Many compliance professionals in the corporate world work long and hard to rise up to the senior management level in their organizations. It takes subject matter expertise, hard work and sometime propitious good fortune to get to the C-Suite level in a large company. However, many of the skills which work to get you there do not always serve you in a senior management roll. I recently read a couple of articles which took a look at this subject and offered some remedies.

One thing many compliance practitioners, particularly those who grew up professionally, have in common is self-reliance. Not every lawyer and compliance practitioner is a Type A driven personality but many of us are. In many ways it is what makes us a success. However, in the corporate world, just like any other, there are limits to self-reliance. I was reminded of this in a New York Times (NYT) Corner Office column by Adam Bryant where he interviewed Lori Dickerson Fouché, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Prudential Group Insurance.

Not simply surviving but also performing under pressure is the mark of a successful Chief Compliance Officer (CCO). In a Financial Times (FT) article, entitled “A CEO’s primer on how to manage under pressure”, Andrew Hill wrote about a CEO but I found many of his concepts applicable to any senior corporate leader, specifically including a CCO.

Driven is one of the words which spring to mind when discussing Fouché. As she noted a favorite expression she heard growing up was that “To whom much is given, much is required.” This was often paired with “Mediocrity is not a good place to be.” She went to add that around the dinner table, her parents would tell her that she needed to work harder than most other people.

Fortunately for Fouché, one of her early lessons in the corporate world was to ask for help. She said it “stemmed from the fact that I had been used to thinking, “I can get through the brick wall. I can make this happen.” I was very self-reliant, and I figured that if I could do it, so could the team. So I overworked some teams early on, and that led to an early lesson around asking for help. It’s O.K. not to have all the answers and not to be able to do everything and to put your hand up and say, “I need help.” I was so surprised by how people really wanted to help. They loved being invited into the process.”

From these experience she also learned to prioritize. She noted, “You simply can’t do everything. There were times I would walk into a new job, and my eyes would be huge and I would feel like a kid in a candy shop. I’d think, “Let’s just get after it,” instead of, “O.K., let’s pause. What’s the most important thing to really get after?” Being able to say “No” or “Not now” were important lessons for me.”

Another interesting lesson (and one far different than the corporate world I grew up in) was transparency. Fouché related “to share my thoughts so that other people could follow them. I learned an important lesson from a colleague when I was C.E.O. at another company, who said: “Lori, this is a little bit like being on the train and you’re in the front of the train and we’re in the dark. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But there are people who are toiling in the back, and they’re throwing coal in the engine, and they’re working the cars, and that’s all they know. You should be at the front of the train, but your job is to shorten the distance between you and the back of the train so that we can all see what you see at the front.””

These points tie most interestingly into Hill’s piece. He said the ability to handle pressure is a key component for a C-Suiter. He wrote, “One way CEOs can offset potentially overwhelming pressure is by finding small ways to exercise control. When the job’s demands threaten to swamp her, Ms Sapone tries to “deal with whatever it is point by point, and look for the controllable things”.”

In other words, prioritize and start the slogging work of going through the issues in front of you. It not only gives you some semblance of control but also helps you to focus on doing the next right thing. As a business leader, others in your team and cascading down will take their clues from you and begin to operate in the same analytical manner. This also ties into one of Fouché’s key points about her leadership style.

Not only does she strive for personal transparency, she expects it from others. She said, “I expect my leaders to listen. I expect them to ask questions. I expect them to understand what’s going on. I am somewhat infamous for saying, “So how’s it going?” And they’ll say, “Great.” Then I’ll say, “How do you know?” It’s one thing when people start telling you anecdotes and it’s another thing when they can say, “Well, because we track this and we measure that.” We make sure we’re analytical in our approaches.”

If you couple this with two characteristics Fouché looks for when hiring: resilience and perseverance; it gives you a hint on some key characteristics. This is because she believes that when “working in big companies, and you have to find a way to navigate and negotiate to an end result. It could be a winding path. So I make sure that people feel like they know how to do that, and do it in a way that is respectful of the system.”

Aesop noted many eons ago that the race is not always won by the fastest but often the strongest and the steadiest. Many of the characteristics which allow you to rise within a corporation may need to ameliorated somewhat at the C-Suite.  Fouché’s lessons and Hill’s piece give you some  good starting points.


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© Thomas R. Fox, 2017