Workforce & Workplace
The Key to Relevant Leadership is Continuous Learning
Lorna Donatone
Lorna Donatone
CEO, Sodexo Schools Worldwide President, Sodexo North America

The business world is changing so quickly that it’s often hard to know how to keep up and help your employees cope with the pace of change.

For leaders, it’s crucial to remain relevant in order to be heard and valued. Even if you have great ideas, a great mission and a vision of the future, if you’re not relevant, no one will listen, and you won’t be successful as a leader.

Remaining relevant doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in every field, new idea or trendy concept. But you do have to know enough about your industry and about the world to understand what people are talking about. And you need to be able to communicate in a way that they can relate to.

The key is to remain teachable and to continue learning at all times. That doesn’t only apply to technical skills, but to soft skills as well. Certainly, the strategies and technology we use in business today are a far cry from what we were using even a few years ago, but your soft skills — such as your communications strategies, your management style and your people skills — need to evolve as your career progresses.

The skillset I had when I entered the workforce isn’t going to be the same set of skills I need today to be successful. That may seem self-evident, but so many of us resist evolving in the ways we need to in the workplace.

For many, change is hard. That’s true of personal career growth, and it’s also true of major shifts in your organization. While it’s true that change will likely be disruptive — after all, that’s part of its purpose — creating a proactive change management plan can help you and your employees move through it with a minimum of anxiety. As a leader it’s your role learn to accept and advocate change and to support your team members through it.

I find that the best strategy before any major change is to begin with some honest conversation: What is going to happen? Why is it going to happen? What are the potential risks we face and how can we avoid them?

We need to have these dialogues at every level of the organization to involve everyone in the process. I see change fail most often when it’s done without transparency. That creates a culture of fear surrounding the future.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to understand how your team feels about the change and be prepared help them through it. The worst way to cope with it is to ignore it. Sometimes, when change is on its way, we’re tempted to put our heads in the sand, to say “I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve seen this all before. It will pass.” There’s a small chance that that could happen, but a much larger one that change will come and when it does, you’ll be unprepared for it.

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Lorna Donatone is the CEO of Sodexo Schools Worldwide and President of Sodexo North America.  Ms. Donatone was honored with the 2015 Trailblazer Award from the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Chairs the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.  She is on the Board of Directors of Jamba Juice, is a trustee of the Culinary Institute of America, serves on the Tulane Business School Council and Chairs the TCU Business School Board.

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