Women Of The C-Suite: “Most people don’t have time to be malicious”, With Maggie Fox, CMO at Globoforce

When you’re considering peoples’ intentions and, “You have to choose between malice and ignorance — always choose ignorance...

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Choose Ignorance: When you’re considering peoples’ intentions and, “You have to choose between malice and ignorance — always choose ignorance. Most people don’t have time to be malicious.” If things are not going the way you’d hoped, if your project or initiative is not being supported as you might like, don’t assume that others are trying to derail you. They probably just don’t understand, mostly because they’re too busy doing their own jobs to worry about yours. You always come out ahead if you assume the best intentions. Most people want to live up to your expectations.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Maggie Fox, CMO at Globoforce. A seasoned digital transformation leader and disruptor, Fox is the founder of Social Media Group, one of the world’s first pure-play social media agencies. Named one of Canada’s Top Innovators by National Post, Fox has also been recognized as one of the 100 most influential Canadian marketers of all time by Marketing Magazine. Fox is a graduate of Hillfield Strathallan College, McMaster University, and Queen’s University and serves on the boards of The Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Ryerson DMZ startup incubator program at Ryerson University.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Hah — I wouldn’t at all describe my journey as a “path” — that makes it sound somehow linear and purposeful! I’ve always been drawn to opportunities that sound interesting and fun. Over the last 15 years or so I have specially focused on building or fixing things. If there’s not something big and scary to do, I get a little bored!

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?

When I was 27, I got a job producing network television news, and the rest of the crew used to call me “the 12-year-old”. I found that infuriating and also pretty intimidating. I wasn’t sure how to deal with it. However, I was pretty good at my job, so was asked to fill in for the producer on the “big show” (the 6pm news). The next day, the Executive Producer came over to my desk and said, “I don’t think they’re going to call you ‘the 12-year-old’ any more.” Lesson learned? Put your head down and do your thing. Respect is earned, and no matter how old or experienced/inexperienced you are, you can lead a team if you’re a good listener and appreciate your teammates.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are a living case study of what it looks like when you truly appreciate peoples’ strengths and recognize their contributions. I have never, in all my years of working for, and with, Fortune 500 companies, encountered a more engaged team. I firmly believe it’s because we live our values of respect, appreciation and positivity. The power of all the things I learned the hard way — thanking people for their contributions to the organization, and recognizing their strengths — increases engagement, productivity and retention, and (perhaps most importantly) makes work FUN. It might seem obvious, but it’s absolutely amazing to see the impact across the whole organization.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, we’re really focused on designing the Marketing team for scale. Globoforce is growing at a stunning rate, and our challenge is to bridge the gap between scrappy startup and billion-dollar enterprise. That means bringing on new team members and working with the Marketing Leadership Team to create an org structure that will make sense next month and next year. It also means putting in place technology and processes that will truly allow us to be “modern marketers”. Again, this is where I am seeing the incredible advantage of an organization that has recognition and positivity built-in — we have so much work to do, much of it disruptive and, at times, uncomfortable, and the team is so engaged and so enthusiastic — we are delivering results at a blistering pace and having a terrific time doing it. I am literally blown away.

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

I think this advice is for all leaders, and that is that people tend to live up to your expectations. As a leader, you need to help them understand the outcomes that the business needs, give them the support to achieve them, and then get the hell out of the way and let them do their thing. Finally, recognizing people for their efforts and reinforcing positive behaviors (even when things may not have worked out perfectly) is essential to keeping people engaged and motivated. You can have all the Ivy League MBA’s in the world on your team, but if they don’t feel engaged and empowered, you’re not going to achieve anything important.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Again, this is for all leaders, and that is: you need to learn how to scale, and that means understanding the difference between leading and managing. Most folks who have worked their way up through organizations are terrific managers, which often means a lot of direct involvement in work and attention to detail. That’s fine when you’re managing a team of 10, 20 or even 40 people. But when you’re in charge of a team of 500, or 5,000 — the requirements are very, very different. In fact, being in the details, “in the weeds”, will kill you. You will not scale. So, learning to back up and off, to provide direction on outcomes that you want, working with a strong leadership team to collaborate on what you’re trying to achieve, and then letting your good people do their great work, becomes your new superpower. It becomes much more about keeping people focused, asking the questions that everyone wants to avoid, and then publicly rewarding and acknowledging the outcomes and behaviors you know are critical to success in order to reinforce them. At the end of the day, if your team barely needs you — you are a successful leader!

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?

I think anyone who has achieved any measure of success in the world needs to acknowledge that it happened, in part, because someone decided to go out of their way to help you. Someone saw something that you may not have had the experience to see in yourself. For me, my big “break” was given to me by a woman named Mary Powers. Mary gave me my first job as a summer (paid!) intern in the Communications and Marketing department at Citytv, a very hip television station in Toronto. That led to a full-time job, and the rest is history. Mary went out of her way to promote me to other people in the organization, and I’ll never forget her telling me, while I was working with her team, that we needed to find me a role where I could “make some real money”. She really looked out for me and gave me that first, critical “foot in the door”. Never underestimate the power of someone who believes in you, especially when you’re just getting started!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Well, these days I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help coach and mentor people on my team and elsewhere to be the most amazing, truest versions of themselves — helping others to really see and focus on their strengths (I’m a big believer in “strengths-based leadership” — working with what you’re amazing at, rather than spending a huge amount of energy focusing on the things you aren’t). I hope that brings some goodness — having people in my life who believed in me and helped me learn many important things has been an amazing gift, and it gives me great satisfaction to try and give a little bit of that back. I also volunteer — I’m on the Board of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, one of the largest charities in Canada, the Ryerson DMZ (the world’s top-rated University startup incubator) and I am a founding Board member of the Canadian branch of International Planned Parenthood.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Mission statements are bullshit: they’re typically written by committee and are so vague they mean nothing. Instead, focus on project missions that clearly define the task at hand. Not only that, repeat at every meeting until people are sick of hearing it from you, then do it some more. Over-communicate your project to educate, be transparent and make it stick.

Choose Ignorance: When you’re considering peoples’ intentions and, “You have to choose between malice and ignorance — always choose ignorance. Most people don’t have time to be malicious.” If things are not going the way you’d hoped, if your project or initiative is not being supported as you might like, don’t assume that others are trying to derail you. They probably just don’t understand, mostly because they’re too busy doing their own jobs to worry about yours. You always come out ahead if you assume the best intentions. Most people want to live up to your expectations.

Drip by unrelenting drop: Water is the universal solvent. It will get through anything, eventually; all you need is tiny, incremental and unrelenting steps forward. Change does not happen overnight. Keep at it and keep moving forward. Sometimes success is as simple as outlasting your challenges.

Build a culture of trust: Be vulnerable. Be open. Strangely, swearing helps this. Your teams will trust you more if you share problems and your own frustrations. A culture of trust based on vulnerability and problem sharing transforms into a culture where you solve challenges together. Also, swear. It shows people you’re human — just like them.

Get the f*%k out of the way: Let good people do their work. If you don’t trust them, why are you working with them? Always work with people who are better than you. If you’re a new manager, used to getting gold stars, you need to recalibrate and feel good about your team’s accomplishments rather than your own. That’s hard — but critical.

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. 🙂

That caring for others — neighborliness — is a virtue. That those of us who have been lucky in our birth (our parents, our citizenship) have a duty to raise up those who have not been. The notion that white, privileged westerners have achieved success “all by themselves” with “no help from anyone” is infuriating to me. I am well aware of the advantages I have a result of who my parents are and where I live, and the fact that so many systems in my world are geared to my benefit. Because of those networks of advantages, I have had access to help that others have not. Those that have achieved have a duty and obligation to help those who are less advantaged. Spread the wealth — there’s plenty to go around.

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

“In life, when you have to choose between ignorance and malice, always choose ignorance. Most people are too busy (and at work, too busy doing their own jobs!) to have the time and energy to be malicious.” Someone said that to me a very long time ago, and it has become something I return to again and again; it’s a powerful perspective change that has really made my personal and my work life a lot more positive and rewarding.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I spend a lot of time on the Twitter — @maggiefox!

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