Lisa Donohue: 5 things I've learned about leadership

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I was told early on that media was not a leadership role within the agency, but that was where I found my passion, writes Starcom's global brand president.

Campaign US' Annual Morale Survey has once again revealed that leadership is the No. 1 most-cited cause of low employee morale. All this week, as part of our first-ever Leadership Report, we're exploring the issue through the eyes of those who live it every day.

I’m often asked about my professional path; to identify the key moments, or moves, that made a difference in leading to the role I have today. The truth is we live in a world defined by change. But for me, that is only part of the story.

I’ve spent my entire career with the same company, which is rare today. I found an organization that remains unafraid to make bold moves, constantly reinventing for the future. There have been victories and challenges, but through multiple cities and roles, I have dedicated myself to shaping an organization. To building a culture. To leading throughout immense periods of change.

I have not spent three decades building only a company. Most importantly, I have come to know myself—my personal brand—and what it takes to create purposeful, personal change.

Be authentic to who you are. Others will try to define "the path" for you, often mirroring their own route to success. But, professional journeys take many forms. Tom Peters, business author and speaker, has written that careers are no longer a ladder we climb, but rather a checkerboard filled with steps forward, and moves that go sideways or even backwards.

I have found my greatest successes—those pivotal moments in my career—have come when I stopped listening to everyone else, and was honest with one person. Me.

I was told early on that media was not a leadership role within the agency. If I wanted to advance, I would need to focus on other aspects of the industry. But, everything about the art and science of media was where I found my passion.

Whether in business or in life, you must intimately and authentically know yourself. That’s your North Star. When you are authentic to yourself, you allow people to see the power that is you. That will drive your success and inspire others along the way.

Read: Joyce King Thomas on 5 things I've learned about leadership

Be curious and brave. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, gave a TED Talk where she said we must "teach girls bravery, not perfection." Especially for women who aspire to be leaders, it is common to expect perfection from yourself and others. Often, when perfection meets adversity, we back down.

Gone are the days when everything was quantitative—right or wrong and very black and white. Thank goodness. Today, marketers are exploring emerging technologies like virtual and augmented reality to create experiences that were once impossible.

This type of world requires agile learning and agile leadership. I have always kept curiosity at the forefront and made peace with the fact that things are not going to be perfect now ... or ever.

Success is not a social sprint. I often share—or should I say admit—that I’m an introvert. That’s a title many struggle to associate alongside my other. We’re taught, especially as women, that to be accomplished in business is to be bold. The truly driven are outspoken, sociable leaders who can command a room.

The irony is it’s not about being the loudest voice in the room, though those who work with me might say that voice is often mine. Like many introverts, I can be both and must every day. I have learned to manage my energy and understand my limits. I have been my best as a leader when I tossed the titles and focused on me.

Leaders go first. As we rise to new roles, we also rise to new expectations and new demands for big decisions.

I became CEO of Starcom USA at a pivotal moment in the industry. Data and analytics practices were in their infancy, and investing in this type of offering without a solid revenue stream was considered a big risk. I knew that to stay authentic to myself, and my belief in personal and organizational reinvention, I needed to model that behavior for the company. Leaders go first. 

I then surrounded myself with a diverse team who challenged me. They embraced agility in decision-making and chose to invest in people and expertise to reinvent and modernize the agency. 

Read: Marc Strachan on 5 things I've learned about leadership

Empower others. I truly believe if you can see it, you can be it. I am proud to be a female leader in the industry today, and am proud to champion other women within our agency and beyond, at all levels. 

Reinvention never ends, and it is not a solo sport. The most high-performing teams I know understand and appreciate each other, not just as colleagues, but as people. Win and lose, learn and grow—as a team. I set a high bar for those around me, but I also see it as my job to remove barriers, enabling and empowering others to reach even higher.

Take accountability to create your own path; don’t leave that to anyone else. No one company is responsible for your happiness, and no one trait epitomizes success. Understand who you are and be authentic about what you need. But be ready to get uncomfortable. It will be in these times of growth that you find your voice.

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