Stay flexible while still creating accountability. As much as it’s important to be clear about expectations and delivery, good leaders are also flexible. We all know things come up that we didn’t account for at the start of a project. It’s important to hear why a team member missed a deadline and then work together to set a new one.

We are all competing in an attention economy. From pings and dings to blinks and rings, companies and content constantly compete for our limited time and attention. How do great leaders turn down the noise and tune in to the messages that matter most? What does it take to be heard above the noise? And how do we create communication that cultivates community and connectedness in a distributed, distracted world? To address these questions, we started an interview series called ‘Can You Hear Me Now?: Top Five Strategies Leaders Use to Diminish Distractions and Win in the Attention Economy.’ As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Campos.

Julie Campos is the Vice President of Student Success and Career Services for MedCerts, an online career training provider for allied health careers. She has a 15+ year history of working with students to help them successfully reach their college and career training goals either at institutions of higher education or in private training programs. For MedCerts, she leads a team of student success and career advisors who coach and support students as they go through online training and prepare them for their job search. She lives in Gilbert, Arizona with her husband and three children.

Thank you for making time to visit with us. Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is one of your most memorable moments, and what made it memorable?

One of the most memorable moments in my career came at a women’s leadership conference. We were divided into small groups at a workshop and everyone had to share something they recently did that didn’t go well for them. The group would then give feedback on what could have been done differently to change the outcome. The catch was that while listening to feedback, you couldn’t respond; not even one word. That was very hard, but it was also impactful. So many times when we get feedback or criticism, we automatically get defensive. The exercise taught me that even when feedback is harsh, or even hurtful, there is something to be gained from it if you listen. That’s something that has stuck with me personally and professionally.

What is the most unexpected twist in your career story, and what did you discover from your detour?

In 2018, my family and I made the decision to move across the country from Arizona to Pennsylvania. I had to quit my job where I had been for 13 years and it was not an easy decision. At the same time, I decided to take a break from working to be a stay-at-home parent to help my two oldest children transition into their school while taking care of my newborn. Never once had I thought of being a stay-at-home mom and, consequently, I struggled to accept my new role for the first few months. Eventually, after settling in from the move and a few months of my kids being in school, I found a routine.

Fast forward three years later and another cross-country move back to Arizona, I was ready to get back into the workforce. At that point, I had taken a three-year break and thought it would be hard for me to find another leadership role. Looking back, I wish I had taken the time to earn a certificate to refresh skills and learn new ones while being a stay-at-home parent. Fortunately though, I found MedCerts as a place to apply my years of experience to a new role. It was a great transition and one where I continue to learn daily.

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, the most essential communication skill for leaders is the ability to adapt their communication style. How do you adapt your communication style?

In any communication style, I always think it’s best to be transparent and upfront in all forms of communication. As a leader whose team has grown over time, I’ve learned that the way information is delivered has to adapt to different forums, individual relationships, and prior trust built. For team members where I’ve had limited interaction, I might provide more backstory and ease into my findings or direction more slowly than with someone with whom I have a strong working relationship. In these situations, more direct feedback and direction is possible with someone who knows my intent. I want to ensure that the message being conveyed comes across clearly while also being received appropriately.

Clarity is critical as well. What lessons have you learned about how to communicate with clarity in our distributed world of work?

In any conversation, one-on-one, or meeting, it is important to frame the purpose of the conversation and what you want to accomplish by the end of the meeting. I do this with my team and encourage them to take the same approach when meeting with the students they work with. Taking the time to share intent provides an agenda and helps all parties stay focused on the goal. There’s also a benefit that goes past the actual meeting. Sharing intent and being clear builds trust between leaders and team members. My team members know when they communicate the purpose of a meeting with me, I have a better understanding of what they need and we can make a plan to accomplish it together.

We often discover what works by experiencing what doesn’t. Tell us about a time when your communication didn’t lead to the desired result and what you learned from the experience.

I recall preparing for a tough one-on-one with a team member. I knew exactly what I wanted to convey. I prepared for the call and even received feedback from a peer on my approach. During the call, I described overarching themes related to competencies they needed to change, but neglected to give them specific examples. Staying at a high level made the conversation vague; I wasn’t able to tell the person how a specific competency did or, in this case, did not show up in their day-to-day work. As a result, the team member left the meeting frustrated. It was a reminder that being clear in my communication and having specific examples really matters.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are struggling to have their messages heard and actioned?

It’s important to ensure that your vision and goals are clear, concise, and shared. Every time you communicate with your team, always refer back to your end goal and how the action items align with your vision and goals. Additionally, it is easy to call out the mistakes or mishaps individuals make, but what’s most important is highlighting those individuals who are exhibiting the desired behaviors. Giving team members positive reinforcement and kudos is connected to holding someone accountable.

Too often we think of accountability as a negative term. But when a team member follows through on a task or objective, they deserve praise. Even baby steps should be recognized. When you highlight and give recognition and praise for small efforts, it will reinforce what you want to see and drive the behaviors to help get there.

Leading a distributed team requires a different communication cadence and style from leading a team in person. What are five strategies any leader can deploy to improve communication and clarity when leading a distributed workforce?

  1. Be present and acknowledge any requests. I’m in meetings all day but don’t want my team to feel like they’re on their own. They need to know that I am here. So when an email or a message arrives, I acknowledge it has been received and that I will respond as soon as possible. Between meetings, I make it my priority to respond to my team to make sure that they have everything they need.
  2. Set specific action items and deadlines. Just like setting an agenda or a frame at the beginning of a meeting, everyone should leave a meeting on the same page. Listing specific action items with deadlines creates transparency and accountability. For anyone directly managing another person, having this level of detail also supports growth. One-on-one meetings should tell a story. Anyone should be able to look at meeting notes and see what was expected, when it was expected, and whether or not that person met those expectations.
  3. Engage with your team and be personable. Too often leaders of teams hide their personal lives. But it’s important that team members know who you are as a person. When meeting with my team, I do my best to share details about my family and what we have going on during the weekend. What you share doesn’t always have to be positive either. For example, I am a volunteer volleyball coach. There was one season when my team was struggling! By sharing that challenge, I could share more of myself with my team and demonstrate that I have to work at things just like they do.
  4. Stay flexible while still creating accountability. As much as it’s important to be clear about expectations and delivery, good leaders are also flexible. We all know things come up that we didn’t account for at the start of a project. It’s important to hear why a team member missed a deadline and then work together to set a new one.
  5. Be approachable and set office hours or availability. All of our calendars are jam-packed with meetings. But I never want my team members to say, “I want to connect with you, but I know you’re so busy.” I make myself available so anyone who wants to meet with me can. My calendar is visible to everyone. Team members can send a calendar invite for any time I am free. I also hold office hours. Every week I block off dedicated time when I am available to my team for whatever they need.

What are the three most effective strategies to diminish distractions when there is so much competition for attention?

Effective ways to diminish distractions are to set daily goals or a to-do list, celebrate accomplishments, and give updates by deadlines. My favorite way to carry out all three of these is to use a whiteboard in my office. I write down my action items and goals on it so that my whole team can see them. That way I can keep track of my daily goals as well as longer-term deadlines. When I erase something, it’s satisfying to see it disappear — it’s like a little celebration of what has been accomplished!

What is one skill you would advise every leader to invest in to become a better communicator?

All leaders should be able to give direct, clear feedback. Too many times we worry about how someone will react to feedback and it prevents us from speaking clearly. But when we talk around a subject the other person leaves the conversation confused and frustrated. It’s important to be direct but it’s also important to be empathetic and aware of your delivery. Part of it is framing the conversation and giving yourself internal permission to be direct, while also providing awareness of your intent. You can do that by remembering the bigger vision your team is working toward. Taking that step also prepares you to talk to another person, especially if it’s a tough conversation about job performance.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d like to start a movement to normalize seeking out authentic, honest peer feedback. If peer feedback was a quantified goal, for example getting feedback from five people each quarter, leaders’ growth would accelerate. As people are growing into leadership roles, it can be hard and uncomfortable to ask for input from others. We want to maintain the perception that we’re on top of our game and that we’re great leaders so we don’t seek feedback. If we changed this idea, stronger leaders would emerge. Plus, making peer feedback part of our own practices can help instill it as a team value.

How can our readers stay connected with you?

You can find me on LinkedIn or connect with MedCerts on Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.