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Five Leadership Lessons

Oct 7, 2019
Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good kicked off the Owen School’s 2018–19 Distinguished Speakers Series, a student-run initiative that brings high-profile executives to Vanderbilt or intimate conversations with management students and faculty.

By Kara Sherrer

The speaker series originally was endowed by A. Alexander Taylor, JD’78, the former CEO and chairman of FGX International, and his wife.

Here are Lynn’s five lessons:

1. The path to the top is rarely linear.
Good began her career in the utility industry at Cinergy, which merged with Duke Energy in 2005. In 2013 she was named CEO of Duke, which has been a mainstay of the Fortune 500. Previously, she was a partner at two international accounting firms, including a long career with Arthur Andersen. “It’s been more zigzags than you might expect … but I think you’ll find that to be the case with many executive leaders. It’s not a linear path,” she said.
2. A major setback does not mean the end of your career.
While Good was employed at Arthur Andersen, the firm became embroiled in the Enron accounting scandal and closed up shop in 2002, leaving Good to start over—even though she had never worked on the Enron account. Despite the setback she was able to build a successful career in a new industry and went on become one of the few Fortune 500 female CEOs.
“[A situation like that] doesn’t mean career over,” she said. “What it taught me very quickly was that I was the asset, so I had to figure out what I was going to do. It’s less about who you work for, and more about what skills you’ve acquired.”

3. Communication is of paramount importance.
Good describes herself as a “math person” and has spent her entire career in technical industries such as accounting and energy. However, in her role as CEO, she has found herself speaking in various forums—from employee meetings to television and media interviews—and says that communication is a crucial skill for any business leader to have. “If I can’t say it in a way that you understand it, then it doesn’t matter if it’s right,” she said. “[In] trying to advocate for a position or explain a strategy to an employee, if I can’t get that out in a way that people can rally around, then the job is really hard.”

4. Develop other critical leadership traits.
Beyond communication skills, Good listed other traits important for business leaders to possess, including persistence, resilience, courage, willingness to change and optimism. “I can’t come to work thinking [something is] impossible,” she said. “I have to come to work thinking that it’s possible and, in so doing, encourage all the people around me.”

5. Look for an environment in which you will be successful.
When asked about her experience as a female leader in corporate America, Good said she knew early on that she could be successful at a merit-based firm and looked for those kinds of companies, as opposed to one where, for example, participating in the company softball league would be necessary for promotion. “I believe that in a merit-based environment, men, women and diverse candidates can all be successful. Positioning yourself in a place where your capabilities speak very loudly—I would encourage you to do that, she concluded.”

More Lessons

Learn some other lessons from executives who participated in this year’s Distinguished Speaker Series:
Bill Carpenter, former CEO of LifePoint Health:
Daniel Fete, chief financial officer for AT&T Communications:
Sam Samad, former chief financial officer of Cardinal Health’s pharmaceutical segment and former CFO of Eli Lilly Canada:

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