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David Novak has a knack for people, and that serves him
well as chairman and CEO of Yum!
Brands Inc., which operates over 40,000 restaurants—including KFC, Pizza
Hut and Taco Bell—in more than 125 countries and territories. A highly regarded
businessman, he has learned invaluable tips from some of America’s top leaders.
Above all, trust your employees and celebrate their achievements.
What has your experience taught you that
can’t be learned in business school?
What I didn’t learn in school I picked up from studying
the leaders I most admired—and in many cases, from spending time with them in
person. I took Warren Buffett to lunch at a KFC to ask his advice about navigating
Wall Street. I shadowed UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden for
In the end, business school is a great education, but it
will only take you so far. Then it comes down to “How do you use it?” Over
time, I realized I could compete effectively without an MBA.
When a manager wants to drive change among a
team that’s resistant to it, how does she get employees on her side?
Gain alignment. You can have the best idea in the world,
but it won’t matter if you can’t get people on board to help you make it
Explain the “why” behind your idea in order to engage
people. Ask for input and get people involved, or they will never be truly
committed to the goal.
What’s the most important thing a manager can
Show you care by taking an active interest in the people
working for you and giving them direct feedback. People are starved for that;
they want to hear what they can do to improve. Too many leaders don’t provide
that. If someone’s smart, talented and driven to learn, your job is to help
them become all they can be.
How can managers make sure people know they
When you establish an environment where every person
feels they have a chance to contribute, people can do great things. Show your
employees that you trust in them and their abilities by sharing what you know.
The single biggest thing I can do is to develop strong leaders and help people
become great coaches. Our ultimate goal is to unleash the power of all our
What do you look for in the people you hire?
Everybody is looking for ambition, passion and the
ability to inspire. In the best of all worlds, you want someone who is
“whole-brained”—that is, analytical but also creative enough to come up with
the ideas and galvanize the organization around a new direction.
How do you recommend structuring rewards and
A leader has to cast the right shadow, and one of the
things I’m most proud of is our culture. We really do have fun celebrating the
achievements of others. We celebrate success, drive performance and demonstrate
that everyone counts. All of our leaders around the world are expected to give
out their own individual recognition awards. Mine are an oversized pair of
walking teeth for people who “walk the talk” of leadership.
Why do you think a rubber chicken is a more
effective reward than a gold watch?
When I became president of KFC at PepsiCo, I started
giving away floppy rubber chickens and $100. It ignited performance because
people respond to recognition—and it’s fun. When you recognize people, it says
that you’re watching them, that what they do matters. It keeps employees
motivated and excited to come to work every day. People would sometimes cry
when I gave them their chickens.
How would you advise managers who want to
develop leadership skills?
It’s crucial for every leader to know who they are and
where they’ve been. The best ones understand that they are like no one else,
that they have unique strengths and weaknesses, interests and knowledge, and
that they are always going to be a work in progress. They are avid learners.
They soak up everything they possibly can so they can become the best possible
leaders. Never lose the desire to learn. The minute you stop learning, you
start dying. That’s true in business, and it’s true in life.
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