David Novak | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

David Novak


OGO (O Great One!) is a consumer brand based on the principles of David Novak's 2016 book "O Great One!: A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition." Novak is co-founder and former CEO of Yum! Brands, which operates KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. He has written two other books, "The Education of an Accidental CEO" and the New York Times bestseller "Taking People With You." 

The Mistake:

Too often people are so focused on what their weaknesses are that they don't really take advantage of what makes them great or gives them capability for the greatest impact at their organization. When you come up in your career, you have a tendency to focus a lot on what you don't have or what you need to do to get better.

One of the first times I ever had to make a major presentation, I was so nervous, I must've said “you know” a hundred times, and when it was over I was devastated. It was a very important presentation, and  I didn't do as well as I thought I would do.

I had this fear of speaking—fear of presenting—probably for the next six or seven years. Every time I went to give a presentation or give a speech, I was nervous about it, I had all this anxiety about it.

I knew this was something I wanted to conquer when I got put into a job where I had to speak all the time, [as] chief operating officer of PepsiCo. This was back at the time when I was running marketing and sales for Pepsi, and we had just launched this marketing campaign [with the tagline,] "You got the right one, baby, uh huh!"

One of the big presentations I had [to make for this campaign] was to 7,000 people in Dallas … So I worked on the presentation, got some professional help on it, and right in the middle of the speech, after I said what I was going to do, everybody started chanting, "uh huh.” And it was like all of a sudden, everything just fell into place. I played to the crowd, and I had more fun speaking than I've ever had in my life.

From that point on, I was in jobs where I had to speak all the time. I became a lot less focused on how I was sounding and what I was saying, and much more focused on the audience. When I first started out, when I had all those “you knows," I was so worried about how I was going to do. I could almost hear myself talk when I was presenting because I was so focused on not making a mistake and saying everything the right way that it created nerves and anxiety that I didn't need to have.

I realized that by just being true to myself, being spontaneous, speaking from the heart, and letting myself go and freeing myself up and focus on the audience, I could actually become a really good speaker. And now I love speaking to large audiences! When I think back on the past, I would have never ever envisioned myself getting paid to give speeches.

... you can't underestimate the power of just time and experience.

The Lesson:

It's very hard to be successful in your life by focusing constantly on your weaknesses. When you start getting success and getting confidence, I think that's when you really start to achieve potential.

What I know now is that you can't underestimate the power of just time and experience. Work hard at getting better at something, get professional help to help you get better at something, and learn how to truly be comfortable in your own skin and be yourself. [Don’t] try to be focused on how you come off, but be more focused on who you're trying to communicate with and motivate.

What I tried to do was start focusing on what my strengths were and leveraging all the strengths that I had, making sure that my weaknesses couldn't derail me. But the thing that helped me the most was being comfortable in my own skin and being an authentic leader. Too many people in business try to be what everybody thinks they should be versus being who they really are. Once you become who you are and project that, people really believe you and people will follow you.

Follow David Novak on Twitter at @DavidNovakOGO

Photo courtesy of David Novak

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