Coca-Cola’s Multicultural Leadership Council recently hosted its inaugural Refresh Your Best Self Leadership Summit at the company’s Atlanta headquarters, where high-profile speakers like Tyler Perry shared inspiring remarks between training sessions and keynote presentations.

A highlight of the daylong event was a panel conversation featuring Coca-Cola executives Jim Dinkins (president, Coca-Cola North America), Bea Perez (chief communications, public affairs, sustainability and marketing assets officer), Nancy Quan (chief technical officer, Coca-Cola North America) and Craig Williams (president, The McDonald's Division). Emmy-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien moderated the candid chat, which explored the topic of authentic and inclusive leadership.

Here are a few highlights:

…on how to create an inclusive work culture:

Quan: “We focus on innovation, so one of the things that's critical for us is diverse thinking. It's my job to try and make sure everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. All thoughts are welcome. It's great when someone says something and to see it trigger another thought from someone else that builds off the original idea. That's really powerful.”

Williams: “I ask everyone in the room, especially my leadership team, for a point of view. So they expect it and know it’s coming. I also took time to write three or four bullet points that basically explain how to handle me. Because I want folks to understand who I am, how I'm wired, and how I show up at work. My entire leadership team did this, too. Because one thing we recognize is that everyone is different.”

Jim Dinkins
Jim Dinkins, president, Coca-Cola North America

…on the need for leaders to be transparent:

Perez: “I think everyone thinks leaders are supposed to be perfect. People either don't want their leaders to make mistakes, or leaders don't feel they have permission to make mistakes. So as a leader, sometimes you’re walking on eggshells. I’ve learned over time, through my personal journey, that doing that actually can create a barrier between you and people who expect to get to know the people they work with. So I think storytelling is really important. And it's okay to give leaders permission to not be perfect. The more we give our leaders permission to not be perfect, and to make mistakes, the more they'll open up.”

Dinkins: “A lot of it comes from your upbringing. My father was a minister, and my mother was a teacher. I got to hear my dad say stuff about me every Sunday from the pulpit. I was very comfortable because we grew up in an environment like that. I think it's also how you view yourself. We were taught that everybody is equal, and that your job is no more important than anybody else’s. I've always viewed myself as the same as everybody else, just in a different role. I think leaders feel pressure because they don't want to let you down. I call myself your elected official you didn't elect.”

Quan: “People want to know about you, and they want to know generally what you think, what you’re about, and your history. That’s a way to connect with people. When I joined Coke, I decided I’d be myself. I have a partner, and it has been great to be myself here.”

Bea Perez, chief communications, public affairs, sustainability and marketing assets officer, The Coca-Cola Company

…on what ‘bringing your whole self to work means’ as a leader:

Williams: “My perspective is, if you're only bringing 87 percent, then we’ve got to challenge ourselves to bring 89 percent, and then get up to 100 percent. I encourage every bit of every person to come to work every day. Sometimes that’s your best day. Sometimes that’s your horrible day. Sometimes that’s your ‘I'm excited’ day. And sometimes that’s you’re ‘I’m ticked off’ day. Unless we deal with things in the moment and in the context of our business opportunity, I don't think we’re giving 100 percent of our best effort. As we all get to 100 percent, we're going to be a better company.”

Nancy Quan
Nancy Quan, chief technical officer, Coca-Cola North America

… on what they tell younger employees about building a career at Coke:

Perez: “This is a company that really does care about its people and our communities… Coca-Cola always steps into society when there's debate on critical issues, has a point of view and brings people together. And we do great work in terms of water, recycling and more. We really care. And that goes all the way back 135 years. It’s been a constant. When I recruit people to my team, I say, ‘If you want to make a difference in people's lives, Coke is the company for you.’”

Dinkins: “If you look at the industry we're in, it’s an amazing business. When you wake up in the morning, you might decide not to drive a car and instead take an Uber. Or to watch Netflix instead of TV. But every morning when you wake up, you're thirsty. So our job is to figure out what you want to drink, so we can give it to you. This is an awesome industry. And inside of that industry, our company is an awesome company. In my 27 years here, I’ve had no restrictions on the things I could do… it’s been up to me to learn my job, deliver results, be a good teammate and add value. And I’ve gotten all kinds of opportunities. You're not in a box here.”

Soledad and Craig
Soledad O’Brien, Emmy-winning journalist, and Craig Williams, president, The McDonald's Division, The Coca-Cola Company

… on how they serve as inclusive mentors to all colleagues:

Williams: “When I talk to people, I always tell them what my ambition was coming out of school. I wanted to make $30,000 a year, buy a Chevy Cavalier Z24, and have an apartment alongside the highway in St. Louis, where I grew up. That was the plan. When I talk about that, people understand because everyone had that first objective, that first ambition, that first goal. It’s relatable. So when we have those conversations, people say, “I get you.” And that leads to more conversations over time that I feel are far more authentic.”

Perez: “We have to take the time to pause and have more conversations. More breakouts, more roundtables without an agenda, more cups of coffee. Where we just get to know each other. When people come in and talk to me, I always ask them to tell me something I can't read on their resume or find easily. We get to know each other better and make connections that wouldn’t happen if someone hadn’t said, “Can we get together?” – no matter your age or tenure, or where you are geographically. And it works both ways. The person being asked has to make the time. When you set up a 15-minute cup of coffee, you never know where it might go.”

Dinkins: “I think it's natural to be attracted to people you think you have something in common with. It can be the school you went to, your neighborhood, or your job. The key for a person in a leadership position is to open themselves up. Because sometimes people might feel a little intimidated or shy. So you have to open yourself up and show interest. And you can create a human connection at the end of the day.”

Quan: “I grew up in Indiana. We were the only multicultural family in the small town of Goodland, in the middle of corn fields. I was born in Chicago, so my English is okay. But I’d go to my friend’s house and their parents would say (in a slow, over-enunciated way), ‘Hello, my name is…’ And when I worked in Beijing, I spoke the wrong Chinese. My parents spoke Cantonese, and they spoke Mandarin. I was at the hairdresser, and a lady sitting next to me was amazed because I couldn’t speak the language, yet I could read English. So that feeling of not belonging is common with everyone. I have people come up to me and say, ‘I’ve had that feeling before… how did you get through it?’ And it opens the door to good conversation.”