Joyce F. Brown (Fashion Institute of Technology) in “The Corner Office”

21-CORNER-articleInlineAdam 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 Joyce F. Brown is the president of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. Trained as a psychologist, she says her “third ear” helps her listen carefully to others’ ideas, and to “try very hard to understand the nuances.”

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

Photo credit: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

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Bryant: What was your plan for your career when you were younger?

Brown: I always knew I wanted to go into psychology. I’m a psychologist by training, which I think is a tremendous help in everything I do.

Bryant: How so?

Brown: Among the more important things I learned in pursuing the degree in psychology was an appreciation of an organization’s interrelationships. I think you have to follow process even if you’re not being a bureaucrat. I don’t want to be bound by the process, but I think respecting the process is important — respecting what everybody’s role is — then figuring out how to make everybody work together.

One thing that emerged from the training, and what I do day to day, is to understand who’s responsible for what and to make sure I don’t then ask someone else to do that person’s job. It’s very easy to slip and do that. You can involve others, of course. They may have a suggestion that’s easy enough to incorporate, and then everybody owns a little piece of it. But you have to be clear about who’s responsible. Otherwise, people will cross wires, and that will create a ripple effect that’s totally unnecessary.

Bryant: Other ways that you draw on your training in psychology?

Brown: I am convinced that I have a third ear. I listen, and I really pay attention and try very hard to understand the nuances. I tell people that I will listen to what they say, and will try to incorporate what I can from their suggestions if I think they fit the objective we’re trying to achieve. If we’re not going to do what they’re suggesting, I’ll tell them why. I think people deserve that. I will tell you why, and then we will proceed. I think it works, because people feel that they were listened to, and were given the respect of an answer about why I might disagree. You gain a lot by being respectful of people’s ideas.

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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 with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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