My Toughest Challenge: Phillips 66’s Rich Harbison on leadership

Over his career, Harbison has moved 11 times for various job opportunities. Establishing himself as a leader in a new organization—not by position, but by earning respect—has been the most challenging aspect of that career path.

Harbison was still in his 20s when he moved into his first supervisory role overseeing experienced union truck drivers. He had to learn about the industry, while simultaneously learning how to lead.

“They really challenged my decision-making and commitment to support them,” he recalls. “I had not ever driven a truck.”

When moving to a new role, Harbison spends a lot of time listening to the organization’s members and developing several lines of communication to get a better perspective of the culture. Then he can boil down those discussions to develop a plan to improve the business.

Face-to-face meetings, including small and large groups, are supported by consistent messaging through emails and even posters in some cases. He says he never surrounds himself with only direct reports.

“To get a better understanding of the culture or the issues of the organization, it is good to hear the message directly from those that are impacted by what’s going on,” he says. “As they work their way up the organizational hierarchy, those messages can get slightly twisted or slightly altered or heavily filtered.”

Read more about the Lake Charles Manufacturing Complex manager’s management strategy.