It’s Common Sense to Value People – Even at Work, YUM! CEO Novak Tells JCPS Leaders

David Novak, Chairman and CEO of YUM! Brands, shared a number of leadership tips yesterday with JCPS staff, but they all boiled down to one thing: Value people.

It’s the right thing to do, but he pointed out that it is also good business.

“The soft stuff drives hard results,” he said.

He spoke with passion about the “common sense” of treating people well and encouraging them to do their best.

“99.9 percent want to be part of something big,” he added.  “Unleash the power of people.”

Superintendent Donna Hargens invited him to speak about leadership to JCPS Principals, Assistant Principals and other administrators at their kick-off event for the new school year.  She has taken his advice, spelled out in his leadership book, Taking People with You, to recognize staff members often for their contributions to the organization.

I was reminded that we talk a lot in public education about “holding people accountable.” However, we if follow Novak’s lead, we would focus more on recognizing accomplishments and building confidence.

“You have to build on pride,” he said.

He further advised the leaders to share their stories with their staff and build a strong self-awareness. “Get feedback,” he added, “Slow down and listen to others, and understand how they see you.”

Novak explained that leaders benefit from listening. He shared an experience during his career when he was excited about his idea for a new product, Chrystal Pepsi (different because it was clear). He said the bottlers expressed skeptism because it didn’t taste like Pepsi, but he remained determined. Launched on a Super Bowl Sunday, it performed just like the bottling companies warned. Consumers bought it, but because it didn’t taste like Pepsi, repeat sales were low. He had been too excited to heed warnings from experienced people.

Focusing on the job of educating kids, he said, “You gotta believe it’s possible. Empower students to succeed.”

Where to begin as an administrator? He said to make sure staff has the skills they need. Then, create the culture for success, by encouraging and recognizing people for their accomplishments.  Novak said he values people who are “smart with heart.”

As a leadership coach, Novak suggested that middle and high school students learn more about leadership and service. He expressed great pride in YUM’s corporate philanthropic focus on ending world hunger.  Service can add to organizational pride.

As I was listening, I thought about how easy it is to forget how much we appreciate being appreciated, and how it can make us work harder and better.

Educators face challenges every day, and have high goals to meet.  While school leaders need to pay attention to their staff members, we, as a community, need to remember to value public school educators, too.

It is all about people.

Build on pride, he emphasized. The only way to build on pride is to point out the positive. I believe this strategy will help us be more successful in meeting our goals.

Listen to David Novak, CEO of one of Louisville’s Fortune 500 companies. It has worked for him.


About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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