Your People Should Be Your Number One Priority. I must be a servant to my team if I’m going to lead them well. So while I have daily responsibilities that fall outside of managing the Choice team, I do my absolute best to be available to them when they have questions, want help with a project, need me to leverage a personal relationship or desire my opinion. Oftentimes as the one running the business, you can feel like you are in constant demand for your time and attention. I take that as a real privilege, not a burden.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Adams.
Heather Adams is the founder and CEO of Choice Media Communications. A self-proclaimed pop-culture junkie, Heather leads Choice’s impressive team of women as they serve preeminent voices in publishing, lifestyle, entertainment, business, sports and faith-based arenas. Heather is a widely recognized communications expert and savvy strategist, but that’s not what first comes to mind when people who know her think of her. When today’s most respected journalists, editors, producers, authors, and other personalities think of Heather, what first comes to mind is a deep, meaningful relationship. A passionate mentor to women in the communications field and beyond, Heather is tearing down old barriers with the ever-present hope that in the future, women professionals and entrepreneurs will face far fewer obstacles. Heather lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with her husband Matthew Adams, and their two young sons, Dixon and Thackston, who keep her thrilled and busy cheering from the sidelines of either a baseball field or basketball court.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iam a proud graduate of The University of Georgia’s esteemed Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. After several years in the communications field within the government, I found myself moving from Atlanta to Nashville when I married my husband. It was at that time that I became a publicist within the book publishing industry where I spent the next decade developing my career, relationships and expertise. I had the privilege of serving some of the most distinguished thought leaders and tastemakers across a wide variety of competencies including lifestyle, entertainment, business, politics, sports and faith. Since initially stepping into that publishing world, I’ve helped launch more than 100 New York Times best-selling books to date. During the recession, I was one of the employees affected in round after round of layoffs. That became the catalyst for my entrepreneurial spirit to be leveraged when I launched my own consulting business, which eventually led to owning and leading Choice Media today, which is hands down the best and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. Period.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
This year marks the 5th anniversary of Choice. To date, we’ve really focused on sharing content created by our clients and other partners we respect and admire. Now, we’re really putting an emphasis on developing our own original content. We have such great experience, expertise and a track record of success. Our knowledge would be beneficial to so many, so I’m very excited this year, in particular, about what we are developing that will serve our audiences well.
I also believe in business we have to be allies rather than competitors. This fall we will host the first Choice Summit, a gathering of like-minded publicists and communications professionals who believe a rising tide raises all ships. It will be a time of training and education, shared best practices, obstacles, lessons learned and building a rich, collaborative community.
We have some incredible projects we are currently working on at Choice. We have the privilege to serve Miles Adcox and Onsite. Miles is an entrepreneur, speaker, host, and coach and the Owner and CEO of Onsite. Onsite has been known for many years as the worldwide leader in therapeutic and personal growth workshops. They provide a safe, loving, family environment where guests can break the cycles that hold them back and rediscover themselves and their relationships. Onsite is transforming lives daily and we are so grateful for our partnership with them! We are also working with Tom’s Town Distilling Co. Their tagline is the “The People are Thirsty” and from that to their stunning bottles, I have loved everything Tom’s Town since our first interaction. They are named after the country’s most corrupt political boss, Tom Pendergast and they create award-winning, premium craft spirits including gin, vodka and bourbon all inside their iconic and detailed bottles. It is such a privilege to get to work alongside their maverick founders, David and Steve!
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
So often, it seems, a job for most people is a means to an end, as opposed to being a calling they feel inspired, equipped and gifted to live out. They have no sense of fulfillment, no sense of enjoyment received through the work they do. That lack of purpose breeds an inability to connect deeply with the work and a lack of enthusiasm for delivering results.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
At the end of the day, I just think that unhappy people deliver disappointing results. I believe there are many ways that people can become happier and learn to love their jobs again. One way is to define your non-negotiables and draw boundaries around them. I am always home for my boys’ birthdays. Always. That’s a non-negotiable for me. So if travel or out of town meetings are required on those days, I don’t go. You have to determine those for yourself and intensely protect them. Another step is to take time away from work, often.You must give yourself a break from the work in order to be better at your job. Always take the vacation days you’re given. Enjoy your weekends away from the office. Unplug from your to do list and devices when you get home. Create margin and white space in your days. Encouraging habits like these for your employees will help company productivity, profitability, employee well being, and an overall happier workforce.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
- Your People Should Be Your Number One Priority. I must be a servant to my team if I’m going to lead them well. So while I have daily responsibilities that fall outside of managing the Choice team, I do my absolute best to be available to them when they have questions, want help with a project, need me to leverage a personal relationship or desire my opinion. Oftentimes as the one running the business, you can feel like you are in constant demand for your time and attention. I take that as a real privilege, not a burden. It took a great deal of hard work to get me to this position of leading my own company. As a female business owner, I take seriously the responsibility that I’m developing the women that come behind me. It continues a legacy of women pouring into women. Managing my time so that I can pour into my team first and still execute well on other tasks, well, I can figure that out.
- Hire Better and Smarter Than You. My mentor, Pamela Clements, shared this with me when I first began managing people. Don’t be threatened by having someone brighter than you as a direct report. Embrace that as a gift to your overall team. If you hire a shining star, allow them to operate in their strengths. When they perform well, that is a direct reflection on your ability to acquire talent and develop leaders. So often managers believe they have to be the most successful person in the room, but that competitive spirit is so short-sighted and ultimately an indication of an immature leader. I’ve always counted myself a strong writer. When I began to lead Choice, I realized that much of my time spent writing directly for clients was cut down because I needed to run the business and lead the team. Instead, I hired a publicist who is a gifted communicator and frankly a much better writer than me. She’s gone on to craft incredible pitches and materials that have secured major press for our clients. Had I been threatened by her ability, I would have been doing a disservice to our clients. Her pitches, her releases, her talking points were so much stronger than I could have created. And ultimately it allows me to operate in my unique gifting as well.
- To Build a World-Class Team, Care for Them Outside of the Office. Take them to lunch. Give them a random day off. Treat them to a day at the spa. Pay them as much as possible. Monitor their bandwidth. Ask their opinions on major business decisions. Provide professional development training. Dream with them about the future. Incentivize them. Ask about their weekend. Celebrate their birthday. Show them that they matter to you. If you care for them, they will care for your business. And I’ve never found that leading with kindness and caring for employees personally creates a negative result for the business — just the opposite, in fact.
- Operate in Your Sweet Spot. My goal is to stay in my sweet spot 80% of the time. I define that as the intersection of success and satisfaction — those areas where I’m doing something that I love and I’m really good at it. This makes you feel strong and applies both at home and at work. I strive to be intentional with my time by scheduling and prioritizing well. That way I’m directing my life rather than just letting it happen to me.
- Allow Your Lifestyle to Shape Your Work. So many people do this the opposite. They let their work define their lifestyle. It was when I reversed this mentality and really prioritized in the order I desired, rather than allowing work to dictate how I spent my time. For me, that means family always comes first. Period. I explain that to everyone who I work with in any capacity (our team, clients, partners). Another way I’ve allowed my lifestyle to shape Choice is in the clients that we have the privilege of serving and the services that we offer them — who we choose to work with and what we do for them. Our passions, competencies and strengths align to provide the partners that we seek and the specific ways we deliver so it’s a winning partnership. That means we really like who we’re serving and also only offering services where we are really strong.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I believe in leadership and management, your people should be your number one priority. So, I lead that way. I must be a servant to my team if I’m going to lead them well. If you care for them, they will care for your business. In 2017, during a strategic planning retreat, I laid out a challenge for our team to achieve a specific amount of monthly revenue for a quarter. Their reward was an all-inclusive beach trip for the entire team if it was attained. They blew it out of the water and in June 2018 we celebrated our collective win over cocktails in Mexico. But here’s the thing…that trip ended up being another win for our team because we spent so much social time together that week in Mexico that the team camaraderie and rapport was more deeply established. Plus they returned refreshed, energized and ready to tackle the next challenge I laid out.
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 about that?
My mentor, Pamela Clements, gave me my first position at Thomas Nelson when she hired me as a book publicist. At that point, I had never worked with major, national media. I’ll never forget the first time she took me with her to NYC for media pitching meetings. She set up meeting after meeting where she made introductions and essentially handed me her personal relationships with these gatekeepers and influencers within our industry. I felt a huge responsibility to honor her through my work because she believed in me and gave me the opportunity to advance my career.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I approach my work as a calling instead of just a job. As a person of faith, I believe that by serving our clients, we are sharing a larger message with the audiences who come into contact with it. Furthering the work of these leaders and raising their visibility on a national scale can bring transformation to lives. And that’s a business I’m proud to be a part of — life transformation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, in order to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
At numerous times in my life, this quote has applied to the circumstance. As a professional, I thought I would climb the corporate ladder within an organization. I spent the better part of 10 years dedicating myself to a company. I sacrificed my family to advance my career and at the end of the day, they laid me off. That led me here — to this career that I love. I had it all planned in my head, but God thought differently and ultimately His plans were greater than I had even dreamed for myself.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I fully believe in the power of mentoring the next generation of women. I would love for every young woman to be paired with an older female role model who could invest in her for an extended period of time.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!