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157: Leaders with Heart Lead with Curiosity

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Donald Comer, Staff VP of Fedex Corporation, an incredible leader of color who was recommended by Stephen M.R. Covey. Donald’s leadership wisdom conveys that he is a humble leader who leads with reverent power. Their conversation conveys that anyone in any place in an organization has the opportunity to lead. Donald and Heather discuss strategies for maintaining culture in a remote environment, which are very useful in today’s climate.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lead with reverent power. 
  • Make sure your personal brand and company brand mesh. 
  • Foster an environment that allows mistakes and by consequence innovation. 
  • Bring culture of office to the remote environment.
  • Handwritten notes are a forgotten skill and a powerful tool. 
  • Share a different perspective than what you’re accustomed to.
  • Assume positive intent and use curiosity to meet the other person where they are.

Donald Comer currently serves as Vice President, Decision Science & Analytics at FedEx. He is a seasoned Fortune 100 business professional with successful experience across broad portfolio of business disciplines and industries. 

Donald has been a member of the FedEx family since 1989. He is a recipient of the FedEx Five Star, awarded to the top 2% of employees annually. Prior to FedEx, Donald was with International Paper, Holiday Corporation, and Brandon, Smith & Jones CPA in accounting, finance, and audit roles. 

He is currently the Board Chairman and the member of the Executive Committee of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA). Donald has also been a member of the Executive Committee of LeMoyne-Owen College, and at Stillman College as a member of the Advancement & Development Committee and the Athletic Committee.   

He earned an MBA from the University of Memphis and BS in Accounting from the University of Tennessee. Beyond his professional and board commitments, he enjoys music, traveling, and photography. 

Expecting A Lot

I use data analytics machine learning and artificial intelligence to explore opportunities. It’s such a great job. I have lots of opportunities to share thoughts with leadership and to lead an amazing team who are extremely talented. I expect a lot. What I aspire to be in my leadership style is to set expectations: to have a team that trusts me, that knows that I support them, that expects me to remove barriers, and knows that I am a caring leader. I think that’s what’s important.

I try to always assume positive intent. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Adaptability and Reverent Power

I’ve always struggled with my drive to lead. Is it something you grow and develop, or is it innate? I think that it is innate. But I also do think that you have to work at it. You have to be highly adaptive, because the expectations of the people, of your organization, and of society, continue to evolve. Whether it’s learned or it’s innate, you have to be adaptive and you have to be a continuous learner. You have to grow, and you have to develop. When you become complacent, it’s very quick for people to notice. That doesn’t slip in your leadership. Whether it’s truly a slippage from how much you care, or it’s just the fact that it’s not on pace with what’s expected in the marketplace, it shows up. I want to be relevant. There were some times that I want to lead from the second tier. I want to contribute, but I want to do it in a way that it always has some degree of influence on how other people show up. It’s not always about being the person that leads from a position of authority. I want to lead with reverent power. I want people to respect me. I want people to believe that when I show up my commitment is real, that what I say is what I do, and that there is no gap between those two.

(I’m) always trying to get to the place where the other person is before I make a decision. It is my nature because I'm a fixer. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It's extremely important as a leader to find a culture that either messes with your style or gives you the tools to adapt. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Inspired And Motivated

A lot of my career in marketing and in the job I am in has been around innovation. It’s about changing minds and hearts about what an opportunity looks like. Leading a team in that space of innovation means you’re going to have far more time to choose strike out, then you win. What I’ve had to learn in my journey is to how to keep people inspired. I am going to be really intentional about using the word inspire. I used to say that it’s motivation. But there’s a significant difference between inspiring people to want to continue to do more, because I’m having to do the same thing for myself. As a leader, when I’ve worked hard on something, I have to maintain my motivation, then inspire a team to pick themselves up and move on to the next opportunity. Know that driving the organization to the right decision is really what success looks like. I could choose to see that as a failure or I could choose to see it as a learning moment and be inspired to move on to the next opportunity.

You have to be intentional about leading a team because trust is probably the most significant thing now. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I want my entire leadership journey to be more of relevancy. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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