Here’s a leadership story from former Coca-Cola President Jack Stahl that shows no law says you have to let departing employees go.

A Coca-Cola marketer named Susan was creative and knew how to build brands, but she didn’t have the communication skills to persuade and influence decision-makers.

Susan often presented marketing plans to Coke bottlers, including part of the product plan, ads and in-store promotions. The rub: Her presentations were fuzzy, unclear and lifeless, which the bottlers mistook for a lack of enthusiasm. No way they were going to commit their own resources to the program. Susan’s career stalled.

Stahl asked Susan to stop by and discuss why she was considering resigning. He wanted to keep her. But when he asked her about it, she surprised him, saying she’d missed a promotion she thought she deserved. She figured the company didn’t appreciate her.

First, they discussed her disappointment. Then they got to why. Stahl reviewed her boss’s assessment that Susan’s communication skills were hindering her ability to sell and get ahead. Susan acknowledged that she’d been told she seemingly lacked conviction.

Stahl asked if she’d had any training in communication. She hadn’t. He suggested that she get it, speculating that if she’d been offered the training sooner, she might have done better with her pitches and won the promotion.

Susan thought it was too late, but Stahl assured her that she could still advance at Coke. He asked if she’d have the same opportunity to build her skills at the new company.

“Well, probably not, Jack,” she said.

“If you’ll change your mind and stay,” he told her, “I will commit to helping you acquire the kind of communication skills you need.”

He made the save. She stayed and thrived.

—Adapted from Lessons on Leadership, Jack Stahl, Kaplan Publishing.

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