Learn to Nurture Your Butterflies

Kathleen L. Flanagan, who is president and chief executive of Abt Associates, a consulting firm specializing in health, social and environmental policy and international development, was recently interviewed for the New York Times. She discusses her experience of being a boss for the first time, the need to always be challenged and the lessons in leadership that she has learned over the years.

Q. Can you talk about important mentors in your life?

A. My predecessor as C.E.O., who was the executive vice president who put me in that job in 1989, was a huge mentor to me, and he was the one who said: “Plan for success. Make your plan, set your goals, but plan for success. Be flexible along the way, but have a game plan and make sure you’re planning for success. Don’t plan to fail.”

And always strive to have butterflies in your stomach, he said, because then you’ll be learning. You’ll be pushing yourself. Listen and get input from a lot of people. Respect everybody for their contributions. He helped develop me as a leader and gave me the right level of support, but also put me out there to stretch, to grow, to make my own decisions. He never tried to make decisions for me, and I think that’s really important.

He surrounded himself with a team that he had confidence in, and he allowed the team to do its job; I think that’s essential. I’ve built my team over the last couple of years. I’m very lucky because we’ve got a terrific team, and they are much smarter than me on many things. They’re experts in what they do. And he taught me humility. I don’t have to know it all. You’ve got to ask for perspectives. Go with your gut at the end of the day if you have to make a decision, but get advice from a wide range of people and value their input.

To read the rest of the interview, click HERE.

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