Tips From The Top: One On One With Elizabeth Lindsey

I spoke to Elizabeth Lindsey, Managing Partner of Wasserman, about her best advice

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Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Elizabeth: I’ve always been a natural planner – so from very early on, I had a structured plan of how I wanted my life and career to pan out with certain benchmarks every few years that I wanted to hit. When I look back on it, the plan that I had set for myself didn’t matter at all. There’s a quote that resonates with me quite a bit by John Lennon. He said, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans,” and I think about that a lot. No matter what kind of plan I had, life threw what it wanted at me – some good and some bad and at the end of the day that is okay. It’s more than ok, because it led me on the path to exactly where I am today – and I love where I am. I originally wanted to be a pharmacist when I first started college – I didn’t know any better. That seemed like a “proper job.” Me as a pharmacist today would be miserable. I ended up instead in journalism and communications. I had no idea that sports or entertainment marketing even existed. Working in PR and comms for a company, I got the chance to write the press release for my company’s new sponsorship with Formula One. That led me to here. If I hadn’t just flowed along with what life threw at me – if I had stuck to my guns on my “career plan,” I wouldn’t be here. It’s important to accept what comes at you and go with it. It’s okay to train yourself to set up to deliver a plan or a moment but it’s important to think on your feet and react in the moment – if you do just that, nothing but good things can come from it.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Elizabeth: First of all, I think you have to define it for yourself. I hate those self-help articles and books about “12 steps to being a good leader.” It’s complete crap. What makes you your best self? That’s what will make you your best version of a leader. For me, being of service is step number one and the be all end all. You are in a position of leadership because you are in a position of service. My job is to make 300 people’s jobs easier, not the other way around. I’ve put in the time, come up through the ranks and have done their job before them – so theoretically I’m in the best position to make it easier for them to now do their jobs. Beyond that, I am more of a golden rule kind of person. What it really comes down to is to just be kind, be nice and be a good person. It’s important to care about what you’re doing – do the very best you can every day – as well as care about what others are doing and how you can help them every day. If you have those two things in balance, that’s what leadership really should be about.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Elizabeth: One – don’t take yourself too seriously. Being in the business of service, the work we do is of course very important to us and our clients … but we also remember to have fun, laugh and enjoy the work. What I sell is intellectual thought … I sell people’s time and inspiration and creativity. So, making sure my people stay happy and enjoying what they do is nothing more than good product development. If they are happy, they are more productive … and when they are producing, our clients stay happy. So, I work hard to keep those two things perfectly equally valued and balanced: work hard, play hard.
Two – stay curious. Pay attention to every single thing going on around you. That level of insane curiosity and what you pay attention to matters a lot. Big inspirations can come from most unexpected places.
Three – diversity of thought and opinion matters. Do not surround yourself around people that look like or think just like you. I’m not just talking about racial or gender or LGBT equality, though all are incredibly important. But recruiting and motivating people of all ages, all backgrounds, all geographies, all political POV’s – and putting those people in a seat at the table … that’s what is what’s key. All blends of diversity give the best ideas and can prevent the worst of mistakes. You have to create a culture that allows that and encourages people to speak up.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Elizabeth: One problem at a time – that is the biggest thing I use to manage through a stress perspective; not only for myself but also for my team. When you’re in a world like we are, you are future planning a lot. You have a billion events to plan for, a ton of event-based logistics that are happening concurrently and all on a deadline. And at the same time, you are being asked to think about what is coming next. Because we are consummate professional planners, we are trying to tackle all those problems at once in our heads and that can be overwhelming. People come into my office overwhelmed by this sea of problems in front of them and just one more – no matter how small – can tip the scale toward a breakdown. So, the best piece of advice I ever received and one I give constantly is “one problem at a time.” If you can take that first step, and start knocking down each problem slowly but surely, one by one, it gets less intimidating.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Elizabeth: First realize you should pay it forward. No one in the history of time has ever accomplished anything alone. There were an army of people your whole life who helped you get where you are. It’s an honor and an obligation to continue that tradition and help others. I spend a lot of my time personally trying to make the industry a little more gender balanced and welcoming. I focus on asking colleagues in my industry in my age group to remember how hard it was for us as women in sports and entertainment to get to where we are – how hard we had to work to overcome bias and outright hostility and discrimination just to get that one seat at the table designated for “the woman.” And then I ask them to not forget it, to make it a little easier for the women coming behind them – pull up one more chair to the table. When I talked to my peers, we realize that we ALL have been in situations where we were the only females in the room. We have all been in the situation where we have been underestimated or dismissed. Now, as executives and women with experience in the industry, it’s our opportunity (if not our obligation) to make sure that for the next generation of women in our industry, it’s a little bit easier. To talk about power as an individual attribute is empty arrogance. The real value of power is to surround yourself with like-minded and similarly experienced people and to put that collective influence to work to move and entire new generation forward. In my world at Wasserman, eight years ago we created a single event – the women’s only cocktail hour – that takes place at a major industry conference. Something as simple as bringing together the women of this industry into a room for once where they weren’t the only woman there – that was powerful and uplifting. What started out as a support group in year one was only EIGHT people has this year grown into a lobbying group of over 100 women working toward the collective goal of making this industry more welcoming to the next generation.
Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?
Elizabeth: I have always loved to travel, whether it is work related or leisure with family. There is no greater way to shake off the dangers of isolationism, or the tendency all humans have to be self-centered in their worldview, than to travel. When you get to see and experience different people, style, languages and cultures, you are better off and the world becomes a smaller place. Travel is one of my passions and has helped shape me.
Adam: What is your favorite movie or TV Show?
Elizabeth: My favorite movie of all time, and I’m not embarrassed to say it, is Grease. Yeah – I know. Cheesy 1970’s musical. But it is always the one I go back to when I need to quiet the noise of life and just laugh. I’ve watched it at least 1,000 times. I could say something more cerebral like Dr. Zhivago or something – but the truth is, I use entertainment as an escape from the cerebral day to day parts of my life. Grease, to me, does what entertainment and good story telling should do: which is give you a primary way of escaping the distractions of life and work – something that takes your head out of the ‘day-to-day’ and lets you just laugh (and in this case, dance and sing). At the end of the day, I’m a fan of a good story in my entertainment and my work – good marketing is just good storytelling.
Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Elizabeth: My 13-year-old son asked me just last week me how I stay happy and I had to stop and think about it. What I told him then is what I truly believe: it’s the little things. Sit on the porch and watch a rainstorm go by. Shut off the phone and play a game. Pet the dog. In work – take time to walk into a colleague’s office and thank them for being there. When a client sends a congratulatory note, actually absorb it and forward it along. Celebrate and revel in the small moments … when you appreciate the little wins, the big wins will follow.
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