The CEO of Ingredion,  says “I don’t think there’s anybody who’s successful in their role today who hasn’t been mentored by somebody.”

What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned from mentors over the years?

There was one gentleman in particular. He had a philosophy of putting people in jobs that were bigger than they were. If somebody has talent and good people skills and drive, I think you can stretch them and put them in a job that they’re not quite ready for, so they grow into it. People will leave their company if they think they’ll have more opportunities elsewhere. So you need to offer opportunities to your young people. And you’ll have a much better retention.

How do you know if somebody’s able to stretch into a big new job?

I look for young people who have a lot of energy, and who treat other people well, because we’re not looking for bullies. Some people push their way through things and they’re not collaborative. It’s not just a one-person show. You can’t be the micromanager; you have to be able to get things done through others.

What else do you do to help develop younger managers?

I use one dinner a year with my board to bring in young, high-potential managers. We have everybody give an “elevator speech.” You have three minutes to tell the board and other people in the room where you came from, the challenges you’re facing and how you’re trying to create value for the company. Everybody might want to take 15 minutes, but you have to be succinct.

This is part of what we’re looking for in people who have potential; it’s all about communication. What are the challenges you have, and you have three minutes to explain them, because there are 40 of you and we’re going to be here all night otherwise. And if you take somebody else’s time, that’s not respectful. It’s all about being succinct and articulate.

What questions do you ask when you hire? What qualities do you look for in job candidates?

I like to look at the person’s resume, and ask a lot of questions about how they made decisions to go from one company to the other. Did they have a plan? Not everybody has to have a structured plan, but I like to hear their thought process. Did they make things happen for themselves and their companies, or was it just serendipity? And serendipity is sometimes okay, too.

So that’s how I get into the interview and get people talking, but the key question I always ask, going back to my own theme, is: Who mentored you? Who did you learn from? Because I feel that, with the people we’re hiring, we’re hiring all their mentors, too. I want to know if they learned from somebody who was an operating expert or somebody who was a strategist and what companies those mentors worked in. That’s because I’m not just hiring the person sitting there; I’m hiring the four people who mentored him. I don’t think there’s anybody who’s successful in their role today who hasn’t been mentored by somebody.

Business is always challenging. It doesn’t always go well, and Plan A doesn’t always work. So I look for people who have dealt with some adversity in their life.

New York Times News Service