Articulate a vision for the team, the steps being taken to lead toward the vision, and finally and very importantly, how each member of the team can contribute. Teams are strongest when they work together. Each person has a skill or gift to contribute. A good leader will help to identify those skills and harness them for the good of each team member and the organization as a whole, and then hold the team accountable for meeting objectives.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lora Wilson.
Lora Wilson is managing director of Global Results Communications (GRC), responsible for cultivating new business and implementing high-impact public relations strategies for industry-leading companies and the visionary executives driving them. With more than 21 years of experience in high tech, telecom, consumer, electronics and healthcare, she is a trusted advisor, overseeing every aspect of account management, from media training to team and campaign development. Fueled by intellectual curiosity, she understands her clients’ complex products, solutions and services from the inside out, studying the competition, industry and stakeholder groups, current economic and political environments and which consumer behaviors are defining new trends. Prior to joining GRC in 2009, Lora held executive-level positions at renowned agencies in Dallas including Springbok Cohn & Wolfe and GolinHarris, where her client roster included Verizon Wireless, Ericsson, Coors Brewing Company and Target among others. Most recently, she was vice president in the technology practice at Ketchum Public Relations, where she led programs for Nokia, Nokia Siemens Networks and IBM.
Lora graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor’s degrees in English and communications/public relations. A lifelong learner and mentor, she is a volunteer with the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, which focuses on programs that help improve children’s health and quality of life, and serves as the agency’s liaison for local universities, where she guest lectures and invites students to participate in GRC-hosted PR bootcamps.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Going into public relations wasn’t random for me, because Communications/Public Relations was one of my majors in college, way back in the 1980s in Wisconsin. I also earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a minor in writing. After graduating from college, I dabbled for a few years in sales and merchandising positions before working for 6 years as a technical writer for a power tool company in Milwaukee, Wisc., and then as a marketing writer for a trade association in Tacoma, Wash. It was there that I realized I wanted to specialize in public relations, because I wanted to take on earned storytelling and work with the media. It was when I moved to Dallas in the late 1990s that my now ex-husband encouraged me to “get closer to the money,” as he called it, by going to work for a PR agency, rather than working in an in-house public relations role. He explained that, unlike in-house PR positions, agency positions were closest to the money because their work is paid for directly by clients. He was in the technology consulting industry and he said the same was true in his industry. I did go to work for a PR agency and haven’t looked back now for 21 years.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Especially in the earlier days of my PR career, I was a media hound. I loved to chase stories for clients — big or small, but of course mostly big! And, I had no fear, which is a blessing, but it can be a curse if you aren’t well-prepared when talking to the media. One morning, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal and thought the reporter who wrote it would be the perfect reporter to talk with one of my clients. I made the rookie mistake of not scanning through previous articles she’d written, not reading her bio in our media database, and not talking to co-workers to see if they knew her — before I found her phone number, picked up the phone and called her to pitch my client. Turns out, she was an investigative reporter, on the hunt for sensational stories. At the time, I was still getting up to speed on my client and wasn’t able to answer many of the questions she asked me about them. She mistook my naivete for evasiveness and some kind of cover-up for my client. She thought she smelled blood … an investigative reporter’s dream … and wanted to interview my client straightaway. By this time, I realized, she was not the perfect reporter to talk with my client, but how could I get out of it to push for an interview. I was a complete novice and didn’t know how to handle it, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking to my supervisor about it because I didn’t want her to think I didn’t know what I was doing or couldn’t be trusted. I eventually set up an interview with my client and hoped for the best, which was also a foolish move. During the interview, the reporter quickly learned there wasn’t a big story to “crack” or to reveal to the world and in fact, I was just a PR novice with limited knowledge of my client and there was no story at all. In the end, it turned out as best as it probably could have. The client never knew the “back story.” The reporter was satisfied to have had the interview, even though she didn’t write, and I learned my lesson about doing due diligence before picking up the phone to talk with the press.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve been fortunate to have had many good mentors and role models in my career. A former boss once told me, “It’s not what you do, it’s what you get done.” That was at a point when I struggled with project delegation and often fell prey to the mistaken belief that if I wanted something done right, I had to do it myself. The problem is, I couldn’t keep up, and that was part of our discussion that day — about how I’d fallen behind. Even though she was appreciative of my dedication and the time I was spending, she wanted me to learn to delegate and to focus on the results, not just the time I personally spent on the work as a hallmark of achievement. As simple as her words were, they were powerful, and stick with me to this day.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Global Results Communications celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Our vision and purpose have remained constant over the history of the company, and it’s been a driver of our success. For our clients, we aim to provide PR and digital communications services that enable our clients to build strong relationships, and to influence the markets in which they serve, by providing outstanding services that exceed expectations by over-delivering on results. For our team, we strive to have a healthy work culture which leads to high quality results for our clients globally, through honest delivery of communications services.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
I’ve been in the tech PR industry for 22 years and have NEVER considered giving up. Several years ago, my Mom gave me a plaque for my office that reads, “Mama told me there’d be days like this.” It gave us a jolly laugh and levity that all working people can relate to, and frankly that any human can relate to, because “days like this” exist in our personal lives, too. I’ve had plenty of “those days” before and will have plenty more in the future. What sustains me is a firmly held belief that “this, too, shall pass” and conviction that my career is well-suited to my skills and my passion.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
In order to effectively lead a team, a leader needs to be able to lead him or herself. A good leader knows the company’s higher purpose, understands his or her role in achieving it, and holds him or herself as accountable as everyone else on the team. How can we expect the best of others if we don’t demand the best of ourselves?
Good leaders know that we will always face opposition — whether it’s a pandemic, economic uncertainty, a competitor, or sometimes the voices in our own heads. But, facing and overcoming opposition is how we get stronger. Chaos can be a big driver of change and growth, and a good leader will use turbulent times as a launch pad rather than a torpedo.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The drivers of inspiration and motivation are different from the drivers of engagement, and in my experience the drivers are the same in “good” times as they are in challenging or turbulent times.
In my experience, the most effective way to inspire and motivate teams is to model the spirit and behavior you’d like your team to adopt. Even in challenging and uncertain times, there are two things we can always control: our attitude and our actions. Misery loves company, but optimism, gratitude, joy and the pursuit of excellence and a shared goal also love company. I relate to a phrase that one of my favorite fitness instructors at my neighborhood gym says of leaders: “Someone is always watching you. They may be close or they may be at a distance, but someone is always watching. Sometimes leaders inspire others without ever knowing it.” It’s not about being the loudest or smartest voice in the room. A good leader sets goals and then works to meet or exceed them and leads by example.
On engagement, vast research concludes that the drivers of employee engagement are generally universal and include things such as shared values, personal purpose, role clarity, autonomy, capacity, fairness, trust and integrity, relationships with manager and co-workers, feedback, goal support, leader availability, safety, and opportunities for growth. Whether times are turbulent or auspicious, progressive leaders can and will strive for engagement based on these criteria.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Some leaders recommend practicing the Golden Rule, which would be great except that not all people respond to a singular message in the same way. In an ideal world, communication would be delivered one-on-one and tailored to the team member or customer, but that’s not always possible or practical. I don’t believe there’s a “right,” “wrong,” or “best” way to communicate difficult news to teams and customers; however, I believe that being direct with diplomacy, honesty, sensitivity and compassion can create an environment for constructive dialogue. I also believe that opening a two-way dialogue that invites questions and feedback can strengthen mutual respect and trust.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Understanding the organization’s purpose and long-range vision is the first step. Often times, these are unwavering even when times are unpredictable. Leaders should keep the long-range vision in mind and develop incremental steps to keep the company on the path forward, with a mindset of flexibility and an understanding that you might need to pivot. Assess progress on a weekly basis. If something doesn’t seem to be working for several weeks, it’s likely time to pivot.
Leaders and companies often procrastinate taking action for fear of making a “wrong” decision or taking a “wrong” step. I see this happen most often with leaders who prefer to make data-driven decisions. During turbulent times, accurate data might not be readily available, or it might change often. Holding back and doing nothing until the “right” data emerges can negatively impact employee morale and productivity, and it can also be detrimental with customers and partners. In addition, opportunities can be missed and a company could be left behind by competitors. It’s wiser to take what data exists today to make incremental steps toward adapting to turbulent markets.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Communicate often. Whether it’s a short, daily or weekly “stand-up” meeting, video call or email to talk about the state-of-the-state, teams appreciate more frequent communication during turbulent times than normal times. These sessions can be used not only to provide business updates, but also to set short-term goals with the team and any expected outcomes or metrics. As part of this, leaders should communicate how each team member can contribute to the company’s vision and purpose. Each person has a skill or gift to contribute. A good leader will help to identify those skills and harness them for the good of each team member and the organization as a whole, and then hold the team accountable for meeting objectives.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Analysis paralysis — Companies often procrastinate taking action for fear of making a “wrong” decision or taking a “wrong” step. I see this happen most often with leaders who prefer to make data-driven decisions. During turbulent times, accurate data might not be readily available, or it might change often. Holding back and doing nothing until the “right” data emerges can negatively impact employee morale and productivity, and it can also be detrimental with customers and partners. In addition, opportunities can be missed and a company could be left behind by competitors. It’s wiser to take what data exists today to make incremental steps toward adapting to turbulent markets.
- Tactics in search of a strategy — On the opposite spectrum of “Analysis Paralysis,” is behavior that I describe as “tactics in search of a strategy.” These are companies or leaders who act very quickly, sometimes with a flurry of different tasks and tactics that individually might seem valuable, but that lack cohesion or an aim toward a larger strategy. In other words, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, but actually less. By ensuring there’s a strategy in place, companies can ensure they spend time on developing and deploying the tactics that best support the bigger picture objective.
- Mistaking activity for productivity — Time spent does not directly correlate with true productivity. In turbulent times, some leaders gain a false sense of control by scheduling a lot of meetings and calls or by creating more process and administrative work than usual. Unless the extra meetings and administration creates real value for customers (not just the internal company), then the time spent is not a true measure of productivity and in fact can drain time and resources that would be more effectively channeled to activities that drive customer value.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Borrowing from a sports analogy, I believe the best defense is a good offense. Companies that have a lot of “goodwill” in the bank with customers are in a better position to weather storms. By establishing yourself or your company as invaluable to your customers from the very beginning of the relationship, you’re more likely to be one of the last individuals or companies your customers will let go of if they have to make budget cuts.
How a company establishes itself as invaluable to customers varies from industry to industry, but a few core principles hold true across all client-vendor relationships:
- Partnership — If you remember that you and your client share a common goal, your behavior will naturally flow into that of acting like a true extension of your client’s team and your client will view you as part of the collective “us” versus “them.” It’s critical to understand the company’s business goals, the company’s strengths, competitive dynamics and threats, and how you can help the company achieve success.
- Trust — Honesty is certainly an important part of building trust, but it’s also the ability to gain the client’s confidence that you are able to deliver on the promise of why they hired you in the first place. Why are you uniquely qualified to deliver on the promise? Share data and metrics toward the company’s or client’s goal that you’ve helped to deliver.
- Value — There’s a reason your company or client hired you. Keep that reason in the forefront of all you do.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Articulate a vision for the team, the steps being taken to lead toward the vision, and finally and very importantly, how each member of the team can contribute. Teams are strongest when they work together. Each person has a skill or gift to contribute. A good leader will help to identify those skills and harness them for the good of each team member and the organization as a whole, and then hold the team accountable for meeting objectives.
- Practice conscious leadership. Good leaders recognize that the success of an organization is driven on “we” and not only “me.” The better your people are, the better they will perform within the organization. A conscious leadership style is one that recognizes people as a whole, not only the factors that impact the person at the office. A conscious leader also understands his or her own strengths, weaknesses, fears, judgments and other factors that can impact the workplace and team dynamic — and how to balance the “me” and “we” to create a culture of mutual trust and respect.
- Demonstrate mental toughness and emotional strength. When the world is falling apart around the people you lead, and perhaps even around you personally, mental and emotional strength are critically important. Whether you call it “grace under fire” or “never let them see you sweat,” the underlying goal isn’t to look good in front of your team, but rather to set the tone for the team and the organization. If a leader falls apart during tough times, he or she essentially gives team members the permission to fall apart. Demonstrate strength and a leader gives their team a model to follow.
- Communicate often. Whether it’s a short, daily or weekly “stand-up” meeting, video call or email to talk about the state-of-the-state, teams appreciate more frequent communication during turbulent times than normal times. These sessions can be used not only to provide business updates, but also to et short-term goals with the team and any expected outcomes or metrics.
- Embrace and create a culture of flexibility. Long-term planning can be difficult when times are uncertain, but good leaders will remind their team of the long-range vision and short-term goals, and they will openly talk about the potential that the business will need to pivot as market circumstances change.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“This, too, shall pass” has been a longtime favorite. This year, perhaps more than any other, it seems particularly apropos. I learned this phrase from my Mom during my youth, at a time when it sounded like just one of those annoying things parents say, but as I got older I understood the meaning behind the phrase and I realized that Mom was right.
Several years ago, I did intensive study in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which included meditation and various mindfulness exercises, and a lot of reading. I finally read The Power of Now by the spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle, a book which a number of friends had recommended I read. Tolle extolls a belief that the only constant in life is change, which he describes as “the impermanence of all things” — the “good” things and the “bad” things. He believes that by being aware of the transient nature of everything in our lives and by observing each moment with non-judgment, people can eliminate, or certainly minimize, much of their suffering and pain. Through the work and reading, I gained a better ability to live in the “now” and to spend less time regretting things from the past or worrying too much about the future, and I think that has had a positive impact in my personal and professional life.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Global Results Communications website: https://www.globalresultspr.com/