Rick Waddell’s Thoughts on Leadership


[Guest blog post by Rick Waddell, Chairman of the Board, Northern Trust]  

My personal journey as a leader began in Pittsburgh, PA where I was born.  College years were spent in Hanover, NH where I met my future wife, Cate, who was one of the first women to graduate from Dartmouth College.  Upon graduating in 1975 I was offered a job in Commercial Banking by The Northern Trust Company, which is based in Chicago IL, a city I had never visited.  Northern Trust was kind enough to pay for my Kellogg MBA, and I am proud to say that our two sons also possess degrees from Kellogg.  I have spent my entire adult working career at Northern Trust so my following thoughts on leadership are biased by my 42 years with the same company.

I believe leaders (or those that will be successful at Northern Trust) must possess the following six attributes: Integrity, Vision, Passion, Visibility, Balance, Humility.  Let me briefly describe each from my perspective.

  1. Integrity.  Everything begins with a leader who exhibits integrity.  Trust is in the name of our company so it has to be important.  I define integrity as knowing what is right and always doing the right “thing”.  Do what is right for our clients, for our partners, for our communities, for our shareholders.
  2. Vision.  Vision means having a picture of where you want to go and being able to articulate that journey.  It means having the metrics in place to measure your progress and having a plan in place to guide you along the path.
  3. Passion.  I used to say that leaders should have fun doing what they do but was told by our marketing folks that “fun” isn’t what we are all about.  Ok.  Instead I say leaders should have passion.  You spend most of your waking day as a leader so you better love what you do and be ready to give it the old 110%.  At one point in my career I worried that I didn’t know what my passion in life was.  A close friend told me, “It’s clear as day.  Your passion is The Northern Trust Company.”  And he was right.  I have had a 42-year love affair with this company.
  4. Visibility.  Successful leaders at Northern Trust are visible.  That means they are out of their offices, meeting with clients, partners, suppliers, regulators and everyone who deals with the bank. They are listening and establishing a high level of engagement with others so that they can really get a sense of what is going on in the business.  I like to say that visible leaders are open to being vulnerable.  Many leaders only like getting the good news.  If you are truly visible and engaged, you need to be ready to get some of the bad news.  You need to be vulnerable.
  5. Balance.  I believe good leaders can be better if they have balance in their lives and, to me, balance means having a clear set of priorities.  Once when I took on a new important role and was about to be introduced to the staff, I asked my team what everyone wanted me to say.  They said, “Tell us who you are and what are your priorities.”  So I told the assembled audience where I came from and how I got to the bank.  I gave them some background on my family.  Then I told them what my priorities were in life.  In order of importance,  I said my most important priorities were Faith, Family, Friends, The Northern Trust, and, to put a little levity into things, my Golf Game!  The point is that while I spend most of my waking hours on The Northern Trust stuff, it is not the most important element of my life.
  6. Humility.  The final attribute I look for in a leader at Northern Trust is humility.  No ego.  I think this is important because we operate in a very complex, fast-paced, and global world where no one individual has all the answers.  Certainly I don’t.  Therefore, teamwork is critical to achieving success, and we place a high value on leaders who can consistently put together and lead high performing teams.  This concept, sometimes called service leadership, came home to me when I called on the Coca-Cola Company.  In the company’s reception area, etched in white marble, is a quote from Col. Robert Woodruff, the company’s CEO in the 1920’s.  He said, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”  That is the kind of leader I am looking for at our company.

As I said earlier, different companies may look for different attributes in their leaders.  That’s fine.  I believe these six are the essence of great leadership at my company, The Northern Trust.

 

 

Frederick “Rick” Waddell, a 42-year veteran of Northern Trust, is a regular guest lecturer in Harry’s classes at the Kellogg School of Management. Rick recently ended a 10-year stint as the ninth CEO of Northern Trust in its 128-year history, having presided over a tumultuous but successful era for Chicago’s largest locally based bank. He’ll remain Chairman for now but plans to ramp up his already-substantial civic engagement. You can read more about Rick here.

2 comments

  • Bro J here. Rick is clearly a Values based leader. Great testimonial for servant leadership.

    Like

  • Thanks to Rick Waddell for his list of leadership values. Integrity as his first
    is important. We are all human. We make mistakes. Our leaders do too. Yet, it’s easier to forgive an honest mistake than when we find out there was a lack of integrity. (Not impossible to forgive lack of integrity, but a bit harder.) His point about leaders being open to both good and bad news was also important. I believe some people think we are supposed to just tell our leaders “everything is great”, even when it’s not. We are not robots. We have brains. Our leaders expect us to use them. Sometimes telling our leaders that we believe they are not on the right path is the best thing we can do for them and for the people we are entrusted to serve. That was great to hear Rick was so happy at his company for so long. Judging from the Gallup organization’s State of the American Workplace report from February of 2017, we have a long way to go to get Americans to the place where Rick is in terms of employee engagement/satisfaction, (fit), etc.)

    Like

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