Tacy Byham, Ph.D., this year became CEO of DDI, the international talent management consulting firm founded by her father, Bill Byham. She also published Your First Leadership Role, written with Richard Wellins, to give practical advice to leaders about how to bring out the best in others.
Why do some managers have trouble being leaders? Many become leaders because they are technical experts—great sales leaders become sales managers; nurses become nurse managers and programmers become team leaders just because they knew how to get things done. Others may not be as committed to lead others as they are to their discipline—like the nurse whose passion is one-on-one patient care. There is a difference between being good at managing and actually developing and energizing people. If you haven’t been exposed to good leaders, or brought up to understand what good leadership is, you are unlikely to have the confidence and competence to succeed.
What did you learn from your dad? So many things—about business, travel, the arts and the importance of contributing to and giving back to the community. Anyone who knows Dad appreciates his adventurousness, lust for life and general inquisitiveness. I‘d like to think I inherited that curiosity as well. Dad has also been a life-long student of leadership—for example, what makes the difference between a good boss, bad boss—a passion we share.
How can moms like yourself have great kids and great careers? Listen to what your kids really want and need from you. My father always worked a lot, but I never felt anything got in the way of him doing something that was important to me, which meant it was important to him, as well—like going to the pumpkin patch, seeing me in the high school musical or just spending time together. My son is my top priority—but like my dad I have to make thoughtful choices about where to focus my time with Spencer, and I have to do the same on the business side, as DDI is my family, too. So in my leadership role, I also have to be very purposeful about not only where I spend my time but on how I can contribute most.
What did you learn from your mom that will help make you a good CEO? First, my mom (Carolyn Byham, a former Mt. Lebanon Commissioner, member of the Mt. Lebanon Planning Board and a patron of the arts) is a truly magnetic people connector, which you see when she speaks—always from the heart. She also demonstrated the importance of” giving back” through her extensive involvement in non-profits, including as a founder. This was part of the strong values she imbued in me about family and community. I also inherited my passion for cooking from her (and my grandmother as well)—everything from beef wellington to beef stew. How does that relate to being a CEO? Leadership and cooking are both a true craft—and she taught me the value of stepping up to and mastering a craft coupled with the enjoyment of how that feels.
What is something you wish you could do but can’t? Speak a foreign language or two or three. I travel across the globe and encounter so many colleagues and people of all ages who are fluent or at least capable in another tongue. I so admire that.
When and how do you relax? Cook, hang out with friends, travel, discover new restaurants—remember I am a foodie—and always have the “next fun thing” to look forward to!
How will you put your own stamp on an iconic company like DDI? Of course that is a question I think about—but the most important focus I have right now is to help DDI drive value for our customers, our company, and all associates around the world. I will continue to listen and learn—and assuming I do that well, my future response to your question will naturally develop over time, the way it should.
—Photo by Martha Rial