Lynn Power: “You will get farther by being yourself”

Really understand the superpowers of everyone on your team (often they are not what they think they are) and find a way to empower them to bring out their best. Sometimes this might mean moving them to different roles or changing responsibilities on the team (or adding capabilities). As a part of our series about […]

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Really understand the superpowers of everyone on your team (often they are not what they think they are) and find a way to empower them to bring out their best. Sometimes this might mean moving them to different roles or changing responsibilities on the team (or adding capabilities).

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Power.

Lynn is a 30-year advertising executive (most recently CEO of J. Walter Thompson NY) turned entrepreneur. She just launched MASAMI, a clean premium haircare brand in February. Lynn loves building high performing teams and disrupting the status quo.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I actually wasn’t planning on getting into advertising. I wanted to join the FBI. But there was a hiring freeze. I ended up getting a job as a receptionist at a small agency and loved it, especially using creativity to solve business problems. I’m still doing that!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Now as an entrepreneur, I have interesting things happen to me all the time such as reconnecting with one of my high school friends who is now working on MASAMI (and of course launching amidst COVID is certainly unique!). But in advertising, it was also always interesting (I got to meet Eva Longoria, Heather Locklear, Milla Jovovich and Matthew McConaughey among others!)

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I accidentally tucked my long (90’s) skirt into the bad of my pantyhose (also very 90’s) and walked around the office for a few hours until someone pulled me aside. I was mortified but figured if I can shrug that off, I can handle just about anything.

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?

For sure! Tom Yorton was one of my first bosses. He was big on letting me run with things, which I loved. He encouraged me to do a short presentation to a room full of clients (maybe 50?) and I was TERRIBLE. I’m an introvert so it has taken my time to become a learned extrovert. Instead of criticizing me, he just said “You’ll be better next time.” I thought, oh shit — I have to do this again?? And sure enough, I got better and better every time.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I’m a big believer in getting enough sleep. I have a hard time functioning on fumes. So, if I know I have a stressful week or key meeting, I make sure to get to bed at a decent hour. And snuggle with Dino, one of our rescue mutts.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

It’s just good business. There are loads of studies around how diverse teams outperform ones that aren’t. This means diversity of all kinds — race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic, age, geography, people with disabilities, you name it.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

  1. Ensure that everyone is heard. This is important because it’s easy for underrepresented people to be overlooked. If you are in a meeting and several people are dominating the conversation, ask the quiet ones for their opinion (often they are women). I started doing this when I was at JWT and it was amazing how it changed the dynamic and conversations.
  2. Don’t just talk about your values, but live them. Take the time to dimensionalize what they mean and build them into your entire ecosystem, including performance reviews. When we built MASAMI, diversity is one of our core pillars, and we take steps to ensure we are living it — are we showing a diverse group of customers? Is our team diverse? Are our partners like-minded?
  3. Actually make the effort to hire diverse talent even if they are harder to find. Insist that your HR team give you several qualified diverse candidates!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I see my job as setting the vision and direction of the company. And, doing it in a way that motivates and empowers the team.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

People still have an image of a CEO as a cold and often unapproachable figure. The reality is that great leaders exhibit vulnerability, transparency, accountability. You can create your own model of leadership and live that — you don’t need to emulate other people.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Women have a hard time asking for a raise or promotion. I know I did. Men don’t seem to have this problem. In fact, they will often ask for things they aren’t even ready for. Women need to see themselves as “potential” that can make things happen, not just proven. Otherwise, by the time you prove yourself over and over, several men will have been promoted ahead of you.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I was in the corporate world, I didn’t realize (until I was the CEO) how much time I would spend on operations — HR, finance, structure, etc. It’s actually quite a different job than marketing and advertising (and not nearly as fun!). Being an entrepreneur is crazy but every day is truly different, and I appreciate letting my creative juices flow again.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Resilience is critical (think of a marathon, not a sprint). Emotional intelligence is also super important. If a person has thin skin or lacks empathy, they will likely not make a very good leader. And a passion for what you do is essential (otherwise, it’s unfortunately very easy to burn out!)

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Really understand the superpowers of everyone on your team (often they are not what they think they are) and find a way to empower them to bring out their best. Sometimes this might mean moving them to different roles or changing responsibilities on the team (or adding capabilities).

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I’m now putting into practice what I believe — that brands can have a positive impact on the world. MASAMI is good for you and good for the environment, it’s baked into what we believe.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You will get farther by being yourself. I realized when I felt stagnated at a particular agency (and didn’t see a promotion in sight) that I was going to do things my way. And if it didn’t work out, I was no worse off. You’d be surprised at how positively people respond to your authentic self.
  2. You don’t need to stick with the conventional path. Every time I took an “expected” job (for example, I was told that working on P&G was critical training), I hated it. Don’t be afraid to pass on that advice to do something you love.
  3. Don’t be shy when negotiating on your behalf. I was never good at negotiating for myself. In fact, I don’t think I ever tried to negotiate my salary or benefits coming into a job. When I was starting at JWT, they even decided the day before I started to “demote” me to be a co-managing director (not the job I was hired for). I should have said no. I didn’t realize then that I had that negotiating power.
  4. You can learn from everyone, including bad bosses and colleagues. I’ve had some awful bosses, but I often found that those experiences were often the most insightful. I learned a lot of things not to do (never belittle someone, don’t vent to your team about your boss or your client, don’t micromanage).
  5. Don’t be afraid to say no. I am naturally a “yes” person but I have learned that there is a lot of power in no. Saying no can avoid problems later. For example, I’ve agreed to do work that was out of scope to keep a client happy when they really didn’t appreciate it — and it just set a bad precedent.

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.

I would say, embrace clean beauty! It has the potential to make a huge difference to our health and to the environment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Mary Shelley, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” I have learned to live fearlessly — the alternative is just not good enough.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Michelle Obama, she is grace under pressure!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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