Q&A: David Albritton, 2021 Jack Koten Corporate Honoree

The Plank Center recognizes and promotes the critical role mentors play in helping to develop leaders and advance the profession and honors leaders throughout the profession who, by word and deed, have demonstrated a superior commitment to mentoring others, and who are committed to accelerating the success of others in the field at its annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala. Our question and answer series introduces the 2021 Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.

Meet David Albritton

David Albritton is a renowned business leader, speaker, and communications expert with more than three decades of leadership experience across the government and corporate sectors. He is the founder and chief executive of the coaching and business advisory firm, Nineteen88 Strategies, LLC, which specializes in a wide range of management services, executive coaching and leadership development for corporations, nonprofits, associations, small businesses and highly motivated individuals and teams. Over the course of his career, he has brought his deep knowledge, leadership, teamwork, and wisdom to the organizations he’s worked with, while developing a strong reputation as an inspirational mentor, trainer and coach that has successfully assisted hundreds of individuals in the successful pursuit of their career objectives.

What do you think makes a successful mentorship relationship?

I think it’s the rapport that the mentor and the mentee have and create from the beginning, so that you’re creating trust and an ability to have really frank conversations. A mentor that is only going to tell their mentee everything good about who they are and what they’re doing is not doing the mentee a service. They’ve got to be able to tell them they’ve got mustard on their shirt, and tell them why, and how they can maybe rectify that situation, or do something to improve what’s needed in their repertoire, so that they can be more successful going forward.

At its core, mentoring is about advancing the learning and development of the mentee. How can both parties set goals for professional improvement and really approach their mentor relationship strategically?

The work is all of the mentees in my view. Establishing and understanding upfront, what’s required? What is the mentee looking for in the relationship? The mentee is the one who follows up and creates the schedule for when the mentor will be meeting with him or her. 100% of the responsibility is on the mentee to get the best out of the situation. But there needs to be an established understanding about what that relationship is really going to be, and potentially what the timeframe for that will be. I’ve had career-long mentors, then I’ve had mentors that are just for a short time. There’s some mentors who don’t even know that they were my mentor, but they taught me something that was critical to my career success. It’s about defining the word mentor upfront in the relationship, whether it’s implicit or explicit. 

Many  people want to get involved in a mentor-mentee relationship and they’re not quite sure where to start. So, what advice would you recommend for someone interested in this relationship, but they just don’t know how to get it started?

Get to know the person first. Get to know their history, what their personal interests are, what their career trajectory has been, and what their career interests are to find out if they are even near what you think you need to help advance your own career. But also make sure to develop mentor relationships outside of your core function, so you grow a more holistic understanding of the overall business. I’ve actually had a lot of mentors from other functions as I’ve tried to improve my business acumen and more and they have been critical resources for me over many years.

What have you learned personally from a mentorship experience?

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is to be strategic in my career decisions. Not just to chase the job or chase money, but to make sure that what I am pursuing for my strategic growth in my career is going to be relevant for future opportunities in terms of what I’m learning, who I’m influencing, who I have access to, and what types of experiences I am having that make me qualify not only for the next job, but the job after that and the job after that. Ron Culp actually gave me that advice when I worked for him at Sears and it’s one of the sagest pieces of advice I’ve gotten in my entire career. And I’ve used it to my advantage many, many times.

What inspired you to mentor others?

You know, I think I’m living up to the expectation of my grandfather. My grandfather was a 33-year police officer in the Philadelphia police force. I just watched him, my whole life, give back to others. He mentored so many people of all ages from all backgrounds. And he was so instrumental in the success that I’ve had in my life. He’s my ultimate hero. Watching him give back unconditionally and unselfishly without asking for anything in return is what inspired me to just want to do the same. Actually, if you talk to any of the hundreds of people that I have mentored, one of my expectations is that I’ll do whatever I can to help you and not ask for anything in return from you, except one thing: When it’s your turn to reach back to help somebody else, you’ll do it. You’ll hear David Albritton in your ear, saying, ‘Hey, you better help this person, even if you feel you’re currently too busy to do so. Even if it’s 15-20 years from now, I want you to always commit to helping other people if I’m going to help you right now.’ We get that agreement squared away and we’re off and running.

Why do you think mentorship relationships are so important, particularly in the public relations and communications industry?

Well, our industry is changing so fast. It’s changed so much from when I first got into PR back in 1993 as a public affairs officer in the Navy. If I compare that experience to how we did public relations and how we did media relations — all the basic aspects — to where we are as an industry now as influencers, conveners, and data scientists, there’s all kinds of aspects of our function that are more advanced from what I learned almost 30 years ago. So, the mentorship in our industry is helpful for continuity from how we’ve always done it because there’s still a core element of what we do in public relations and communications that is significant across our industry. But to kind of help people, particularly the up-and-coming population within the industry, to just think more strategically, grow their business acumen, and really approach things professionally. Also, just to do things to be a fantastic example of what our profession can bring to the business community. We are an essential element of success in business and being able to articulate that is very important. So, I think mentor relationships help that.

Please sum up your professional career in any high points or low points. How did you work your way up the ladder? Please note if there’s anything that stood out that you’ve learned along the way.

For the first 10 years of my career, I started in the U.S. Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer assigned to a ship and later transitioning to become a Navy Public Affairs Officer and did that for five years. I then started working for Ron Culp at Sears Roebuck and got promoted twice in a couple of years. I ended up leaving Sears to go to Compaq Computer Corp and was there through the time when HP acquired Compaq. As soon as the merger closed, I got promoted from senior manager to director at HP and picked up an HP team in addition to a Compaq team. Great experience. I then left corporate and went to United Way of America as the vice president of communications at its headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. That was great. I was looking for growth in my career with different experiences and going to one of the largest nonprofits seemed like an excellent opportunity at the time, which it was. 

After a couple of years, I longed to get back into the corporate space. I actually had a small stint at a PR agency for less than a year that just was not a good fit for me. I preferred to be in-house. So, I went to Raytheon as director of public relations in its D.C. office, engaging with a global business development team and a government relations team. 

I had an opportunity through my network to go be a vice president of communications at ITT Defense. ITT Defense was a $6.5 billion business unit of the $12 billion ITT Corp., but about three years into that experience, ITT split into three public companies. So, ITT Defense spun off to become a publicly traded company called Exelis and I was honored to become the chief communications officer, which had literally been my ultimate career goal. Three-and-a-half years into that role, Exelis got acquired by Harris Corp. and the company and the job went away. However, I was lucky, through my network and reputation, to have an opportunity to get asked to come work for General Motors as the executive director of Communications for the Global Product Development organization that includes all 34,000 engineers within the company. About two years into that assignment, I got promoted to also take over responsibility for all international communications for GM across all the global regions. 

About a year-and-a-half into that, I got promoted outside of public relations for the first time. I had the opportunity to become the president of General Motors Defense, which is GM’s aerospace defense business, where they sell advanced automotive technology and capabilities into global defense markets. I’d never contemplated being the chief executive and general manager for any business, but it was a complete honor and an amazing experience to run that business, which I did that for a couple of years. I then had an opportunity to come back into public relations and was very excited to go to work at Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a vice president of communications. I’d been watching that company for a long time and its exponential growth was very exciting. I was honored to get the opportunity to go work there. 

I started there last December and then, unfortunately, had a family situation in March of this year, where my oldest daughter got diagnosed with leukemia. It was the biggest gut punch of my entire life and as I went through that experience, something told me that I needed to refocus and focus on family for a while and put all my time, attention, energy and effort into making sure that she’s ok. And I couldn’t do that while having a job every day. So, I resigned.

It was about a month-and-a-half into that, that I just started contemplating what my own life passion is and what my life goals should be and needing as much flexibility as I did, particularly then, with helping her work through her new life situation. So, I decided to start my own consultancy. I was probably wanting to do it in five or six years when I retired from the corporate world anyway. 

One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies is the Shawshank Redemption and in it, Morgan Freeman has a quote that says, ‘Get busy living or get busy dying.’ In that moment, I said, ‘This is a great time; we have the financial wherewithal to handle my living and day-to-day expenses, etc. and to take care of my family. My son is a sophomore at Elon University and that’s covered, so, this is a good time for me. 

I started reaching out to my network and my mentor to collect ideas, try to get inputs and make some connections. I launched Nineteen88 Strategies in April 2021, and I’ve been very pleased with the progress of the business. It’s moving as fast as I want it to move at this point with no pressure. I’ve been getting a lot of ideas on how to grow and morph. Ultimately, my main focus for this business will be executive coaching, leadership development and professional speaking opportunities. I’m currently enrolled in Georgetown University’s eight-month leadership coaching certificate program, where I’ll get to be professionally certified as an executive coach, which I’m very much looking forward to, so that I have the credibility and capability to coach across any industry, any enterprise, and do it in a reputable way. I’m very excited about that. Simultaneous to that, I’m also coaching a number of individuals in my practice as well, and enjoying the experience. Coaching differs from mentorship in that I’m not trying to solve someone’s problem. A mentor gives recommendations on how to move forward, the coach does not do that, but rather tries to pull those answers out of the individual and allow them to identify the path moving forward. I’m very much enjoying that experience. I’ve been a lifelong mentor and have always enjoyed helping people just by default. But being able to do that as a profession at a baseline as an executive coach, is very enjoyable to me. I’m very happy that I’ve made this choice at this juncture in my life, and I’m looking forward to the future.

Leadership in any field seems crucial to the success of the future of the field. But leadership is a broad term. How would you define leadership in PR? And what does that mean to you?

Leadership, overall and as a concept, has various sub definitions. I think it starts with just a core understanding of how important it is for individuals to connect, regardless of your ranks or your titles. You are still going to be a group of people that are responsible for certain types of outcomes, depending on what your functional responsibilities are. Unless you understand that at the core, you won’t have the ability to be a good leader because it’ll be about the individual and not the team. And that’s what leadership is about. Yes, there are individual contributors who can lead in situations, so I’m not saying you have to necessarily be an official member of any team. But in fact, we have de facto teams that are created all the time, even from individual contributors who lend their talents and ideas to teams that come together to tackle problems inside organizations. I think, in our industry, we have tons of fantastic leaders who have really led our function to great heights. I know and have worked with a lot of them, and I was honored to be on the board of The Arthur Page Society with many of them for six years. We’ve got some phenomenal senior leaders in our profession, and even though some of them have retired and gone on to other careers. we’ve got a lot of up-and-comers who are doing phenomenal things, in corporations, agencies, nonprofits and in education as well. So, I’ve been very pleased to have met so many folks who really care about our industry, really care about people, and who are trying to do the right things to help our industry and individuals in our industry move forward in a positive direction.

What would you say are the three or four most important characteristics or qualities of excellent leaders in PR?

So, I think your moral compass has to get set at the highest level. Your personal values have to very much align with being an ethical operator because you are representing the brand and the ethos of the organization that you work for. You have to be a trusted entity to be able to communicate that effectively to all your stakeholder audiences. That is, without question, a mandate that is rooted in trust and integrity.

You have to be able to have a steep and short learning curve to truly understand the environment around you and just jump in, without fear and hesitation. We, as communicators, regardless of title, oftentimes are thrust into situations that we personally may feel like we’re not ready for. But that organization is looking to us as that functional leader to step in and do the right thing. It just may happen that your boss may be on vacation in Bermuda for a week, and you’ve got the shot and you’re holding it down. Then, something hits the fan. In that moment, the organization is looking to you to be the functional expert in helping to resolve that situation from a public relations/communications perspective. You didn’t ask for it and maybe weren’t ready for it; however, it’s time for you to step up. You have to do that in a fearless fashion. That is a mandate for leaders in public relations. 

Lastly, I think it’s about remembering that leadership is an honor and a privilege. It’s something you’ve got to earn every day, and it doesn’t matter what your rank, position or title is. You have to generate the respect from the people who are around you — those people that are your subordinates, your peers, and your leaders, in your function or outside of your function. That’s a privilege to be able to be in a position like that. If you recognize it as that, you will act accordingly.

Do you think that leadership can be taught? Or do you think it’s something that you’re born with?

I think it’s both. I think if you go back to our playground basketball or playground soccer, whatever it is when we’re young, you have natural leaders who just step up there — the people who are the captains of the football team, captains of the field hockey team, or people who just pick all the people from the playground and go play the next game of basketball. Some people just naturally gravitate towards standing out in front. So, that’s one form of leadership. But I also truly believe that leadership is a learned behavior. Not everybody is born with the capability to lead. One of the things I most appreciated about my time in the military service was the fact that we all have one common transformational and unforgettable experience. That was basic training. In basic training, everything that you possibly got used to in your life got taken away and given back to you as privileges. You can’t go to the bathroom; you can’t go to sleep; you can’t wake up. You are at the whim of the military environment. Once you get broken down to brass tacks in that way, you learn how to build rapport with people and learn how to trust and emulate the leadership styles of those who are training you. You learn that pure leadership and coming together as a team is important, and then you are thrust into environments where you might have to step forward and be the leader. And if you get recognized as that and your organization pulls you forward to be a leader of people who formerly were your peers, then that’s recognition of someone who’s kind of getting it as well. 

It’s all about really getting to know and care about the people who are in your sphere of influence — mentoring them, coaching them when they need help, etc. One of the things that I think is most important in leadership is the fact that nobody shows up with an intention every day of screwing up. It’s just a human trait; we’re all going to trip and fall or spill mustard on our shirt at some point. Something’s always going to happen, so you just have to remember that a majority of the failings that happen are probably due to a failure of communication and expectations that are set, versus a lack of knowledge or lack of motivation.

What is the most powerful learning experience you’ve encountered with respect to leadership in the field?

Pressure. Pressure makes diamonds. It’s easy to lead when everything is great. Everybody’s patting everybody on the back and everybody’s doing great, and that’s the easiest time to lead. It’s when the pressure cooker happens and people start really showing a side of themselves that is unexpected. Some people do really well under pressure and some people don’t. It’s those leaders who are able to set aside that extreme pressure and really analyze what’s happening, who begin to align the resources around them, both human capital and otherwise, to put forth the best effort to try to solve whatever issue is in front of them. You have to learn that. You have to have had some pressure put on you to do that. Again for me, that goes back to my military experience, but there are phenomenal leaders who have never had military experience too.

It doesn’t have to be a crisis, necessarily, but it can just be a strong expectation. Your leader can put a strong mandate on the team, and then say to you, ‘Hey, by X date and by X time, I expect these outcomes.’ That’s pressure. Your ability to generate a team’s ability to successfully meet that mandate is on you. And that’s what your papers will be graded on as a leader. So, to be effective in that situation, you have to realize that even if you don’t have a core team that works for you, you’ve built a collective of a team within other functions. Find the ability to delegate the appropriate things to other people and check. Don’t feel like you have to take care of everything. It’s not just your task; it’s the team’s task. So, if you learn how to delegate to the right folks, and just check, you’re building trust and confidence in those individuals that want to work harder for you because they feel like you’re not micromanaging or taking all of the ownership of something. Those people then feel like they are contributing to the outcome. That’s when you’re going to get the best work out of people. Share information as much as possible. Information holding is not power; information sharing is power, so that everybody in the collective can take advantage and do what’s required to be successful in that situation.

What is one of the best books on leadership? Do you have any that you would recommend to young professionals?

I’m a huge fan of Colin Powell and his leadership principles. There are many books on leadership, but I’ve always been a huge fan of his views on leadership. There are a few books written that focus on his principles, so any of them would be recommended. It doesn’t matter if you had a military background or not. Those principles and how he thinks about and articulates those are very relevant across any industry. 

What is your best advice for PR students who are just entering the work world?

Be inquisitive – try to meet as many people as you can who are doing the work at all levels. Form your ability to be an effective networker as early as you can. It’s a daunting process; it’s somewhat scary to folks who aren’t naturally somebody who can just walk up to another person – especially a professional that is more senior – and introduce themselves, but there are skills that you can develop to become an effective networker. Just become a sponge! In a networking engagement, my premise is that it’s really not about you at all. It’s not your time to go share your elevator speech; that is not effective networking. Effective networking is all about the person who you are engaging with, asking questions like, ‘What’s been your experience? How did you get here?’ Then you find ways to sprinkle in your own thinking, knowledge and background. What you’re doing through that process is you’re developing a rapport. You’re finding out if the people that you’re engaging with can be helpful to you as you move forward, so you’re learning the approaches and the history. 

If you were hiring an entry level or a new PR professional today, what factors do you think would weigh most heavily in your decision making?

I think the biggest one for me is how diligent they were at trying to get experience outside of the college experience in terms of internships and other things. A lot of college campuses now have exciting PR agencies, so students get to work with clients and do those types of things. But actually getting out there and working in public relations, gaining experience and understanding the nuance of being in a culture, in-house, agency or nonprofit, beyond just having the book knowledge, is super important. Those folks who took the effort to do that actually stand above because they’re able to hit the ground running more quickly than those who don’t have that experience. You can have a basic fundamental educational understanding of our field, but those folks who’ve actually gotten out there and written some things and gotten some tutelage and counsel, and who have had some deadlines to meet which all equates to actual experience, they rise above to me. If they can hit the ground running, then I can teach them quicker as they get in. In a lot of instances, we don’t have an overstaffed situation. Many of us in public relations have always been understaffed as a function. So, I don’t have the luxury of having somebody come in and take a year to get up to speed. I need them working in a few weeks, and to be able to dive in and do some great things. Having the confidence of being able to do that gets created by having done that already in college.

What do you think university educators can do in the classroom to help PR students develop these leadership skills and values?

Pushing the internship aspects of it, but also creating situations in their classes, in their work projects and that type of thing for peer leadership as well. It’s somewhat hard to lead some of your peers. Let’s say you’re all sophomores and there’s six of you assigned to a project. Not everybody can be the leader. Not everybody can have the lead voice. It’s somewhat hard when you have six people; it might be hard to even have one partner. But if you create a situation where everybody gets to model the leadership behavior in a rotational basis, that’s how you learn confidence to become a leader, stand up and make hard decisions, and sometimes make unpopular decisions. But because you are that leader in that position, at that time, and the professor has made it as such, that helps the individual develop that confidence and the ability to learn what leadership ultimately will become for that person. I think that’s something that could be really critical to helping students get better acclimated when they step out of school and into their first work environments.

What would you say is the importance of DEI to you, including the best practices that you and your team use, or that you’ve used at previous companies? Any strategic ways that you’ve implemented strategic programs to grow, mentor and retain diverse populations within the field?

My thinking and approach are somewhat unique, I think. I’ve been very much involved on the board of the PRSA Foundation and have focused on this issue for a long time since I am a person of color working in a field where not many people who look like me rise to senior positions in our industry. I’m now a proud member of The Page Society’s diversity, equity and inclusion advisory board and I’m very much wedded to the issue and very much concerned about the future of our industry as it relates to DEI. In many cases, it’s my opinion that people from diverse backgrounds don’t get the opportunities in our profession that others do. In those cases, particularly for younger people, they find it hard to find ways to get ahead. It’s not necessarily being afforded opportunities, but they don’t have access to information that helps them formulate better strategies and better understanding of the way our function operates. So, they fall behind their counterparts, and they watch their counterparts get promotion after promotion and move on to other positions. Now, a lot of that is on the individual, as well. It is not the organization’s, or the function’s, responsibility, by itself, to provide everything. There has to be an earnest eagerness to develop skills and to learn. It’s a two-way street. Sometimes people of color find it hard to develop mentor relationships with people that don’t look like them; they expect only to engage with people that look like them. I can tell you that mostly all of my mentors over my entire career have not looked like me. You want to absorb knowledge from the collective and having experiences and engagements with people who only come from your background, that’s limiting. So, you have to open up your mind to other influences and other ideas and seek out that knowledge and information. 

As an industry, though, I think it is our responsibility, particularly as individuals get into more senior-ranking positions, to find ways to create equal, equitable opportunities for everybody to get access to information about how they can grow and learn. I think one of the challenges is that we have multiple efforts across multiple organizations in our industry doing separate and distinct things, versus one commonly channeled type of activity that can be beneficial to everyone. We still have a long way to go. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen is those people of color or people who come from diverse backgrounds, first, they don’t choose to come into the industry because of things they’ve heard or their perceptions. But those that come in and don’t find immediate success end up going elsewhere. Those that stay and languish, and if you’re going to rise to senior manager, and then five years from now, you’re still senior manager, while you’ve seen others go on to become directors — that becomes a frustration. And that is not helpful to the overall growth of our function across all industries. So, we have to find ways to allow all ships to rise as the water rises and provide opportunities for everyone to feel like they’re part of the solution.

What do you think we can do on the education side? What do you think professors or universities can do to make sure that students do feel welcome to explore PR and be a part of the profession?

Great question. Most professors have deep relationships across the industry. One of the things I very much enjoy doing is guest lecturing. I’ve spoken in many university classrooms and loved doing that. So, as professors are leveraging their networks to get guest speakers in, try to set up mentorship opportunities for folks that they believe could use some additional assistance in better understanding their space in this function, what’s required, and what’s needed. They see them every day right there in the classroom with them, so they know who the superstars are and who needs a little bit of work. If you’re finding that your diverse population is skewing towards one side or another, try to find ways to help those individuals get some additional help, guidance and knowledge so that they can become on par with everyone. So, it can start there. 

I think the most critical aspect of this is upon graduation. Placement in the right company, the right organization, or the right agency, is critical. That first job out of college can make or break somebody who’s interested in this profession long term. Be an active participant in helping people get placed in the right job. Now, it’s incumbent upon the individual to do most of the work in this situation, as it’s not the professor’s or institution’s total responsibility to find a job for the individual. But it’s the marriage of those two coming together to make sure that we’re helping people find relevant, impactful, well-paying jobs that will allow them to bring their best and entire selves to work, and be a great learning ground for future growth in the function. We can all be part of that solution. If everybody takes ownership of that, I think we’ll have better outcomes for our young folks coming out of college.

Fast forward to the year 2025, a couple of years down the road. What are the top three expectations you think CEOs will have or should have of the public relations profession?

That’s an interesting question. As it relates to how the function is transforming and what senior executives and companies expect out of the PR function, I think the most important skill is becoming a strategic business counselor, having better business acumen as individuals and being able to show up at the leadership table and have a strategic voice at that table as a business partner. That’s important – in fact that is super important. Be a more critical thinker; don’t look at everything in black and white. Don’t only look at everything through the lens of, ‘Will it pass The Washington Post test?’ Instead, think about it through the lens of how this company is making business decisions and increasing value for its key stakeholders, how this nonprofit brings in more donations, or how PR agencies create more business and provide better solutions for their corporate partners. Peeking around corners — that’s a very critical skill for people in our profession these days, and I think it’s becoming a lot more expected from senior leaders. 

I think another thing is being a catalyst for relationship building within. Communications permeates everything inside a corporation. Without effective communications — internal communications, external communications, and stakeholder segmentation — no organization will be successful. Everybody needs to be communicated with in some form or fashion. As a public relations function, we are in the middle of all of that. So, we get to work across functions in a very unique way. 

As much as we, as PR practitioners, can convene those audiences and be the catalyst for pre-flow of communications, two-way communications, and very effective well written, well-spoken communications that develop trust and develop some an ability to be transparent when need to; and to just be forthcoming when needed as well, particularly in crisis situations. Think about and stay connected with all your audiences actively and immediately. For example, how many years have we spent in the profession where we created these crisis communications playbooks that sit up on the shelf, and they’re five years old, and they’ve got dust on them. We’ve got to stay relevant. So, being able to be that catalyst for the joining of individuals, functions or responsibilities is something that I think communications teams are being looked at more to do on a regular basis, just because we touch every aspect of the organization. I think effective CCOs and effective communications practitioners, the more they’re able to do that, the better our function is viewed inside the organization, and the more trust and confidence in our ability to be business partners is created. 

My leadership tip is…

You’re going to find people who struggle or you yourself might be struggling too – everybody’s got struggles that you just don’t know about. Stay in tune with what’s happening around you. And when you view that somebody’s struggling, I’ve always felt that the best way to help yourself get through something you’re struggling with is to help somebody else. As a leader, make sure you’re paying attention. Something I learned in the military as a division officer on a ship is this whole notion of leadership can be summed up as, “management by walking around.” If you’re not walking around and talking to people at all levels and understanding the good, the bad, and the ugly on a regular basis, you’re not able to become an effective leader. Identify what’s going well and what’s not, and say thank you on a regular basis. You can’t say thank you enough, to anyone, at any time. Sometimes thank you is more important than monetary compensation. It’s just feeling valued and like you’re a great contributor. And when bad things are happening, understand at the base level why, who, how and what you can do to rectify the situation. 

My mentorship tip is…

It’s a two-way question. For mentors, commit yourself to it. If you’re going to agree to be somebody’s mentor, make yourself available. We all get busy; we all have schedules that are phenomenally crazy. But if you’re committing to be someone’s mentor, make time for it or else it’s just not effective and you create frustration on the other side. And that’s exactly the opposite reaction we want to create from the people who we are ultimately trying to help. On the mentee side, be committed to it. Remember, you are the person whose job it is to manage the relationship, period. Don’t be expecting the mentor to set up the meetings or to remember to set up the meeting. If they give you homework assignments, it’s not their job to follow up on your homework assignment. It’s a commitment, a two-way commitment. You both have separate and distinct roles as part of that commitment to have an effective mentor-mentee relationship.

My networking tip is…

Remember that networking is not about you. Networking is finding out as much as you can about the individual you’re engaging with and trying to find commonality between you so that you can create a rapport, develop trust, and build a connection so that you can have an effective relationship. Use that as the baseline for your networking, and I think you’ll find greater success than just focusing on you.

My go-to news source is…

I actually don’t have just one. I read multiple news feeds on a regular basis, but I also use Google because I want to do my own research. I want to spend the time doing my own research and do my own digging on a regular basis. So, I use Google most prominently.

Every leader is…

Every leader is critical to the future of the organization. Without solid and effective leadership, no organization will be successful. So, regardless of how many people you lead, regardless of if you’re an individual contributing in a position, we have natural leaders that stand up in situations. If you want to move forward in your career, you’ve got to find ways to just do that by default. If you get in the room with other senior PR practitioners or people across other functions, even if you’re sitting in the cheap seats, if you don’t say anything or engage and you just become part of the furniture, you’re doing yourself a disservice, particularly as a public relations practitioner. Have questions, have things to say, do your research, and become a good business practitioner so that you can become part of the conversation.

What is the lesson that took you longest to learn?

How I show up every day; being mindful of how I show up and how I come across to people, what my mood is that day, and how I’m engaging with people. Being very aware of that. Not everybody is self-aware. Sometimes they just come into the universe and they just project, in a way. And it’s not always helpful, even when you think at the surface that you’re doing great and that people love you. That’s particularly why I love for people to do 360-degree reviews, so that you can get real anonymous feedback about how you’re showing up on a regular basis. The first one I ever did literally changed my career and how I showed up. If I had continued on the previous track, I don’t think I would have gotten to where I got to in my career.

What are some habits in your daily routine that you feel strengthen your leadership skills?

Be a career learner, a forever learner. You never know enough. You can always learn from everybody 360 degrees around you. I have an old gray beard in public relations now; I’ve led teams; I’ve worked with CEOs; I’ve done work with boards of directors; I’ve had a lot of great experience, but in areas like social media, data science, etc., I am definitely not as smart as somebody who just got out of college. I learn from younger people all the time. And my ego will tell me, ‘You know what, just shut up and listen sometimes and ask questions, and let them be the expert that they are and teach you what you don’t know.’