PR Execs On Growing From Manager to Leader


By Ken Jacobs

In the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to interview many respected PR executives on a variety of leadership topics. One of the most valuable pieces of advice they’ve shared is how to grow from manager to leader. Latest interview question and answers:

What’s your best counsel to a manager who wants to make the leap into leadership?

“Establish yourself as a collaborator. In a world inspired by millennials, where people work together regardless of title, people will follow you because you lean in, play well with others and value the contributions of all team members.

The world has evolved past the top-down leadership model. We can’t work in a silo. You must have a sensitivity to all around you. People will happily follow someone who respects them, listens and gives them a sense of ownership.”

— Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, vice president of global communications and strategic alliances, Origins and Darphin Paris

“I have always viewed myself as a leader. Even when I was an entry-level manager, I tried to set a strong example through work ethic, curiosity and commitment to a good work product. Many people wait to ‘become’ a leader, and the reality is that you can be a leader at every point of your career. Being a leader is something that takes focus, nurturing and dedication.”

— Danielle Devine, global leader, enterprise strategy and communications, Johnson & Johnson

“Learn as much as you can about your business and industry. Understand how your business delivers value, meets customer needs and provides opportunities for employees to make meaningful contributions. Ultimately, leaders serve a variety of stakeholders. The more you understand the business within the context of the industry — the technologies, the needs of the markets and the competitive landscape — the better a leader you will be.”

— Sheryl Battles, vice president of communications and diversity strategy, Pitney Bowes

“Hone your listening skills. Don’t think that always having the best idea or final say is a sign of leadership. Great leaders listen, ask the right questions, and allow their teams to help solve problems.”

— Ron Culp, professional director of the graduate PR and advertising program at DePaul University.

“I would counsel anyone looking to move to leadership to do three things. First, you should understand how your business works because it’s about leadership first, functional expertise second. Then, you should find out what other leaders need and how you can help fill the gap. Lastly, you should know your leadership style — the good, the bad and how you might need to adapt. Agility is a valuable quality in a leader.”

— Linda Rutherford, senior vice president and CCO, Southwest Airlines

“Our profession continues to transform. It’s a challenging time to be a leader because of that innovation. In order to make that leap from practitioner to leader, you need to think big. A practitioner maintains and implements what is already there, whereas a leader innovates and is looking for ways to stay ahead of the game.”

— Alison King, president, Media Profile

“It’s not about you. Your success will be determined by how much you can rally other people to the cause. Before you become a leader, you focus on developing yourself; when you become a leader, you focus on developing others. I believe that advice was from Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, and I heard it at a leadership conference years ago. Perhaps it should be said this way: ‘You only become a leader when you start focusing on developing others more than yourself.’ It’s a reminder to make this about others as often as possible.”

— Rob Flaherty, chair, Ketchum

“Build the best possible team under yourself. Nurture them. Support them. And don’t be afraid of them taking your job. If they do, it will likely be because you’ve been moved into a position of greater authority.”

— Rick French, chairman and CEO, French/West/Vaughan

???????? Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. He helps communications organizations achieve their goals via consulting and training. Email: Twitter: @KenViews. This article first appeared in PRSA’s March issue of Strategies & Tactics

5 thoughts on “PR Execs On Growing From Manager to Leader

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this post. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to share the wisdom of so many leaders via “Taking the Lead” in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics.

  2. So very well stated (and a h/t Ron Culp). I think of leadership and leaders in terms of PCC: Perform, Collaborate, Care.

    PERFORM: Drive meaningful business results for the organization.
    COLLABORATE: We are often in the position of convening other resources, sometimes from outside the function or even outside the organization. Being an open collaborator is an essential ingredient to success.
    CARE: About your team members, business partners, the outside agencies that support you. If you care for them, you’ll get it back multiple-fold.

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