International Women’s Day: Lessons in Leadership from the Women of MWW

By | March 6, 2015

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), a holiday that celebrates the achievements of women worldwide and inspires the next generation of women to make their mark on the world. At MWW, we believe in our #fearless female leadership, who continuously make it happen for our clients on a daily basis. In honor of IWD, we asked them for their secrets to success and what they want the next generation of female PR professionals to know as they develop their careers. Here’s what they had to say:

Carreen Winters
Executive Vice President, Corporate Communications

Remember when doing anything “like a girl” was an insult?  That’s definitely how it was 24 years ago when I started as an entry level coordinator in PR, and particularly so in corporate communications, where men still dominate despite PR being a female-led industry.  But as we see female leaders taking the CEO roles at organizations traditionally dominated by men – manufacturing (GM), technology (Yahoo), and professional services (like our MWW client Deloitte), it seems that this may truly be the year of the woman.

I am proud to have been selected by PR News for its inaugural Top Women in PR awards, and it has gotten me thinking about the topic of women and leadership, both in our profession, and in our clients’ businesses.  Are we at an inflection point when it comes to female leadership?  Are we on the verge of women having the natural (and proverbial) “upper hand?”   Can we truly say that doing business like a girl is a good thing?

Increasingly, leaders need to be great collaborators and consensus builders…characteristics we encourage in girls as a society from a young age.  Emotional intelligence, empathy and effective communications skills are alsorequirements for Leadership 2.0.   Women are increasingly recognizing that being decisive, and even a little tough, doesn’t make them a “mean girl” – and that men don’t have the market cornered on courage under fire.  (Did you watch Mary Barra’s Congressional testimony?) Having it all doesn’t necessarily mean having it all at the same time.

I look forward to the day when we can stop talking about women leaders, and the year of the woman – and just talk about leaders.  Until then, here is my advice to other women:

  • Don’t apologize for having feelings, or opinions.  Yours are just as valid as anyone else’s.  And the fact that you care more about what you are doing makes you better, not weaker.
  • Let go of the need to be liked.  You aren’t running for prom queen – and if you aren’t getting any dissension, you aren’t making a difference.
  • Forget about finding a mentor, find an advocate.  Mentorship is important, but it isn’t enough to have a supportive person in the background of your career – you need someone who actively helps you create opportunities.
  • Replace your master plan with goals and options.  Life is rarely a straight line, and too often disruptions in your pre-conceived plan become setbacks.  Being opportunistic and flexible, with an eye towards a long term goal will serve you better.  Some of the best opportunities come disguised as a temporary or interim solution.

Remember that nothing is perfect, and the grass is rarely as green as you think it is elsewhere.  This is particularly true in the so-called “Mommy Wars.”  Stay at home mothers don’t have more time than they know what to do with.  Working mothers (a term I really hate – don’t we all work?) don’t have more money than they know what to do with or take long lunches at the gym.  We are all doing the best we can.

Alissa Blate
Executive Vice President, Global Brand Marketing and Communications

There’s a lot written about women and leadership, particularly in the Public Relations field, a very female-dominated profession.  Much of the commentary around this examines leadership traits, trends and public attitudes towards women leaders, but rarely does it touch on life lessons, whether you are just starting out with a career in Public Relations or advancing to an executive position.  Leadership is both an inherited trait and a developed attribute, and requires experience, perspective and motivation.

Four principles guide my personal and professional life:

  • Have ambition.  A strong desire to achieve is a leadership quality that trumps the rest. Interestingly, according to a recent Pew Research Center’s Women and Leadership study, 63 percent of Millennial women and 61 percent of Gen X women consider ambition an essential leadership trait (as compared with 53 percent of Millennial men and only 43 percent of Gen X men).  Achievement comes with hard work and taking a proactive approach to constantly finding ways to grow and develop.
  • Applaud achievements.  Often we are too busy moving from task to task and forget to take a step back and look holistically at our accomplishments.  It’s also important to give a nod to those who have been part of that success.
  • Always trust your instinct. While advice and counsel from others can inform your decisions and help to build consensus, the best decision is almost always instinctual.  Though input from peers, business associates, family and friends helps you weigh your options, trusting your instinct and using intuition when making decisions will lead you down the right path.
  • Work is not a place you go to; rather, it’s something you do.  A successful career requires a mindset that integrates your work with everything else in your life.  But as the lines begin to blur, don’t lose sight of what’s really important.  Take time to get to know people, connect with them, learn what interests them and what makes them special.  The Public Relations business is all about connecting.

Sarah Locke
Global Brand Ambassador

I have worked in the PR industry for many years and watched how our industry has evolved and adapted as new technologies, new platforms and devices have been introduced.  There has never been a more exciting time for PR, and we have the opportunity, right now, to not just be part of a communications strategy but to sit at the top table with clients and to lead that strategy.

Leadership is a quality you have to nurture and develop, and it does not come naturally to many people. The adage two eyes, two ears and one mouth is an important lesson to remember, and so to be brilliant advisors, we need to be sensitive to the pressures on business leaders and brand marketers and focus on how we can underpin and support their business plans in the most effective way.  The biggest takeaways from my career so far are to:

  • Be nimble and adapt to a client’s business as it changes
  • Always be on the front-foot with how you advise, evolve and keep relevant
  • Be honest and open
  • Work hard to be your client’s trusted advisor

The most important thing for all future PR leaders is knowing your strengths and where you can add the most value to your clients, colleagues and industry as a whole.

Tara Naughton
Executive Vice President, Consumer Lifestyle Marketing

When I think about successful leadership approaches, and what has helped me in my career, the following three things come to mind:

  • Create teams that work. Surround yourself with teams that tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Establish an environment in which employees with different strengths can come together, and make sure they know that their opinion matters – to you, to the team and to the client. If you’re willing to embrace ideas that make sense to reach a given goal, no matter who or where they come from, great achievements are possible. Those closest to the work that is required often have the best insight but are rarely heard.
  • Execution is everything.  Many people can conceptually wow others with thinking and ideas, but strong leadership requires seeing an idea through to reality. This often takes the courage to do things that haven’t been done before, a willingness to iterate to address real world changes and a strong work ethic to do what needs to be done.
  • Use your P.H.D. Passion, Humor and Diplomacy are some of the best characteristics for bringing people together to support a new idea or create a great result. There will never be a desired result that does not involve resistance. If your teams recognize your passion and commitment, you can create widespread support. Humor is the single greatest tool for navigating difficult conversations. It’s pretty hard to beat someone up over something when they take the step to beat themselves up first. It is also pretty hard to be stalled by anger when you’re having a good laugh. If you understand the benefit of diplomacy, people with different skills and values can find common ground that they may never have discovered on their own.

Molly Mulloy
Executive Vice President, Technology Lead, and General Manager – San Francisco

I never had a clear plan or career map; rather, I just took advantage of the opportunities that came my way, from complete industry and company changes, to moving, whether it was a different city, state, or even country. So, what have I learned from my accidental career?

  • Find something you have a genuine interest in, whether planned or stumbled upon, and you will automatically be setting yourself up to do good work. And good work gets noticed.
  • A desire to keep learning, coupled with a strong work ethic, will fuel you in the right direction.
  • It’s a small business world. You will run into clients, colleagues and partners over and over again in your career, so be good and fair to everyone. You also have a lot more in common with every person you meet than you think.
  • Last but not least, embrace fear – push through it and learn from it. You learn so much more from your fears, when confronted with them, than from your comforts. So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

Jennifer Little
Senior Vice President, General Manager – Dallas

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career is how to receive and give feedback. As a young communicator, I wasn’t open to listening to what others had to say to me until I began working for a company that valued feedback and recognition as part of its culture. I realized that how you accept and respond to feedback says a lot about your character and professionalism, and it’s not intended to bring you down, but rather help build up your integrity and work product. Many times, the behaviors and attitudes being conveyed aren’t intentional, but may be having a negative impact on those around you. It’s important to me to create effective female managers and help others learn from my experience. I coach the women on my team to become the kind of managers who accept guidance from others gracefully and lift people up with their feedback. I challenge them to change the perception of the current situation into the reality they want for their clients and teammates.

Dawn Lauer
Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications

Everybody loves a great story. Over the years, I’ve honed a methodology for helping global brands and corporate executives tell the absolute best version of theirs, and arriving at this finished product is never a quick or canned exercise; in fact, it can often be grueling. But I’ve found the magic bullet: the one constant capable of turning a great story into an inspirational one – and that’s the power of aspiration. Aspiration is the difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary … the reason employees come to work every day, the reason industries believe in us, the reason innovations happen and the reason consumers choose your brand.

I’ve seen it make all the difference in perception – and not just in the workplace, but in my own career.  As a result, I approach every project and every client engagement by thinking about the end result, and what I want and believe it is capable of being. Very often, this has meant taking the more difficult and detailed route to completion (translation: late nights and weekends, doing whatever it takes to get there), but once you have a vision, it’s much harder to settle for less. I’ve learned not to be afraid of “a little aspiration” because I know it inspires me to produce a better product and be a better version of myself.  And at the end of the day, that’s the best kind of happy ending we can ask for.

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