LAS VEGAS — When Paula Marshall became president and chief executive officer of The Bama Cos. in 1984, she took over the helm of the Tulsa, Okla.-based company founded by her grandparents and guided for years by her father, Paul Marshall. While he ran the business with an iron fist, she chose a different management style.

“I did not know how to do what he did,” Ms. Marshall told an audience of more than 200 people at the American Bakers Association’s Executive Leadership Development Committee (E.L.D.C.) Baking Industry Leadership Forum during the International Baking Industry Exposition held Oct. 6-9 in Las Vegas.

Panelists in addition to Ms. Marshall included Miles Jones, co-chairman of Dawn Food Products; Mike McKee, president and c.e.o. of McKee Foods Corp.; and Fred Penny, president of Bimbo Bakeries USA.

Instead of adopting a my-way-or-the-highway style of leadership, Ms. Marshall began asking questions of her management team. Two years after she became the head of Bama, a local reporter visited the company and asked her, “How did you know how to do this thing called participatory management?” She replied, “Is that what I’m doing?’ I had no idea.”

Under a participatory approach to management, leadership is all about approaching every decision with as much modesty as possible and not being afraid to ask questions.

“To me, it’s a matter of having the humility to admit that you don’t know everything,” she noted.

As every executive experiences sooner or later, leadership also involves learning from mistakes. That’s why Ms. Marshall is a firm believer in taking a methodical approach to management, including conducting consumer research and focus groups before launching new products.

“I’m not a great strategic thinker,” she observed. “I had to develop that skill myself.”

While many companies pride themselves on being first to market, Ms. Marshall and several other members of the E.L.D.C. panel warned about the perils of chasing a short-term fad instead of following a trend that can lead to long-term growth.

“Moving forward is great, but sometimes, jumping in with all fours too soon has been very costly,” she said.

(More extensive coverage of each E.L.D.C. forum participant’s remarks will be published in upcoming issues ofMilling & Baking News and Baking and Snackmagazines.)