Stepping Up to Leadership in a Global World
Patricia A. Woertz, Executive Vice President, Global Downstream
University of San Diego's Leadership Institute for Entrepreneur's Women in Leadership Conference
San Diego, California
The work I've done with people all over the world has given me the most valuable insights on leadership. And it's this global perspective that I'd like to discuss.
Who will the new global business leaders be? And what will they know? And, maybe the most interesting question to think about is — Who will step up to the challenge and lead?
Now, I know that some of you are students; some of you are at a stage in your careers where you are looking to change direction, perhaps to advance; and some of you may be well established in leadership roles of your own. So the question of global leadership may seem more or less relevant to your interests depending on how you envision your own future. However, I also know that the experiences and skills of leadership are highly transferable, whether they're gained on the world stage or closer to home. So, whatever path you are pursuing, even if it's not in business, I hope that my comments today will provide some insights and ideas and, perhaps, even some greater strength and conviction for the journey ahead.
Maybe I'll start by giving you just a little more of my background so you can perhaps compare your journey to mine.
I certainly did not set out to be an oil company executive or the leader of an international organization. If there was any one interest that might have signaled my future in business, it was probably that I liked math. I loved its complexity. I loved taking apart a really hairy problem, understanding its components and then solving it.
And in many ways that's still what I do today. Only today, the problems are even more complex, the answers are more ambiguous and the process involves a lot more people all over the world — complexity, ambiguity and involvement with all kinds of people. The best leaders are probably those that can master that linkage.
A lot of what we do is the business of business, whether it is around strategy, planning, implementation or assessment, and the whole cycle of business again. Leadership is the center point. Complex, large businesses are never run alone. It takes a team, so a willingness — and even an eagerness — to work with and learn from all different kinds of people is essential.
Now, as you heard in my introduction, most of my career experience was focused on business within the United States. I was fortunate, though, to serve in international treasury and auditing roles as president of Chevron Canada Ltd., when I lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, and as president of an international supply and trading company.
These assignments exposed me to different cultures and provided experience in the quite different dynamics of running international operations. They prepared me, as much as anything could, for expanding my responsibilities from operations in only the United States to operations that span 180 countries — and for leading 20,000 colleagues throughout the world, more than half of whom work outside the United States.
I will say that global diversity is an even bigger and more slippery challenge to get your arms around than is diversity in this county alone. First, there is the simple fact that you are physically farther apart. There have been times when, within a two-week period, I've visited our operations in Costa Rica, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the Canary Islands. Sometimes I have jet lag in several different time zones in one week.
As a global leader you also grapple with cultural differences that create interesting challenges. How, for instance, do we foster an inclusive workplace in a culture where women are not part of the work force? Do we refuse to work in these countries? Do we respect the cultural norms? Do we try to change them? So, these are just some of the issues — and the complexity and ambiguity of issues — that you encounter when you lead a global organization.
Global responsibilities also bring you together with — and sometimes into conflict with — a much broader and more diverse group of stakeholders. A typical day on one of my trips might start with a town hall meeting with our employees, where, once again, I might be one of the few individuals who speak English as a first language. Then I'll review performance with the local management team. Next, I might visit with local government officials, meet with partners and suppliers, conduct interviews with local media, and maybe visit one of our community programs, such as a school in our Adopt a School program. And that's just the first couple of hours.
The ability to build consensus is particularly important when you are the largest employer or revenue producer in a country, which we often are. So another part of my job is to work with local government officials to advance our common interests. For instance, one day I might be talking to the ambassador from the Philippines about manufacturing and selling products and even about creating new jobs in his country. The next day I could be talking to the president of Venezuela about oil production.
As a global leader, you also become involved in the geopolitical activities of countries and regions that are quite diverse and fascinating. You must become not just conversant with these issues but involved in their successful outcome.
In my industry, we operate in many developing countries and in some of the poorest parts of the world. We have to look beyond the boundaries of just our plants and offices to address "quality of life" issues, not just for our employees and the communities where we do business but for the entire national population and, in some cases, even entire regions. And those quality of life issues are among the most complex and seemingly intransigent in the world — poverty, illness, lack of education, corruption.
We get involved in large-scale human development programs that aim, for instance, at restarting agriculture in Angola or at treating HIV in South Africa.
I was in Costa Rica last year, where ChevronTexaco is the sponsor of many of the state schools. And when I visited one of the schools and the kids found out who I was, they came running toward me, hugging my knees and thanking me for their books. Not their computers — their books. We were essentially providing their only tools. Business can't and shouldn't try to replace governments, which should do many of these things. But we can be a partner.
As a leader, I am often humbled to think that my decisions can affect the lives of so many people throughout the world. I'm also encouraged to know that through jobs, investments and support of local education, we are actually improving lives.
And I often make the argument that these actions we take in the world — these choices to improve life — are not offshoots of our mission or nice things to do. They are the way we build the partnerships that allow us to do our work. They are how we create markets and how we create the capacity for future growth and how we create the capacity for global prosperity.
So, while I wouldn't say that a global leader must be motivated by these issues, certainly the ability to help address them can give added meaning to the leadership role. That's kind of the big picture of global leadership and a partial answer to what it demands.
Now we might wonder about some of the other qualities global leaders — or any leaders — need to be successful. I think one word that's absolutely at top of that list today is integrity. We think of integrity as meaning honesty and reliability, and it certainly does. And honesty is absolutely crucial — in business, in leadership, in life. But the first meaning of integrity isn't honesty, it's "wholeness." Look it up in the dictionary. To have integrity means to be whole, nothing missing, nothing left out. And I think that's the richer, more valuable definition too. It means that to lead with integrity, we must be whole human beings. We must bring our whole selves to work or we lack integrity. Think about what that means. Would you ever say of someone who has a terrific sense of humor but leaves it at home that he or she has no integrity in the office? But it would be true.
In fact, my personal leadership philosophy starts with integrity. It's three simple words: "Be. Know. Do." Be yourself — your whole self — and work from your values. The "know" is know your stuff, your business. Know everything about your business and continually learn more. Learn the theoretical and academic as well as the pragmatic and practical. And learn the behavioral sciences — they are business. They teach us what moves and motivates people and leads them to act and to change. And that's what leadership is also about; it's about creating positive change and helping others see what's possible and to attain it. And "do" is simply "do it" — be biased for action.
As you heard, my career path took some unlikely twists and turns out of my background in finance. I was always willing to say "I'll try that!" when new opportunities appeared. And that's something I encourage others to do. Step up and grab at the risky, the challenging, the unexpected opportunities. Be prepared for them; be eager for them. Like change. Thrive in it. And be eager for experiences that will lead you outside your comfort zone. That's what gives you breadth of experience and positions you for leadership.
I would also say that international experience, whether by background or career experience, is increasingly important for leaders. The future of business is global. That's where the markets, the customers, the suppliers and the partners are. And although international experience is becoming increasingly valuable, there are still relatively few employees who bring such experience. So if you are the person who steps forward to take an international opportunity, you will be arming yourself with an incredible advantage.
It gives you tremendous confidence when you work in another country and, even with language and cultural differences, you are still able to get the work done. It is particularly exciting to work through issues and achieve success in another country, particularly when you know that the barriers have proved too great for others but you've been able to succeed. The challenge is greater, and so too is the satisfaction when you break through to success.
My broader point is not just to see global positions and global leadership as an option, but to see yourself, your circumstances and your career path — whatever it is — with as much flexibility as possible.
So maybe that brings me to the last questions I posed earlier. Does it matter who the next generation of leaders are? And it if does matter, who should step up to the challenge and lead?
My answer is: It does matter — because talent matters and intelligence matters. Passion and caring, imagination, fire and spirit matter. Those who possess these qualities in abundance should lead us into the global future.
So who will step up to the global challenge and lead? I suspect some of the next leaders are right here with us today. Some of you may feel deeply inspired by the opportunity to immerse yourselves in an entirely different culture and master challenges where others have failed. Some of you may feel that choosing to be a leader on the global stage and knowing that your decisions help address the critical issues facing the world is a calling well worth striving for. And for those of you, I say "Do it!" Open that door to the world and step right through it — to possibilities greater than you can imagine.
Updated: May 2004