Perhaps more than other college students, Franklin and Marshall students have a constant, looming reminder of how this school will prepare us to be effective leaders of the world. Perhaps it is because it is a skill consistently demonstrated in our student body; it could also be that the College has long considered leadership one of its core values. [Whichever came first… ] Or maybe, it’s because, under Friday night lights, we don’t cheer for Sparty or Ralphie the Buffalo but rather, Diplomats.
Regardless, society’s sense of what it means to be a good leader has been under extreme renovation in recent decades. The old rhetoric associating leadership with domination, competition, and power has been replaced with collaboration, motivation, and empathy. The new model is long overdue; however, is there no value in our old understanding?
Last Wednesday, various groups of students at F&M had the opportunity to hear Mark Clouse P ’25, CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company, share how his experiences have informed his understanding of leadership. Clouse offered a unique perspective that combines both traditional and new understanding of effective leadership.
He emphasized the importance of having personal values. Raised not by one household, but rather by an entire neighborhood, Clouse joked he was subject to many different maternal interpretations of discipline. Whether or not he realized it at the time, he was learning the power of community and the personal growth that comes with exposure to different perspectives. It is apparent this influence followed him through his military service and into his career.
Sometimes a chip on the shoulder is the most powerful motivator. With his self-effacing humor, Clouse explained that his academic community would have been shocked if he succeeded at being a productive member of society — nevermind a proactive one. Even with his basketball skills that gained him admittance to West Point Academy, some teachers still anticipated his failure. This “chip on his shoulder” drove him to be highly competitive — an attribute that is arguably taboo in our modern understanding of leadership. However, Clouse is outwardly proud of his competitive nature and it’s clear it is a dominant factor in the outcome of his success.
There are many negative connotations associated with the idea of competition as if it interferes with the concept of collaboration. It was refreshing to see someone admit there should be no guilt in self-interest and taking opportunities given to you. Competition creates the motivation that allows for future success.
Clouse also told students the most practical way to evaluate our choices is to recognize which choice “opens a variety of other doors.” Through the storytelling of both his own experiences and others, he demonstrated how this mentality creates an effective accumulation of life skills. This accumulation allowed him to pull ideas from one area of his life, such as the military, and apply them to his work as a CEO. With his service, he learned the most effective team a person could build is not one that reflects his personal skills, but rather one that fills the void of his flaws.
He emphasized the importance of passion, regardless of the task, as he told the story of how after his service, he grappled with the stark difference of his career change. I suppose the shift between being stationed at the DMZ in North Korea to spending two hours pouring maple syrup for an advertisement could do that to a man. However, he decided to invest completely in his work. His passion leads him to constant fulfillment and ultimately prevents financial gains from becoming his main motivator.
His most effective synthesis of both “the new and old” was the balance between lifting and pushing your team. Clouse recognized the importance of motivating and inspiring your team to achieve sustainable outcomes. However, he admitted it’s still important to push people and test their limits for personal growth.
A successful leader understands their influence and an awareness of their legacy. 2020 shifted the paradigm between CEOs and the political and social environment around them. The Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic placed a new level of social accountability on companies and their leaders. There was an expectation of acknowledgment and active engagement when in the past, the exact opposite was typical. However, he welcomed this change. Clouse appreciates the dynamic shift and believes the lives of Americans will improve through the collaboration of government, community, and corporations.
I was fortunate enough to witness both times Mark Clouse addressed students at F&M and honestly, he did not emit the energy I’d expect from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Not because he lacked professionalism — quite the opposite — but because of his extreme humility and sense of humor. Although not officially part of his presentation, Mr. Clouse demonstrated the final key factor of effective leadership I will share in this article: the balance of commanding a room while having a genuine interest in every person in it.
Although there is no definitive way to lead, Mark Clouse demonstrated many defining characteristics that comprise a strong leader.
Freshman Lily Andrey is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.