Verona Dorch, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer for Peabody Energy, is a strong advocate of influence leadership. Here she shares why it matters to love your job, learn from mistakes and give hires chances to excel.
CCBJ: What led to your role at Peabody?
Verona Dorch: I joined Peabody in August of 2015. At the time, it was clear that Peabody was in the midst of a crisis as it had a high level of debt on its books. But what Peabody was going through didn’t scare me away. It instead drew me to the company. What I saw was a roster of healthy mines and a really good management team in a very unfortunate debt situation resulting from a prior acquisition several years before. I saw a way to get out of that crisis. I also saw that I could be part of a team that could help lead the company through that crisis. To come in, hit the ground running and be involved in key strategic, governance and legal decisions was, for me, a dream.
Tell us about your leadership style and who has influenced it.
I’m a strong believer in influence leadership. My job, as a member of the C-suite, is to be an adviser and a supporter, to influence my colleagues and others for the good in how to best meet our business goals.
I am also a strong believer in building a team of leaders. I like to give people the ability to lead, and I sometimes do it before they’re ready. Past opportunities to grow and develop are what have shaped my career, so it’s important to me to be able to give back those types of opportunities.
A CEO I once worked with told me it was OK to fail because it was a chance for him to see how I would get up and fix the problem. So, if someone on my team makes a mistake, that’s OK. I want to see how, if you have an issue, you come to the table with the solution. That’s the best type of leadership development to pass on to my teams. And that’s the type of leader that I enjoy being.
What qualities do you look for when hiring new people for your team?
I look for grit and hustle to not just do the task requested by the client but to go beyond what is needed in figuring out what else can be done to be helpful and productive. I want people who practice law and work for a corporation because that’s what they want to do. I seek confident, energetic and enthusiastic people who are problem-solvers that our clients can look to for a maximum level of competence and for that extra level of calm.
Sometimes I look for that diamond in the rough because, growing up, there were times people took chances on me. And so, I always find it important to make sure that I’m taking chances on potential hires that someone else might not see as polished or ready to hit the ground running but I see have the spark and the potential in them.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be afraid to fail or to take a challenge on when you don’t have all of the skills. Patrick Decker, a CEO I worked with, taught me that. Before then, I really thought I had to present myself as always knowing the full answer when it’s acceptable to give a partial response, or the most informed answer, and validate the rest later.
The other advice I was given was you’ll always do your best work if you do something that you absolutely love. I love the practice of law. I love coming in and not knowing what’s going to be on my desk on any given day. Every morning while I drive to work, I feel positive and full of energy at the prospect of what the day will bring, If you don’t love what you do, you should step back and try to understand why, and what needs to change.
How about the best life advice?
I can be a bit of a workaholic so the best life advice I received was to maintain the right balance between family life and work. Family, kids if you have them, friends and outside hobbies are just as important, and it’s crucial not to tie your identity and stature to the job but to tie it to the things that are absolutely important to you.
The person who gave me that advice asked me: What are the two or three things that only you can do that no one else can do? That question and the related answers that I gave made me step back and reassess how I was spending my time. When I prioritized spending more time with my family (who, for me, were the key answers to that question), I also realized that my team at the office was working incredibly hard because they were emulating my behavior, and that it was my job as a leader to both change my behavior, but also to encourage my team to prioritize the things that were important to them.
Work can become all-consuming, but at the end of the day it’s not necessarily going to be there for you when you actually need people, and the things that you love, to be there for you. So maintain a healthy level of balance between the two.
Published December 30, 2019.