All of us want to be good leaders, but never clearly know how to become one. We know that a wise man is one who learns from mistakes of others, but more than that, what is more important is to learn from your own mistakes. Willis Langford, HR Director, Avnet shares his exciting journey of ups and downs and leadership skills learned from the industry for 25+ years with Ankita KS from EFY Group. This is something worth a read…
Q: Over your 20+ years of experience at Avnet and 5+ years in the industry as a whole, what are the key mistakes that you have seen made by the candidates looking for a job? What would your advice be to them?
A: Each candidate is unique and interesting in their own way. It is a perspective and hence cannot be termed as wrong. However, given the changing times, a few points candidates may choose to avoid like seeking instantaneous feedback on selection. This may be misconstrued as anxious and lack of patience. Secondly, some candidates make the biggest mistake of presenting how they could benefit from the organization rather than focusing primarily on what would the organization benefit from their presence.
Q: How do you motivate your team at Avnet? What is your style? and what leadership skills are essential? Any mantras that helped you be recognized by Forbes as “The Great People Managers 2019”?
I focus on the basics – being there for your team without taking away their credit. In short, I encourage my team members to be like trapeze artists who showcase their talent, capability and get all the credit after their performance, though their confidence could have well been boosted from their safety harness hooked on to their waist. I always like to be that safety harness – invisible to the rest of the world, but well-known to my team member that I am there for them if they fall.
We walk the talk when it comes to ethics. We are proud that not just our managers, but all employees have this ideology and practice it always. For our continued commitment to these core values, Avnet has been recognized as one of the 2019 World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere® Institute, a global leader in defining and advancing the standards of ethical business practices.
We have been certified “Great Place To Work” by the Great Place To Work Institute® for the second successive year in addition to being recognized as ‘Company that has Great People Managers’. All this is a testimony to having a passionate team and I am glad to help them be engaged and motivated.
Q: Can you describe your current role? What are the things that excite you–about this role?
A: The biggest advantage of growing in an organization over two decades is visible from the many areas you contribute in a strategic way to the business. Today, my role as an HR Director and Human Resources Business Partner broadly encompass supporting business growth initiatives, leadership development, leadership succession, HR business intelligence and more. The biggest mantra that has kept me up and relevant during this period was to constantly embrace change by treading untrodden paths and I continue to do so and learn every day.
Q: For youngsters dreaming to fill in your shoes—what would be your advice to them? What aspects should they work on to reach here?
A: In these modern times, feedback systems are timely and accurate that allow every action to be captured. So, the platform is set, and it is up to the employee to pursue any bigger role. To get recognized ahead of the race, one should focus on gaining overall knowledge and not limit it to human resources. This approach will help them to support the business more efficiently. Additionally, they need to be committed to all projects undertaken in a consistent manner, to strive to be always relevant and to be a fully engaged people person.
Q: What are the key mistakes that you made that you think you should have avoided in hindsight? Any learnings?
A: Mistakes are perspectives. It is a learning curve. I would rather look at it as learning from all types of experiences that life has offered me personally and professionally. I have lived this concept all through, and it has given me the opportunity to grow and explore across many fields in my career – from a business partnership, training, counseling, facilitating leadership skills and development, and core human resources.
Q: Any good leaders that you worked for? What did you learn from them?
A: I have learned a lot from all my leaders that I have worked for and each of them has added value in one way or the other to the success of my career. I have benefitted immensely from James Tan, my current senior vice president of Human Resources for Avnet Asia Pacific. Managing critical people issues, working with senior leadership, and aiming higher are some key areas I have learned from him alongside his most motivating quote “the best is yet to be”. Another profound learning, I practice even today from what I heard from Phil Gallagher, president, electronic components, Avnet. He said, “You need to remember that we can’t control the headlines. We can control how well we react and compete”. I’ve learned the art of embracing change through these great leaders.
Q: Any bad leaders (need not name them)? Any learnings from them?
A: I have learned from a leader in my early career, that under par performances when not corrected immediately, could lead to a handicap later in one’s career.
Q: If you were in college right now—what would you want to be in the next five years
A: I would want to be open to opportunities and treat every aspect of my learning – seriously. Be it academics, extra-curricular, community service, etc. Because being creative will lead you to greener pastures.
Read more for more articles on career guidance and leadership skills.