As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Lynn Power.
Lynn Power is a 30 year advertising veteran, most recently CEO of J. Walter Thompson NY. She left the ad world in 2018 to start a consultancy, The HMS Beagle, working primarily with startups. And now she’s launched her own startup, MASAMI, clean premium haircare with her co-founder, James Hammett. Lynn loves building high performing teams, disrupting the status quo and helping women find their voices.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sure! I am one of those people (there are many of us) who “fell” into advertising. I didn’t go to school for it or really have any idea what it was all about before I got my first job as a receptionist in a small agency in Chicago. From there, I fell in love with the ability to use creativity to solve business problems. And I also loved that advertising is one of the only industries where you can work on tampons one day and credit cards the next.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I thought I was going to die when I mispronounced my new client’s name, she was French and apparently what I said sounded like a swear word and her whole team started laughing. The mistake is I didn’t bother to find out beforehand how to pronounce her tricky name. Turns out she found it endearing and we worked together for years. The lesson is: don’t freak out every time you think you’ve fallen on your face. Take a breath, see what happens, move on.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’d like to give one of my first bosses, Tom Yorton, a shout out. He completely empowered me to run the business, which I loved. And encouraged me to present to a crowd of clients, which I hated. But he didn’t let me off the hook — I had the opportunity to learn, to fail, and to do it again.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
We created MASAMI to be high performing but also good for you and good for the environment. We didn’t want people to have to trade off their health for performance (many beauty products including most haircare products contain known toxins). We set up the MASAMI Institute to help support ocean research in northeastern Japan, where we get our main ingredient.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I was CEO of J. Walter Thompson when our Global CEO at the time was hit with a very public “MeToo” lawsuit. It kicked off many other “MeToo” moments in advertising. I would say it was a needed change overall, but the turmoil and disruption it created at JWT NY was stunning. Our clients, our employees, our partners all had questions about the culture, our values and the future of the agency. I felt that it was critical to be as transparent as possible while maintaining objectivity while the lawsuit ran its course. Our leadership team really rallied together to listen to concerns and find ways to lean into diversity (a silver lining of the lawsuit).
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Absolutely! Most days I wanted to give up. I was dealing with the press, the lawyers, Human Resources, and Finance constantly. But I just felt that I had a responsibility to my team and our employees and clients to stay and see it through. It helped that there was the feeling that we were in this together — most of the people were super supportive.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Empathy is critical. Understanding what your team is feeling, what clients and partners are feeling, that is key. You can’t project your own feelings onto other people, you really have to listen and respond to people’s emotional needs.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
We celebrated small wins. I always say that you can focus on what you can control. The work, the content, how you show up every day.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The only way to handle difficult news is with humility and honestly. Anything less and people can sense it.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
It’s always good to have one eye on your long-term goals but the other eye on your short term tactics. This gives you the ability to pivot as needed to problem solve, but without forgetting why you’re in it.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Don’t let the drama get you down. It’s very easy to get sucked into the negative emotions, but you need to stay above it. It won’t help anyone if you are not positive — people need to believe their leaders can figure out how to make things better.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen is taking a total cost cutting approach and slashing marketing funds. That makes it even harder to find your way back to growth. Another mistake I see is asking people to take salary cuts to “weather the storm”. We did that when I was at Arnold and I regret it — the people that were left doing the work were resentful and it took years to get back to their previous salary levels. It definitely had a negative impact on the culture. I also see businesses who have been very tone deaf during COVID which can come across as desperate. I don’t really want to get a daily email from a brand about their latest sale. I’d rather get some content that is meaningful (selfcare tips for example).
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
At MASAMI (we launched in February right before COVID), we’ve focused on our core customers and creating advocates. We couldn’t control salons closing, retail partners pausing or other programs being put on hold, but we can control our own content (social, blogs, videos, etc) and how we engage with our customers.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It’s about leading with empathy. This means understanding that each person on your team is in a unique situation and has different needs. It’s also about accommodating and understanding the difficulties of remote work, like managing kids doing online school while working, and figuring out what works for each person.
- Communication is essential. It’s important to be very clear on how you are dealing with the situation, what the priorities are and what the impact on people will be (if any). It may be stating the obvious, but err on the side of being as transparent as possible.
- Leading with a generous spirit. This means helping other people — founders, brands, partners, LinkedIn connections — even if there’s no direct impact on your business.
- Building your team. People need support more than ever in difficult times. It’s important that you are not the only one communicating out — that people have multiple resources and avenues to go to talk about concerns, questions or anything else they need.
- Alignment. Don’t assume that everyone is on the same page, you need to go out of your way to create alignment.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Mary Shelley: Beware; for I am fearless. And therefore powerful.” I love this because it’s all about eliminating fear in your life. None of us have time for that! And just getting on. . .
How can our readers further follow your work?
I’m on LinkedIn here:
My social handle is @lynnpowered
And you can find MASAMI at www.lovemasami.com and @lovemasamihair on all social channels.