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5 Tips for effective leadership from Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern

American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. (tupungato / DepositPhotos.com)

American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. (tupungato / DepositPhotos.com)

Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern took over as head of the organization when it had a $209 million operating deficit and was borrowing money to make payroll. She was the ninth CEO for the organization in five years.

To turn the organization around, she would have to get the organization’s 720-plus chapters to share services and adopt unified messaging. McGovern told an audience at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business recently that the Red Cross board quickly convinced her not to rush in with a plan because it would be hard for her to get buy-in from chapter leaders for a new mandate from the headquarters.

Instead, she began a two-year turnaround play that helped most of the organization’s leaders see their own influence on the final plan.

McGovern’s lessons  from the two-year turnaround effort, and previous professional roles at AT&T, Fidelity Personal Investments, and at Harvard Business School led her to come up with these five tips for effective leadership:

  1. Attract, retain and motivate the best people
  2. Be inclusive and create missionaries
  3. Listen generously, communicate incessantly
  4. Embrace change, admit mistakes and course correct quickly
  5. Lead from the heart and the head

Watch a video of McGovern speaking about the difference between long-term plans and wish-lists:

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