Follow Indra Nooyi's example: Become a leader people are excited to follow

Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo

Leaders have a lot of power and influence. And people follow the example of what leaders do more so than what they say. That's why it's important to cast the right shadow of leadership.

Indra Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, shows the impact great leaders truly have – things like creating a vision, having courage of your convictions, and unleashing the power of your people.

Results under her tenure as CEO of PepsiCo speak for themselves. PepsiCo's revenue grew from $35 billion in 2006 to $63.5 billion in 2017 and by the end of last year, total shareholder return was 162 percent. She introduced the Performance with Purpose vision, an initiative to drive long-term growth while leaving a positive imprint on society and the environment. Indra steps down next month as CEO, leaving behind a company that is well positioned for the future.

But do you know how she navigated the challenges she faced as CEO? Indra opened up about her life and leadership journey during an interview on a recent oGoLead podcast.

Indra's success is rooted in the way she leads. Learning from her example can help anyone become a leader people are excited to follow.

Creating a vision

When taking on a new role, it's important to create a vision and share it with those you lead. After all, it's a lot easier to get somewhere if you know where you're headed. This is exactly what Indra did when she transitioned from CFO to CEO of PepsiCo.

Despite Indra's track record as an amazing functional leader, she was still nervous about taking on the top position at PepsiCo.

She knew that moving from CFO to CEO would give her a whole different view of the company. So, she did her research with her new role in mind: she watched the economy, looked at the trends and discovered rocky times were ahead. She saw a looming financial crisis and tremendous growth in emerging markets. Indra's big question was: how will we navigate as a company through these changes?

"There was a lot of anxiety when I took over," she told me. "I realized that I could have all the anxieties inside, but to the company I had to project confidence, optimism, a can-do spirit and a must-do resolve."

I was curious about what tricks she used to get herself ready to project confidence, and she shared some great advice for anyone taking on a new leadership role.

She said leaders need to be honest. "The one thing I've learned is don't lie to the people," she told me. "Don't tell your people one thing when the reality is something different."

Leaders also need to communicate their plans. Indra told her team exactly what they would do in the short-term, medium-term and long-term. "I told them they needed to just keep the performance going in the short-term. The medium-term focus was on what kind of acquisitions we were going to make to bolster the company's portfolio in emerging and developing markets. For the long-term, we were going to invest in R&D, start the portfolio transformation to put in place multiple initiatives which will not pay out today, but require investment today to pay out in the long-term."

Indra admitted she was uneasy because she didn't know if people would buy into her plan. To her surprise, people did and were relieved because they saw the changing trends and her plans addressed them. Her shared vision helped everyone understand where PepsiCo was going next.

Have the courage of your convictions

Leaders are expected to make big decisions, but that's not always easy, especially when there's lots of money on the line. It's so important for leaders to spend time doing their research, listening to the concerns of others, and then using that information to make a decision.

Indra is a master at conducting research and deep analyses before making a decision. When she was CFO of PepsiCo, she made a bold decision to overhaul the company's IT systems. It was a $1 billion project and she faced lots of skeptics.

She knew she had to be certain she was doing the right thing. Over her holiday break, she studied the problem from every angle. She read 10 IT textbooks, cover to cover. She had professors on call to answer her questions. She even reviewed all the binders on an IT architecture study commissioned for PepsiCo.

By doing this legwork, Indra concluded the company had no choice but to replace the IT systems. She overpowered her skeptics through knowledge and competence. No one regretted her decision.

You develop the courage of your convictions by listening to and addressing all concerns and gaining any additional know-how to address any skeptics. Then, just like Indra, you can make your decision and move forward with intention.

Unleash the power of your people

It's been shown that the most successful companies have a culture where every single person feels valued. No matter what the position, they all know they have a chance to contribute and make a difference.

There's no doubt that people love to work for PepsiCo and Indra's belief in people drives a culture of recognition and diversity. Indra gets how leveraging the power of recognition leads to positive results.

Growing up, Indra's motivation to succeed was rooted in making her family proud. I loved discovering how Indra's passion for making her family proud comes full circle in the special way she recognizes others. While PepsiCo has a variety of different recognition programs across the organization – from individuals to groups – she gets the most satisfaction from writing letters to the parents of her team members.

"I tell the parents what a great job their son or daughter is doing. That recognition is worth more than money, stock runs, hugs, tickets – anything – because at the end of the day, when your parents say to you, 'I'm so proud of you; your boss just wrote to me saying you're awesome,' the look on their face is worth more than one million dollars."

Creating a vision, finding courage in your convictions, and unleashing the power of your people – these three qualities allowed Indra to cast a shadow of leadership success. How well do you lead with these qualities? What actions will you take to become a better leader now that you know some of Indra's secrets to success?

This list only scratches the surface of what anyone can learn from Indra Nooyi. To get more of her insights, listen to our full podcast interview.

David Novak, founder and CEO of oGoLead; founder, retired Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands, is passionate about helping people become stronger leaders. He shares wisdom and learnings from some of the brightest and most successful leaders he knows in his oGoLead podcasts. To discover more stories behind the leaders you admire, subscribe to the oGoLead podcast.

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