Roger Ferguson: Expertise and Empathy at TIAA-CREF

Posted by on Apr 30, 2015

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Key Lesson:  Expertise is an essential building block of great leadership.

Roger Ferguson, CEO of financial services giant TIAA-CREF, has an impressive list of credentials and accomplishments. With three degrees from Harvard, including a law degree and a Ph.D. in economics, he was well prepared to take on any number of challenges in his career — and he has. As the only governor of the Federal Reserve in Washington on 9/11, Ferguson rose to the challenge and led the government’s very effective (and widely acclaimed) financial response. He credits that success to the expertise he developed by delving into the “more mundane, less glamorous” systems that the Federal Reserve is responsible for. Understanding how things worked enabled him to respond swiftly and appropriately to the attacks.

Though Ferguson understands that leadership is much more than expertise — the other qualities he cites are appeal, empathy and fortitude — it is nonetheless his expertise that serves as the bedrock of his own personal leadership. He says, for example, that his credentialed background is “academic-y for a CEO, which gives me empathy.” Other Ferguson insights, shared in a recent Bloomberg profile, include nuggets like these:  “Careers are climbing walls not ladders” and “The one thing no one can ever take away from you is your knowledge.” At Healthy Companies, we see this quest for personal mastery as the root of a leader’s vocational health — and this mastery is critical to how well we perform in any job we do.

Roger Ferguson is our Grounded Leader of the Week for his dedication to lifelong learning and for championing the cause of the “more mundane, less glamorous” aspects of getting the job done — and getting it done well.