Vice President Kathryn Karol: Five Ways I Lead

March 4, 2016

Kathryn Karol joined Caterpillar in 2012 as vice president of the Global Government & Corporate Affairs Division. She brings more than 25 years of global experience to Caterpillar, having previously served in as vice president of Global Government and Corporate Affairs at Amgen, Inc. and Executive Director for international government affairs and market access for Eli Lily and Company.

1.     Be very in tune with how your team works

You have to create the right environment to get the best out of your team. When you listen to your employees, you are able to understand what makes them tick and therefore able to make sure they’re successful in their jobs – that’s when you take them to their fullest potential. I want my team to go home after a career milestone, say after a 10 year or 20 year anniversary, and say, “Wow, hasn’t this been a great ride?”

2.     Communicate

Leaders can be very smart, but if they’re not good communicators, they’re not good leaders. You’ll gravitate towards ones who can communicate well. Strong communication is crucial because it is the foundation that allows teams to work effectively as one unit and sets the stage for them to function in harmony. You have to be a solid listener, and you have to be willing to give actionable feedback. You also have to know your people, what they’re motivated by and tailor your message appropriately to get the best out of them. Every Friday I go home and think, “I haven’t talked to this person” or “I’m not communicating enough to this particular group,” or I think about a person I haven’t talked to in a while and that they need to hear from me. It can be an email, phone call or face-to-face conversation that makes all the difference. Communicating is essential.

3.     Have vision

You have to create a vision and make sure your team is part of the creation. As a leader, your job is to constructively move the team toward that vision. You can’t say, “My way or the highway.”

4.     Have balance

Make sure you have good perspective on your priorities and that you’re organized around them. If you’re a really disciplined and organized person, it really does help with your work-life balance. If you’re unorganized and challenged by your day, then it makes it a lot more difficult. Looking ahead and planning as best as you can is an absolute. For me, family is absolutely first. I evaluate what is most important to my children and how I can support my husband. Set your promises, commit to them and deliver on them.

5.     Working hard at everything, every day

There’s no day where you can just skate by. I believe good leaders have to work hard, but it should be with grace and it should look effortless. You also have to be committed to being a life learner, as well as a doer. Never think you know it all and that you have it all figured out. Your team teaches you every day. When it comes to leadership, your team is always looking to you to see how you’re navigating them through good times and bad. During tough situations, if I’m confident and watching out for my team instead of being down and pulling my hair out, my team is more likely to take on my personality. That’s why you have to be flexible – when you get thrown a curve ball, you have to be calm and focused.

Positive energy is definitely a byproduct of more innovation. That, along with enthusiasm and having fun, opens all sorts of new doors, too. If you have those three things in a meeting you’re running, more people are willing to present creative ideas and take risks!

Kathryn Karol

Kathryn Karol is a vice president of Caterpillar with responsibility for Global Government & Corporate Affairs.

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