My First 100 Days as CEO

By: Scott Baxter, President & CEO, Kontoor Brands Sep 03, 2019 Feature Story

Editor’s note: The following post was originally shared by Scott Baxter, CEO & President of Kontoor Brands, on LinkedIn earlier today. Follow Kontoor Brands on LinkedIn and Twitter for official company news and updates.

Every leader has a playbook. 

As I approach the 100-day mark as CEO of Kontoor Brands, a new independent, global and publicly traded company that includes the Wrangler® and Lee® brands, I’m frequently asked about what’s in mine.

I’ve given a lot of thought to my approach—not just during the short time that I’ve been CEO of Kontoor — but also during the past several years, as I’ve honed my leadership skills in a number of diverse management roles.

Leading a healthy and profitable business or function is certainly a big responsibility, but I also view it as an amazing opportunity to lead capable people as they work together to build and sustain enterprise-wide success.

Here are the top five items from my leadership playbook that just might help you along the way.

1. Trust your team.

Pick extremely capable people and then get out of their way. Give people the freedom to do their jobs. When the top leader always feels a need to be the smartest person in the room, it stifles the creativity of a team and hinders their ability to lead departments, to do their best work and to show courage. I'm here to support my leaders, to offer encouragement and to add perspective. However, I want the people on my teams to be the subject-matter experts when it comes to their functions and departments. I expect them to take initiative and apply the strengths for which I hired them.

2. Seek balance.

There is no such thing as a regular schedule when you become CEO. Every minute of your time is sought after, and it can be tempting to try and bury yourself in work. That may work for some, but I’ve found that setting boundaries and finding a balance is key to maintaining effectiveness as a leader. For me, that balance comes from my family. Come 6 p.m., I’m sitting down for dinner with my wife and son. Don’t get me wrong — I still work most nights after my son goes to bed, but I make time to have dinner with my family, and to attend my son’s baseball games. Even knowing the heavy demands of this job, I have no intention of being a successful CEO and a lousy dad or lousy husband. It’s important that the people who work for me have balance, too. Balance creates a more empathetic and energized leader, and a better person.

3. Have the courage to make decisions.

A good leader must have the courage to make decisions. Sometimes you have all the information you need to determine the best path forward—those are the easy ones. It’s the times when it’s not as clear-cut that require courage. Gather as many facts as possible; seek input from your key team members and advisers; and set a course based on the information at hand. Even the best leader is never going to be 100 percent correct or have all of the “necessary” information. Many leaders get stuck in moments of uncertainty and risk aversion, unable to make that really important decision. That’s when trusting your experience and your instincts makes a big difference—it builds comfort as you make good, directional decisions even amidst ambiguity.   

4. Be empathic.

You never really know what’s going on in someone's life. I’ve been surprised at how open people are with me – they tell me a lot of things. It’s been important for me to understand or anticipate the significant challenges we all face, whether it’s dealing with elderly parents, kids who are having trouble, tumultuous relationships, grief and a number of other concerns. As a CEO, I see how vulnerable even the best and strongest of people can feel. To be a successful leader, I encourage others to have compassion and empathy. It can be the difference between your team feeling overwhelmed and giving up, versus feeling supported enough to push through those tough moments to seize opportunity.

5. Create a positive culture – immediately.

I’m passionate about creating a culture based on positive intent. I’ve been at organizations where everyone is trying to catch each other doing something wrong. I am purposefully creating a culture of partnership and support at Kontoor; not one based on criticism and fear of mistakes and reprisals. We’re all in this together. If people feel supported and comfortable with taking risks and raising their voices, then we’ll collectively make progress.

My top five leadership behaviors are not right for everyone. Each of us has a point of view toward leadership based on individual and learned experiences. And, there’s no denying that the demands of any job, including that of CEO, are intense. But I understand that’s the role I signed up for, and 100 days in, I feel incredibly privileged to lead our 15,000-strong team of exceptional employees.

My goal is simple: leave Kontoor Brands a better business than when we formed it. I was fortunate to inherit a strong business with iconic brands that consumers know and love. I want to leave a stronger team—a team that takes care of each other— and an organization with more effective processes and greater opportunities. I want to leave a more inclusive, more diverse organization. I want to leave a richer and deeper culture. And, I’m going to show up for my team, and I expect them to show up for me, and each other.

Through the best leadership I can provide, I’m going to do what I can to give Kontoor employees the opportunities to do their best work.