Leaders and Entrepreneurs - Claudia Gaines Patton, President of The Headline Group
on Leadership

An Interview by Marie J. Kane

MJK: What in your opinion is most important to be a good leader?

CGP: Focus, delegate and the ability to put your vision into words. I also think if you are a good coach and teacher and are passionate about teaching it doesn't hurt.

MJK: Tell me more about focus - focus on what, or about what?

CGP: Focusing on the vision. Focusing on what the company's going to do - what the project is going to be. If you are unfocused or unclear, you will be all over the place. You will be a reactionary person. I don't believe a reactionary person can be a leader. Touch every piece of paper on your desk only once. Delegate to other people so you can continue to fulfill the vision. I just think there is too much clutter today in our world and there are too many distractions, so you end up thrashing about, as opposed to communicating-where are we all going?

MJK: In your mind what is the difference between a leader and a manager?

CGP: This is so on point with what is going on today. I came in here this weekend with stacks of things and I realized a lot of them were manager tasks. I took those manager tasks and I gave them to the managers. The difference is, the manager is not necessarily responsible for the "other side of the shore." The manager is responsible for the day-to- day operation of how we are going to get there, that is tactically how we are going to fulfill the leader's vision. That's the difference.

MJK: What would you say your greatest challenge as a leader, not a manager, but a leader is?

CGP: Releasing managerial responsibilities.

MJK: Have you come to a way to help yourself do that?

CGP: Surrounding myself with excellent people. Then you can give it to them and watch them do it. You can even watch them fail and it's ok because they will succeed more than they will fail. If you don't have the good people around you, the whole system collapses because you can't delegate and you really can't focus because you are focusing on them.

MJK: What is most rewarding for you about being a leader?

CGP: Effecting change in young people. Watching them develop and grow. I'm not a feeler, but I do "well up" when I watch a staff person who's been with me for years really achieve something and reach their potential. I have one who went from being a receptionist to being a supervisor who can make a presentation that will knock your head back. It is an absolute thrill to realize that I was a part of that development - of enhancing the values that she was raised with, of helping with her presentation and communication skills, and the content of what she says, and most importantly instilling the confidence that makes it authentic. There is nothing like it. I get a chill just thinking about it. It's the best. It's different than teaching school, because in teaching they go on to another grade and then you lose track of them. But when they stay with you and you watch it is so satisfying.

MJK: When you reflect on your conversations with your peers, what do you think the greatest challenges for corporate leaders today are?

CGP: Balancing personal and business life. It's not an issue for me, but it's what I hear. It's such a cliché to say balance, but making that work is a real issue. Keeping their values strong and not being distracted by the almighty dollar only. I hear a whole other set of pressures from those that run public companies or work with venture capitalists in both cases of intense outside pressure. I don't have to deal with those things.

MJK: You said balance is not your issue. Tell me why is that? How have you managed to address that in a way so that, although it is an issue for a lot of people, you have managed to dodge that bullet?

CGP: I started this business when I was 32. I did my 16-hour days. It was my personal passion and my professional passion and all the rest. That was great and built the business to this point. When I entered my forties I started to have other interests and wanted to experience other things, like travel. Some of my interests and experiences I can bring back to this company and they enhance the company. They enhance my relationships with the media, with my clients and with my networking, so I can go live this very rich, fulfilling personal life and it's great for my professional life. And it allows the senior people in this company to step in my shoes and take on leadership roles and do a better job than I do. It's been great. It's really a win, win.

MJK: If a young woman said to you "What would you recommend that I do to develop myself to be a good leader?" what would you tell her?

CGP: I would make sure that she was committed to life-long learning and that means to really determine where her black holes are. What did she not get in her education and I don't just necessarily mean in her grades. What are the elements about finance, or human resources, or business, or interpersonal relationships that she didn't get. And I would encourage her to take seminars, to go to classes, to go to trade shows, to be involved with what is going on. I would encourage her to read and to know her industry well. If you are going to represent your field you had better know what is going on. And then of course networking. That means I would encourage her to get in the community and be a leader in the non-profit world as a way to give back, to make a difference. Practice those leadership skills with a group that is going to be so thrilled that you are volunteering and helping them out. You are doing something good and then you can take those skills back to the corporate world and you've got a more fully developed package to sell and you've done something-you've developed yourself. That is one of the areas that we mandate in this company. It's developed people right to the top. It really is a ripple effect that's so delightful.

MJK: What do you think young people in school should add to their curriculum or extra- curricular, before they are even out in the work world so that they can use that as an opportunity to develop foundations for being better leaders?

CGP: I would seek out the person in their family who is a leader, first of all. I would find out if there is someone that could help mentor them growing up and spend time with them, hear their stories, maybe go to their work environment, or maybe travel with them. But I would really start there and maybe there is a friend's father or mother or something. I would also look for the teacher, or maybe it is somebody in a church or a synagogue situation, and I would look for someone there who is a leader, who is inspirational, and who motivates you. Try to spend time around that person and figure out what it is about those people that you want to see again and be with. If you find any adult that inspires you or jazzes you up, try to spend your time with them.

MJK: When you think about your mentors, whether formal or informal, or your role models, what was it about them that was so special?

CGP: My mother was a role model for me. My mother is a widow. My father died when I was 10 months old. My mother's work ethic was exemplary. I could never match her work ethic. She was up and out of the house at 5:30 in the morning and worked at US Steel in the marketing department. She worked for 40 years with dedication and devotion to what she was doing. My grandfather had the same work ethic and then my uncle who is a very successful self-made man. It is very much in my family.

MJK: Thank you, Claudia for sharing not only your mind, but also your heart about leadership.

N.B. This article was originally published in Competitive Edge Magazine.


Marie J. Kane has been an executive coach and corporate consultant for 20 years. She specializes in innovative approaches to executive development with a special emphasis on individual and group virtual coaching. She is the author of a comprehensive team assessment and development process, creator of "The Leader's Way" executive development program and a co-creator of an integrated strategic and operational planning process as well as offering state-of-the-art employee selection and development systems integrated with performance management and organizational culture. Marie may be reached at Marie@executiveevolution.com , and visit www.executiveevolution.com for additional information.

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