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Former CEO of Yum! Brands Shares insight on the Importance of Continuous Learning


Cultivating a Learning Mindset: Insights from Former Yum! Brands CEO

Discover the Importance of Continuous Learning for Top Leaders

CURT NICKISCH: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Curt Nickisch.

Embracing Learning as a Key to Success

I’ll confess when I hear someone say, “That person has a lot to learn,” I picture someone in over their head or maybe new in their career just starting out in a corporate job or green in their dream role at a nonprofit. I don’t picture someone at the top of the organization, the executive director or CEO. But our guest today does picture that person, because our guest today was that person, a longtime executive who fundamentally believes that the best leaders recognize the need to learn continually, and they actively pursue the best ways to do that.

David Novak: An Advocate for Lifelong Learning

David Novak is the former chair and CEO of Yum! Brands, where he scaled KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell into one of the globe’s biggest restaurant companies. He didn’t have the education and pedigree you might expect, but he attributes his success to the fact that he’s always been hungry to learn.

Insights into How Leaders Learn

Novak wrote the new book, How Leaders Learn: Master the Habits of the World’s Most Successful People. David, thanks for coming on the show to share what you’ve learned.

Key Principles of Learning and Leadership

CURT NICKISCH: Why is learning so important to you?

DAVID NOVAK: I can tell you that learning has been the single biggest skill that’s helped me succeed in life and in my career. I’ve always been a person that just took the opportunity to learn from new experiences, my environment, from other people, from ways to become more curious from the experiences that I’ve had, that I’ve always taken the time to learn.

Embracing Curiosity and Open-Mindedness

And it became very important to me because as I was developing and growing Yum! Brands, I’ve always had to really try to identify the high potential talent or hire great people that could come in and make our company better. And I realized that the very best people we had in our company were avid learners.

Choosing the Right Environment for Growth

CURT NICKISCH: What is your advice to somebody maybe earlier in the career or a leader who is trying to choose the environment for them to become the best senior leader they can be? How do you advise people to put themselves into a place where they’re going to get the most learning and have the best chance at being successful

DAVID NOVAK: When anything starts to be rote and when anything starts to just be routine and you’re just going through the humdrum of going to work and doing what you know how to do well, I always say that’s the time you want to seek new environments that push you and get you out of your comfort zone and will help you really grow.

Turning Learning into Action

DAVID NOVAK: Snap decisions can only be made well if you have the experience that gets you to the right end. I think snap decisions are dangerous. You got to have enough facts to make sure your decisions are correct.

The Power of Recognition and Truth-Seeking

CURT NICKISCH: David, you’ve provided a lot of insights here into becoming a better learner and using that to accelerate your career. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and your expertise with our audience – sure appreciate it.

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