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Tips From The Top: One On One With Janet Foutty, CEO of Deloitte Consulting

I spoke to Janet Foutty, CEO of Deloitte Consulting, about her journey and her best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Janet: I didn’t aspire to be a CEO. I’m the child of a scientist and an artist – so my business background is less typical than most. But, at the dinner table growing up, authenticity and original thinking weren’t just encouraged, but expected so I try to bring that same dinner-table thinking to the office every day.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Janet: I joined Deloitte directly after earning my MBA, and throughout my 27 year career I’ve worn many different hats including leading the Technology practice and the Federal practice. Asking myself the same three questions along the way has helped guide my journey:

1. Am I doing interesting work?

2. With interesting people?

3. Is what I’m doing making an impact?

That kept me open to new opportunities even if they weren’t all necessarily part of a traditional, linear path. Also, knowing you have support and that the firm will show up for you during those unplanned dimensions of life that arise be it family, health, or otherwise have all guided my career journey.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Janet: Collaboration – This era of unprecedented change requires the C-suite to think and operate differently than we have in the past. As complex, multi-disciplinary challenges blur the lines between departments and specialties, leaders must break down functional siloes and collaborate in new ways. We recently did a study on how organizations are addressing this need for collaboration and found that companies where C-suite executives regularly collaborate are a third more likely to be growing 10% or more than companies whose leadership operates in siloes. However, 54% said their companies are not ready, or only somewhat ready, for the level of executive team collaboration they believe is now required.

Inclusiveness – I seek out creative thinkers with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. We’ve seen the research telling us that innovative thinking requires diversity of experiences represented around a table–not to mention it’s the right thing to do. I’ve observed over the course of my career what I call the ‘mini-me’ phenomena, especially when it comes to mentorship and sponsorship. People tend to gravitate towards those who remind them of themselves. They form easy bonds with people who walk, talk, and look like them. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, we’ll keep finding that the people who need the most support will be the ones getting the least.

Communication – The ability to be clear and concise and knowing how to tailor your communications for different audiences is a very powerful tool. My early consulting days were spent on Wall Street working on back-office technology. I quickly realized the value in being able to translate complex IT issues to the business, which today is even more critical as the lines between technology and business blur. Additionally, I’ve found that infusing personal stories is a great way to connect to your organization at-large.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Janet: Stay Authentic – You have to be confident in who you are and what differentiates you from the pack. Be willing to demonstrate that in a wide variety of leadership situations and encourage others to do the same. It’s about being the same version of yourself whether you’re talking to one person or 500 – or the 50,000 people in my business.

Encourage a culture of continuous learning – Creating a culture of continuous learning is critical in attracting and retaining top talent in an increasingly tight labor market. Beyond the case for talent acquisition, continuous learning is what will help equip entire organizations to change at scale. Setting a vision for the company that celebrates education, innovation, and problem-solving skills in our increasingly complex digital world will differentiate great leaders from good ones and will position business more competitively for the future.

Listen – To lead does not mean you do all the talking. You’ve got to hone your skills at listening to be able to communication effectively. Absorb. Take in everything you can. Clients will tell you what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and, if you listen closely enough, they might tell you what else they need. Dig deeper. Get the details.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Janet: When I first joined my firm, the partner who hired me told me, very unequivocally, that I was no more or less smart that the most senior partners in the firm and to never think that my ideas were not as important or as relevant as theirs. They simply had more experience in doing the work that we did for our clients. This perspective went on to inform part of my leadership philosophy. It is very easy to get caught in the “They told me I should” or “They told me I have to.” Instead, I encourage accountability for the change you want to see. Don’t fall into the ‘they’ trap because it stifles new ways of thinking and problem solving.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Janet: Sponsorship. Identifying talent who have the right mix of background and experiences – not just the mini-me’s – and helping foster their leadership potential is about being willing to put your political capital on the line for them at crucial moments during their career journey. Sponsorship is core to our culture here at Deloitte. It’s what helped me on my career journey, and I hold each member of my leadership team accountable to ‘pay it forward’ in this way as well.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Janet: Fitness activities and spending time with my family – and when they can be combined, even better! My love for hiking, running, and cycling not only fills my weekends and vacations with my husband, college-age twins, and extended family, but is something I see as bonding opportunities with colleagues as well. I’ve done Soul Cycle as a team outing – what I like to call the ‘healthy hour’ instead of the traditional ‘happy hour.’ Fortunately, wellbeing is core to our culture at Deloitte so there are many opportunities to blend health and wellness with our work. It’s a way to energize the body, engage the mind, and create a sense of purpose. Oh and baking cookies to counterbalance all of that healthiness.

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