Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Power Point: Reach deep for the truth

August 7, 2008: 11:33 AM ET

"You need the truth to make the right decision. So what I've done is always go three, four, five layers deep in an organization. Get people comfortable talking to you."

- Brenda Barnes, chairman and CEO of Sara Lee (SLE), which announced a $695 million fourth-quarter loss this morning. Annual revenues rose 10% to $13.2 billion, but Sara Lee got hit by writeoffs and rocketing wheat prices in the latest quarter. Three years ago, when she stepped up to CEO, Barnes talked at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit about a challenge for any leader: getting at the truth. Since then, she has decisively restructured Sara Lee--selling non-core business like Hanes to focus on food--but soaring commodity costs now make profitable growth her enormous challenge. Barnes is No. 10 on the Fortune Most Powerful Women list.

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Pattie Sellers
Pattie Sellers
Senior Editor at Large, Fortune
Executive Director of MPW/Live Content, Time Inc.

Pattie Sellers has written more than 20 Fortune cover stories including "Marissa Mayer: Ready to Rumble at Yahoo," "Muhtar Kent's New Coke," "Oprah's Next Act", "The $100 Billion Woman" (Melinda Gates), and "Gone with the Wind" (Ted Turner). She co-founded Fortune Most Powerful Women and oversees the Fortune MPW Summit, the preeminent gathering of women leaders in business and beyond—and programs such as Fortune MPW Entrepreneurs and the Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership. Pattie also develops Live Content across Time Inc. Her blog, Postcards, is about how power players lead and navigate their careers. Pattie won Time Inc.'s prestigious MVP award for her performance in 2012.

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