There is no Normal Anymore: Leadership Insights from Stanley Black & Decker CEO Don Allan
An Insight from the 2023 CFO Forward Summit at Harvard University
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At the 2023 CFO Forward Summit: Mindset for a New Era at Harvard University, Don Allan, President and CEO of Stanley Black & Decker (SBD), recalled the challenges and opportunities the company has addressed since he became the firm’s leader in July 2022. There’s been runaway inflation, a war in Europe, and the disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Allan, who previously served as SBD’s CFO, recognized that these obstacles reflected a shifting paradigm. “There is no normal anymore,” Allan said. “The normal is change.”

During his fireside chat, Allan also grasped that operating in flux requires a new form of leadership. 20 years ago, a CEO might have told everybody what to do.Now, leaders must galvanize people. As Allan explained, leaders need to say, “‘I’m going to set the vision, I’m going to set the strategy with the input from the team, and we’re all going to buy into it and agree to it, and I’m going to empower the team to go execute under the umbrella of that vision and strategy.’” With this in mind, Allan has sustained SBD’s commitment to operating with an activist mindset (the company disrupts itself before someone disrupts them) and pursuing innovation across multiple horizons. At the same time, he has focused on how he is communicating and shaping the company’s culture so they can implement this vison. He specified four strategies:

  • Prioritize To Simplify: In a complex world, the CEO must crystallize priorities. “As a leader,” Allan explained, “you have to go through a process and say ‘what do I think are the top priorities for this company or this division or function, and how am I going to communicate that?’”
  • Inspire Through Explanation: Context is crucial. “You have to explain why are you doing that,” Allan observed. “That’s how you get people excited, you get them motivated, and you get them inspired.”
  • Empower People Strategically: Allan highlighted the importance of calibrated empowerment. “Empowerment is an interesting word,” he explained. “Everybody says they want empowerment, but they don’t always know what to do with empowerment.” It is imperative for leaders, as Allan said, “to provide training, mentoring, and coaching to help people understand what empowerment means.”
  • Pair Transparency and Trust: Allan prizes collaborative problem solving. “Transparency is something that we keep working on at our company,” he said, “that there should be no fear of retribution, there should be no fear that you don’t know the answer.” “They have to trust me,” he added, “that I’m not going to react in a negative way.”  

Finally, Allan emphasized the value of discomfort. “If you are constantly in uncomfortable situations,” he said, “you’re finding ways to improve your company, and you’re making yourself a better leader.”

"There is no normal anymore. The normal is change."

Don Allan
President and CEO, Stanley Black & Decker


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