March 5, 2021

Corner Office: Enrique Salem: Symantec’s Enrique Salem, on Leadership Advice

Q. What were some important leadership lessons for you?

A. I played high school football — I was a linebacker — and then I played at Dartmouth. When you play football, you really understand it is a team effort. When you play organized sports, especially team sports, it’s not about individuals. I think organized sports are a way to learn a lot about things that will be helpful in business.

Q. Other lessons you learned playing sports?

A. I was captain of the varsity football team my senior year of high school. We called the plays the coach would signal in to us from the sideline. I used to be very much a student of the game. I would watch the game films myself and get ideas of what we should do, what we should think about.

One time the coach called a defensive play and I changed it, and after having some success with that I said, “Oh, this isn’t so hard.” But then another player runs on the field and replaces me, and I run to the bench and the coach says, “When you want to call what I’m calling, you can go back in the game.” So I sat on the bench for a play or two and then went over and said: “O.K., Coach. I got it. I’m sorry.” And he put me back in the game. I really learned this notion that whoever’s making the calls, you’ve got to listen to that person.

And he pulled me aside after the game and we talked about it, and he said: “I know you love the game. I know you study the game. But you’ve got to realize that when I make calls, I’m setting something up. I’m looking at something that’s happening, and you can’t be out there second-guessing me on this.” I still remember that story. In business, somebody has to make the call. I learned that pretty early on.

Q. And do you find yourself ever having to explain to somebody the point that the coach made to you?

A. Absolutely. You run into situations where there’s a bigger picture sometimes that an individual who’s working on a project may not be able to see, and can’t understand all the implications of any decision you make.

Q. What other leadership lessons do you convey to your employees?

A. There’s a verse from William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” which is, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” I have this presentation that I give to our advanced leadership class, and the title is, “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way.” One of the slides has that quote, because if you think about that quote, it really is how I want our company to be. You’ve got to take some chances. You’ve got to take some risks, and sometimes things don’t work out, but you’ve got to go for it.

Q. What else is on that list of things you’ve learned?

A. The very first chart says, “Check your ego and your title at the door.” I learned that very early on. One of the things that my first manager said to me was: “Look, a lot of times you don’t lead by your position. You lead by how you influence other people’s thinking.” And so I absolutely believe that if it’s about you, you’re not going to do a great job. It can’t be about your success. It has to be about what you are trying to accomplish. So that’s No. 1. No. 2 came from Tennyson, his poem “Ulysses.” If you read the poem, there’s one little phrase that says, “I am a part of all that I have met.” I absolutely believe you learn from everybody you interact with.

Another one is from Colin Powell: “Positive attitude is a force multiplier.” I think that you’ve got to stay positive about things because when you go the other way, it’s de-motivating to everybody around you and you’re unlikely to be successful.

I’ll give you one more. The other day I did a presentation to some of our leaders, and one of the questions I asked them was, “If you were writing a book, what would it be titled?”

For me, and I end of lot of my e-mails with this, it is: “Expect great things.” It’s the notion that the bar needs to be high. I expect people to perform. I want to get great people around me, and I expect them to do great things. And, quite frankly, good people strive for that. My goal is to stretch people to potentially accomplish things they didn’t think were possible. But you can’t go so far that you break them.

Q. How would you say your leadership style has evolved?

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