Timeless Leadership Advice from a Retired Executive (Part 2)
The conclusion of our chat with retired executive Noy Dy-Liacco. In this episode, you'll learn more about the evolution leadership has gone through over Noy's decades-spanning career. (Episode 10)
In part two of his interview, Craig Irons chats with Noy Dy-Liacco, a retired executive whose career spanned decades–and countries. Noy gives his sage advice for new leaders and talks about the evolution of leadership. (Episode 10)
Craig Irons: In this episode of the Leadership 480 Podcast, we continue our conversation with Noy Dy-Liacco, a retired executive, as he talks about the difficult conversations all leaders must have.
We're talking to Noy Dy-Liacco, a retired executive and leader who worked most of his career in the Philippines and some other locations around the world. We're talking today about his experience as a leader. Well, let me ask you about one of the absolute hands-down toughest parts about being a leader. And that's having really difficult conversations. Whether you're giving someone feedback on their work that, you know, they may need to improve. Is there something you needed to address or even you having to let someone go you know, as a leader for all the years that you were, were in leadership roles, did that ever get easier?
Noy Dy-Liacco: No.
Craig Irons: So if it didn't get easier than how did you just sort of, you know, I know whenever I would have to have a difficult conversation as a leader you know, I, I might not sleep very well the night before or it would really weigh on me. I mean, is that just something that you kind of get used to, for lack of a better word, or what's, what's sort of the secret to developing some level of comfort with having to have those conversations?
Noy Dy-Liacco: The difficult part is when someone who is seen as a performer, all of a sudden disrupts the organization by doing things that they shouldn't have done. And that's where the, the unease comes in. But before I, before I go to that, I think the easy part is during performance appraisal moments or days, it's easy to to deal with the performer. Conversation is pleasant ,high fives after the session, and see you next year before your next for your next evaluation. I used to do this trick with everyone when it came to performance evaluation, I would say "Here's the rating sheet. You rate yourself, and I would also rate you. When we get together, let's compare notes." Somehow, that sort of eases the discomfort. What I also found is that more often than not, most people, in fact many people would underrate themselves. So for example, on a scale of five, I would first ask them, okay, so here when it comes to communication, how would you rate yourself? Oh, here I think I actually had the guy saying, "I've let you down. I've let you down here. I think I rate myself a three or a two," when I would rate them a four. Some guys have said, "Oh, I write five. No sort of exceptions. Now, so, so this process has helped me and the staff to have a more comfortable conversation and in the end by the way, when I say, "No, no, I think I'd rate you a three here instead of your four," they would say, "Okay. It's okay, no problem." And I think the key is to find out at the end exactly what they would, how they rate it. But this process has helped me like I said, to remove the, the discomfort, Now firing people -- It's another, it's another amount there. And a yes it's very discomforting and it doesn't get any easier because the, the circumstances are different from one person to another. I used to have a, a boss who couldn't fire others and he would call me and say, "Take care of this guy." I said, "What has he done?" "Here's his dossier. Talk to him." So I wouldn't tell the other person, look, I don't know what's happened, but this is a, this is the report and I think we're better off if you're no longer in this organization. There've been some, some bitter moments. Uh but in the end I felt it was necessary to protect the, the enterprise. There's a course, Craig, there's a DDI course called Strategic Leadership Experience, which I had the privilege to, to run together with one of your facilitators.
Craig Irons: Yeah. The Strategic Leadership Experience ,for our listeners, is a DDI course. It's run over a number of days and it is a a simulation that leaders moving up to a strategic leadership role can go through to learn what it's like in that role.
Noy Dy-Liacco: One of my favorite roles there is called guardian of the enterprise. And, and I, I think it's important that, if you're a leader, you have to guard enterprise of course, for good reasons. And if it includes having to let go people who you may be friends with or maybe even hired, then we, we just had the side the, the relationship part and stick to the situation. And again, more often than not, when confronted with this, the staff accepts the outcome. Yes. One guy I had to fire had defrauded a supplier and I said to him, "I had a call from a supplier and he tells me that you've been a receiving bribes." And he said, "You don't have the, you don't have the proof." I said, "I don't need to have proof." He standing me and he's already to show me proof, but I don't even want to go there. I said, "I need your resignation." This was happening at . "I Need your resignation on my desk at 12 noon today." Then he left in a huff, very angry. I was thinking, "What's going to happen at noon?" At noon? He comes to my office with a letter finished. I think sometimes it takes a, I don't know how you call it, a political will as they say. Yes. You just have to bite the bullet and, and, and do it. And there's no ifs, no buts.
Craig Irons: It's never easy, like you said. Let's talk about something a bit different. So leading a team through a period of change, which just seems like it's such a common demand on leaders these days. You, you must have done this multiple times over the course of your career. You know, having to lead people through times of change and transition. What advice would you offer our listeners for how to do that effectively?
Noy Dy-Liacco: First of all, every time there's a change in the organization, it disrupts everyone. And the comfort zones are disturbed. So I think the the first advice I would give is by all means, I noticed the change in no uncertain terms, make sure that everyone is thoroughly informed, make room for those who doubt and allow them to come back and say, "Can I have a one on one with you? Because I don't agree with what I heard." But I'd say announce a change, but go slow until you're sure that everyone is with you on it. Because in the end, you need everyone to be with you. You cannot just say, "Today we will abolish this department and create a super department headed by so and so." It is very disruptive. In my, in my last position at Nestle where I had the job of director of communications, we had a massive org change in our, in our sales organization. We, we moved from direct selling to a distributorship, which means we had to let go many people, some very talented, because they were no longer necessary. So we had to help HR prepare a massive presentation to the staff and we had to do this in groups. Why, what's the change? Why are we doing this? What are the benefits to those concerns? And and, and that, that worked. We also saidIf you need, if you on need one-on-one consultations, here are the people to, to talk to." So announce it, make it clear, make sure everybody understands what, what's in store. But go slow. In our case, we said this will not happen until X month. So it's not as if it's happening tomorrow.
Craig Irons: Right. What do you think is the most important skill or ability a leader needs to have?
Noy Dy-Liacco: To me, communication is, is the most important. Because the leader who has the appropriate skills in communication can then move on to do other things. What do I mean by that? Well, first of all, the leader has to announce his vision, describe his vision. A leader must be a storyteller. You know, if his vision is we want to be the best performing coffee business in this part of the world, he has to tell that story in many different ways so that the people are inspired. And these all are communication. I'm, I'm, I'm again here, I'm, I'm led by what I read or what I read. There's a guy named William Zinsser who, who wrote the book "On Writing Well."
Craig Irons: Yes. Wonderful book.
Noy Dy-Liacco: And I can never forget what he said. "When You communicate, he said, you have to be single minded, you have to be clear, you have to be concise, and you need a touch of humanity." Beautiful. And I'm trying to follow that. Whenever I have to, to communicate anything single-minded, clear, concise, and then I add a little bit of humanity in there. Someone also said, and this one I, I use in my, in my DDI facilitation work before: Reason leads to conclusion, but the emotion leads to action. And I think the leader has to embrace all of this because once you have the perfect skills, everything else follows empathy, listening, influencing people. Otherwise, if you cannot communicate what you have in mind, how will people act or react? Craig, to me, everything revolves around how one can effectively communicate this vision and more importantly, how the staff can then begin to break that down into doable parts, so that they can be let go and, and do whatever they have to do.
Craig Irons: We're talking to Noy Dy-Liacco, a retired executive, about his experiences as leader. Just a few more questions for you here, Noy. And we just talked about the importance of communication as a skill all leaders must have. But is there a leadership skill or ability that you think is overrated or maybe gets too much attention?
Noy Dy-Liacco: I was reading about introverts, Susan Cane and I I kept smiling along the way because I'm, I consider myself an introvert. I remember when I was, what, maybe ten, twelve years old, there was a big party in our neighbors' house. And my father said, "Why don't you go there? We were invited." I said, "I don't have to go there. I don't know anyone there." He said, "Well, the idea is so you can meet people." I said, "I don't need to meet people. I'm happy. I'm happy staying home." So Susan Cain talks about the power of introverts. You know, in a world that can't stop talking. I think the, to me, what's overrated -- That's what was the question right? Overrated?
Craig Irons: Yes.
Noy Dy-Liacco: To me, I think what's overrated is the bias towards extroverts as natural leaders. And I had just seen a Netflix, documentary on Tony Robbins. So to me it's, it's Tony Robbins versus Susan Cain. And Susan Cain says a third to fifty percent of people are introverts and then she goes on to say, "Our research studies show that introverts, in fact, when they lead a team, are able to achieve more because they have focus, and they allow the members of the team to work alone the way they would do themselves." I suppose to extroverts who will demonstrate the spurt of energy. But in the process they'll be all over the place and maybe not get things done as quickly or as thoroughly as an introvert leader would do. So to me, I think that's probably it. So it's not so much a skill but the personality trait.
Craig Irons: Right. So by the time you finished your career, you were a senior leader what advice can you offer based on your own personal experience for leaders who aspire to move up?
Noy Dy-Liacco: First of all, I would tell them, demonstrate that you're good at what you were hired to do before you even say, I want to be CEO in three years. So if we hire you as middle manager to, to look over a certain team or certain projects, do the best that you can, deliver what you've been asked to do, and make your bosses proud that they hired the right guy. And after that, once they begin to notice you, then find ways to begin to express your own interests or desire. Nothing wrong with that and say, you know "I think I want to try this particular job." So the second point that I'd like to say is be dispensable. Allow yourselves to grow out of your current job so you can do something else. And, but again, if you move to a new job, to a different job within the same company, again, make an effort to excel. Whether it's sales, whether it's communication, whether it's HR, just excel. Along the way, they will notice you. And this is where your opportunity will come in and say, you know, "I would like one day to maybe work in Pittsburgh or work in Switzerland, to advance my career because I still don't know a lot." And I think, I think the bosses who would would appreciate that being, being forthright. And to me it's not seen as being too ambitious, too assertive. It's, it's just expressing -- And during the performance evaluation, there's a portion there that says, where do you, where do you see yourself progressing in this company? That's a good opportunity to, to express your interest or desire.
Craig Irons: Good stuff. So, one of the you know, our, our, our conversation today is, you know, is, is we're being reflective. We're looking back over, over your career. And one of the great advantages of looking back is you can look back and, you know, as sort of a sense of realization that, you know, maybe I worried too much about this one thing that I probably shouldn't have worried about or maybe I should've spent more time on this one area over here that I didn't spend as much time on. What's your take on that? I mean, what were was, was there one thing you could identify that you maybe either worried too much about or spent too much time on? The flip side of that, was there something you wish you would've done more over the course of your career?
Noy Dy-Liacco: I worked many years with marketing people who were developing launch plans for new products and new advertising, etc. And through the years there was this -- There was this notion that if you're launching a new product or a new campaign, it has to happen on Easter Sunday. Why? Nobody knows. I challenged that. I said, who watches television on Easter Sunday? And I was told, "Well, here's the data." So what I'm saying is during this period, the young guys would pressure themselves, including the agency to develop this new campaign. And I'm not talking one, one brand, I'm talking several brands. And I used to tell them, "Do you really think your consumers are lining out there on Easter Sunday waiting for your new ads?" I said, "What happens if you were to do not advertise on Easter Sunday?" So I was never able to influence them to do otherwise because this was a, this was a habit. And, and in fact, recently I asked the question, "Are you still advertising on Easter Sunday?" And the answer was yes. So I think there are certain habits among when I was working with marketing staff mainly, that that's they're difficult to, to change. And in a way, I, I empathize with them because they drive themselves crazy -- more so the agency, too. I mean, rather than have a week of rest during the Easter week, they're out finishing adverts. I don't know if I answered your question.
Craig Irons: Oh, you definitely answered the question. Noy, one question that we ask all of our guests, and I want to ask this of you today, can you share a moment of leadership that had an impact on you?
Noy Dy-Liacco: I was listening to your podcast on the way in, and I came across this question -- What's a good moment of leadership that I can share? This will be a, a long reply, Craig. Back in the early nineties, our CEO in Switzerland started to issue what they called blueprint for the future. This was his vision on how Nestle was going to do certain things in certain areas. And he had a blueprint for the future on communication. A thick document where he said anything that the company communicates, the CEO is finally responsible for it. However, he said the CEO has no time to look after every piece of communication. That's why he needs a senior executive to help him do the job. And this is how the job of communications director came about. His vision is that this person would report directly to the local CEO and together they would vet communication materials of all kinds. Now, up until this time, the group managers in each of the businesses were doing the vetting. So again, here I come, announcing to everyone, "Hey guys, I will now be involved in the decision making process." And, boy, this was approved by -- I mean this was, this was met with great resistance or very lukewarm, a response. One guy even said, why should I now show him what I could approve previously I said, I'm sorry, I'm just here to do a job. Fortunately during the time we would have global CD conferences and I remember distinctly one day in Switzerland, I was having breakfast with my counterpart from the U.S. And I asked him, I said, "How do you get your job done?" And he was relating to me the same experience. I step in, group managers dislike what I was doing and dislike the role. He said, "I tell you what. Pick on the low lying fruits. Ignore everyone else. Get someone and help him find a solution to his communication problem. Pick the simplest one." Before long he said, "Word will get around what you've done. And what will happen is they will start queuing outside your room." So I come back, I found a guy, he was in charge of Kit Kat. And he said, "Noy, I, I bought six trucks. They're plain. I want to put Kit Kat design in all of them."
Craig Irons: Kit Kat the candy bar.
Noy Dy-Liacco: Yes. "But I don't have the money and I don't even know how to make the design." I said, "Okay, I'll help you. I'll help you with the design. I'll help you with the cost to install the design. I'll pay fifty percent. So you take care of the three trucks, I'll take care of the three." We did that. At the end of that production, I said, "Do me a favor, park all six cars in the parking lot to the office where everybody can see. It worked like magic. As early as , people are saying, "Who did those trucks? Who did the design? What is the cost?" So yes, before long there was a queue outside my room. I mean, I think the lesson learned here, Craig, is not so much that, you know, we did something magical. But again, it's the power of influential leadership. My servant leadership thing, it's the, it's the idea of being able to foster cooperation without forcing them to my position as director of communication. I mean, I said, "Look, you know, you know, I'm in my room. If you think I can help you, I will be more than happy to help you. If I, if you think I'm not necessary, it's up to you. But if my boss asked me if I vet your materials, I will tell them no. If you, if, if you decide to, to ignore what I can do. From then on, gradually there was a change in, in cooperativeness, so much so that the director of marketing then said, made it very clear: "From now on, all materials have to be vetted by either myself and/or Noy, no exception."
Craig Irons: So that is almost an example -- What I'm kind of hearing there is you had to, you had to build trust.
Noy Dy-Liacco: Yes, yes. I had to build trust. I had to, to show them that I cared for, for what they were doing and that I understood their needs.
Craig Irons: And that's a really important thing that leaders need to do every day, isn't it?
Noy Dy-Liacco: Yes. Yes. Again, in the end, it's really, it really boils down to, to caring for the people. Doesn't matter whether they report to you or they belong to a different department. It's it's being able to empathize and, and, and show to them that, "Look, this is a great company to work for. We're here to help." And I, I wonder -- one of the things I keep telling them is, "I'm here to help you succeed. I'm not competing with anyone. I'm, I'm out of here in less than 10 years."
Craig Irons: Noy Dy-Liacco, thank you so much for the time today. This has been a really wonderful conversation. I'm sure our listeners have heard a lot today that they can they can take away from this.
Noy Dy-Liacco: I'm, I'm, I'm honored to be here. By the way, if I may just add one more thing we were talking about. We are talking about on decision making. Is the decision making process harder? One of the things I experienced was in a large organization, there are many people who can say no, but very few people look and say yes. And often times people look and say yes or way down the decision making chain. And I've encountered this again in the area of approving communication, where before the agency would come -- and it's all the people who can say no meeting with them. So this was going on backwards and forwards. The agency would go back, they'd come back, still the same people who can say no, and by the time they get to their bosses who can say yes, the boss will say no because they didn't like what they saw. So in this particular instance, "I said, look, let's, let's try to experiment." I would only have one meeting. All those who can say yes and all those who can say no are in one meeting. This was a great challenge to the bosses who would always say, "Oh no, no, I don't have the time." I said, "It's important that we're all in that one meeting together." And after the presentation of the agency for approval, I would turn around to those who can say no. Comments. And so we'd would pick the comments and then to the bosses who can say yes. "Do you agree with the comment? What you read?" What we accomplish doing it was at the end of the meeting we were very clear on what the agency could do or could not do. So the next one, they turned around. Yes. The ones who can say, yes, need not be there anymore. Because after all, we've already discussed the details. I don't think that still is being done now, but I wish they would. They would try that again because it saves a lot of time. It saves a lot of anguish and emotions. And it doesn't waste the agency's time.
Craig Irons: I was in a meeting last week, very similar to that, where some people who had the power to say no to some things, you know, we just had to bring them together because they just didn't necessarily have all the information. And you can accomplish so much sometimes just by getting people in a room and, and making sure everyone has all the same information. Noy, thank you so much.
Noy Dy-Liacco: Thanks again, Craig.
Craig Irons: Great, great conversation. My name's Craig Irons, and I want to thank you again for listening to the Leadership 480 podcast from DDI, and I want to remind you to make every moment of leadership count.