idie: If you have only one [aspect], you’ll be a very technical person, a great tactician, but you won’t necessarily be a great leader. If you have the other, you might be able to inspire people, but the organization may not be able to accomplish it because you have to make sure that that inspiration gets translated into action. You really have to have both components/features to be in a successful role as an executive.

Shane: I have a question, Phil. We know that saying leaders are readers. What books does Idie recommend?

Phil: Great question – and here’s her response to that.

Idie: Let me offer a few practitioner books that I think are good. One classic is Good To Great by Jim Collins. Many of your listeners may have already read this book if you haven’t then I do highly encourage you to do it. There’s some great advice in that book about how to move organizations forward and how to go from good to creating great organizations. A book I just read a couple of days ago was The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. Because it had moments in the title, and because our brand message is go from moment to momentum I thought this might be a good read, and in fact, it was a very good read.

Idie: For women executives, I might recommend one more book and that is the confidence code. It really helps you understand why women sometimes have more challenging roads ahead in their executive positions. And I think it’s a great book to overcome some of those challenges and to know you’re not alone.

(Closing Music)

Phil: So, if we can conclude what Idie has talked about – a great executive needs those three qualities we talk about here at the Kelley School of Business: the talent to succeed, the humility to grow, and the tenacity to persevere. These qualities will make you a well-rounded leader, and set you on the path to great accomplishments.

(The ROI Podcast Music)

Shane: That’s just part one of our kickoff to this CEO series and there was some value here that, if applied, can change your entire outlook, and even the outlook of those around you. And hopefully, all of you listening will be able to start applying these strategies in your life today. Next week, we’ll continue our conversation with Idie Kesner, picking her brain about somehow you can measure your success and effectiveness in the organization – and of course, how do you keep yourself motivated when you’re in the trenches.

Shane: That’s going to do it for part one of this episode of The ROI Podcast. We want to thank Kelley School of Business Dean Idie Kesner for her time, and we look forward to sharing part two with you next week! Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast and leave us a review on iTunes! We’ll be right back here next week. Have an amazing day!


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