Limited’s Les Wexner: To Lead is to Teach
By Tom Ryan
Leslie Wexner, the founder of Limited Brands Inc., mentions having
a natural curiosity, overcoming the fear of failure and trusting your successes
as some of the keys to leadership. But he particularly believes in the importance
of effective communication and, ultimately, teaching.
“Words matter,” Mr. Wexner told Smart Business Columbus in
a discussion focused on leadership. “What’s clear in my mind’s
eye in terms of imagining something, if I’m not real clear about my communication,
you won’t understand what I’m really thinking in the fullest sense.”
his more than 40-year retail career, Mr. Wexner’s Limited empire has launched
Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, Bath & Body Works,
Express, Limited and White Barn Candle, among other chains.
He told the business
periodical that what’s important is reinforcing the “main
thing” and continually asking questions to probe whether the team is on
the same page.
“I really like chocolate,” Mr. Wexner offered an example. “I’m
imagining milk chocolate, and you like chocolate but you like dark chocolate.
When I say I like chocolate, you go to what you’re thinking, not what
“I’m always fluent when I talk to myself,” Mr. Wexner added. “If
you’ve got friends or a spouse or other people, there is the opportunity
for confusion. An organization is just a large group. That gets to the subject
of leadership. First, you have an idea. As the organization gets larger, you
tend to discover what you know and don’t know about leadership.”
in his early days that his team wasn’t grasping what he was saying, he recognized
that his communication focus should be more centered on teaching.
“You have to see yourself more as a teacher,” said Mr. Wexner. “You
have to be able to distill what it is you know and what you’re thinking,
whether it’s the values of your organization or things about quality
or products, into a point of view where you can teach it. Part of teaching
is for you to have a clarity of what it is and why. If I just tell you something
and I can’t give you the reason, I don’t think it’s nearly
Discussion Questions: What do you think of the metaphor of the CEO’s role
as a teacher? What are some steps to communicating more effectively across organizations?