Lessons Learned from an Enterprise Organization over 3 Decades: An Interview with Charlotte Otto (Part 2)

I recently conducted a bold leader interview with Charlotte Otto and shared what she learned from being at the center of communications at P&G over 33 years. (Click here to read part 1.) During our conversation, Charlotte shared a story about THE leader at P&G who defined “bold” in the phrase bold leader. This is her story.
charlotte_ottoBold Leaders show up in times of trouble.

P&G was a failing company in 2000 and some speculated a takeover target. P&G stock had plummeted after several earnings warnings. It is particularly interesting that she points to this – one of the most stressful periods in P&G’s history – as her favorite. Charlotte said she learned great lessons from many of the P&G leaders over time, but the leader who entered during this time of need is the one that to her, defined bold. Alan “A.G.” Lafley was named CEO in the company’s time of need (this was the first time; he is now back for a second round!) Charlotte stayed for the turnaround and helped lead P&G’s business and reputational turn-around.

Bold leaders have a clear point of view and set of skills that work for them.

Charlotte says she saw A.G. Lafley take this venerable, blue chip company that was on its back and first rebuild confidence followed quickly by rebuilding the company.

Following are 5 lessons Charlotte took from this experience of working closely with him:

  1. “I saw the galvanizing power of purpose.” For A.G. it was this simple: “The consumer is boss.” P&G had lost its way and had become internally focused. “When we put the consumer first and had the consumer in the room for every decision, the turnaround started.”
  2. “A.G. was very clear (you have to be) about his personal leadership beliefs.” As Charlotte pointed out, this is not a new idea. But what she witnessed him do was make his beliefs very clear so people knew what he truly believed and expected as a leader. Another way to state this lesson: “Leadership transparency accelerates showing up.”
  3. “Sesame Street Simple.” They had to develop a game plan that made sense to people. As A.G. Lafley coined it, “Sesame Street Simple.” “People would say ‘We are a huge mess, we get that, but what do we DO?’” His answer: “Big brands, big countries and big customers. When we get it right there we can focus on other things.” One example of how this focus played out is that with stressed resources not everything was funded, and people understood why.
  4. Do things bigger and faster. Charlotte’s lesson here is that bold leads have a sense of urgency. She reflected, “I asked him once what he’d do differently. He said he’d do things bigger and faster. I thought it was really interesting. He led a huge restructuring and turnaround, and yet in reflection he thought he should have done things even bigger because there is always backsliding.”
  5. Continuous improvement is hardest to sustain. Charlotte says they were least successful at creating a culture of continuous improvement. It took 3 years to get the business turned around. Momentum in all businesses is a challenge. As she reflected, “Think of the market dynamic. It’s never going to be slower than it is right now. Your mindset has to be: What’s next?”

As the first Aveusian to work in the U.S., Asia and Europe, Chris has a unique perspective on how leaders drive material and positive outcomes in today’s global marketplace.