Author Ron Williams on the key to becoming a successful leader

Good leaders are defined by the industries they inhabit but at their core, they’re expert problem solvers. Author Ron Williams explores this in his book.

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Ron Williams, a former car washer, and now one of the first African-Americans in history to lead a Fortune 500 company has salient things to say about the state of the corporate ecosystem. As far as Williams is concerned, now more than ever, the professional world is in need of leaders-a distinction that has come to lose a lot of its bite in recent years.

Of course, good leaders are defined by the industries they inhabit but at their core, they’re expert problem solvers; individuals rich in character, and unperturbed by the prospect of hitting targets obscured. Executive decisions are earned by a healthy cocktail of research and lived experience.


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Ron A. Williams is the author of the upcoming,  LEARNING TO LEAD: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization. Ladders had the privilege of getting a hold of an advanced copy. The book offers a wealth of anecdotes that I believe will be relevant to our readership-chief amongst them is the way Williams redefines the job and exigence of a leader.

Learning to Lead
Greenleaf Book Group Press

“Hard work, good decisions, and some luck “

Growing up in Chicago in the 60s, where financial opportunities were scarce, and the education options limited, Williams developed a knack for “making things happen in tough situations.”  With a background in psychology and the hunger to employ it, he quickly procured acclaim as a consultant and more recently for bringing the American insurance company Aetna back from the brink of fiscal destruction, even though as he pointed out, he by no means fits the conventional description of an economic maven.

Williams is an introvert that grew in up in an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. All of the setbacks that those precursors imply, dually accentuate his penchant for problem-solving. The mechanics of business, the health of a corporation, and the sociality of people were all puzzles for him to solve.

Effective leadership begins with a true and intimate knowledge of one’s self. Knowing explicitly what you want and don’t want, strengthens the craft of decision making-“self-leadership.”

For many, their passion becomes clouded by social and economic norms. A good leader isn’t one that is good at doing an impression of those that came before, a good leader is one that is really good at motioning the best version of themselves. As Williams puts it, “the most crowded trail is never the way to achieve extraordinary success.”

Williams believes young professionals should identify their hidden advantages and ride them to success.  It’s important not to force the process. As the book points out, many people that have found success in their respective fields did so without a rigid plan of attack.  If you work hard and remain prudent, the future will likely reveal itself. Be mindful of any opportunities to discover your place,  take “calculated risks,” do the research as to avoid dead ends. Growth, whether personal or professional, should always be the primary motivator.

Even then, lived experience or “seasoning” matters. Don’t waste your time worrying about when the promotion will happen, spend more time making sure you’ll be the best possible candidate when it finally does.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.