Name: Wanda Williams
Brand: Yum Brands
Title: Head of Global Franchising
Years in franchising: 7
No. of units system-wide: 51,000 (franchise units, Q3 2021)
What do you wish you had known before taking your first management role? I probably should have asked more questions about the dynamics of the environment I was walking into—across my team, my leaders, and the other divisions I needed to work with. I think sometimes when you apply for a job, you think, “Oh, I’m just coming in and doing this job.” But it’s essential to go into it knowing how those around you will affect your work.
Which leadership skill was most difficult to develop? I think a lot of leaders have had to work on developing patience at some point in their careers. For me, patience is critically tied to active listening. Often when we speak and when we listen, we’re actually trying to get to that next answer before somebody else can complete their sentence. However, if you have the right amount of patience and you’re really able to actively listen, you can better understand people’s perspectives, better navigate difficult situations, and come to more effective solutions.
Who helped you on the way to the top? Two people have been the most helpful in my career journey, and in completely different ways. The first is my father, who is not at all involved in Corporate America, but just has a really good sense of how to collaborate with people, how to shut out distracting, self-sabotaging behaviors, and the importance of staying focused on the job at hand. The other person is my former boss Kim Harris, who always guided me through difficult situations and had great perspectives on working with people, seeing different sides of a story, and the connection between patience and active listening.
What was the best advice you ever got? My father always told me, “Focus on the results, and the rest will come.” In other words, if you just focus on doing your work every day, you don’t need to be too concerned about accomplishments or praise or recognition. Those things will naturally arrive in time if you just get your work done and do it well.
How do you mentor, and what advice do you give those you mentor? Within Yum Brands, I’ve been doing a lot of mentoring with under-represented people of color, specifically African American, Hispanic, and Latina women. In these relationships, I make it a point to actively listen and understand the concerns of my mentees so we can partner together to develop solutions. I believe that we can all win with a more collaborative mentality and approach—because, as I’ve learned in my personal career journey, it really does take a village to help you grow and thrive.
What skill sets do you think are imperative for young women leaders? I had a lot of sales experience before joining Yum Brands, and one thing we used to joke about is how sometimes a no is really just a delayed yes. It’s the idea that you may not have the right elements to support an idea at the beginning, but if you really believe in it and you think it can be a game changer for your business, then keep refining it until that initial no could ultimately become a yes. I think this perseverance mindset is important for women in business.
What are your leadership do’s and don’ts? When I was vice president of operations at Pizza Hut U.S., I would always tell my team, “If you do the work, then you present the work.” I firmly believe that if you want to be a solid leader, you should give your people the platform to speak upward. Never try to limit someone’s ability to learn and grow. Give people opportunities to stretch their skills and learn outside their core discipline. Don’t strictly stick to what is on their goal sheet.
How did you learn to embrace risk-taking? One thing my dad used to tell me was, “There’s no novel idea in this world.” Meaning, almost everything has been previously thought about, expressed, or created, but maybe there were gaps in making it successful. So when taking risks, focus on how to refine an existing idea and figure out what didn’t go right the first time. Risk-taking is about filling those gaps to build on a previous approach.
How should aspiring female leaders build allies? Start by building allies within your teams, the people you meet with day to day. Once you solidify those relationships, your network of allies will grow organically. It can sometimes be a slow and steady race, but it will be authentic and lead to more trust. In addition, always be ready with your 30-second elevator speech, because you never know when you’ll have an opportunity to share your story, ideas, or business impact with a senior leader and activate their allyship.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned, and how has it proven invaluable? I will always advocate the importance of servant leadership. It’s crucial to understand when to be a coach and when to be a player. You can’t be afraid to work with your team, get your hands dirty, and sift through the details—all while making sure you’re serving the needs of your team. This also ties into knowing how to delegate effectively, because it allows you to let your team shine and experience challenges so they can grow.
Why is it so important to give back to the next generation of leaders? People who are more established in their careers have an incredible opportunity to help advance the next generation of leaders at a faster pace. Imagine all the things you could have accomplished if you had entered your career with a running start and the knowledge your predecessors had to gain through years of experience. That’s why I’m so passionate about the Yum! Center for Global Franchise Excellence, which is the first business program of its kind at a public university to provide existing and potential franchisees with multiple levels of education focused on the franchising model across industries. The center also focuses on recruiting and educating under-represented people of color and women on the possibilities of franchising as a pathway to entrepreneurship, which I believe is a gap in the industry that needs immediate attention.