PRSA Strategies & Tactics "Taking the Lead" Leadership Column: Wendy Lund on Speaking Your Mind


Wendy Lund Highlights
Current job title: CEO, GCI Health
Previous executive roles: U.S. CEO, Publicis Consultants; Executive Vice President, Global Business and Client Development, MS&L; Vice President, Marketing, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
As a leader, what tenets have you followed?
Throughout my career, I’ve committed to being a collaborative, hands-on leader. I encourage my senior staff to be the same. My involvement is one of the clearest indications that I’m dedicated, not only to our clients’ work but to creating great leaders. It’s essential that my teams know they can come to me with anything and, most important, that I’ll roll up my sleeves and do what it takes to help them succeed.

What have been your biggest leadership failures, and what have you learned from them?
My greatest failure as a leader, which occurred in the earlier part of my career, was holding back and not sharing my ideas and thoughts because women were not encouraged to do so. In the 1980s and 1990s, women were usually told — or it was an unspoken rule — not to speak up. When we did, it always felt like no one understood what we were saying. But they would nod their heads when the guy sitting next to us said the same thing.
Similarly, I often held back on giving direct feedback. I didn’t want to come off as confrontational because it was already so hard to make it up the ladder as a woman. The learning I would like to share with all younger women and men — and which I am proud to have instilled in my children — is this: Don’t hold yourself back. Take risks and speak your mind. Have confidence in yourself and don’t be afraid to show it.

How has your master’s degree in history informed your leadership style?
My degree has impacted my leadership style in three ways. First, history is all about storytelling, and my educational background has taught me to always think through how to share a thought in a strong and coherent way.
Second, I was planning to be a teacher, so through that educational training I learned how to impart information to younger people in a clear, compelling way.
Third, and probably most important, my master’s taught me how to think in a highly critical way, which has had a large impact on my management style.

Knowing what you do today, what leadership advice would you give to the Wendy Lund of 1986 when you started your career?
Marketing and public relations have changed significantly since I first entered the field, but our industry is still people-driven. There will always be some people who want to help you and others who try to stand in your way.
The advice I would give the Wendy Lund of 1986? As you become your own person and begin to lead, listen to people and learn from them. They will shape your leadership style. Try to understand their motivations for helping you, or not. Don’t dismiss the people who have stood in your way. You may learn more from them than from those who have helped you.
Be humble. Remember your roots. Work hard.

What’s your advice for PR managers looking to move into leadership?
Be a leader and a partner, not a boss. Leadership isn’t about telling other people what to do; it’s about lifting them up and making them better people and professionals, giving them tools and the confidence to lead and help their own teams succeed.
As the leader of a company that’s grown significantly over the last 10 years, I’ve worked closely with a lot of people who share similar values, and I’ve seen people grow into leaders who understand what it takes to succeed and make those around them want to succeed as well.

By: Ken Jacobs, PRSA