All around us—in the office, classroom, lab, and our community—we witness noble feats of leadership. Despite our familiarity with identifying leadership, the skill itself can seem abstract.
To make leadership more tangible, turn to Candace Matthews, Amway regional president of the Americas and College of Engineering alumna. She is a firm believer that leadership skills should be demystified by being taught throughout one’s life.
Well-known in the business world as a transformational leader and innovator, Matthews is passionate about sharing her leadership journey. Her glowing reputation is well deserved, with 30 years of impact at top companies including Amway, SoftSheen-Carson (L’Oréal), the Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble, and General Mills.
“I always say that leadership is an evolution. You don’t have all of your leadership skills on day one, but you can start developing them very early on,” explains Matthews, who began her own leadership journey in high school as captain of the majorette squad.
Buildling a strong foundation for success
In 1977, Matthews reached an early milestone in her journey: she enrolled in Carnegie Mellon University to study metallurgical engineering. She had her sights set on going into the then-booming steel industry. Over the course of her time at CMU, the shape of the industry shifted dramatically, and most steel production moved overseas.
With change in the steel industry came change in Matthews’ career plans. Forced to adapt, she augmented her engineering degree with an MBA at the advice of her CMU advisor. From there, Matthews began to tackle the business world of marketing, product development, sales, and other operational functions. She says her engineering foundation of technical knowledge and creativity is what helped propel her business career. It gave her the tools to communicate at an elevated level with groups such as manufacturing and R&D.
“There are skills that you gain as an engineer that are applicable to whatever you do, particularly critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills. These skills are amazingly powerful when you leave CMU, and those skills are applicable to whatever role [an engineer] may take,” says Matthews.
The engineer-turned-businesswoman has used these skills throughout her career. She continues to reach new milestones along her journey, including receiving the Cosmetic Executive Women Achiever Award in 2007, being cited as one of Advertising Age’s “Women to Watch” in 2011, being named Black Enterprise Magazine’s 2009 “Executive of the Year,” and making the 2017 list of the “Most Powerful Women in Business.” Matthews was also named to the Board of Bic in 2017, a public seat among the many not-for-profit board seats she also holds.
Leading your own ideas
A common misconception of leadership is that it mainly revolves around managing people. Matthews encourages students and young professionals to create their own leadership journey by learning to focus on leading their own ideas instead.
“You have to learn how to listen, seek to understand, help others understand what you are trying to say, and then influence. And influence is a very powerful part of leadership,” explains Matthews.
Students can set simple goals to start building these skills while in school, such as volunteering to give presentations about their field of study or engaging in more conversations about the importance of their research.
When entering the workforce, young professionals should get involved in their company or organization, volunteer for projects on their teams, and be proactive in building a network. In the end, Matthews explains that it all comes down to connecting with others.
“You have to be willing to learn and grow from each and every person that you meet. And if you ever feel that you’re finished, and you know it all about being a leader, then life stops. Because you are never done.”