A Conversation with Della Sanders, Vice President of Safety and Compliance, Werner Enterprises
Questions for LQ’s Executive Interview Series have been prepared by members of LQ’s Board and friends of LQ.
LQ: How do you select mentors to help you in your logistics career? (Pamela Benkert, Vice-President, Global Supply Chain, Kodak)
Della Sanders: Having been with Werner Enterprises for 18 years, I have developed working relationships within the organization, as well as within the National Safety Council and by networking with other carriers and companies. The last 18 years have given me an opportunity to really see what characteristics are the most valuable in our industry, and I have found that integrity is a key factor when I look for a mentor. I respect those that are willing to stay the course and provide opinions even when the opinion may be the opposite of what is expected.
LQ: When you make decisions that will have a big impact on the future, do you generally have a fallback, or Plan B, in mind? (Elsie Blauwhoff, Corporate Procurement, Apotex Inc.)
Della Sanders: Absolutely. Any decision of magnitude needs to be thoroughly reviewed, including “what if” scenarios. You have to be prepared for unexpected changes such as what if the application is not available or if technology changes, regulations change, etc.
LQ: Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” What tools do you use to help you envision the right future for your organization? (Elsie Blauwhoff)
Della Sanders: Without a doubt, the primary tool I use to help me envision the correct future is my team. They are diversified not only in their backgrounds, but in their strengths as well. I also utilize industry publications and keep current with industry news and trends.
LQ: What barriers have you been able to break through in your career? (Bruce Danielson, Director, UPS)
Della Sanders: Being a female in a male-dominated industry is a huge barrier that I overcame, especially being a female in a leadership position in the industry. However, I have to give credit where credit is due. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the Werners and the culture they have developed. Even back when I started 18 years ago, I was surprised how many females they had in leadership roles, in all areas of the company. They reward for performance, not gender. Another barrier I have overcome is being able to break out of the traditional leadership role. My team and I utilize the FISH program and provide drops for co-workers (Tom Rath, How Full is Your Bucket). We have found that breaking out of the traditional management style and participating in activities with our group fosters an environment where the group is more likely to provide feedback for improvements.
LQ: How does it feel to sometimes be the only woman in the room? (Bruce Danielson)
Della Sanders: As a female in a leadership role in the transportation industry, it happens quite often that I am the only woman in the room. Within the walls of Werner Enterprises, it is not an issue. I attribute that to the Werner family and the culture they have developed. However, at offsite meetings there is a distinct difference. It may take time before everyone is comfortable. There may be hesitation or comments made that I wouldn’t even have thought twice about, but yet everyone is glancing my way. I just smile—it usually doesn’t take long for them to understand I am involved for a reason.
LQ: Research suggests that women in leadership roles score lower than men when it comes to “envisioning.” Is it that women don’t envision as well as men, or do they envision differently? What does envisioning mean to you as a leader? (Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD, Associate Professor, Director, PhD Program in Logistics, Department of Marketing & Logistics, University of Tennessee)
Della Sanders: To envision, [you] must use [your] team and [your] knowledge to determine which direction [your] team and organization should go. Gender doesn’t have anything to do with any perceived differences in envisioning. Either you have the ability to envision and are able to lead, or you don’t. It is that simple.
LQ: Does it matter that women don’t envision as well as men? (Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD)
Della Sanders: I disagree with this statement. I have worked and interacted with men who cannot envision and I have also worked and interacted with women who could not envision; in my opinion gender is not the issue.
LQ: As a leader, how do you strategize for the future, and what role does envisioning play for you, or within your organization? (Diane A. Mollenkopf, PhD)
Della Sanders: I work very closely with my team to collect feedback and industry information and trends. I put my team in place for a reason. To not rely upon their strengths and differences would simply be a mistake. I am a firm believer in collaborating and working together to develop the best strategies for the company.
LQ: Are the challenges presented by an economy such as this any different for women leaders than their male counterparts? (Tom Nightingale, Vice-President & CMO, Con-way Inc.)
Della Sanders: No, the challenges are the same for both genders. My counterparts are faced with the same challenge of providing more value and operating more efficiently than their competitors, regardless of what industry they are in. It won’t matter to the customer if you are male or female; it will matter that you can meet or exceed their expectations.
LQ: As women strive to get ahead, do you have any tips in an era when training budgets are being curtailed? (Tom Nightingale)
Della Sanders: Use your mentors and contacts within the industry. Networking is crucial in any environment, and people are one of your greatest resources. Working with others can be a great way to find your strengths and refine your skills. I would also suggest finding materials such as publications and other media that are available at your company to enhance your knowledge and skills.
LQ: What leadership styles work best in this kind of economy? (Tom Nightingale)
Della Sanders: The best leadership style is interactive leadership. To me, it represents a style where leaders surround themselves with diversity, are willing to take risks and are held accountable. They are the type of leaders who develop their team and select individuals with diversified skill sets, so they can bring unique viewpoints and ideas. I also think that as an interactive leader, you have to possess a great deal of knowledge, but be willing to listen to others’ ideas. Those are the leaders who will be successful. Leaders who abandon what they know, ignore good ideas and make hasty decisions will not be as successful.
LQ: When President Obama was asked if some of his cabinet choices conflicted with the message of his campaign, he said, “Understand where the vision for change comes from: first and foremost, it comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure then that my team is implementing [that vision].” Do you agree with his statement? Is leadership more about providing the vision than implementing it? (Kate Vitasek, Founder, Supply Chain Visions)
Della Sanders: Leadership is more about developing a vision with a team that is diversified in their strengths. You as the leader may start with the concept, but it is up to you and your team to develop and refine that concept. You selected your team for a reason. You had a vision in mind and felt they could help you accomplish the vision, so rely upon them to have the knowledge and abilities to accomplish it.
LQ: Do you have a systematic process in place to keep your organization aligned to strategic goals and objectives? How do you measure and manage and how do you know when to make changes in your company’s strategic goals and objectives? (Kate Vitasek)
Della Sanders: We do have a systematic process to stay aligned to strategic goals and objectives, but we also understand that we must be flexible and willing to adjust. Achieving goals and objectives is ongoing and ever-changing, so we adapt to focus our energies on goals that will help the company be successful. It is important to develop measurements and goals with your team, but understand how all of the factors interact. You have to constantly re-evaluate the goals and measurements and adjust if needed.
LQ: American inventor Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Is this true of leadership? Or is leadership ninety-nine percent inspiration and one percent perspiration? (Kate Vitasek)
Della Sanders: I believe that you always have to work hard to be successful. At every level in a company, including the executive level, you have to be motivated and committed to working hard. Leadership is no exception to this rule.
LQ: Do you feel that your business decisions are based primarily on facts or intuition? (Ellen Voie, President, Women in Trucking, Inc.)
Della Sanders: To make an accurate decision, you need both intuition and facts. You cannot depend on intuition alone and you must use facts to help you develop your vision. Having a team with diversified strengths and unique perspectives is necessary in a situation like this. Using a team with diversified abilities that works from a fact-based foundation will help ensure your decisions are solid.
LQ: Do you feel that your male counterparts are better at identifying new opportunities and trends? (Ellen Voie)
Della Sanders: Absolutely not. This is another case where gender isn’t really applicable. I believe that if my male counterparts are willing to take risks, surround themselves with leaders and try to truly understand what is best for the company and how to get there, they have an equal chance to identify new opportunities and trends. Gender does not play a role; leadership, knowledge and integrity do.