Matt Harrington’s Routine to Strengthen Leadership Skills: ‘Copious Amounts of News Consumption’

Long-time Edelman executive Matthew Harrington will receive the “Milestones in Mentoring” Agency Award next Thursday evening during the annual celebration of outstanding mentors in Chicago.

Matt offers important leadership and mentorship advice in the following interview with the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations:

What is your mentorship approach and what advice do you give your mentees?

Some of it is structural. I believe in the commitment of time from both parties. Even if we don’t keep to the appointed time because of conflict it is there as a mental prompt. In terms of advice: be active in managing your career – don’t expect your manager or employer to be a mind reader. One always has to raise one’s hand.

What advice would you tell your early-career self with respect to finding a mentor?

When I started the concept of mentor wasn’t as explicit as it is today although I think I became aware of individuals who I respected in their approach to business and management of people where I studied them more actively and sought informal guidance.

What have you found to be the most important key to having a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Ability to be candid – good, bad and ugly. Easier to deliver if all from a commonplace of wanting to see an individual succeed.

What is one powerful thing you’ve learned from mentoring someone?

How much I learn from them. The pressures and opportunity they face in developing their career in a very different communications environment from when I started.

As a follow up to learning from mentees, is there anything in particular that you’re learning that would be helpful for students and young professionals who are entering the workforce?

Students, in particular, these days have so much knowledge with the various communication platforms and channels. Student and young professionals, do not short-change yourself because you’re new to the organization. You actually have quite a lot to offer, right from the get-go. Data and analytics have become so much more important. If students and young professionals have done what I expect they will have done, they’re going to graduate with a handle on data and analytics on a different level than some of the folks immediately above them.

What top ways can our profession’s best and brightest be mentored right now so they will be prepared to assume leadership positions in the future?

  1. Helping them understand and be prepared for constant and often radical change.
  2. Reinforce that despite all the change some basics are primary – interpersonal skills, strong communication and writing skills and the invaluable role of listening.

How can emerging practitioners prepare themselves to navigate the “radical change”?

Always being a student. Particularly in communications, you should be always learning. If you’re internal, learn about the business; if you’re at an agency, you are constantly learning about many different businesses. If you are in a constant learning mode, you’re (by osmosis) taking that learning and exchanging your worldview. In a sense, constant learning necessitates constant changing.

There is a myriad of changes around us. What issues have or will become a “wake up call” to the profession?

In a world that is increasingly data-driven and oriented toward hyper-targeting I am concerned that we lose the magic of storytelling, appealing to the hearts and minds of individuals. I worry at times that folks think there is an algorithm to solve all problems. It’s a legitimate worry because as everybody races to be all about technology, we can lose sight of humanity. I was very intrigued with Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO talking about the increasing need of more individuals who have humanities orientations, because they need the critical thinking, they need the empathy, and they need the mental thinking that machines aren’t doing for us. Data is driving good business and good decision making, but it can’t be the sole solution for everything. Sometimes you just have to move with your gut. And/or what you see in front of you in terms of the community need or the ability to connect with individuals. The empathetic CEOs that we’re seeing these days – the CEOs of PayPal and Dick’s Sporting Goods made social action a part of their companies because of their values and made decisions that data might have said, “don’t do that,” but they went ahead and did the right thing.

What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?

Farmer’s market followed by a long run listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” an afternoon sail, some book reading and then making dinner from whatever was on offer at the Farmer’s Market.

Favorite app?

NYTimes Cooking

If given the choice to trade places with anyone (living or dead) for one day, who would it be and why?

Winston Churchill on tour writing and giving lectures across the US in 1900. I love the fact that in 1900 he was basically penniless, despite being from a very lauded family, and came to the US, and traveled by train and coach around the country giving lectures and writing for papers.

Favorite place to vacation and why?

Chatham, Massachusetts – spent the first month of my life there and every summer since; my daughters had the same experiences I did 30 years prior and my father did in the 1920s. A special family place.

My leadership tip is…


My mentorship tip is…


Every mentor is…


The lesson that took you the longest to learn…


Habits in your daily routine that strengthen your leadership skills…


Three things you do to inspire and encourage teamwork…


Matthew Harrington is global president and global chief operating officer of Edelman. Matt’s previous positions during an amazing 35-year Edelman career include president of the U.S., and president of the Eastern and Western regions. He also led Edelman’s initiative to create a Code of Conduct. Matt is an English literature graduate of Denison University, and he now serves on the university’s Board of Trustees.

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