Helen Wechsler on the importance of corporate leadership
“Diversity, equity and inclusion should be in your company DNA”
Helen Wechsler is the Regional Director of Bay Area Food Service at Google. She helps guide and motivate teams that manage 75 cafes and 350 food spaces across the regional campus. Food Inspiration asked Wechsler what it takes to be an inspirational leader in food for so many people on a daily basis.
How would you define inspirational leadership?
“As an organization, you should create a vision and present that to your employees. As a leader, you should allow people to make decisions based on that vision. Leaders are inspirational when they are able to articulate a clear vision forward for the organization and how employees contribute to that vision. Inspirational leaders are also not afraid to be vulnerable, admit missteps, and course correct transparently with the team.”
Being a leader at Google, what do you strive for?
“It can be complex to balance the business’ many unique and diverse needs. But at the end of the day, finding that balance of business needs and people needs supports a nimble and dynamic environment. One can not work without the other.”
What is it you look for in a leader?
“Humbleness. Leadership is a constant priority and it is important to be open to learn and grow. Leaders are no longer required to be “heroic” but instead, should model a willingness to listen and make strong decisions based on what they have learned. In addition, a leader should also be a visionary and a mentor. Someone you want to work with, instead of simply working for.”
Can you be born as a good leader?
“Anybody can lead, at any time and any given moment if you give people the trust and empowerment to lead. From a kitchen porter to a front house manager, if you empower people and give them the right tools, they can lead. We are all born with leadership qualities and with additional context, mentorship and empowerment anyone can create that impact and step into that role. I learned about this kind of leadership many years ago when I participated in a Boston College Leadership for Change consortium at the Carroll School of Management. It is based on a book by Joe Raelin called ‘Creating Leaderful Organizations’. The most important thing I learned from this course is that if a manager gives the team trust and support, any team member can be a leader.”
What is the most important topic a leader should take into account these days?
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are important and for every person they have different, and personal, meanings. For some companies, DEI is focused on during recruiting or hiring. It is important during that stage, but that’s only one element. DEI should be incorporated throughout all stages of the business. DEI has to be a part of your company and team’s DNA. To truly connect with people on your team, you have to take these topics into consideration in everything you do and everything you say. It really does make a difference how you approach topics and what you specifically say as a senior leader. For Google, we do incorporate that mindset of DEI being embedded in our DNA. For an organization like Google Food to be successful in its DEI vision, it must commit to a diverse workforce and create pathways for diverse leaders to emerge. And a part of my job is to take into account not only how to infuse DEI into teams, but also food programming and offerings. For example, how to take this into account when creating menus across the globe. I have the privilege of leading a diversely talented team whose purpose is to bring people together over a meal. It's a great opportunity to put diverse dishes from around the world on the menu, and demonstrate the rich diversity of our global company.”
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