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Why The Soft Qualities Of Leadership Are The Most Important: A Conversation With Walmart Canada CEO, Horacio Barbeito

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at August 26, 2021

Leading any company through this pandemic continues to pose new challenges and opportunities as we navigate an evolving landscape. Add to this mix a global, retail business traditionally focused primarily on brick-and-mortar stores and it raises even more complexity. Horacio Barbeito, President & CEO of Walmart Canada, recently joined ForbesBooks best-selling author Craig Dowden to discuss how CEOs must do good to lead well through crisis. 

Barbeito explained, “We are in an era where now more than ever before, the soft qualities of leadership are the most important.” In particular, he highlighted the critical role of emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and humility in resilient leadership.

“You need a very high EQ, as much, if not more, than a high IQ.” While he points out that listening is a critical tool for leaders to exhibit emotional intelligence, it is also not enough. “Leaders need to take action and show that we care about the feedback we received.”

Barbeito also highlighted the importance of humility for us to be most effective as a leader. This allows us to hear the feedback that people are sharing with us and not react defensively. The ability to put our ego aside also helps when it comes to maximizing team engagement.

“When people see that you are genuinely interested in hearing from them, you get the best ideas on the table. This not only empowers you to make the best decisions, but it also drives accountability and ownership of the path forward throughout your organization.”

Unfortunately, humility can have a bad name in leadership circles, as people fear that expressing vulnerability displays weakness. Barbeito strongly challenges that assumption. “Vulnerability puts you in a position of strength because you’re going to be better equipped to be more supported by those around you. People respect your level of openness and rally behind you. They admire your ability to show your humanity, as they relate to it themselves.”

He also points out that being vulnerable does not mean you do not take responsibility or avoid making decisions. The benefit is that “you can make the tough calls with more confidence and buy-in from the people you lead.”

According to Barbeito, much of resilient leadership comes from self-awareness. The most effective leaders recognize and deploy their strengths while shoring up their gaps. “No leader can do it alone, which applies even more in a crisis. You need to surround yourself with the best talent you can find, especially in the areas where you struggle most. You have to be bold with your choices when bringing in talent.”

A critical question that leaders ponder is how to make these elements part of the culture. According to Barbeito, CEOs and the senior leadership play an essential role. “You must be the ultimate role model of what great leadership looks like in your organization. This is why self-awareness is so important. You have to understand who you want to be as a leader before you can share it with others,” 

Leaders who struggle with answering this question can “take the same skills you use to manage your business and apply them to how you lead. Make your own business plan related to who you want to be as a leader, what career you would like, and what impact you would like to have on your organization and your community.”

Barbeito brings all of these concepts together into his “success axis,” which he sees as a “well balanced personal and professional energy that comes from harmony between you, your team, and your customers.” 

 He continues, “I fuel my energy from my Family (self) – my wife and my four children – who have supported my career and exhibited tremendous resilience as we lived in six different countries. I am also inspired by our Associates (team) who create an inclusive environment where people can fulfill their potential and make an impact, Lastly, I am energized by our customer-centric and fundamental belief, which is captured in our Walmart cheer when we ask “Who’s number 1? It’s our customers. Always!”

When asked for any final words of wisdom about resilient leadership, Barbeito offered this powerful advice. “When leaders stay focused on creating an impact, they are bound to succeed.”


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