Who in your family had the most impact on your success? Many family members have supported me throughout my career, and enabled me to achieve success. If I had to point to one person, though, it would be my grandfather, Steve Spann, who had the greatest impact on me. He instilled in me a good work ethic at an early age, and had me working side-by-side with him every summer. On the days he didn’t have me working with him on many different chores, my grandmother had me clean the house from top to bottom before I was allowed to socialize with friends. My grandparents always said, “You don’t get anywhere in life sleeping all day!” As a result, I strongly believe if you work hard and work smart, you can accomplish anything—if you set your mind to it and have a plan on how you will achieve it.
What is your most rewarding career accomplishment? Being admitted to the partnership at age 35. I had given myself a goal to achieve this level of career success by the age of 40. Something else that stands out in my career was having the opportunity to spend two hours discussing diversity issues in the corporate environment with Spike Lee.
What’s the worst fault a leader can have? Overlooking those who have helped you achieve your success. I strongly believe that leaders who don’t give credit when credit is due will not be effective during difficult times. A simple, meaningful “Thank You!” can go a long way when you need your team to really step up.
What advice can you provide for young leaders? LEARN TO LISTEN! I can’t emphasize this enough. Listening will give you the ability to gain insight into what an individual is really thinking. I’ve learned over the years that people will always express their true feelings if you really listen to them. Also, never assume that you—or even the most senior people on your team—have all the answers. The best ideas often come from the people you’d least expect. I also recommend that you know your own strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with a team that complements you.
What are the personal and professional risks a leader should take? Leadership is all about making progress, so you must be willing to change so you can succeed. Also: A leader should not fear failure. Failure is an opportunity to learn, and it only becomes a setback if you don’t learn from it.
If given the chance, would you do anything differently? Yes, I would have pursued my football career before turning to corporate America. I was pretty good in my day!
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