Workforce & Workplace
Passing the Torch: Insights for the Next Generation of Senior Leaders
George Chavel
George Chavel

As I near retirement, I’m reflecting more on my career and the learnings that shaped my rise into senior leadership. I didn’t climb straight up the proverbial corporate ladder – but I looked at every new job as an opportunity to expand who I was as a leader. It seems only fitting to pass along a few of my most valued experiences to the next generation of senior leaders.

The concept of a work-life balance has always been interesting to me because there is no correct definition. It’s different for every individual and their unique situation and needs. What has become clear to me over the years, however, is that there is nothing is more important than your family and your health. That’s where it all starts. I can’t say I’ve always been successful at putting family and health first, but they should be.  Start looking at your family and your health as the foundation to success in every other part of your life.  I’ve tried to have that as an overall umbrella to everything else that’s happened in my professional career.

Another important area that sometimes gets overlooked is the ability to balance your “EQ” (emotional intelligence) with your “IQ” (intellectual intelligence). When I think about the challenges I’ve had in my career and the opportunities for success, and the failures that have become learning opportunities, addressing them effectively has been due to a balance of EQ and IQ. I used to say that I was always pushing EQ because I knew I wasn’t the smartest person in the room, but you can’t be all EQ or all IQ. I think when you can balance the two, you can navigate any situation. It allows you to be compassionate and to understand situations while taking advantage of the best of your intellectual capabilities.

Another valuable piece of advice – don’t aspire to climb the corporate ladder.  I think we were all trained to think that the only way you’re successful or progressing in any organization is to be climbing each rung on the ladder. But that is not how you build a successful career.   What I think individuals should focus on instead is the so-called “lattice” or lateral move.  A lateral career move is equally important as any kind of ladder move you could make. I’ve certainly learned more from my own lattice moves. Often it comes down to the fact that an individual may not always be ready to go straight up. And that ladder move you think you might want — be careful what you wish for because you might not yet have all the tools you need or you might not get the passion out of it or find the excitement you had when you were thinking about that job.

There’s also the issue of credit. I learned some very hard lessons many years ago about feeling like I wasn’t getting credit for the job I was doing; or others were getting credit when I thought I was the lead player on the team. Seeking credit, I have found, is a big red flag. Giving service is the green flag.  That means making a priority out of giving service to every possible stakeholder in the process of doing your job. The credit will come in different ways. If you’re only in it to get the credit, rather than give the service, then you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to those for whom you work.

Finally, a bit of advice from an old mentor of mine who once shared with me his philosophy on life: think about what people will say at your funeral.  Though it may sound morbid, it’s really about living your life now in a way that will impact how people will think about you when you’re not around. If you’ve treated people right, and you’ve learned from your successes and failures, then hopefully you’ve left the best possible impression with the people who have been a part of your journey.

To hear more about George’s experience & insights from the C-Suite, check out his interview from the 2015 Better Tomorrow Summit.

Connect with me on LinkedIn to share your journey to leadership!


George Chavel is CEO of Sodexo North America (U.S. and Canada) and CEO Sodexo Healthcare Worldwide. He has announced that he will retire at the end of this calendar year after more than two decades at Sodexo.

4 comments on “Passing the Torch: Insights for the Next Generation of Senior Leaders

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    This is very insightful and appreciated. When I worked for Sodexo I always admired and respected Mr. Chavel for exactly the reasons he listed. Thank you for sharing!

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    Great article. Filled with simple ideas that always remain more complex to accomplish than one would think! I work for Kerry foods and have resently taken lateral positions and found that perhaps one brings more value at that position. In addition it enables me to really address the health and family equilibrium you discussed. The EQ and IQ relationship was postulated in the realm of common sense which eludes so many really smart people. I enjoy working on projects with your organization here in Northern California!

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    Heather Thomas says:

    Thank you, George, for your leadership. It has been felt even at my level. From the first month, I started I learned of your vision, leadership style and then you backed it up when I had the opportunity to meet you 6 times in my first two years with Sodexo. Most of those times were in the cafe at HQ.

    A quote I will carry from your parting words here are:

    “That means making a priority out of giving service to every possible stakeholder in the process of doing your job” – George Chavel

    I aspire to be the kind of leader you have outlined. Thank you and best to you and your family. I hope you get many years being able to now put them first.
    Heather Thomas
    Talent Acqusition, Sodexo


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