Autumn Manning (chief executive of in “The Corner Office”

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Autumn Manning, chief executive of, a provider of software to encourage employee engagement. She says she goes out of her way to communicate her intentions to her employees about why she asks questions. o read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

Photo credit: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

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What were your early years like?

I actually was raised in California and Arkansas. My parents divorced when I was 3, and my mother really liked to move a lot. She was looking to go to new places to experience new things and new people. We probably moved every seven to eight months when I was growing up.

I have four siblings, and three younger sisters who I was primarily responsible for until I went away to college. My mother was a nurse and she worked double shifts every day almost my whole life.

And how did you feel about having to move all the time and care for your siblings?

You learn to be really adaptable, go with the flow, and figure out a way to solve whatever situation you’re in, whether you’re at a new school or taking care of the girls. I also never really unpacked. When I became an adult, it took me a long time to realize, oh, I’m going to be staying in this house so I can actually hang curtains.

I liked the independence of having money, because we didn’t have a lot growing up. So starting when I was 13, I would work at least 20 hours a week. I was a dishwasher. I bused and waited tables. I would clean the church every Sunday. I will say the best job was waiting tables. It teaches you so much about serving people.

Because my mom worked to take care of five kids, the girls were usually in tow with me, whether I was at a job or at practice. I was acutely aware of having the responsibility of three kids, while trying to be a kid myself, and creating an environment that wasn’t completely just horrible for them, sitting there doing nothing. So I tried to set a good example for them, but I also knew that I was a kid, too, so I wasn’t really sure what that example should be.

What did you study in college?

Psychology. I know this sounds really simple, but I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior: Why is someone the way they are and what inspires them or compels them to change?

What have been some key leadership lessons for you?

One is ensuring that you’re doing a really good job communicating the big-picture vision of where you’re going. It’s about setting that North Star for everybody and then breaking it down so they know their specific role in achieving that goal. Otherwise, people start moving in their own directions.

You also have to make sure you can measure every part of the business, and then have a conversation very publicly across the entire company about those metrics and how we can adjust and get better. That requires a lot of trust and transparency. Just when I feel like we do it well, I realize people still feel siloed. It’s something I work on a lot.

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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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