Victoria Podesta, Former Chief Communication Officer, Archer Daniels Midland Company

I also strive to provide my team with a clear vision. I do my best to let them learn and grow through independent thinking so they can get to the next level in their career. I often say to them there isn’t anything they’re doing that I can’t do. I’ve done it all, but it doesn’t do me any good to do it myself at this stage in my career.

August 2015

How would you describe your leadership style?

Being accountable for Archer Daniels Midland Company’s reputation around the world, I ensure that reputational issues are on our radar and that the organization pays appropriate attention to pressing matters. Building and sustaining a strong corporate culture, whether through our sustainability and foundational efforts or managing shareholder relations, is one of my utmost priorities as a leader.

I also strive to provide my team with a clear vision. I do my best to let them learn and grow through independent thinking so they can get to the next level in their career. I often say to them there isn’t anything they’re doing that I can’t do. I’ve done it all, but it doesn’t do me any good to do it myself at this stage in my career. It’s more beneficial for them to take on new responsibilities and challenges while I coach them through it, because at some point they will become the next generation of leaders.

Who has most influenced your leadership style in your career?

I believe there is something to be learned from every person you interact with. Our former CEO, Patricia Woertz, was a very inspirational mentor of mine. I learned a lot about how you set high expectations for people and then support them to achieve their goals. She expected more from me than anyone I had ever worked with, and I learned a great deal by watching how she got people to deliver at that level.

How does your current leadership style at ADM differ from that of previous positions, such as your role at Victoria Podesta Communications?

I started out in the corporate world and then went out on my own and ran my own business. Being an entrepreneur can be one of the greatest learning opportunities. You quickly learn that a paycheck doesn’t come unless someone hires you. And to keep the money coming, they have to hire you over, and over, and over again. You learn to be extremely accountable, responsive, and you learn about your competitive distinction.

When I came to ADM, I began to lead a team and wasn’t just an individual contributor or running my own business. I didn’t have an apprentice period, so I just had to learn how to lead because I had a team waiting for me.

What has been your greatest leadership challenge to date?

Managing the social-media landscape has been one of the greatest leadership challenges so far. The new world of social media is less about facts and data, and more about impressions and people’s opinions. When something is happening that’s potentially detrimental for the company on social channels, it can be challenging to manage the adrenaline of the team. I try to keep them focused and calm. Determining calmly what the next best step will be also helps illuminate the next best step after that.

How would you characterize the team you manage now?

It’s 32 people around the world. Because we are a B2B company, not a B2C company, we don’t have extensive customer-engagement kinds of activities. Our team is small, which means we have to be small but mighty. We all must function at a high level to serve the company’s needs.

How do you keep your team inspired and moving forward?

I think there are three things. You have to give:

  • High expectations: If you need a high-functioning team, you need people who are motivated by the opportunity to produce excellent work.
  • Lots of love: I really do try to speak from my heart about these people and how much they mean to me. I say it in a personal way. I say it frequently.
  • Really clear feedback: Use simple, declarative sentences to tell people what is working, what isn’t working, what they did well, what missed the mark.
What is the biggest communication challenge for leaders?

I think the overwhelming amount of channels is the biggest challenge. People have fractured attention spans. When I first came into this business, the Internet didn’t exist. You put out a monthly magazine and people read it because that was the only communication channel. You sent people memos, or you held a face-to-face meeting. Now you’re constantly asking yourself how to earn people’s attention. That’s a new and evolving challenge.

What advice can you give to those wanting to be better leaders?

The culture is changing. Senior leaders are often not as immersed in the new information culture. That’s a tremendous opportunity for younger leaders. They should be excited about the opportunity to contribute their perspectives, and they should feel empowered to share what they know.

What does it mean to "Let Go and Lead"?

Let go of fear. I do think that, particularly when people are young, but even up through senior leadership, people have personal insecurities and hesitations about putting themselves out there. For me, it also means “be active.” Just do it. Don’t wait to follow.

 

Interview By Kelsey Dimar & Ethan Fife

Fast Facts

Location
Decatur, Illinois
Number of employees
More than 33,000 employees in more than 140 countries
Time in current role
9 years
Previous experiences
• President, Victoria Podesta Communications
• Assistant Vice President, Union Bank
First job
Assistant Manager and Assistant Editor, Field Communications, Transamerica Occidental Insurance Company
Leader you admire the most
Tina Fey

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