From First Job to Leader

Veteran communications consultant Ken Jacobs recently wrote an article on “From Manager to Leader” for PRSA’s The Public Relations Strategist magazine.  Although the article’s title might suggest that you have to be a a manager before becoming a leader, Ken’s interviews with industry leaders support the fact that it’s never to early to start honing your leadership skills. 


I asked Ken to provide his top tips that would be of particular value to those of you who aspire to be leaders in training.  Here are his seven suggestions: 

  • Move out of the “Complete the To-Do List” mode: …as soon as possible, and instead ask such questions as “What can I contribute or do to ensure that we’re heading in the right direction?” “How can I make this project better?” and “Are there others that I should enlist?,” says Emanate’s Kim Sample.  
  • Observe your company’s best leaders:  Tom Coyne, CEO of Coyne PR, says that “success leaves clues.  Find these leaders, and ask what they feel makes them so good at it.”  
  • Find a mentor:   As you observe company leaders, note the ones who appear to be natural coaches, have seniority, appear to be compassionate listeners, have a passion for and are successful in business and are interested in the careers of those below them, says Joel Curran, APR, senior vice president of Manning, Selvage and Lee, and managing director of its Midwest region.   
  • Take a deep dive:  Curran further suggests finding mentors within your company, and “rather than graze, do a deep dive.  Since consistency is critical,   find one or two who are willing to spend real time with you six times a year.”   
  • Seek seasoned “super-mentors”: Brian McPeak, vice president, communications and public relations for Rohm & Haas Company, the Philadelphia-based supplier to the specialty materials industry, recommends that future and early leaders seek seasoned “super-mentors” from within the communications field, but outside your organization, to provide objective perspective and help you develop your thinking process.   
  • Maintain an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and “never be a passive learner, but actively seek out information” says Curran. “Ask questions and propose your own ideas to get reactions from your organization’s leaders.”   Coyne recommends “devouring leadership books. There’s a lot of great thinking on leadership that’s out there, for the price of a library card.” 
  • Develop three critical competencies: McPeak cites 1) Problem-solving skills; 2) Understanding business and building fluency in articulating a communications strategy that will enable business success; and  3) Being extraordinarily adaptive and open to new ways of doing things as valuable for any public relations professional, but “downright essential for communications leaders”. The sooner you embrace these leaders’ solid counsel, the sooner you’ll be on your way to being a leader yourself, regardless of your current title or years of experience.   

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting, LLC, which, among other services, helps corporate communications departments and PR agencies enhance staff performance, motivation, retention and attraction, via training, consulting and coaching programs.  He can be reached at

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