Dialogue with Dean Sally Blount
Perspectives of an internationally acknowledged business expert
1. We know the common answers, but what three or so uncommon characteristics make a great business leader?
Holism - a leader must have the ability to identify, articulate and protect the core of the organization, as a collective, separate from the needs and demands of any single individual or group within the organization.
Grit - leadership requires perseverance, courage, and canniness all in one - day after day
Gratitude - remembering that no matter how challenging the job of being the leader can sometimes get - doing what we do in this time and place - we're so incredibly blessed.
2. What is the biggest surprise you have experienced in your role as leader of one of the world's leading educational institutions?
Learning once again how important communications, both tactical and strategic, are to leader effectiveness. I feel like I keep learning that lesson over and over, at every stage of my career. I learned it in the classroom as a professor at the University of Chicago. I learned it in my first dean’s job at NYU. And I have just learned it again during my first year on the job here at Kellogg. Being a dean requires meeting the needs and expectations of an incredibly broad range of stakeholders - from students, faculty, professors, alumni, trustees to global partners and the media. Doing that well is all about effective communicating.
3. Is social networking and texting helping or hurting the education of our future leaders?
On the upside, it is clear that social networking and texting have accelerated some aspects of how our future leaders organize their thoughts, share ideas and mobilize collective action. These tools have also empowered them to be networkers very early in life. On the downside, as a psychologist, I worry about how these tools may promote shortened attention spans, which may inhibit the long-term ability to engage in complex problem solving. They may also mean that many of our future leaders have less experience than prior generations in building meaningful one-on-one relationships before entering the workplace. I see it with my own children - so much of their relationship building is done on-line in very public forums.
4. Women leaders have great, and largely untapped, potential for businesses. How can CEOs do a better job in this area?
Flexibility and creativity in structuring jobs and managing career progressions for women are essential. My own career offers a vivid example of a female leader who almost wasn't. Early in my career, as a professor and working mother trying to get tenure, both of my children encountered some difficult circumstances that required extra attention. And this was in the years before academic institutions were "stopping the clock" or granting parental leave, so it was tough. But even so, academics offered a work environment that allowed me flexibility regarding when I put in my hours - I could do it nights and weekends, as long as I got the work done. So I was able to give my children the attention they needed during those periods without derailing my career (just my sleep!). Without that flexibility during those early years, I would have left the work force to care for my children. I know many well-educated bright women who did not have the same flexibility at work and did quit. Now that our children have grown, they are struggling to find meaningful work upon reentry. That's a net loss to our society.
5. What is the most common mistake companies make in business strategy? What is your favorite example of strategy gone bad?
The most common mistake I see is a lack of coherence in strategy setting and execution. Strategy is all about making clear plans and sticking to them. Yet, organizations get easily distracted in both tasks. There's a great new book by two Kellogg alumni written on this topic: The Essential Advantage by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi.
6. Music is very important to our company. What is your favorite song?
One of my favorite groups is Everything But the Girl, and if I had to pick one of their songs that has spoken to me over the years, it would be "We Walk the Same Line." It speaks to me of what I try to bring to my relationships as a mother, a partner, a daughter and sister, a friend and a leader.