Who in your family had the most impact on your success? My mother, Carolyn Gardner, who put a Bible in one of my hands and a math book in the other. She gave me my personal and professional foundation and helped me realize that I have an obligation to use this life the Lord has given me to benefit my community and other people. Through her, I learned that no matter the obstacle, there is always a way to deal with it through faith, determination, hard work, and a positive spirit. She taught me that how we live is far more important than where we live or the things we have, and finally: people matter, and that’s all that matters.
What is your definition of leadership? There are four key aspects of leadership—focusing on results, interpersonal skills, personal capability and motivating in a time of change—all of these around a core of unquestioned character. Leadership is providing the direction and motivation that enables your team to both do the right thing, and achieve results the right way. When you succeed, people come away feeling good about what they did, how they did it and why they did it. Managers do things right; leaders do the right things.
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas
Web site: www.att.com
Primary Business: Telecommunications
Employees: More than 285,000
What are the personal and professional risks a leader should take? First, a leader has to be willing to risk his or her job for the sake of integrity. You have to be willing to be the voice crying in the wilderness for what is ethically and morally right. I’m blessed to be at a company where integrity is the center of all we do; there are examples in corporate America where that has not been the case. Second, a leader has to put it on the line and go to bat for his or her people. Sometimes policies or practices need to be changed to accommodate people, or to include diverse thinking, and you’ve got to fight to make that happen. Again, I’m fortunate because this is not only accepted, but encouraged at AT&T. I’ve taken those risks and have been rewarded every time.
What is your most rewarding career accomplishment? Leading the effort to get our company into the long-distance business in California has been the highlight of my career. It was an intense effort over several years that drew on everything I had ever done in my career. That project epitomized everything you talk about in achieving business success: extreme teamwork, overcoming obstacles, flexibility, planning, fighting external and internal battles without making enemies, achieving the win/win solution when possible, maintaining credibility, knowing your stuff, valuing relationships, and perseverance. It engaged all the organizations in our company, in addition to our competitors and policy makers, with the end result being a positive outcome for everyone, especially customers of our industry.