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Trudy Bourgeois

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Muhtar Kent: He Just Gets It

Posted: 07/17/2013 3:48 am

It came to me in the middle of the night. You know what I'm talking about? Those epiphanies that can only come in the wee hours of the morning?

I've been preparing for an interview with Muhtar Kent (Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO) that will take place next week at the Network of Executive Women's Executive Leaders Forum. And my late-night insight had to do with his leadership style.

Throughout my interview prep, I've been constantly considering these two questions:

1. What's behind Muhtar's passion to serve as a champion for women?

2. What life experiences or defining moments have shaped his leadership philosophies and style?

And the answer to those two questions is what came to me. It was simply this...

He "gets it." He gets that a leader must make it personal.

And making it personal may not seem like a big deal, but it is. In fact, it is counterintuitive given that every leadership book out there tells us that we should NOT take things that happen in the business world too personally. After all, it's just business. Right? Wrong.

In order for any (every) leader to be fully engaged in any (every) endeavor it HAS TO - MUST - become personal. That's the only way.

And Muhtar Kent walks that out. And well...it seems to have worked well for him thus far, huh?

One of Kent's defining moments was early on in his time with Coca-Cola. He looked at his organization and saw that women were not fairly represented based on the fact that 60-70 percent of their customers are women.

You see, Kent's position on women is very public. He openly shares that his leadership style has been shaped primarily by his mother, wife and daughter.

In fact, in this piece he wrote for the Huffington Post, he openly talks about his desire for his daughter to be able to work in a world where women are treated as equals.

He shares,

Selin [his daughter] is also in the early stages of her professional career. I would like to see my daughter flourish professionally in a world that is more just and equitable for women, and where the benefits of diversity are fully appreciated...

But he doesn't stop there.

The Coca-Cola CEO believes every organization must recognize the fast-increasing impact of women in the global workforce and marketplace -- and he's not afraid to communicate the need to treat female leaders as the strategic assets they are.

He believes that the 21st century goes not to India, China or any of the BRIC countries that represent growth opportunities - but that the 21st century is "The Women's Century."

Kent writes:

Call it self-interest ... or enlightened self-interest -- it really doesn't matter. Creating a climate of success for women globally is just simply smart business for a consumer-products company. It's smart business for any company. Empower women and you recharge the world.

And Muhtar is not alone.

Don Knauss, Clorox Chairman and CEO, gets it as well. He tells the story of the early days when he and his wife were both working. She came home one day and shared that her manager would not pay her at the same rate as her male counterparts even though she was outperforming them. For Don, THAT was his ah-ha moment - the moment he "got it." That was when he made the decision to consistently be a leader who ensured equity for all.

CEOs must have that ah-ha moment. Why? In order to realize that the decisions that they make about their workforce will impact generations to come as well as their bottom lines.

I look forward to unearthing more about Muhtar Kent's life experiences and discovering his ah-ha moment. That moment when he made a conscious decision to become a leader who values, respects and leverages the contributions of women.

We all have much to learn from leaders like him who just "get it."

 

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