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Tanisha's Tips: The Mark of a Great Leader

Here are some lessons Tanisha A. Sykes learned after meeting Rosalind Brewer, the recently appointed President and CEO of Sam's Club.

It was a hot, sticky day in June when I first met Rosalind Brewer, President and CEO of Sam’s Club, a division of Walmart. It was my first time at the Walmart Shareholders meeting and I waited with bated breath in a cool conference room filled with reporters for the woman of color who was hand-selected earlier this year to run the $54 billion business. Brewer has had a stellar reputation as a strong, confident leader who is well-respected by industry peers. So when she walked into that room, it was obvious that she was cool, strategic, and fully in charge. To me, that’s the mark of a great leader: someone who knows who she is and who knows how to carry it without any braggadocios. I was in Bentonville, Arkansas, to meet and greet Brewer in preparation for this month’s November 2012 executive profile (on newsstands now). Although our exchange was brief, her presence spoke volumes about what great leadership entails. Below are a few lessons that I gleaned:

Master your craft. During a press conference with reporters from the around the world, Brewer was fully prepared to discuss company goals, new initiatives, and the challenges she intended to solve as the new CEO of Sam’s Club, which offers goods and services at wholesale prices. My first thought: She studied for this moment, practiced what she intended to say and stayed the course. Our time together was short and she intended not to waste a moment. That’s what you do when you’ve been given a very big job where hundreds of thousands of people are depending on you. You. Show. Up. Ready!

Understand your strengths. Brewer often refers to herself as a P&L girl, as in profits and loss. Translation: She’s constantly watching her company’s bottom line and looking for ways to grow it. At the press conference, Brewer ran the numbers: how much she expected to grow the company, by how many stores and in what timeframe. For anyone listening, it was obvious that she had not only studied the numbers, but she had also talked to enough store managers, customers and peers to understand the full story. That’s what you have to do in your roles. Figure out what you do best and capitalize on it.

Be yourself. How did I know that Brewer was comfortable in her own skin? The passion, the poise and the grace with which she carried herself was a tell-tale sign. Among a sea of male counterparts, mostly heads of Walmart divisions from around the world, I watched her cooly sit back and let them joust for their sound byte. And then, BOOM! When it was her turn to speak, she owned her voice, her thoughts, her ideas, her company’s mission in the palm of her hands. Isn’t that what a CEO is supposed to do, you ask? Yes, but as women of color some of us are often apologetic before articulating an idea, slow to speak to our experiences or too reticent to give our stance at the table. As one of my colleagues always says, “Do you, boo!” It was clear that she was saying, “I can hold my own with the big boys.” And that she did.

Yes, I’m impressed with the leadership skills of Brewer. We should be proud. I know I am. For more lessons from Brewer, click to watch this video: