Don’t let the moment get too big. When preparing for a high pressure, high stress moment, it is easy to let that overtake your life and consume you. I’ve learned over time it is important to not lose sight of what grounds me and to keep some sense of routine during this time. For me that means, morning coffee with an inspirational reading, church on Sundays, weekly chats with Mom and Dad, and regular exercise.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meredith Starkey.
Meredith Starkey joined Tepper Sports and Entertainment as Vice President — Chief Marketing Officer in March 2019 after nearly 10 years at T-Mobile where she was vice president of marketing- sponsorships and events. Prior to joining T-Mobile, she held sponsorship marketing positions at Motorola, Genesco Sports Enterprises, and D.C. United of Major League Soccer. In her role, Starkey is responsible for leading the marketing organization driving brand growth, fan growth and engagement, and revenue growth while helping foster a fan centric culture across all lines of business including the Carolina Panthers of the NFL, Charlotte Football Club of MLS, and Bank of America Stadium.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Only child of two successful parents in their own chosen professions. My mother, a public school teacher, theatre director, and girls basketball coach for over 30 years, and my father, a leader in the U.S. Forest Service, specializing in forest fire and timber management, affectionately known to us as “Smokey The Bear”. I spent my young childhood in Montana, my teen years in South Carolina, and would eventually graduate from Clemson University. I learned at an early age the value of hard work and discipline; and inherited a drive and ambition to by my best in whatever I put my mind too.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
A desire to see more women in top executive roles in the sports and entertainment industry, and to create opportunity for the next generation of young women.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
Whether in the sports industry (D.C. United, Genesco Sports Enterprises, Tepper Sports and Entertainment) or the telecommunications industry (13 years at T-Mobile and Motorola combined), as a woman in the industry, I have been in the minority. It has been men in executive leadership positions in every organization who have seen something in me, championed my growth and development, and given me an opportunity to succeed at the next level. I am grateful to each and every one of them for modeling the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Their investment in my success is a multiplier effect as it opens doors and further paves the way for the next generation of women leaders in these industries.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
It was one of my first projects as a new hire. I had enlisted the help of a partner agency on a naming exercise as part of an overall go to market plan for a new product launch. The agency delivered a strong list of name options and we narrowed down the list to a top 5. At the next executive leadership team meeting I pitched our top names with recommended preferred name for the product. I was getting positive head nods from around the table and then one of my colleagues spoke up and said…“Meredith, I like the recommended name also except…that ummm….it’s also the name of a well-known strip club in the market.” I turned beat red, embarrassed, and knowing some around the table were likely saying to themselves, “did we hire the right person for the role?” We all have a good laugh about this story now.
Morale of the story: Do Your Own Homework. And Google is your friend.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Have patience and embrace the process of becoming a leader.
Remain coachable always and seek feedback.
Give grace to yourself and others.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
A Leader’s Heart written by John Maxwell. John Maxwell is one of my favorite authors on leadership. This 365-day devotional journal on leadership takes excerpts from his many books and puts them into delicious bite size lessons for leaders. Each day focuses on an aspect of leadership, offering wisdom, encouragement, and a challenge question for the reader to personally respond too. In the quiet of the early morning hours, I begin each day with a reading from this book and a cup of coffee. Carving out 15–20 minutes a day to continuously develop myself as a leader is one of the best gifts I can give my team.
This is a great book for anyone who wants to grow as a leader but may feel overwhelmed at the idea of finding time to read a book on the subject.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
“There are no mistakes — only lessons.”
I am a high performer, high achiever, who has often struggled with a fear of failure. And at times, this fear has been a leadership limiter for me. Recently, I came across this quote coupled with the idea that “failure is simply a price we pay to achieve success”, a new definition of failure introduced by John Maxwell in his book “Failing Forward.”
And it has been a gamechanger for me. My perspective on mistakes and failure has completely shifted. Where once there was fear, now there is freedom. This shift has been both individual and collective as in the team I lead we no longer process mistakes as something to fear but rather lessons to be learned.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
In the midst of a pandemic, we successfully launched a new sports franchise, Charlotte Football Club of Major League Soccer, and continue to lead the building of this brand and business as we prepare to play in 2022. We’ve also faced the tough challenge on how the Carolina Panthers would return to play this NFL season.
We are working on new and innovative ways to stay connected and engaged with fans from home and deliver value to our corporate partners. And, we are utilizing our platform to create positive change in our communities.
This has been one of the most (perhaps the most) challenging times the sports industry has faced. It is my belief, that there will be many lessons learned and innovations developed that will have lasting positive impact on our industry.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
- Create space for what brings you joy. Can be as simple as an evening walk after dinner, play time with your puppy, a glass of wine with girlfriends, and big as a yearly trip to an island where you relax and recharge. Do you know what brings you joy? Become attuned to this. List it big and small. And then build it into your life.
- Control what you can control and let go of everything else. I often found myself expending unnecessary energy worrying about things out of my control which only added to my stress. When my stress level begins to rise, I take quick stock of what is driving the stress and what of that is within my ability to change.
- Change the energy. Change the outcome. The energy I bring to a project, a meeting, a relationship can either positively or negatively influence the outcome and stress level.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
- Pencils down a minimum of 12 hours before any major high stress event, situation, or launch. To execute well, we have to have our minds rights and cannot be distracted up until the last minute trying to get everything just perfect. Trust the hard work and preparation that you’ve put in to be ready for the moment, then go execute.
- Remind yourself of the why. Often before a high stress, high pressure moment, I will take a few quiet moments to remind myself of my why — my purpose/calling, and why I enjoy what I do. This helps me to pull up and see the big picture view.
- Don’t let the moment get too big. When preparing for a high pressure, high stress moment, it is easy to let that overtake your life and consume you. I’ve learned over time it is important to not lose sight of what grounds me and to keep some sense of routine during this time. For me that means, morning coffee with an inspirational reading, church on Sundays, weekly chats with Mom and Dad, and regular exercise.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Get an accountability partner. Early on in my career (15 years ago), I met a woman named Marcy who has been my coach and accountability partner throughout. For much of these last 15 years, we have met weekly via phone. She has help me to set goals and hold me accountable. She has been there for a word of encouragement when I’ve needed it and for some hard truth spoken in love when I’ve needed that too. She has been with me through the peaks and valleys. She has helped me to root out habits which could be limiting and she is still doing that! I am after all a continuous “work in progress.”
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The shadow of a leader. Leaders occupy positions of influence that cast long shadows impacting many lives. The shadows we cast can build others up or tear them down, create unity or disunity, encourage forward progress or stagnation. As a leader, what kind of shadow are you casting? Do you know who is standing in your shadow?
What can we do to raise importance and value of positive leadership? What can we do to equip the future generation of leaders? We need strong, capable, positive leadership across all areas of our society now more than ever.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Oprah. Her journey to success at a time in an industry where she was a minority as a woman and woman of color, how she has used her position of influence to raise others up, and how she continues to find purpose in her passions through all these years.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
LinkedIn: Meredith Starkey
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.