For this month’s column on Public Relations Tactics on PRSA.org, Ken Jacob of Jacobs Communications Consulting, asked respected PR leader Renzi Stone, chairman and CEO of integrated communications agency Saxum, a series of questions about leadership.
What were the most important leadership lessons you ever learned from the people for whom you worked during your career?
I started my firm when I was 25, so I probably didn’t learn enough before going out on my own. I think the biggest leadership lesson learned, mostly from mentors, was this idea of servant leadership, as opposed to dictatorial leadership. The leaders I admire most seem at ease and comfortable in power without having to remind others who the boss is. People gravitate toward those who are authentic in their belief that it isn’t about them.
What were your biggest leadership “failures,” and what did you learn from them?
I’m failing all the time. The good news is I don’t fail very often at the same thing twice. Most of my failures have come from my own insecurities. This includes pushing an issue or people past a reasonable point, learning when to say nothing even when I have something to add and accepting someone else’s version of perfect.
How do you get feedback on your performance as a leader?
The first step is to actually want feedback. In striving to be a servant leader, I try hard to welcome diverse points of view on how goals are accomplished. I feel like I constantly seek feedback from those I admire and with whom I work frequently. We live in a conflict-averse culture, and if I were more forceful about receiving feedback, I’d probably get more, even at the cost of comfort to those supplying it.
Does the PR profession do enough to develop our leaders?
Clearly not, because PR is still treated, overall, as a second-class citizen in the marketing communications culture. Until our training programs focus on strategy and CMOs are more open to more risk from non-traditional marketers, the PR function will continue to be one of many options.
That said, I think our industry is making strides, and there is an emergence of absolute superstars who are contributing in meaningful ways.
How do you define leadership? How do you define management?
Management is the efficient execution of someone else’s leadership. Management maintains. Leadership transcends.
Do you remember when you first realized “I’m an effective leader”?
Step one to becoming an effective leader is to let someone else call you that. I try to be inclusive, curious and ambitious in accomplishing goals. Sometimes a leader needs to be hard-headed and take a contrarian position in order to draw out weaknesses. I’m also smart enough to realize that there are so many talented people out there who can do it better than me, so why not empower them?
What can a leader do if they get feedback that their leadership performance is lacking?
Look in the mirror. In 2013, my leadership team told me that they needed a clearer vision from me on our company’s direction. Previously, I gave a broad, flexible vision for where we were going. Feedback suggested I needed to provide more details, which in turn took away flexibility. It was a valuable piece of insight for me, and when I drilled down on the vision, I received a higher degree of buy-in from them.
What are the PR profession’s three biggest leadership issues today?
1. Being seen by CMOs and CEOs as the go-to for strategy on marketing communications issues.
2. Recruiting strategy-minded grads into the profession from a broader base of educational training.
3. Adapting. I know some smart PR pros who are slow to change and (more concerning) some who don’t even know they’re slow. It’s a dangerous place to be.