How to Be a More Open, Inspiring Leader in 2020

Five tips for starting the year off right

With a chaotic political landscape, an uphill battle for gender and minority equality, and a number of other global challenges weighing on just about everyone's minds, it's a tough time to be an optimistic leader. We're expected to have all the solutions and present them with a smile. The truth is, though, I've felt incredibly overwhelmed at times. While I feel pressure to be the rock for my team, I've had to learn that leading in this complicated landscape doesn't mean always having a smile on your face. It means being truthful to your teams about your internal challenges, hearing theirs and reaching out to those beyond your circle.

So, while last year I felt more exposed and vulnerable than ever, it all culminated in valuable learnings that helped me grow and become a more purposeful and focused leader. As we head into 2020, here's what I hope other leaders can prioritize as the global challenges remain present.

Focus on mental health (both your own and your team's). 

We've found this in research, in public forums and in personal conversation: There needs to be a more open dialogue about how we as leaders can support our team members, and how team members can support each other. It's especially true in the advertising industry, where people are working long hours with high levels of stress and anxiety. And while companies are taking strides past the weekly yoga class or stress management seminar, I'd encourage managers to foster real conversations with their teams so we can start to tackle this issue head-on. Having healthier, more secure employees isn't just good for them on a personal level. It can also help to drive growth in companies.

Be open (especially when it makes you cringe). 

The old models of leadership are no longer serving this incredibly fast-paced world we live in. Today's world demands leadership that embraces vulnerability. Last year, I wrote about really personal things (like crying at work occasionally and even some personal stuff, like my husband losing his job). Right before those articles came out, I had a nervous pit in my stomach, and all I could think was, "What are people going to think?" Ultimately, I'm so glad I shared those personal moments, because a lot of people could relate to them. The feedback was overwhelming. And I feel like being completely honest made me stronger as a leader embracing her vulnerability. Vulnerability and openness to your teammates is a sign of courage and self-confidence in a leader—we can all benefit from this. Here's what may happen if you embrace an authentic and vulnerable stance: Your staff will see you as a human being, they may feel closer to you, they may be prompted to share advice. While these types of changes may feel uncomfortable, the benefits are worth it. 

Make a conscious effort to support women—it's easier than you think. 

I took it to an extreme by wearing only women-founded brands for the entire month of October (National Women's Small Business Month), but there are so many ways you can do it that don't even require that level of commitment. Here are my favorites: 1) investing in women-led businesses, 2) buying from women-owned business, 3) promoting and talking about women-led businesses 4) donating to nonprofits that support women and girls, 5) forging real partnerships/collaborations between female-run businesses, and 6) making connections. The last one might be the lowest-lift: I made more than 500 connections lasy year (partly through an initiative I started called #connect4women), and all it takes is sending an email. The more we support and uplift each other, the stronger we become.

Failure to you isn't necessarily failure to others. 

As women, we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and tend to take failures both big and small too personally. I've seen both in my career and in my personal life that men just aren't as hard on themselves. Last year I didn't feel like LLSHE, a partnership between Berlin Cameron and Refinery29, got as much traction as it should. I felt like I'd failed to give it everything it deserved. But when I talked to female entrepreneurs about the initiative, they said they didn't see it that way, and I realized it was just my own personal expectations that weren't being met. In 2020, let's try to reframe our own impossible standards and give ourselves more credit. Allowing yourself to see the small successes through disappointment can help your psyche and help you figure out how to pivot to find a different goal.

Be honest (and don't perpetuate ghosting). 

I'm talking about professional ghosting here (but the personal kind is horrible too!). It's tough when a client or a contact just drops off because they're busy or don't want to deliver bad news. We should have the courage to be honest, even if it means telling someone what they don't want to hear. Making ghosting a thing of the past is essential as we all work toward developing more open, communicative workplaces, so let's all commit to putting an end to it in 2020.

One of the things I learned  from the legendary Charlotte Beers is that your story—how you develop it, amplify it, and tell it—is essential. Let's make 2020 about personal and professional growth, and owning our own stories. It's the way to build a better, stronger, more inclusive work community.

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Jennifer DaSilva
Jennifer DaSilva is president of Berlin Cameron.

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