Adaptability. With today’s pace of business and, in particular, technology, leaders must be able to pivot and adapt just as quickly. A great example of this was the pandemic and suddenly having an entirely remote workforce. Influential leaders realized they had to adjust to the new way of working, and they didn’t manage the same way they had been. They adopted new processes and methods of motivating a dispersed workforce facing unprecedented challenges. Adaptability to be effective without micromanaging was crucial.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Perkett.
Christine is an entrepreneur and founder of three companies across tech services, software and consumer goods and services. She serves on the boards of various companies and is an adjunct Professor of Branding and Social Media at Northeastern University in Boston. She is also a published writer.
Christine provides leadership counsel, training, and guidance to C-level executives around the world and has won numerous accolades and awards along the way, such as the 250 Most Influential Women Leaders by Richtopia, Best Communications or PR Executive in the Stevie Business Awards, Boston 50 on Fire, and Top 100 Champion in Small Business Trends’ Small Business Influencer Awards, among others. Her writing or interviews have been featured in many media outlets including Associated Press, ABC, USA Today, Entrepreneur, Inc., The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and more.
Personally, Christine is a mom to two boys and two stepdaughters, as well as two labs and a golden doodle. She is also an artist, a writer, and a student of life who enjoys boating, paddleboarding, traveling, running, and learning.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
A lot! My career is diverse and I have my hands in a lot. I’m a multi-business owner and thrive on growing companies, ensuring effective operations, and sharing my knowledge with other entrepreneurs and managers who want to transition to leadership. My primary responsibility is servicing my clients at Mindfull Marketing + PR, where I spend most of my time on branding, strategy, writing, developing content, driving growth, and training leadership teams. I’m excited to be working closely with some new partners in the area of AI and how we can apply it to marketing. Stay tuned for that! I also teach leadership and marketing graduate courses at Northeastern University in Boston and provide leadership and business management training to executives and small business owners/entrepreneurs. I own another business in the water sports rental and retail industries, where I do all the buying and support our Operations Manager as she ramps up staff and plans for the summer season. And finally, when I can find the time, I’m working on a book I’ve wanted to write for years about the strength of the human spirit and resiliency.
In my personal life, I’m gearing up to send my youngest son off to college in the Fall, although I can’t believe the time has come. I’m so not ready! I’m a Mom to two sons, Stepmom to two amazing young women, and a mom to three fur babies. My life is whole.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
That’s a tricky question because many people have influenced my journey and supported me through formal and informal mentorship. And, of course, I’m inspired by influential strangers such as Oprah, Richard Branson, Brene Brown, Elizabeth Gilbert, Simon Sinek, Jay Shetty, Adam Grant, and others who lead businesses and lead humanity. But by far, one leader who has most influenced me is my older brother, Ken. He is a Captain in the Michigan State Police (MSP) in the Organizational Development Division. He’s exploring and driving new ways to motivate the workforce, innovate training, and coordinate education, leveraging his 30+ years of experience in the Army and MSP, as well as research and testing. It is inspiring how he’s been able to lead under the direst of circumstances and unprecedented social unrest. He is now sharing what he’s learned to develop the next generation of leaders in command. Great leadership often relies on one’s ability to go first and bravely, even in the face of adversity. He epitomizes that.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
I didn’t trust my gut. I let too many other voices come into a decision, so I delayed what I wanted to do, costing me a lot. When we doubt ourselves, mistakes happen. It’s when we believe in and trust ourselves that we can soar. I will always trust my instincts and not let the outside world make me doubt what I know to be true. As a leader, I owe that to my staff. I also learned not to avoid or delay tough decisions but to move forward swiftly.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
Too often, we confuse “manager” or “boss” with the term leader. However, managers often need to be trained to lead appropriately. That’s when you see bosses micromanaging, managing by fear and intimidation, and demotivating their workforce. Being a leader today entails more awareness and, to some extent, sensitivity. You have to be aware of the intricacies of various needs, emotional levels, and preferences that span a broad spectrum. For example, we now know that half of the population, and thus, very likely your workforce, are introverts. They learn and work very differently than their extroverted counterparts. Understanding the nuances between these two personality types — and managing appropriately — is crucial for today’s leader. Further, in the always-on, social media-sharing world that we live in, sometimes leaders know more about employees than they want to, which is sometimes complicated.
Being a leader today requires the same mental fortitude and ability to guide and inspire that it always has. Still, it also entails new levels of understanding and the ability to adapt to an ever-changing and faster-than-ever business environment. This adaptability includes navigating uncertainty like we had to during the pandemic or are doing today with looming recession concerns and mass layoffs.
Take, for example, the hybrid and remote workplace. Your staff can work from anywhere, and you may rarely see employees in person. A remote workforce often means managing people from different cultures and regions — unlike managing a workforce back in 1970 might have been. Leaders have to learn how to connect and bond with staff via video, phone, and other electronic communications. They have to expand their understanding of a more inclusive and dynamic workforce than ever before. This is a great thing but it brings a new set of challenges.
Leading means taking an interest in building a team that, together, wins. We must still communicate a vision, set and align goals, and manage progress, all while inspiring and motivating employees we may never see in person. Today, connecting those dots and creating camaraderie takes someone who is genuinely invested in their people professionally and, to some extent, personally. Never before have our professional and personal lives been so intertwined. Leading isn’t just being out front; it’s bringing people with you who are willing to have your back just as much as they know you have theirs.
Of course, today, more than ever, leaders must be responsible and ethical. They must ensure that inclusivity, diversity, and sustainability are a part of the business culture. They must work in a diverse and globalized workplace, embrace digitalization and innovation, and be aware of the societal impact of their business decisions. Nothing is really behind closed doors anymore, so they must stand behind their decisions. There is no room for flippant choices.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
Being too transparent and taking too many opinions into account can put a company at risk. There’s a level of transparency leaders are expected to provide to employees these days. But we also must remember that leadership involves keeping the troops calm and focused. They aren’t meant to carry the burdens of leadership; you are. There are also different levels of information access for a good reason. One can still be an open and honest communicator, which is essential for building a community of trust, but excessive sharing can lead to unnecessary worrying, gossip, and debate. There’s a fine line to be walked. At the end of the day, no matter your level of transparency, the leader must make tough decisions. Transparency does not and should not equal every decision by committee.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
Be a duck on water. As an emotional person, this can be tough. I don’t hide concern well, but it’s my job to steer the ship, to ensure employees that no matter the challenges, we are geared to handle them. No matter what’s happening, leaders need to appear calm, in control, focused, and with clear direction to solving problems.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
You’re always learning, and that means you must also evolve. Times change, expectations change, and a willingness and awareness to change with those times are essential to success. Basic principles will always be at the core of solid leadership, such as treating people with dignity and respect and the ability to inspire. However, new strategies and tactics are also necessary, as is challenging yourself. The world is ever-changing — look at the COVID pandemic and how it forced many people to work remotely. Leaders had to figure out a way to motivate, manage, and stay connected while never physically present.
I believe many leaders are still working on how to best manage a remote or hybrid workforce. Doing so is especially challenging for micro managers. Letting go to some degree is essential to progress. If you can’t give your staff some autonomy and trust, you’ve hired the wrong people. But if you have, that’s okay. Leaders also make mistakes. What matters is how we handle what comes next.
A great way to break patterns is to get out of the office for some unconventional leadership training. Not the 80s-style “bonding over lunch” type of training, but the “get outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself” type of training. For example, last year I went to Zion National Park in Utah with a group of amazing female leaders and Shelli Johnson of Epic Life. We hiked Angel’s Landing, scaled down cliffs and faced a lot of our own fears. In doing so, you learn creative ways of working with multiple personality types, figure out how you address problems, and see solutions in a new light. You break out of old patterns, come back invigorated and lead your team with a renewed passion.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
Take inventory. Get to know whom you’re leading. What makes each person tick? What are their most prominent individual and team challenges? What patterns do you see among them? You can’t expect to motivate those whom you do not understand. Carving out the time to have individual conversations (if possible) or, if you’re managing thousands, putting a process into place to gather feedback from each person should be priority number one. It shows your staff that you care about who they are as people (vs. just an employee) and value their input. You want to avoid coming in like a bull in a ceramics shop.
It’s also essential to have a vision and share it. People want to know what they’re working toward and understand their importance in reaching goals. In addition, employees are motivated to join you in the journey when you communicate your vision and their roles.
Finally, be an active listener and approachable guide. Leaders can sometimes do all the talking and not enough listening. Respond to feedback, be open to criticism, and lead by example by handling it gracefully. Remember that you are modeling your company’s values, culture, and work ethic.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?
- Self-efficacy. It’s crucial to believe that you can not only lead people but also inspire and motivate them into specific behaviors for the betterment of your company. When you demonstrate confidence, you encourage employees to believe in you and want that same confidence for themselves. I can’t tell you how often I’ve had employees thank me for leading client meetings or new business pitches. When they see me confidently talking about our team’s abilities and navigating tough questions, they learn and gain the confidence to do so themselves. You can also demonstrate self-efficacy through honest communication about your challenges and how you overcame them, taking on complex tasks, and staying positive in facing adversity.
- Emotional Intelligence. Leaders need to demonstrate an ability to control their emotions and reactions. When they maintain calm and focus, they are more likely to gain the trust of their workforce. This does not mean you can’t disagree with someone, but in doing so, you continue to show respect and grace and effectively move the conversation forward in a constructive manner. Likewise, when a crisis happens, emotionally intelligent leaders can regulate their reactions, control their behaviors, and manage the conflict accordingly. It’s the “duck on water” analogy that I shared earlier.
- Adaptability. With today’s pace of business and, in particular, technology, leaders must be able to pivot and adapt just as quickly. A great example of this was the pandemic and suddenly having an entirely remote workforce. Influential leaders realized they had to adjust to the new way of working, and they didn’t manage the same way they had been. They adopted new processes and methods of motivating a dispersed workforce facing unprecedented challenges. Adaptability to be effective without micromanaging was crucial.
- Gall. In this, I don’t mean with a lack of respect. Instead, I refer to it as a willingness and ability to take bold risks and deal with controversy. Leaders are often glorified when things are going well and vilified when they are not. It takes a good level of confidence to manage that rollercoaster and maintain #2 above. Sometimes employees will question your choices or flat-out disagree with them. You’ve got to keep faith that you’re the leader for a reason, and while you appreciate the input, you are the final line of defense and make the decisions accordingly.
- Strong Ethics. Great leaders stick to their ethics despite external pressures. In doing so, they build loyalty and motivation among their workforce and cultivate the culture they expect. A great recent example of this happened with tech industry layoffs. Many of the industry giants have had massive workforce cuts. But Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, refused to lay off his employees and instead took a significant pay cut for the year. Of course, that is easier to do when you run a massively successful company and are still making millions of dollars. Still, smaller companies can make similarly appropriate decisions on the scale of their size. For example, during the Great Recession, my management team and I decided to do the same with our salaries, to keep people employed as long as possible until all other options were exhausted. Of course, I’ve had to lay people off over the 25 years we’ve been in business, and it’s always tricky. But I’ve had laid-off employees reach out to me years later and thank me. One thanked me for “waking him up,” and another thanked me for the time she had with us and the opportunity for a better work/life balance for herself and other parents when she was employed here. For people to reach out years later with gratitude speaks volumes. Ethics matter, and they do shine through, even in challenging times.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
Lately, I’ve been improving my work/life balance. 10 or 15 years ago, I would be working late into the evenings. My sons thought my laptop was an appendage. I’d be distracted and less present with my family and children than I would have liked. Now I realize that the work will still be there tomorrow, and I draw more lines to take time for both work and play. I’m doing more creative pursuits after work and will drop everything if my son needs something. The days are long, but the years are fleeting and, thus, must be spent wisely. Children grow up and leave. Work remains. So grab those moments while you can. Professional and personal fulfillment is vital to each day being a “masterpiece.” If I can fit in self-care, work, family time, exercise, and some creative hobby, then I’ve achieved that.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
Although not perfect, I cared deeply about my people and took every action I could to care for employees with honor, grace, and honesty. And that I was a bold, intelligent risk-taker and innovator.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!