Four Quick Lessons from a High-Level Leadership Talk

Drexel President John Fry and SAP North America President DJ Paoni, Oct. 17 2019

On October 17, Drexel University President John Fry and President of SAP North America DJ Paoni sat down to explore leadership and development from an executive-level perspective.

In response to President Fry’s thoughtful questions, Paoni drew from both his personal and professional lives, including his experience as an undergraduate and student athlete at the University of Illinois, his career in sales and technology and his rise through the ranks at SAP.

Here are four pieces of advice from Paoni’s remarks:

1. “Look at the whole play.”

This advice originally came from a coach during Paoni’s time on the University of Illinois football team, after Paoni ran his usual route without checking to see what the rest of his team was doing. The comment has served as a larger reminder to consider his role in the context of everything happening around him. It might not have yielded a game-winning catch, but it’s helped to shape his thinking about leadership and strategy ever since.

2. “Be the CEO of your own career.”

Even in the early stages of your career, you must take charge of your own development and seek out opportunities to grow and advance, said Paoni. When it’s time for the next phase of your career, Paoni says, “No one’s going to tap you on your shoulder.”

3. “The grass is greener where you water it.”

Paoni hasn’t spent his entire career at SAP; he discussed taking an offer from another company for what he later realized were the wrong reasons. In contrast to “the grass is greener on the other side,” Paoni encouraged others to work to improve their current situation before looking to move on.

4. “Assam alaikum, naga def?”

After mentioning that he took a college course in Wolof, a West African language, Paoni conversed in Wolof with an audience member and 2019 Drexel graduate, Ousman Joof, a native of The Gambia. While the above, which translates to “Hi, how are you doing?” isn’t advice as such, it illustrates the value Paoni places on expanding one’s perspective and getting outside your comfort zone.

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