According to Don Knauss, the simplest definition of a leader is someone who has the ability to inspire and rally people towards a better future. The Clorox CEO, who was awarded the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s ROBIE award for exceptional efforts towards workplace diversity, spoke about leadership on October 11th as part of the Undergraduate Business Council’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
Knauss divided the idea of leadership into two categories: thought leadership and people leadership. Knauss says that at Clorox, thought leadership involves three “D”s—creating strategies that build consumers’ desire for their brand, impacting their decision making to include Clorox products, and finally delighting the consumer with quality product.
As for people leadership, Knauss listed five traits that students should remember when in the workplace.
- Integrity.“Your personal integrity is the foundation of trust. It’s basically the spinal cord of your character, at the end of the day. It builds trust, and it enables things to happen…Stand up for what you believe in and always tell the truth.”
- Curiosity.“Ideas drive organizations. World class leaders are world class learners, and your curiosity is at the very center of your own effectiveness. A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world—you have to get out there and really see what is going on around you.”
- Optimism.“Any leader worth their salt leads from optimism because pessimism doesn’t engage anybody. Optimism is rooted in reality, and looking at the facts with a prevailing sense that you can win this thing.”
- Compassion.“Compassion isn’t something you hear a lot about in a business context, but it is the glue that holds organizations together. It’s a fundamental respect for each other. Life isn’t fair, but if you’re given authority and power, you can try and make it fairer.”
- Humility.“Humility is about being approachable and accessible. In my four-and-a-half years in the Marine Corps, I remember giving one order. It isn’t about subordinance; it is about getting things done. There always has to be an hierarchy, but if you make it more informal, information can flow. Don’t ever think of yourself as indispensable. The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable people. If Ghandi can be humble and change the course of the world, I suppose we can all use a little bit of humility.
To conclude, Knauss reminded students that business is all about progress.
“When you sum it all up, the real leaders out there are taking the assets and the people entrusted to them and making them more productive,” Knauss said. “Change is certain, but progress is not. Leaders that live those five traits can inspire people to capture that vision.”