Tips From The Top: One On One With Janet Scardino

I spoke to Janet Scardino, CEO of Comic Relief USA, about her best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to sharing your advice. First things first, though, what is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Janet: Early in my career, the head of MTV at the time gave me some great advice.  He could see that I was disappointed with work that a member of my team had delivered. He reminded me that everyone wakes up in the morning and comes to work with the same intention – to do the very best that they can. This always makes me smile when I think about it because it’s so true: it’s important to give credit to the fact that intentions can be really good even if results are not what you had hoped for. That empathy makes for great leaders.

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?

Janet: There are so many qualities, though I believe integrity, courage, honesty, curiosity and a desire to continually learn make leaders truly outstanding.

When it comes to start ups or those at the helm of something new, leaders also need a certain resilience to persist in the face of those who will tell you why something won’t work, and a true passion for what you are doing. Strong and effective leaders will gracefully take the input — course-correcting where needed, while staying focused on building trust and enthusiasm around their vision. 

Another quality that is tremendously important is the capacity to nurture and develop outstanding partnerships – across your teams, throughout your wider organization and with clients and colleagues externally.  Success is most often a team sport.

And of course, great leaders need a good sense of humor! Sharing a laugh has incredible power to bring people together.  And bring teams together. At Comic Relief, fun and humor is in our DNA, and it’s that very power we try to harness to do good in the world.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Janet: Great ideas come from everywhere. When I was leading the Disney Channel in Italy, the idea for an original, award-winning show came from our head of Finance. Traditionally someone in Finance would not have been encouraged to pitch a programming idea, but it was brilliant. It taught me how important it is to foster creativity and ideation throughout your organization, even outside of the usual places.

Stay hungry for knowledge and open to new areas of learning. Throughout my career I’ve worked in  many different parts of an organization – across various functions and many geographies. While I started in television production, I shifted to digital media in early days. It was clear that I needed to really embrace the art and science, fast-tracking my learning curve in technology and engineering. Since then, I’ve spent time with engineers and product development leads to keep learning about new technologies and products.  This has helped me support my teams in a more meaningful way and that deeper knowledge has unlocked some great results.

I think it is still often the case that female leaders need to take greater risks to catapult their careers. It’s critical to know your boss will give you air-cover and actively support your growth and success – especially when you are operating in unchartered and higher risk situations.  An important tip for everyone – especially women – is to choose your boss wisely.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Janet: Take the time to mentor emerging talent who are just coming into the workforce to find an on-ramp to their careers – whether reinforcing the power of internships or helping them to test-drive different work environments. Even if you can’t offer a job, you can likely offer valuable advice, encouragement and a few strong contacts.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Janet: I love travel and cooking. They intersect often, and for me being invited for a home-cooked meal is such a gift. I’ve been in kitchens of colleagues and clients from Taipei to Sao Paulo. It allows you to experience culture in a way that is so rich, and unlike anything else. I also really enjoy entertaining and sharing that experience with others in my own home.  

I try to approach business meetings the same way I would hosting a dinner party: warmly welcome everyone, pay attention to the details, read the room and make sure everyone’s glass is full. 

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Janet: There is nothing better than taking everything you’ve learned and applying it to doing good in the world. It adds a whole new dimension to your work. It’s a pretty special feeling to be a catalyst in helping make a difference for millions of children here in America and around the world.

No matter what you do for a job, or where you put your talents to work, showing kindness and empathy is a really powerful way that everyone can make a difference — small or large. It all adds up.

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