Gloria Santona, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, McDonald's
Gloria Santona, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, McDonald’s

One of the perks of working for a fast food giant, is the opportunity to super size your leadership skills.  And, if you are a member of the legal team headed up by Gloria Santona, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary at McDonald’s, you have several leadership opportunities on the menu. 

First, is the company-wide leadership program, which is open to one participant from each department annually. “Each year, we go through all of our attorney staff and decide what kind of development opportunity will benefit them individually, then select one who is ready for the experience,” explains Santona.

Once selected for the program, the chosen attorney spends a great deal of time learning about his or her own leadership style and potential. The program participants learn what they do that is inherently helpful to their career, and what they might be doing that could be potentially harmful. The participants also receive 360-degree feedback and coaching and are encouraged to move outside of the comfort zone of their usual leadership style. 

“Participants take part in action learning projects in teams,” says Santona. “It is sponsored by different members of standard management, and teams work on projects with a diverse group of people from different functional areas, to achieve a common goal.” Then the groups present to senior management, explaining their solution to a business problem, getting feedback on their ideas and style and participants self reflect on how they could be stronger leaders. 

While one member of the legal team might find an invitation to this program as the prize in his or her Happy Meal, Santona recognizes that leadership skills and training are important for her team as a whole. To this end, the legal department at McDonald’s has tapped different vendors to create a personalized program that is relevant to different levels, depending on where participants are on their career trajectory, from paralegals on up.

“It’s about owning your own career,” she explains, “understanding the enablers and detractors to your career.” It focused on interpersonal relationships and on how team members can lead themselves to the next level. These leadership programs focus on strengths and weaknesses of each team member, providing exercises to help them become more successful. “Lawyers can be technicians, but we want to develop them to be business counselors,” Santona says. “Lawyers want to and can play a broader role and think in a broader sense.”

Santona notes that in businesses today, lawyers are not just support personnel. They are part of cross-functional teams, and they need to be able to communicate successfully to everyone on that team while setting the a table with clients and presenting their interests. They need a, “broad understanding of the business and now we can contribute… earning a seat at the table,” Santona notes. “You’re left outside the door until you have the right skillset, but if you demonstrate to clients that you are business oriented, you show you can enable business and not be a deterrent.” That leadership, it seems, is the special sauce that completes the recipe for the best selling sandwich of all time.


For more on leadership development, check out the following:


Developing leaders in the legal department, part 1

Building from without and within

GCs face challenges head-on

The path toward becoming GC: New responsibilities, old challenges