When I first retired as CEO of Campbell Soup Company in 2011, I was at a crossroads. Some people in my position might have swapped their briefcase for golf-clubs and headed to the nearest retirement village to live out a hopefully “low handicap” existence. Others might explore leveraging their corporate expertise in private equity or traveling the world with loved ones. While I don’t begrudge people any of those choices in their retiral, those paths weren’t for me. Even though I was ready to step away from the grind of the Fortune 500 C-suite and a 40 year corporate career to spend more time with friends and family, I wasn’t ready to step away from the craft of leadership. Then, like now, I still had a strong to desire to contribute to the leadership conversation—to help leaders be the best they can be so they can make a bigger impact on our rapidly changing world. A higher calling to empower people to lead has always been a driving force in my personal and professional life.
So, what to do? I’ve never actually managed to retire from work (two years after I left Campbell I became Chairman of Avon Products to help them deal with a challenging set of circumstances, and today, in addition to running ConantLeadership, I am Chair of CECP—Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose—in NYC, and Chair of the Higher Ambition Leadership Institute in Boston, as well as serving on many additional boards). However, the concept of ‘retirement’ is often framed as chapter where people can rejoice in the ability to finally pursue their “real” interests. Liberated, retired executives can cast aside their excel spreadsheets and pick up their nine-irons or hiking-boots full-time. In 2011, faced with an endless sea of possibilities, I asked myself, “Doug, what will you choose for this next chapter?”
Upon reflection, my answer was crisp and clear: I would choose advancing the craft of leadership, as I’ve chosen it again and again over the years. Championing the craft of leadership isn’t mere ‘work’ for me; it’s central to my life, a driving passion, and thus it would have to be central to any phase of my journey going forward.
The truth is: Leadership—what it is, how it works, and empowering the next generation to bring it to life—is my “real” interest; it is as grounding for me as any leisure pursuit or hobby might be for someone else. Pursuing mastery in the art and science of leading people—and helping other leaders learn to better serve their vast constellations of stakeholders—has never been a slog to endure. Rather, it is among my greatest joys.
The joys of the leadership space aside, it’s not without its challenges. Today’s leaders are swamped among an unrelenting deluge of demands. And it can be bewildering to witness how much work there is to be done: There is infinite room for improvement in the state of leadership in the 21st century. Frankly, the need for better leadership was reverberating loudly in 2011—and has amplified to a fever-pitch in the ensuing decade—and I’ve felt continually moved to answer. Yes, leadership is fulfilling for me, but it is also a calling. After studying and practicing the craft of leadership for over 45 years, encountering many setbacks along the way, this calling energizes me to share what I’ve learned (from both the ups and the downs). People, across the board, want help—more now than ever. They’re relying on leaders to show up for them, to bring teams together to solve tough problems, to positively influence their organizations, and to build a better world in the face of cascading global crises.
So in fall of 2011, freshly departed from the CEO office of Campbell Soup Company where we had a successful ten-year turnaround, I founded ConantLeadership with its nascent mission “Dedicated to Improving the Quality of Leadership in the 21st Century.” I asked my Campbell’s Executive Assistant, Diana Hansen, to take the leap with me and the two of us—me as Founder & CEO, her as Executive Administrator—jumped into the unknown. Then, like now, I was committed to taking no salary for this work; we didn’t know what shape ConantLeadership would take—all we knew was that we’d be committed to serving leaders, anchored in advocacy, and would champion our mission with an altruistic spirit. This new enterprise wouldn’t be about profits; it would be about purpose.
Ten Years Later
Ten years later, I’m so grateful we took that leap. In the decade since, we’ve updated our mission to “Championing ‘Leadership That Works’ in the 21st Century,” and our small but hearty team has brought that mission to life for today’s busy leaders in the following ways:
High-Impact Leadership Resources
ConantLeadership has built an engaging suite of leadership resources and content deployed across our content platform at conantleadership.com, social media channels, and in high-profile publications like Harvard Business Review, Chief Executive, Association for Talent Development (ATD), and many more. The majority of our resources are free with the goal of making leadership learning and content accessible for all leaders, from every background, and with every experience level, from aspiring to seasoned.
As we started ConantLeadership, we launched and promoted the New York Times bestselling book that I co-authored with Mette Norgaard, TouchPoints: Creating Powerful Leadership Connections in the Smallest of Moments and in the decade that followed, we’ve published the Wall Street Journal bestselling book, The Blueprint: 6 Practical Steps for Lifting Your Leadership to New Heights, co-authored with Amy Federman (and released right into the teeth of the pandemic); written 175 articles and newsletters on the ConantLeadership blog; written or contributed to dozens of articles in celebrated business publications across the web and in print, and participated in dozens more podcast interviews (listen to one of our most popular recent episodes on Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast here); we’ve developed a free Leadership Competence Assessment; designed and refined our leadership model, The ConantLeadership Flywheel; have run 13 free virtual town halls, and have hosted two free BLUEPRINT Leadership Summits featuring top leadership luminaries like Stephen M.R. Covey, Mette Norgaard, Bill George, Deanna Mulligan, Indra Nooyi, Jane Hyun, Dan Pink, Hubert Joly, Amy Edmondson, and more. (Register here to be placed on a list to receive the full video recordings.)
We have also engaged in rich dialogues about ‘leadership that works’ with a combined social media and web audience that has grown to over 400,000 across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and our web platform. Sign up for our mailing list here to join the conversation. (I can still remember the thrill of getting our first ten followers, never thinking we would have 40,000 times that number and growing, sparking millions of constructive exchanges about enlightened leadership in the 21st century.)
Transformational Leadership Training and Development
Launched in 2016 and reimagined again in 2020, ConantLeadership has developed a signature leadership development program, The BLUEPRINT Boot Camp, a 2-day leadership intensive offering elite level, highly interactive virtual learning with me and an intimate community of your peers from every sector. I personally designed this boot camp to be different from the other offerings in the space: a program built for leaders and led by a leadership practitioner with a track record of success in the Fortune 500 (not an academic).
Using a series of patented prompts for reflection, a companion workbook, lively lecturing modules, Q&A, and collaborative group discussions, in the boot camp I walk you through the 6-step BLUEPRINT process I personally used to transform my leadership journey—from getting unexpectedly fired to becoming a successful CEO in the Fortune 500. Most importantly, many courses teach you how to lead like somebody else. We’re proud that, over the decade, we’ve developed a process that empowers you to lead like only you can.
Since we launched the Boot Camp in 2016, we’ve taught hundreds of leaders, all of whom have developed their own personal leadership models as part of our course. And over my career, more than 45 leaders who have been exposed to the core elements of the BLUEPRINT process in some depth have since become CEOs in their own right (and at least that many have risen to the most senior positions in the C-suite). Ready to take the first step towards transforming your leadership? Apply today or talk to someone to learn more. (Space is limited; we keep programs small to maximize the learning experience for participants.)
Leading the Leadership Conversation
Over the decade, ConantLeadership has developed a robust slate of keynote leadership speaking offerings that leverage my 45+ years of experience to inspire leaders in organizations of all sizes and across sectors—public, private, non-profit, colleges and universities, government agencies, and more. We work closely with each organization to customize speaking offerings and stimulate cutting-edge conversations about ‘leadership that works’ for your event, audience, or team.
In the past ten years, I’ve spoken to 275 organizations in person and virtually. Nothing inspires me like connecting with the leaders of today (and tomorrow). Reach out to learn more.
Philanthropic giving has been central to our mission over the decade and an anchoring component to our commitment to leaders: ConantLeadership’s mission of championing leadership that works in the 21st century is about making meaning, not money. I take no salary and all profits after covering our operating costs are donated to enlightened organizations whose leadership is moving the world forward. We offer our entire suite of leadership resources, training, and content as part of this commitment, and in service to inspiring the next generation of leaders. In 2017, we surpassed 1 million dollars in philanthropic giving and have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in the years since.
Helping at the Heart
At the heart of all our work is the ethos of asking the four little words “How Can I Help?” (Read more about the story behind those words here.)
At ConantLeadership, we believe leaders are made, not born. (An innate predisposition towards leadership does not predict success; it’s the work you put in that makes you exceptional.) You don’t need superhuman charisma or a larger-than-life personality to make a bigger impact with your leadership. All you need is a little help: a proven process, experience-backed resources, and the desire to lead with a bit more intention.
This drive to help is why I created ConantLeadership, it’s why I wrote The Blueprint, and it’s why I developed the BLUEPRINT Boot Camp. In short, it’s why I do what I do. I’ve been in your shoes for decades prior to becoming a CEO, trying to juggle competing priorities from work and life and managing ceaseless deliverables at an ever-quickening pace. And it’s my mission to empower you—the leaders of today—to step into your abilities and to leverage your unique gifts to become helpers too, to help build better teams, better organizations, and a better world. You can do this; we’re in your corner.
At a crossroads years ago, I had an opportunity to ask myself the question people often fantasize about: If you could do anything in the world, anything that you wanted, what would you do? And my answer then, as it remains today, is that I would be doing exactly this work. And after ten years at the helm of ConantLeadership, I’m proud to say we’re just getting started. Join us!