How I rose to the c-suite using emotional intelligence and how you can, too!

February 28, 2019

Anne-Marie Renaud, ACC, CEC believes as a coach she can act as a catalyst to spark change and new ways of thinking for her clients, allowing them to become more effective. She is an EI ADVANTAGE Associate, and practices coaching based in Montreal, PQ.

I often reflect about how, back in 2006, I ended up having the immense privilege of leading a team of 2,500 people, eight plants, 17 distribution centers and a seat in the Canadian C-Suite of a Fortune 500 company as the first female VP Operations for PepsiCo Foods, Canada.  

What Got Me In the Door?

Well, certainly not my IQ. Freshly graduated in Food Science, when I interviewed for a plant Quality Control Supervisor role with Frito-Lay in 1984, what distinguished me from others in my cohort was that I had already been married for three years, I was concierge of a 42-suite apartment building (because it meant rent was free), and I was recognized as a natural leader with a strong sense of humor.  

Company leaders told me later that what got me in the door was my genuine, driven, responsible, cheerful leadership style. All of which had more to do with my EQ than my IQ.

What made me stay?

Honestly, going from university to a shop floor, you have to be flexible and adapt on many levels. That was especially true for a young woman in 1984. You see, the culture around inclusiveness and what was appropriate was very different back then. For many years, I was the only female manager in a world of men.  

Thankfully today, diverse and inclusive business cultures are top of mind and progress is being made. Luckily for me, I had a strong sense of humor and a tough skin and I was able to decide when to ignore things, when to assert myself, and when to simply laugh or let it go.  

With that understanding I was able to build lasting relationships and become part of the team that I came to love and appreciate.  If not for a strong foundation of emotional and social intelligence I would not have lasted past the first three months.

What Paved the Way?

If I had only two words to describe why I was successful at PepsiCo, I would say “results” and “leadership.”  But the more you climb the ladder the less you impact results directly. With each promotion my future success became dependent on my ability to influence results through others, or said differently, on my leadership capabilities.  

I was lucky in many ways throughout my career. I worked with an organization with values and guiding principles that resonated with mine. A company that invested in people and encouraged leaders to grow: to further develop as a leader, which always starts with becoming more self-aware.

Feedback is a gift and at PepsiCo you received a lot of gifts! The multifaceted sources of feedback I was exposed to during my career made me understand and leverage my strengths but more importantly they made me aware of areas of leadership I needed to work on to become a better leader. It is both humbling and priceless to hear that as good as you think you are, there is plenty to do if you aspire to become better.

“Excellence is not about perfection it’s about continuous improvement.”  

Luckily this applies to human performance!

I am recognized as a passionate, courageous leader who cares. But, I have scars to prove that courage and impulsiveness can be a mix for a dangerous cocktail at times, especially when you sit in the C-Suite. Learning to understand my triggers and to control my impulsiveness has been a life-long journey. And this is just one example of the work I had to do on myself.

Being transparent about my flaws with my team made me even more accountable to improve myself, and it also helped to ensure that I surrounded myself with leaders who could complement my strengths and weaknesses.

How to Never Lose Yourself and Forget Who You Are

Being VP of Operations and sitting in the C-Suite of PepsiCo Canada was by far the best role I ever had. It was fun, but it placed me outside my comfort zone regularly and it constantly pushed me to take my leadership skills to the next level.  

At that stage, collaboration, flexibility and stress tolerance became even more critical, both to succeed and to last. At that level leadership is a fine balancing act. The key for me was to deal with emotional skills while trying to never to lose sense of myself: to stay authentic. Trying to be perfect is exhausting. If you want to be an effective leader; practice authentic leadership not perfection.

Emotional Intelligence + Self-Awareness + Transparency = Authentic Leadership

You see, I have no doubt I am a good leader, but I am far from being a perfect one and that’s absolutely OK. The exciting thing about the equation above is that with hard work, commitment and a little help, each of these elements can be developed.  

I came to realize I have a passion for leadership and for talent development. Today I work to help leaders reach their full potential as an executive coach. Daniel Goleman said that “emotional intelligence is the ‘sine qua non of leadership’” and I couldn’t agree more.

Want to learn more about how to be an Authentic Leader, how to develop your self awareness and increase your level of Emotional Intelligence Contact us today or reach out on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter.