“You are primed, now perform”, Loretta Lepore and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

In my view, one of the most successful ways to develop good habits is to make sure they are realistic and attainable for you. Stopping bad habits can be more difficult because sometimes we are not aware that we have developed them. A check in with friends, family, coworkers can help discern bad habits and […]

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In my view, one of the most successful ways to develop good habits is to make sure they are realistic and attainable for you. Stopping bad habits can be more difficult because sometimes we are not aware that we have developed them. A check in with friends, family, coworkers can help discern bad habits and possible suggestions for course correction.

As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Loretta Lepore.

Loretta Lepore is an authority in reputation and risk management who helps others move public opinion, policy, programs, and partnerships through bridge-building and strategic, responsible communications. She operates squarely in the center of the high-stakes industries and vital sectors that matter most today, including healthcare, media, technology, economic development. Loretta navigates and distills business, societal, and cultural complexities to propel organizations and their causes forward in a principled and purposeful way.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? Where and how grew up.

My childhood was quite colorful and peppered with rich experiences. During my early childhood, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where my Midwestern values took shape. Both my parents were products of large, close-knit, extended families that had settled in the area. In this deeply connected community, there was a fundamental appreciation for a strong work ethic, neighbors caring for neighbors, civic engagement, and the traditions of faith.

When I was nine, career opportunities presented, and our family moved to Miami. Life could not be more different. We found ourselves in a sprawling city, an unstructured lifestyle and a community evolving with an influx of families fleeing political upheaval in many Latin American nations. Our school was a cocoon, run by the sisters of the Sacred Heart and nestled along Biscayne Bay. Some of my teachers had fled tyranny in their homelands, many of my classmates were children of diplomats in exile. As a family, we grew into the city, learning its unique ebbs and flows. Absent our relatives, my mother created an eclectic and caring family of friends — those who touched varying aspects of our lives, taught us new traditions, and helped us carry our faith.

Five years later, professional opportunity led us to the Washington, DC area. We settled in Northern Virginia and attended school with many classmates whose families had relocated for positions within government agencies and Congress. We were a blended community of transplants and families with long-standing ties to the area. Life again was structured, traditions were simple, including Friday night football, and sock hops to follow.

I learned resilience and embraced curiosity early in life. These traits served me well throughout my professional career.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.

While becoming an entrepreneur is innate to some, for others it is a journey. For me, entrepreneurism was an evolution with nuggets of knowledge gleaned along the way. Risk is essential. Failure is certain. Risk nor failure were inherent in the Midwestern work ethic — work hard and it will pay dividends. My stepfather taught me an early lesson in accepting risk. I was in line for a new position while working at CNN. I mentioned that I did not think I had the necessary experience. Without pause, he shot back. Accept the position, learn the job and essentially don’t let them see you sweat. This conversation not only prompted introspection, but it also caused me to review his career, the risks he took, the ups and the downs. I took the risk and I kept on taking them. I founded my own consulting firm in 2009 amid the recession. Clearly, I had come to terms with risk.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

It is absolutely correct that we need the help of others to achieve our goals, those who will give it to us straight and who are willing to tell us what we may not want to hear. I am privileged to have the counsel of several distinguished and accomplished individuals who take my calls today.

I am also a big believer that before others can believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. In this regard, my maternal grandfather was my beacon. He was a U.S. Marine, served in World War II, and he was every bit a member of the greatest generation. Tough on the outside, teddy bear on the inside. He encouraged me to be courageous, too.

My grandfather was a pillar of strength and integrity who helped me very early in life to set ethical boundaries and navigate turbulent terrain. I carry that moral compass he helped me craft every day and refer to it often.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was starting as a young journalist, I worked as a radio network editor and producer. Part of my job was to feed audio news clips to our affiliate stations across the country. It required preparation. Compiling scripts, pulling and stacking tapes and getting set up in the studio for the live feed. One day, I got so caught up in my work listening to an incoming event feed that I lost track of time. Looking up at the clock in horror, I unceremoniously grabbed a handful of scripts, a tall order of tapes and virtually ran to the broadcast booth. I closed the door. The light went on immediately. Out came a burst of air. For the next 20 minutes I huffed and puffed my way through this nationwide, open mic session. Of course, being the young inexperienced professional that I was, I thought “check, job done.” What I didn’t think about as I walked back to the newsroom is that the entire production team was listening to the feed. The anchors and producers would listen in as they prepared and wrote their newscasts. Sheepishly, I began putting away my tapes when one of the anchors, who I greatly admired, spoke in his big, bold voice and without lifting his head — “never run to the booth.” It wasn’t an admonishment, it was advice. And he walked the talk. I witnessed his tardiness to the booth on ONE occasion and sure enough, he paced himself and proceeded as if he was starting on time. I have applied his words to so many professional circumstances. One: Prepare. Two: If you are not prepared, own it.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

It is a complex question given there are many nuances to career decisions, but I do consistently share a few considerations with the young professionals I mentor. For those pursuing similar paths in media, politics, or a confluence of the two, be crystal clear where your ethical boundaries lie. Invest in your moral compass. If you don’t spend the time to figure it out early in your journey, you may pay a heavy price later. Second, be authentic to who you are. If not, others will sense something is off. Uncertainty breeds suspicion, which is an obstacle to building meaningful relationships. Last, remove any blinders that may impair your ability to see the full professional landscape. I have followed a non-linear career path and I have found professional satisfaction in arenas that I had not anticipated, and which have served as building blocks to more challenging opportunities.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

At one point in my career, a mentor recommended I read “Who Moved My Cheese?” It is a quick read, he said, and there may be some good takeaways for you. It was an easy read, and it did elicit some head slapping moments. Just prior to reading the book, I had successfully led a high caliber team through a large-scale change initiative. It had been a leadership priority when we kicked off the initiative, but over time a variety of factors and influences began shifting attention and the appetite for change. Coming away from this experience, combined with reading the book, I learned driving change initiatives requires heightened awareness of shifting ground, continual assessment of commitment, and flexibility to slow down or speed up given the temperature of the environment.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

It’s simple and clean — Steven Covey’s quote “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” My dad was a sales and marketing executive and he referred to this quote often in business. He would also throw it out when, as teenagers, we recited the myriad issues of the day. I have found that this sentiment prompts quick course corrections in work and in life. I have personalized the sentiment over the years to “focus and no drama.”

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of working with the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention as Senior Advisor to the Director. In this role, I supported the director and worked with senior leaders across the agency to address some of the most pressing public health challenges of the day including the opioid crisis, eliminating the HIV epidemic in America, the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others. This was, of course, before we were faced with a global pandemic of unparalleled proportion in more than a century. Public health professionals are working tirelessly, hand in hand with other frontline workers to protect their communities from COVID-19. I plan to share my experience and the knowledge learned from my former CDC colleagues with the private sector, in hopes that forging a broader base of public private partnership will bring the pandemic to an end sooner.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?

We tend to feel stressed and overburdened when a multitude of issues percolate to the surface simultaneously or when confronted with a complex, high risk matter.

Typically, visualizing the landscape comes first which most often leads to a white board map. This helps me separate the issues, parse the simple from the complicated matters, and identify the short-term and long-term deliverables. This exercise releases the clutter from my mind and allows more room for innovative idea generation.

Another strategy I regularly employ is verbal brainstorming with colleagues. Once I have the visual landscape, I will toss questions, ideas, problems out to others. The engagement charges me with positive energy, particularly if laughter and storytelling make their way into conversation.

Changing physical locations can also bring down stress levels, even if for a short period of time. Often times when working in pressure cooker situations I will take a short walk to break the intensity. Some of my makeshift walking tracks have circled the Georgia Capitol, CNN atrium, and CDC campus.

Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?

Sleep, proper nutrition and exercise are essential to endurance and clarity. Having worked in 24/7 environments where high stakes situations present any day, any time, I have learned that physical readiness will sustain mental focus.

As a coach and counselor, I advised my clients to write talking points before walking into high pressure situations. This serves two purposes. It helps process through potential questions and answers which often translates to focus and confidence. And, writing slows the mind, naturally bringing down anxiety levels.

Last, set a time for putting down the pencil and scheduling a brief respite to let your mind wander, even daydream. You are primed, now perform.

Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.

As a news anchor, I received vocal training to enhance my presentation. I had a magnificent coach who taught me breathing techniques to relax muscles and open up air pathways to enrich my vocal quality. I employ these techniques often to optimize my voice and to achieve calm. A controlled voice — tone, pitch, volume — is a powerful tool, particularly when leading in high pressure, high stakes environments.

Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?

For the first 18 years of my career, I worked in broadcast newsrooms. I learned to write amid the natural cacophony of that environment. Often, I would put on headsets to listen more closely to live newscasts while I wrote. The sound at some point dissolved into white noise. If I am involved in a heavy writing or detailed project, I will turn on the news, and yes, even a headset to focus on my work. When I joined an Atlanta law firm, I asked to have a cable connection in my office. Occasionally, I’d return to my office to find a curious attorney at my door checking out my white board and my TV.

We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

There are a few habits that I have found to be particularly helpful for time management and for work and life balance.

While working in economic development, the State of Georgia hosted the Inc 500 Conference. Between hosting obligations, I would dip into sessions. One that proved to be personally useful was a session on success habits, specifically as they relate to email. The presenter suggested to entrepreneurs that they set particular times of the day, in increments of an hour, to read and respond to email. Over time, I customized this counsel to fit my business demands and I have applied the concept to print and social media, as well.

For entrepreneurs, time can be elusive. There is so much to do and never enough hours in the day. I put in place some guardrails including mandatory dinner time with family. This habit has provided grounding, reminds me of purpose, and continuously establishes life’s priorities.

What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?

In my view, one of the most successful ways to develop good habits is to make sure they are realistic and attainable for you. Stopping bad habits can be more difficult because sometimes we are not aware that we have developed them. A check in with friends, family, coworkers can help discern bad habits and possible suggestions for course correction.

As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

In my experience, I have achieved that state of Flow when working at unbridled, peak performance, carrying forward a full array of skills and knowledge acquired over time. Often this state of mind occurs for me in crisis or high stakes situations where instincts rather than intellect are driving decision-making, strategy and action. When I consider why this is, I think back to a conversation that I had with one of my early career supervisors. She had been on leave when I started in my role. When she returned, she called me to her office for an introduction and to share with me her work philosophy. Every day we are preparing for the big story, she said. She went on to add that some days our work may seem mundane, even boring, but we are in training every day to respond when need be. I left her office grateful I was able to contain a great big eye roll. Sure enough, I found myself at the ripe old age of 25 producing radio newscasts as the tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square. She was right. It was the big one, I was ready. My head, my heart and my gut were perfectly synchronized in the moment. I was calm.

Bottom line, achieving harmony with self means finding those things in life you feel passionate about. Practice, prepare, and release yourself of the need for perfection. And ultimately trust yourself to live in the moment.

Ok, we are nearly done. 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.

When I think through the phrase “the most amount of good for the greatest number of people” my thoughts immediately turn to women. Globally, women are so critical to sustaining the family structure. They are the caregivers. They have enormous opportunity to influence opinion given their natural abilities to forge consensus and collaboration. During my time at CDC, I learned the vital role women can play in ending outbreaks, leading the way to immunization and treatment despite the prevalence of fear within the community. This is particularly admirable in countries where culture determines their standing. They possess a quiet power.

There are many global organizations working to advance women’s causes. My desire would be to nurture and cultivate future generations of girls, equipping them with the necessary critical-thinking and technical skills to compete in the global knowledge-based economy of the future. Instilling confidence, through education, would not only empower them to find their voices, but would also amplify the voices of the mothers and grandmothers who led the way before them.

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

Wow. This is a tough one. At this point in time, I believe my preference would be to converse with Mark Cuban. His portfolio spans all of these verticals. As a communicator, I am particularly fascinated by his ability to transform his reputation from a young firebrand to a mentor and leader while retaining the authentic aspects of his personality. More recently, he has tipped his toe into the political arena and I think it would be intriguing to hear why and whether he has ambitions in this regard. Last, I would thank him. My son reached out to him professionally based on one of his social media posts. He picked up the phone and called my son, putting a little pep in his step. That speaks to character.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best spot to follow my work is LinkedIn and lorettalepore.com.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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