Resilience: Effective leaders can bounce back from setbacks and keep moving forward, even in the face of adversity. They can maintain a positive attitude and inspire their team to do the same.
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 Esther Sarpong.
Esther Sarpong, MBA, is the Global Marketing Director who has driven experiential business that’s generated $1.25B for global brands including Red Bull, Dove, Art Basel, and global asset management companies including International Market Centers, a Blackstone Company. She’s sharing how she’s disrupting experiential marketing through culture & connection.
Sarpong, a Celebrity Experience Marketer, based in Las Vegas, Nevada, the world’s entertainment capital, drives the global strategy and implementation of EXPLORE, venues with a vision, the experiential retail platform for Brookfield Properties.
A wife, mom of 2, and 1st generation immigrant from Ghana, West Africa, she uses her international perspective to empower business leaders. The twice-named 40 under 40 marketer is speaking at the upcoming Experiential Marketing Summit and Retail Innovation Conference. To learn more visit EstherSarpong.com
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?
As I approach my 40th birthday, I am filled with excitement and anticipation for the celebration to come. August may seem far away, but time flies, and I want to make sure that this milestone is one to remember. While I reflect on all I have accomplished, I look forward to the future with eagerness and determination. I am eager to continue growing and pursuing my passions and am confident that the next chapter of my life will be even more fulfilling and successful.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
Throughout my journey, I have sought out and surrounded myself with trailblazing, successful older Black women making a lasting impact in their industries. I am constantly in awe of leaders like Dara Treseder, Oprah Winfrey, and Tracee Ellis Ross, who possess a unique combination of business acumen and creativity. They are a constant source of inspiration for me, encouraging me to dream big and believe that I, too, can accomplish anything I set my mind to.
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 had the opportunity to begin my leadership journey at a young age, and as with any journey, I’ve made mistakes along the way. One of the most significant lessons I’ve learned is that people don’t work hard for leaders they like; they work hard for leaders they respect and admire. When I intended to be liked in my early years, I struggled to set clear boundaries with my team and often wavered in my decisions in exchange for their happiness. As I’ve grown and evolved as a leader, I’ve understood the importance of setting clear expectations for my team members and being direct in my communication and intention. I openly share the “why” behind the decisions made.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
As a leader, I am aware that people often leave a job because of their bosses, not the job itself. With this in mind, I strive to lead my cross-functional teams in a way that inspires and motivates them to reach their full potential. My leadership style is strategic and transformational, where I set clear goals and strategies that drive all of our decisions. In experiential retail, it is crucial to stay creative and innovative, and I push my team to think outside the box and work in new ways.
Today’s leadership is not just about achieving goals but also connecting with your team members, learning about their lives outside of work, celebrating their achievements, and fostering an open-door policy. When the team believes in and supports the goals set, they will work together to achieve them and bring success to the organization.
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?
I have realized that being a successful leader is not just about being in the details and micromanaging the process but about leading with trust in my team. This doesn’t mean blindly trusting them, nor does it mean being hands-off with the team. Instead, it means understanding that the team can take many paths to achieve the goal as long as the strategy is clear and they support it.
As a leader, I gather feedback from my team when setting the strategy and incorporate their learnings in the planning. This way, everyone on the team feels that the strategic vision is theirs to own and take responsibility for. In today’s workplace, where team members represent multiple generations, staying out of the details and steering the team is the best path to success.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
I firmly believe in leading by example; prioritizing my family time is one way I do this. For example, when my husband and children come home from school, I give them my undivided attention and put my work on hold until we have finished dinner and taken care of any homework or bedtime routines. During this time, I do not accept any work-related meetings and have my work phone on do not disturb. I am open and unapologetic about this uninterrupted time. In turn, my team members feel comfortable emulating the same behavior, allowing them to prioritize their personal life while achieving the set goals. This creates a balance between work and personal life that is essential for the team’s well-being and helps foster a culture of respect and empathy.
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?
Leaders stuck in past playbooks and patterns may have a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past. However, it is essential to remember that the world and the business environment are constantly changing, and what worked in the past may be irrelevant or effective in the present. Here are a few pieces of advice that might help:
1. Reflect on your leadership style: Take some time to reflect on it and identify which aspects are no longer serving you or your team.
2. Keep an open mind: Be open to new ideas, perspectives, and approaches. Listen to your team members and be willing to try new things.
3. Learn from failure: Failure is a natural part of progress. Don’t be afraid to experiment; if something doesn’t work out, learn from it and move on.
4. Seek new information and perspectives: Read books and articles, and attend conferences and workshops to stay informed about the latest trends and best practices in your industry.
5. Seek mentorship or coaching: Consider working with a mentor or coach who can provide guidance and support as you navigate this transition.
Ultimately, being a leader means being adaptable and willing to evolve, remembering that the key to success is not sticking to past playbooks and patterns, but being open to change and continuously learning and improving.
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?
First-time leaders often face unique challenges as they navigate their new roles. Here are a few pieces of advice that may help:
1. Lead by example: Practice what you preach and lead by example. Your team will be more likely to follow your lead if they see that you are committed to the same values and behaviors that you expect from them.
2. Empower your team: Trust your team members and give them the autonomy they need to do their jobs effectively.
3. Stay positive: Stay positive, even when things get tough. A positive attitude can be contagious and help keep your team motivated and focused.
4. Be self-aware: Be aware of your leadership strengths and weaknesses and work to improve in areas where you need development.
Being a leader is a journey; it takes time to develop the skills and experience needed to lead effectively. Remember to be patient with yourself, always seek feedback, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
Effective leaders possess various traits that help them inspire and guide their teams toward success. Here are five key traits that effective leaders often exemplify:
1. Vision: Effective leaders have a clear vision of where they want to take their team and organization, and they can communicate that vision to inspire and motivate others to work towards it.
2. Emotional intelligence: Effective leaders can understand and manage their own emotions, as well as the feelings of others. They can build strong relationships and communicate effectively.
3. Decisiveness: Effective leaders can make decisions quickly and confidently, even in uncertain or high-pressure situations.
4. Adaptability: Effective leaders can adapt to changing circumstances and are fearless in trying new approaches when old ones are no longer working.
5. Resilience: Effective leaders can bounce back from setbacks and keep moving forward, even in the face of adversity. They can maintain a positive attitude and inspire their team to do the same.
It’s worth noting that effective leaders also possess a set of core values, such as honesty, integrity, and respect, that guide their actions and decisions. Moreover, these values are often reflected in the culture of the team and organization they lead.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
Make each day your masterpiece” is a phrase that encourages individuals to approach each day with the mindset of making it the best it can be. It suggests that every day is an opportunity to create something meaningful, to be the best version of oneself, and to make an impact. Each day, I ask my kids to share their highs and lows of the day. Though young, I want them to set priorities and make choices that align with their goals and values. The phrase encourages people to take a proactive approach to life and be mindful of the impact they want to make in the world, whether through work, relationships, or personal growth.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
Leaders leave a lasting impact on the organizations and individuals they lead. The legacy I leave can take many forms, but some of the most impactful might include the following:
1. Finding your confidence booster. For me, a great shade of lipstick goes a long way. My favorite lipstick color is red, my power color, and when I have it on, it gives me the boost of confidence that I need for the day. However, if lipstick is not your boss style, identify your confidence booster and have it accessible, especially on days when you need it the most.
2. People development: A leader committed to developing and mentoring their team members can profoundly impact the careers and professional development of those they lead.
3. Innovation and change: Leaders who can drive innovation and change within an organization can leave a lasting impact on the industry and the wider community.
4. Personal growth: A leader who models personal growth and development can inspire others to strive for growth and self-improvement.
The legacy a leader leaves is not just about what they accomplished during their tenure but also about their lasting impact on the individuals, teams, and organizations they led.
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!