Tag Americas retail and consumer managing director, Susan Polachek on lessons in creative leadership
Susan Polachek> I believe that it doesn’t take a title to be considered a leader. My first experience in leadership was as an account executive, tackling client challenges on my own. I learned quickly that good leadership means intuition, honesty and communication.
LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
Susan> First experiences leave lasting impressions. I didn’t have a great first experience in ad land and decided from that day that as a leader, I would make sure that every team member at every level is appreciated and valued.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Susan> Making a mistake – letting a client down. It happened early in my career and doesn’t happen often, but my lesson was to own the mistake and to fix it, quickly. Honesty and transparency are everything.
LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role?
Susan> Taking the lead is my style. I am the one who wanted to carry the flag in Kindergarten. I am passionate about leadership from the point-of-view of being a part of the process, helping out and making sure everyone succeeds.
LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?
Susan> I believe that leadership is more nature than nurture, but the work and dedication have to be there. My dad always said, “Intuition without hard-won experience is just guessing.”
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Susan> Controlling the situation and being able to step back and let people do their jobs. Knowing your shortcomings and putting the right people in place to round out the team.
LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Susan> When there is an employee or team member in place who is not the right fit and doesn’t succeed, I feel as though I have failed and take responsibility. To fix this, I tend to take a lot of time in the interview process hiring people for my team. I take an interesting approach to interviewing – I always start at the bottom of the resume, with personal experience and what matters to the candidate. I once had a candidate show me how to river dance before explaining their latest win on an ad campaign, because that was the part in the resume that stood out most to me. Understand what makes people tick – what makes them happy – not just their skillset and their experience.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Susan> It is important to be transparent, direct and honest. I am all about integrity, there is so much bullshit in ad land and I have found that clients appreciate the honesty and transparency.
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so, who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Susan> I’ve learned something from just about every person along the way – strategists, creatives, ideas people, production partners. Mentoring is an everyday give and take.
LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Susan> I find the time to listen, a lot. I invest in each person, each team, each lifeboat, difficult times or not.
LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
Susan> Diversity is critical – to be successful in problem solving, we must embrace every different point of view.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?
Susan> Find time to meet with team members socially distanced, following CDC guidelines, outdoors, in-person for a walk, talk, coffee. Human interaction is still vital in what we do.
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Susan> Observing the mistakes my bosses have made and learning from them.