Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Q and A

Wanda Denson-Low, vice president of Human Resources for IDS

Boeing Frontiers recently sat down with Wanda Denson-Low, vice president of Human Resources for Integrated Defense Systems, to get her thoughts about the role of leadership at IDS. Her 750-person staff is responsible for providing human resources support to about 74,000 Boeing employees throughout the world—and for overseeing the business unit's Training and Development programs.

Wanda Denson-LowQ: What's the difference between being a leader and being a manager?

A: Leadership does not necessarily mean you hold a manager's title. Management is about processes, measurement, tools, structure and procedures. Leadership is about empowerment, engagement, buy-in, commitment, attitude and creativity. Leadership is critical to the success of Boeing. Our ability to lead significantly impacts Boeing's ability to execute our business strategies and plans.

Q: So, what factors distinguish great leaders from those still developing?

A: Today, leaders at Boeing are working in flatter organizations where they are networked with, serve and work alongside multiple stakeholders. With so many demands, leaders can't rely solely on past strategies or old definitions of "success" within their lives. Growth comes from learning from mistakes and being aware of blind spots. Leaders who grow are ones with the learning-agility skills to navigate through the challenges. The leaders who advanced in the company are people who focus more energy on leveraging strengths than working on weaknesses; they're the ones who build strong networks across functions and with customers; they are the ones who focus on performance and development; they're the ones who focus on how work and family complement each other instead of how they conflict.

Q: At a minimum, what does IDS expect of leaders?

A: That's easy. We expect our leaders to create the environment where every employee feels valued and included and is engaged.

Q: What exactly do you mean when you say engage employees?

A: Two things—first, fully utilize the capabilities of each employee and continue to develop additional capabilities, and second, promote an inclusive environment that encourages diversity of thought. We need to provide opportunities for employees to participate in meaningful assignments and decisions, in addition to the work they are involved in. We must encourage ownership, responsibility and accountability of employees for the tasks they perform and the success of the team.

Q: Easier said than done?

A: Sure, it's easy to say you want and expect certain behaviors, but it's the doing that matters. I like to quote the book Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. The book says, "We don't think ourselves into a new way of acting; we act ourselves into a new way of thinking." So, we can't just say we're going to create a certain environment or culture. The behaviors the leaders exhibit will determine the culture. Any company can duplicate our tools, processes and technology. What they cannot duplicate is our people—their knowledge, capabilities and how they work with each other on a daily basis. Employee engagement and involvement is our philosophy for daily interaction between employees who work together to get the job done. The level to which we utilize our intellectual capital through the engagement of our employees will be a distinguishing advantage for us compared to our competition.

Q: So you're saying it's incumbent upon our leaders to ensure that we properly utilize intellectual capital?

A: I believe it certainly starts there. Leaders must work to create an environment that supports this philosophy, including providing training and challenging assignments, sharing data and information, encouraging everyone to express his or her opinion without fear of being ridiculed or having an idea dismissed without consideration, and be willing to give up some of the control he or she has had in the past. The more we advance this practice and philosophy, the more successful our business will be, the happier our customers will be and the more excited our employees will be about what they do. Engaging our workforce is not another initiative. It is a tool that all leaders should already be employing as part of their leadership tool kit.


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
© 2003 The Boeing Company. All rights reserved.