How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

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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