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Coleman H. Peterson’s
Leadership Reflections

Coleman PetersonAfter retiring as Walmart’s Executive Vice President for People, Cole Peterson’s service on J. B. Hunt’s board of directors overlapped with my time on the board. We also interacted socially and professionally frequently when he was Walmart’s human resources leader.

I relied on Cole’s advice and counsel numerous times during my UA chancellorship. Because of the great respect I had for him, I invited Cole to meet with my leadership class. He did so as many times as his schedule allowed.

Among “words of wisdom,” Cole shared with students are the following.

  • “Leaders need to recognize their followers want to know the leader cares about them; they want to know how they are doing; they desire honest feedback; and they want to know what they need to do to advance in the organization.”
  • “Mentor relationships can be too structured and mechanical. Mentoring works best when there is a relationship between the individuals.”
  • “There is a high correlation between candor and leadership.”
  • “Leaders should encourage team members to have goals, avoid shortcuts, work hard, be open to feedback, be kind, and be thankful.”
  • “When hiring people, look for people who have high energy, are results oriented, have good people skills, and are open to learning.”
  • “There will be situations in which you have to behave yourself out of what you behaved yourself into.”
  • “Do the best you can and give things a chance to play out.”
  • “Be an active listener.”
  • “Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.”
  • “Be comfortable in your own skin.”
  • “Know who you are and what you stand for.”
  • “Know what you are not willing to do and stick to it.”
  • “Don’t pretend to be someone else.”
  • “People do not leave bad companies. They leave bad leaders.”
  • “Compartmentalize things and leave work at the office.”
  • “Don’t confuse who you are with the title on your business card.”

Through his many visits with the leadership class and our numerous social and business interactions, I learned much from Cole. As a result, many of his ten lessons shared in How to Get There from Here …The Ten Lessons That Have Served Me Well*, made their way into chapters of Why It Matters. To make sure you don’t miss them, here they are: have a goal; no shortcuts; work hard; education is an opportunity and a privilege; listen—understand the power of feedback; develop your people skills; have humility; get a life; help somebody; and be thankful. Each lesson is a chapter in his book, which is full of insight, wisdom, and experience. His lessons are valuable for everyone, not just leaders.


* Coleman H. Peterson, How to Get There from Here … The Ten Lessons That Have Served Me Well, AuthorHouse, Bloomington, IN, 2012.

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