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Corporate Politics and PepsiCo Leadership

posted May 31, 2012, 5:19 AM by Vishal Jain
Had an interesting experience yesterday at a talk in NYC by Salman Amin, the new Global CMO of Pepsi. I guess it was just a general "career success" talk thing. But basically he just summarized general platitudes and managerial cliches as if a computer had generated his speech. I'm not discounting his intelligence - it probably takes a genius to navigate the political waters of Pepsi and make it to a position like his.

It got me thinking about why stating the obvious with no originality in your opinion is actually the best way to present yourself as a leader in a speech versus a "worker". Instead of speaking in abstracts, let me offer a few examples:
1. He said "about the only thing I can promise you will be constant in your life is change." (Um, ever heard the idiom "the only constant in life is change?", google it...)
2. He said you have to learn from your failures. (i challenge you to name one famous person who hasn't said "you learn from your mistakes")

Initially, you might look at his talk, and when considering how you would present it differently, think to write something like, "We're seeing that the potency of core chemicals in products is actually allowing us to simplify our products to contain FEWER chemicals, to essentially package our beverages as water with only a tiny concentration of powerful vitamin and flavoring agents instead of having a more "syrupy" mix of more dilute ingredients." Maybe not the biggest insight ever, but certainly more original and specific to his expertise and experience.

But if you heard someone say something so technical and narrow, you would walk away thinking "wow, that's a smart dude, i bet if i gave him an assignment he'd blow it away!". You do not walk away from a speech like that thinking, "that guy must be a great leader".

When you hear the more general, platitudinal, unoriginal statements of Salman Amin, however, you can see him as a general manager. Why?

First, making general observations about life -- as general as possible -- makes you seem wiser than making specific observations. It's almost as though you have to have had more life experience to be able to take all your specific observations and add them up to a generalization about life. Even if the observation is completely unoriginal, it speaks to your values and your core beliefs about the world, which gives people an impression of your LONG-TERM point of view. 'This is the kind of guy Salman is' versus 'This is what Salman thinks about beverages'. His platitudes tell you that he is open to change and adaptation, and he is humble because he acknowledges his own failures.

In other words, it's more important to say agreeable things that position you as a "fair" person, that it is to be original and intelligent in your speeches.