Four Counterintuitive Behaviors of the Most Successful Thought Leaders

Mark DiMassimo, Founder and Chief Creative for DiMassimo Goldstein (DiGo)

Successful thought leadership takes more than just thinking. It requires thinking differently.

If you’re thinking the same, you’re following. And, if you aren’t thinking differently, you are blending in. In other words, disappearing.

Invisible matter may dominate the universe, but the invisibles have played no role in the history of leadership. So, how do you stand up — and out — amid the current noise? We have studied the most influential thought leaders and, while you can read endless posts and listen to years of podcasts about what they do, what distinguishes the most successful thought leaders are the things they do not do.

Following are four principles to plot your own distinctive and leader-carved path:

Leaders don’t follow their customers.

Google wasn’t founded because people were dissatisfied with Yahoo and Netscape. Jeff Bezos didn’t launch Amazon because people were frustrated with bookstores and libraries, nor did he expand beyond books because customers were asking for it. If Amazon had asked customers what they wanted from Amazon, the company would still be a bookstore.

Similarly, understanding what your audience is searching for through a search-engine optimization (SEO) strategy is necessary, but not sufficient, in driving successful thought leadership. It can help you address your audience’s concepts and language, but it won’t make you captivating. And, it certainly won’t ensure you add value to the bottomless content that is already available online. To achieve this, you must develop a strong point-of-view, unique theme, beat, and messaging architecture; in short, your personal brand. Embrace the opportunity to challenge your audience instead of being popular, providing them with genuine and unparalleled value.

Leaders don’t follow their competitors. 

At the height of the PC boom, there were thousands of PC companies. If Apple had studied IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell for best practices, there would be no Apple. Instead, Apple pursued a vision that was at-odds with the overall industry’s most-tech-for-the-buck ethos. Instead, Apple set out to create stunning consumer products, and that difference made all the difference.

“Best practices” are a pitfall, not a cure-all. Again, the most valuable work in marketing — as well as thought leadership in marketing — is “different.” If you chase the competition, you will never catch them. You cannot be afraid to fall short on some measures in order to be thrillingly different. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which quickly became one of the most iconic children’s television series in history, was nothing like any previous TV entertainment for kids. What do people remember today? Be purposely different, and wear earned criticism as a badge of excellence.

Leaders aren’t different just for the sake of it.

To survive as your industry develops, focus on differences – as well as distinctiveness. Ben & Jerry’s in ice cream. Apple in technology. Zappos in e-commerce. Anything that is highly successful will be copied, so build something that cannot be easily replicated.

For a season, Seth Godin wrote beyond his marketing core. Soon enough, he came back with This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See, and Godin followed it up with other marketing books. His excellent writing, packaging, and publishing weren’t enough to ensure the same level of popularity beyond the subject he dominates. As a savvy marketer, he recognized that.

Leaders don’t follow technology.

Instead of following the latest tech, anticipate it. New business models are being created inside apps. People and companies are using app experiences to change industries and lives, enabling personalized experiences like never before. Wellness brands like WW (formerly Weight Watchers) deliver personalized, social, and inspiring experiences through innovative apps that offer meaningful and engaging experiences.

Most people want to keep getting better at the things they know. Innovators try the new thing, emerging technology, the platform that’s still in beta. What’s the chance you will create the most read blog in the world, or even in your own industry? You are more likely to win the lottery. On the other hand, what if you were one of the first in your industry on a new platform? New platforms make new stars. Experiment with new ways of getting your message across. Be the leader in “thought leadership” by betting on yourself.

About the Author: Mark DiMassimo is founder and Chief Creative for DiMassimo Goldstein (DiGo), the industry-leading brand, advertising, and design agency in positive behavior-change marketing. Brand clients include WW (formerly Weight Watchers), SodaStream, Samsung, Echelon, Pfizer, and CVS Health, among many others across various industries. DiGo drives growth for life-changing brands by helping consumers make inspiring decisions and form empowering habits.

Hispanic PR Leaders Share Vision of a Multicultural Communications Future


The members of HPRA look to highlight Hispanic heritage in the communications industry as the industry organization launches its 2021 ¡BRAVO! Awards.

Ted Kitterman

The Hispanic Public Relations Association, a partner with Communications Week, is once again looking to highlight the contributions of Hispanic communicators after its awards programs went on hiatus during COVID-19.

The 2021 HPRA National ¡BRAVO! Awards will highlight the best of the best, and we wanted to hear from some members of the Hispanic community about how their heritage has influenced their comms careers and how they see the future of the industry.

Sonia Diaz, HPRA national president & senior vice president with Balsera Communications and Carla Santiago, GM for Edelman Miami, both former recipients of a ¡BRAVO! Award in past years, shared some of their takeaways with us via email.

Sonia Diaz

PR Daily: What’s the most important lesson you have learned in your career as a PR pro?

Diaz: No amount of technology will ever replace the value of forming true and meaningful relationships with clients, media, partners or colleagues.

Santiago: Always treat people with respect—and treat yourself as a brand.

Continue reading here…

The Velocity Mindset: How Leaders Eliminate Resistance, Gain Buy-in, and Achieve Better Results—Faster

CommPRO Editorial Staff

What would the world be like if everyone acted like a  leader and not a victim of circumstance? And everyone knows what qualities define a good  leader, but how many of us know the steps to become a great leader? Sales and leadership  expert and speaker Ron Karr answers these questions and more in The Velocity Mindset: How Leaders Eliminate Resistance, Gain Buy-in, and Achieve Better Results—Faster (Amplify  Publishing; May 11, 2021). 

A follow-up to the critically acclaimed Lead, Sell, or Get Out of the Way (Wiley, 2009) and an  Amazon bestseller, The Velocity Mindset outlines Karr’s secret formula for success: a  balance of speed and direction, both of which must remain in alignment. Karr calls this the  Velocity Mindset®—a modern methodology for personal and professional achievement that he has shared with organizations across six continents. 

Whether you are in the entry-level stage of your career, a seasoned manager, or just  looking to make a personal change, The Velocity Mindset provides the tools needed for  success and demonstrates how taking time to PAUSE and visualize a desired outcome can propel you forward and positively influence those around you. 

Deemed “an extraordinary roadmap for leadership with a fresh, practical, and motivational  perspective” by New York Times bestselling author Jay Baer, the book draws upon Karr’s  thirty-plus years of experience and personal anecdotes in order to create an “easy-to-read,  relatable, and instructive guide for those professionals looking to hone their leadership  skills” (Julie Roehm, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at Party City). 

With the help of a widely recognized leading sales and business development expert, learn  strategies to eliminate resistance, gain buy-in, and achieve better results—faster. This book  is for anybody looking to achieve greater success in their career and life. The Velocity Mindset is on sale now.

Leadership Is More About What You Relinquish Than What You Hold Tight

Bessie Kokalis Pescio, Vice President, Global Internal Communications at Philip Morris International

There’s a lot of talk right now about the caliber of leadership required to guide employees through the debris left by a global pandemic. With the workplace in a chapter of rapid change, and many employees still working remotely while others return to the physical office, the characteristics that will unify today’s great leaders are fairness, resilience, and self-awareness. Effective leaders are direct when they need to be. They take risks and know how to build a team.  Above all, they are humble, empathetic, reflective. 

On this last point, I’ll admit there may be some incongruity in what’s been expected from men and women leaders in the past. Societal norms have led many of us to believe that women need to be, first and foremost, nice, and that when we’re in positions of power, we must take pains not to be perceived as emotional or weak. 

The pandemic has invited both men and women leaders to demonstrate what may once have been considered feminine traits, such as warmth, grace, and kindness. Women no longer need to act like men to survive in the business world. Women should just be the leaders we are. Rather than talking about what it takes for a man or a woman to succeed, the conversation we should be having is about the behaviors we all need to adopt to succeed in a leadership position. Period. 

What I’ve learned is that, in many cases, great leadership is really as simple as trusting your people to do their work. Empowerment is a nice buzzword to throw around these days, but not many people really know that to truly empower your employees—versus simply delegating things to them—make them directly accountable for something. When people feel like they own something, they begin to contribute meaningfully to a greater goal.

I had an experience many years ago with a leader that I think is a perfect example of this. A controversy broke out about one of our R&D facilities and employee morale was taking a hit. I’ll never forget what my boss said when I brought the situation to his attention. Without missing a beat, he turned to me and said, with the right tone and intensity, “Okay, what are you going to do about it?” 

This was one of the most vivid moments of empowerment in my career. He could have said, “This is what we’re going to/what we should do/who we should call.” Instead, he felt gave me an opportunity to lead through a crisis. By putting the onus on me, it created trust and helped me grow. Because depending upon where a person is in their career, they are either are up for a challenge like that or they’re not. Until you give your employees opportunities for growth, you’ll never know what they’re capable of. 

Empowerment also means picking and choosing when to step in and say, “Okay, we’re going to fix this together,” and then leading a team member through that. It’s about doing this in such a way that they can learn to find answers themselves. Teach them to self-correct. This builds confidence both ways—between leader and team member. 

Finally, great leaders have clarity in common. All the more difficult to come by now that we’re so digitally connected, clarity requires time to decompress. Do this by getting your yoga or kickboxing in or taking a run. Whatever works for you; it doesn’t have to be about movement. Rather, it could be about stillness. It could be finding 15 minutes a day to meditate or to have a cup of coffee while you sit and think about the world around you. Be unapologetically selfish about it. 

Empowering yourself in these ways will also empower those around you, and empowered people make for great leaders. 

About the Author: Bessie heads up PMI’s global internal communications team at Philip Morris International (PMI) based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her focus is to engage the 77,000 employees across the organization as PMI transitions its business toward better alternatives for adult smokers on the road to delivering a smoke-free future. In her 15-year career with the company, she’s worked in multiple functions including research & development, sales, commercial planning, and communications. Before joining PMI, she worked as a healthcare consultant and as a linguist. She studied French literature and political science and holds an MBA. She’s an avid runner, practices yoga regularly, and is currently reading about Renaissance art and working on her Italian.

Women Leaders on the Rise Leadership Program Addresses Research Showing Women Get Stuck at Bottom of Career Ladder

Leslie Grossman

Men outnumber women nearly 2 to 1 in reaching the first rung of the corporate ladder according to research in the fifth annual Women in the Workplace study by McKinsey & Co and Lean In. The study also states that women are not held back by either lack of ambition, or a desire to start a family, but by the fact that most employers are not cultivating female managers early in their careers at the same rate as men.

To address this problem, the Women Leaders on the Rise leadership program is being launched in July at The George Washington University’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership. The program will train young women in the workplace with leadership skills, as well as tools to address the obstacles they face while trying to climb the first rung of the corporate management ladder.

The Women Leaders on the Rise program will focus on practice areas that are most necessary for moving into management including (1) creating a vision for one’s career, (2) building influential relationships and networks, (3) effective communication skills, (4) executive presence, (5) cultivating a growth mindset, (6) building confidence, and (7) becoming resilient.



Program participants meet for two days from 9 am to 5 pm (ET) on July 21st and  22nd on Zoom.  The program includes live discussions, break-outs and networking, facilitated by GWU-CEPL Senior Fellow and Faculty Director Leslie Grossman, who is also author of the book “Link Out” (Wiley).  Participants have the option to implement their learning alongside their peers in an interactive Mastermind Group facilitated by Grossman, which meets 90 minutes monthly for 6 months following the completion of the program.

For more information or to register for Women Leaders on the Rise visit the website – 

or contact Leslie Grossman at or Kateryna Pyatybratova at       

We All Need Leadership Presence

Ronn Torossian On How to Lead Team Through Change

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

You are talented, skilled, and highly competent, with positive business results that have been responsible for your career progress to this point. What more could you possibly need?

At a certain level, the force that will catapult you to more senior positions of leadership may have less to do with the abilities that got you this far, and more to do with the impression you make. You may be knowledgeable, skilled, and innovative, but that doesn’t guarantee that others see you as the talented leader you authentically are.

The good news is that managing this impression doesn’t require you to fake or exaggerate. The goal of leadership presence is to align people’s impression of you with your authentic best self. It’s the art of better expressing those qualities you already possess. (BTW: As a speaker, author and leadership presence coach, I would be highly ineffective at helping people pretend to be something they’re not — but I am very good at helping people discover and project their genuine talents and potential.)

So let me ask you a question: How skilled are you at expressing your authentic Credibility, Confidence, Composure, Connection, and Charisma?

Credibility: Regardless of how credible you are, your communication style can strengthen or weaken people’s perception of your credibility. Attention spans are so short today that you have to be able to make your point in a way that’s both compelling and brief — and eliminate words (kind of, sort of, maybe, um, er, uh) and phrases like “This may be a bad idea, but . . .” or “You probably already thought of this, but . . .” which reduce the positive impact of whatever statement follows.

Confidence: When it comes to looking confident, your body language plays a major part in how people perceive you. To appear as your confident best, remember to stand and sit with good posture — shoulders squared, head straight, arms slightly away from your torso, feet flat on the floor if seated and about shoulder-width apart if standing. Posture is especially important in a virtual environment where your body language makes an instantaneous statement about your authority and personal power. A side benefit is that good posture not only makes you appear more confident, it also makes you feel more grounded and self-assured.

Composure: You may be presented with unwanted interruptions, tough questions, or personal attacks — and all these can be challenging situations for even the most senior leaders. To retain your composure, don’t be blindsided. Anticipate what is likely to occur and prepare to respond appropriately. And when you encounter a situation you’d hadn’t prepared for, remember to stop and take a slow breath before responding. By staying poised under pressure, you appear reliable, capable, and in control — all qualities that people look for in a leader.

Connection: Your ability to connect with others has everything to do with how you make people feel. The goal of leadership today is to get others to willingly engage and collaborate, and that means creating work environments where people feel safe and valued. As one Silicon Valley CEO told me: “There is absolutely nothing wrong with command and control leadership. It’s simply irrelevant in the 21st century.” That’s why your ability to show empathy and make genuine connections is such a powerful element in projecting leadership presence.

Charisma: The fact is you already have charismatic qualities that are waiting to be revealed in order to showcase your unique character and talents. Strengthening your personal brand of charisma begins with embracing and expressing your core values and by appreciating and being grateful for all that you have to offer to your organization and the world.

5 Body Language Hacks that Make You Look Like a LeaderAbout the Author: I offer keynote speeches, webinars, and one-on-one coaching sessions. For more information, please email: or phone: 1-510-526-1727. My website is:

Edelman Announces Major Leadership Changes: Promotes Russell Dubner & Lisa Osborne Ross

CommPRO Editorial Staff

Edelman has named Russell Dubner global vice chairman and chair of the Edelman Trust Institute and Lisa Osborne Ross CEO of Edelman’s U.S. operation.

In a new role for the firm, Dubner will lead three key planks of the firm’s global agenda: corporate development, encompassing M&A and venture investments, alliances and partnerships, and the newly formed Edelman Trust Institute. He will report to Richard Edelman, Edelman CEO. Dubner will chair the firm’s Global Investment and Innovation Committees, continue to lead DJE Holdings’ sector-specialist agencies, Revere, Salutem, Edifi and Edible, and retain a portfolio of key client relationships.

“Edelman’s post-Covid agenda will be marked by reinvention, focused investment and bold entrepreneurialism. This is the perfect moment to elevate Russell’s talents as an innovator, leader and natural investor,” said Edelman. “Russell will play a pivotal role in this transformative chapter for the firm as we leapfrog forward in data and analytics and advance trust as a key lever for businesses, brands and leaders.”

Dubner also will launch and oversee Edelman’s Trust Institute, a center for the study of trust and a learning laboratory for trust building between companies, institutions, brands and people. In this capacity, Dubner will oversee the evolution of Edelman’s suite of trust advisory and data service offerings.

“Edelman is poised to take an assertive and disruptive stance,” said Dubner. “We are on the move, and we will fuel our momentum with acquisitions, inventive partnerships, investments in talent and technology. I am hugely energized by the opportunity to redefine what it means to be a global communications agency and fully embrace our leadership mantle in trust.”

Dubner, who served as U.S. President and CEO for the past six years, has long been at the forefront of agency-shaping moves. He pushed the U.S. business into both advisory services for the C-suite and integrated marketing work for brands. Dubner directed moves into CommsTech, influencer marketing, performance and business marketing, as well as a reformulation of Edelman Financial. Under his tenure, Edelman was recognized by the Ad Age A-list for Creativity in 2019.

Dubner serves on the board of directors of SprintRay and The Center for an Urban Future. He is a member of YPO’s Gotham Chapter, a founding member of PTTOW, GenNext and on the advisory committee of CEO Action for Racial Equity.

Lisa Osborne Ross Named U.S. CEO of Edelman

Ross, who is currently U.S. COO, will succeed Dubner as the U.S. CEO, overseeing the firm’s largest region comprised of 2,360 people in 13 offices. She will report to Global President and COO Matthew Harrington. She was named PRWeek’s Agency Professional of the Year last month and was inducted into the publication’s Hall of Femme in 2020.

“In the four years since Lisa joined Edelman, she has made an incredible impact on the firm, particularly through her empathetic leadership during Covid and the tragic aftermath of George Floyd’s murder,” said Harrington. “She is a champion of our people, and expansive in her ability to provide senior counsel to clients and drive operations. Lisa is an exemplary leader for extraordinary times, and her many talents will take the U.S. business forward from a position of strength.”

As COO of the U.S., Ross led Edelman’s Covid Task Force and was a highly sought-after client counselor and speaker regarding high-performance workplaces and operating through Covid. Ross was instrumental in establishing Edelman’s Racial Justice Task Force after George Floyd’s murder last May. The Task Force has since counseled more than 400 clients on DEI and multicultural outreach engagements that are helping to dismantle systemic racism and drive equity. She also helped develop several Edelman Trust Barometer special reports on the role brands must play in combatting racial injustice in America. Ross has been a leading voice in public affairs within the agency, continued to specialize in issues management, and has become a favored counsel to the C-suite.

“The complexity of issues at this time in our world requires a diverse, thoughtful, culturally competent team to deliver counsel. That is what I’ve found at Edelman and what I hope to drive more of as CEO,” said Ross. “Edelman’s belief that it can create movements that impact the world is what inspires me and draws me to this position. The opportunity to lead with that belief is the culmination of what has been a really fortunate and blessed career for me.”

An industry, government and White House veteran, Ross joined Edelman as president of the D.C. office. In that role she helped advance Edelman’s prominence in public affairs, crisis, brand, digital and multicultural.

In 2019, she was named one of the Most Influential Women in Corporate America by Savoy Magazine. Ross was also an honoree for Washington Women Who Mean Business (2018) and a Diversity Champion by the PR Council (2017). She co-founded and led the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fund grassroots organizations addressing the critical needs of women and young girls through essential services and training throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Ross serves on numerous boards, including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Meridian International Center and PRSA Foundation. She is also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

From Internship to Leadership, or the Road from an Intern to Managing Director in 10 years

Roxana Diba is the New Managing Director of Golin Romania

CommPRO Editorial Staff

Roxana Diba

Starting May 2021, Roxana Diba will be the new Managing Director of Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG) agency Golin, one of the main PR agencies in Romania. The management team is completed by Cristina Butunoi, who will become the agency’s Deputy Managing Director. After ten years spent in Golin, of which the last four in a management position, Irina Roncea steps back from the agency. 

“Our organizational culture is built around people, and the most eloquent example is Roxana, who joined Golin 10 years ago as an intern, and today takes over the management of the company,” said Veronica Savanciuc, President & CEO of Lowe Group. “I have great confidence in the new management team, which is responsible for carrying on the story of dozens of successful brands – those of our clients; and dozens of passionate people – the Golin team. I thank Irina for these years of success and lessons learned together, and for her significant contribution to consolidating Golin as a market and people builder.”

“My professional path is synonymous with Golin, and this means having had the privilege of developing long-term relationships with our clients, but especially the opportunity to learn and build with the best people,” said Diba. “In addition, I am proud of being a part of a team that has set performance standards, relies on a culture based of mutual support, and enjoys that enviable having fun at work. I am excited about this new chapter, and I am happy to team up with Cristina who has a lot to offer both as a person and as a professional.”

Cristina Butunoi joined Golin in March 2020 as Head of Corporate. With 20 years of experience in corporate and consumer communication, communication with authorities, and the non-profit sector, Cristina’s expertise covers multiple areas, such as energy, banking, industry, retail, real estate, IT, pharmacy, and FMCG. 

“My first year in Golin overlapped with the pandemic, therefore with a lot of remote work, which wasn’t an impediment, on the contrary – this context brought us closer than I would have thought,” said Butunoi. “I was happy from the beginning to find an extraordinary team and clients with whom we share the same solid values, and I am glad we can write the Golin story together.” 

“In all these years, I had the privilege of working with talented, motivated, and passionate people, who have inspired each other and have built meaningful initiatives and projects for other people,” said Roncea. “I believe that Golin’s success will continue to be fuelled by this strong trio of leadership, mentorship, and strong values, and I know that the Golin team and its clients are in the best hands.” 

Golin consolidated its leading position in the local communication industry by securing the #1 place in the Top of PR Agencies in Romania in 2020. Golin is also the only agency that ranked number one at five of the eight editions of Biz PR Awards, while also achieving the record to maintain the first place for four consecutive years. In 2020, the agency’s campaigns also received recognition at the In2Sabre Awards, and the Golin network was again named Global Agency of the Year at the PRWeek Global Awards 2020. Golin’s expertise in social media and influencer marketing led to establishing The Bridge, the first integrated digital and social media hub of a local PR agency. As a result, the agency’s digital and social media campaigns gained recognition every year at awards festivals, and Golin became number one in the top of best agencies to collaborate with, as voted by bloggers in Romania. Golin is the only agency in Romania that has developed an owned tool that analyzes the evolution of social media and digital trends: the annual Digital Recap Report, has reached the 10th edition this year. 

Celebrating Female Leaders Everywhere

rbb Communications

rbb Communications is a woman-owned, integrated agency in South Florida, that has rapidly grown from a seven-person boutique to the largest agency in Florida. With Women’s History Month being a time to admire and learn from the achievements of female leaders everywhere, we asked our own powerful women, that have brought rbb success, what inspires and drives them.

  • What is a “first” that you, or a woman in your family, accomplished?

o    “My mother was the first woman to be a high school math teacher at an all-boys Catholic  school. In a setting where the rest of the teachers were priests and there were no female students, she really stood out.” – Christine Barney, CEO and Managing Partner 

o    “My grandmother was the first in her family to live by herself, in a home she owned, with no husband or boyfriend there to help make the mortgage payments. Granted, my great grandfather (her father) had to co-sign as banks still required that for non-married female homeowners. It was an accomplishment nonetheless.” – Jeanine Karp, Vice President and Partner 

o    “I am the first woman in my family who has left the continent and traveled by choice.” – Valeria Mendoza, Account Manager 

  • Who is a trailblazing woman, in history or current times, that you look up to?

o    “Tamora Pierce, a high fantasy author who built her career on crafting strong female characters that proves women are powerful and can do anything. She didn’t sugar coat it. Maybe these characters had to work twice as hard as the men, but the point was   they could do it   and they didn’t have to give up their female identities.” – Liz Prats, Account Manager 

o    “Amal Clooney – she’s a celebrated humanitarian, a high-powered barrister, has brains, beauty and an enviable wardrobe. Despite juggling family life and a big career, she shows no signs of slowing down. #bo$$lady.” – Ailys Toledo, Senior Account Executive 

o    “Sheryl Sandberg. Not only does she have an impressive resume, she encourages women to venture into stereotypically male careers, has spearheaded a campaign to remove negative terms aimed at women in power and wrote Lean In, encouraging women to achieve their goals.” – Christine Parsons, Account Manager 

o    “Having studied ancient history, I was always interested in hearing about powerful women in those times. Queen Hatshepsut stands out – the first female pharaoh in the history of Egypt to rule with real power. Her successor tried, and failed, to erase her from the history books (destroying statues, carving over wherever her name was written). People like her are a testament to the impact women have made on history from the very start – despite historical records sometimes indicating otherwise.” – Sarah Fenaughty, Account Executive

  • What does it mean to work for a woman-owned and led business? 

o    “It’s a great source of pride. A living and tangible example for my daughter that strong, smart females can achieve anything.” – Jeanine Karp, Vice President and Partner

o    “It means less stress about having to prove my value. The reality is that the business world is still very dominated by males. So, working at a women-led organization removes a little bit of the concern of having to push past stereotypes and/or gender based issues. It’s very freeing for me to be able to focus solely on my work and not how I am perceived or fighting to get a voice due to my gender. So simply put, for me it means professional freedom.” – Andrea Hurtado, Integrated Marketing Manager 

o    “Most small businesses fail.  Being a woman-owned business that succeeds shows that gender should have no role in business. Let’s keep creating a world of equality and inclusiveness.” – Christine Barney, CEO and Managing Partner

Diversity Action Alliance Announces New Leadership Team for 2021

CommPRO Editorial Staff

The Diversity Action Alliance (DAA), a cross-industry coalition dedicated to increasing recruitment, retention, and representation in management for people of color and other under-represented groups in the communications field, announced today the addition of three newly elected leaders for its board of directors.

The DAA board, comprising communications industry leaders and DE&I experts, will be led by:

  • DAA Board Chair: Dr. Denise Hill, Associate Professor at Elon University’s School of Communications
  • DAA Board Vice-Chair: Charlene Wheeless, Principal at Charlene Wheeless, LLC & Senior Advisor Equity & Justice APCO Worldwide
  • DAA Board Treasurer: Dr. Candace Steele Flippin, Chief Communications Officer, Acuity Brands

 “Denise, Charlene and Candace are among the most respected and influential leaders in the communications field and share a deep passion for diversity, equity and inclusion in our profession,” said Patrick Ford, immediate past DAA co-chair and professional in residence at the University of Florida. “The Alliance’s vitally important mission – to be a catalyst for tangible, measurable, and long-overdue action on building a truly diverse and inclusive PR profession – will benefit enormously from the leadership of this dynamic team.”

Dr. Denise Hill said, “The Diversity Action Alliance is focused on creating much-needed change in the communications industry, and I’m excited to continue promoting the acceleration of diversity and inclusion in communications by serving as Board Chair alongside these respected industry leaders.” 

Carmella Glover Promoted to President

The DAA board also announced the promotion of Carmella Glover from Executive Director to President of the DAA. In this new role, Glover will continue to drive forward the organization’s mission, including day-to-day oversight of strategic initiatives, programming and fundraising.

“We’ve seen progress toward our vision, but still have work to do to ensure greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the communications industry,” said Glover. “The DAA thanks Patrice Tanaka and Pat Ford for their tremendous leadership and we look forward to partnering with Denise, Charlene, and Candace to continue the critical work of the DAA.”

About the Diversity Action Alliance

The Diversity Action Alliance (DAA) is a coalition of Public Relations and communications leaders joining forces to accelerate progress in the achievement of meaningful and tangible results in diversity, equity and inclusion across our profession. The DAA’s goal is to achieve continuous improvement for Black professionals as measured by recruitment, retention and representation at all levels. For more information about the Diversity Action Alliance, visit

Five Ways to Nurture Positive Leadership, Offer Hope and Help Others

Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., Leadership Expert and Co-Author, “Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition” 

Inclusiveness is a key leadership skill. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was exceptional at being inclusive. All leaders can learn from Dr. King’s use of positive leadership and expressions of hope. Leaders who nurture inclusiveness among employees often experience significant long-term benefits to commitment and productivity too.

Inclusiveness means to accept and recognize people’s differences, relish their perspectives, and establish a “village” where people feel valued and trusted. You can’t begin to make people feel included if you don’t know them. Inclusiveness means finding ways to connect with people. A leader must learn to manage tasks and job responsibilities and find ways to help people at the same time. Here are five leadership qualities that offer hope and positive support:

1)  Listen Deeply. We listened deeply when we were children. Unfortunately, when we become adults many of us stop hearing. We focus instead on talking about our own ideas and ourselves, all the while neither listening nor asking questions. We all need to jump-start our deep listening abilities and recover this lost skill. How do we renew and improve our deep listening? Ask other people questions! If you really practice dialogue, you hold your judgments aside and you listen to somebody else.

2)  Use lots of specific and enthusiastic praise. The more detailed and descriptive the praise, the better. Most praise is too general, and because of this, doesn’t build self-esteem or motivate learning. Many people will simply say, “You look great” or “Good work” or “You did a terrific job on that presentation.” Their praise is generic; they’ve forgotten to add any specific information. Also, put a WOW in your voice and praise with enthusiasm. The difference in its impact will surprise you! Praise is not something given occasionally or on a part-time basis, but continuously, every chance you get. And don’t wait to extend your praise. Give it quickly or soon after it is due.

3)  Reach out to another person. A little compassionate asking, listening and reaching out is sometimes all that’s really needed to create a feeling of belonging or community. Try to see other people’s perspectives and interests. Incorporate their traditions and ideas into the final mix. 

4)  Begin a legacy of giving and service now. A giving mindset says: let me try to make the world more beautiful.  It can be as simple as walking an older colleague across a busy street, or helping a team member prepare for a speech—or as difficult as speaking one’s mind and conscience on a controversial topic, or spearheading a campaign to offer a regular breakfast and shelter to the homeless in one’s neighborhood. 

5)  Treat each other with kindness. Talk together—when the time is just right—about the importance of kindness and what it looks like.  It can be as simple as “Hi!,” a smile, or “How are you feeling?” Look for ways to show kindness to others who may be especially needy—a friend, a neighbor, or sick or elderly person at work—then take a friend or village or team member along as you carry them out. Find the opportunity to talk to others: Is there anyone who needs a kind thought or act? How about the person who is “different”?  How about the person who is difficult?  Even if one doesn’t feel like being kind, there is value in doing it anyway—because the kind act itself can change the feeling that follows. Help others see that kindness can make all the difference in someone’s life, yet it’s so easy to do! 

Susan Smith KuczmarskiAbout the Author: Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., is the co-founder of Kuczmarski Innovation which provides thought leadership on innovation, culture, management and values. She is the author of 6 awarding-winning books, including 3 on leadership. Her just-released Lifting People Up: The Power of Recognition (co-authored with Tom Kuczmarski) shares techniques to cultivate and motivate people. Apples Are Square: Thinking Differently About Leadership describes six innovative leadership qualities. Her research, speaking, teaching and training workshops have made her a leading expert on leadership.


HPL Leadership 2021 Outlook: Looming Challenges, New Opportunities and Cautious Optimism

Hot Paper Lantern

While this year has presented many unique challenges for communications professionals, it has also brought new opportunities. We asked our leadership team what they predict the next year will look like. Here’s what they had to say:

“2021 will continue to affect how we work, collaborate and spend time together as Americans. We will continue to live in this closed-off COVID-19 world for the first 6-9 months, until the vaccine has seen widespread use. Then, the workplace and how we experience each other, customers and colleagues in closer quarters will be supercharged for a brief time period. This is because of the need and void that exists and how strongly the urge to come back together will be. 

The net result will be many new/added conferences, meetings, events and a host of other ways people can come in contact with each other to build opportunities and business. 

Eventually, life will change, creating a middle ground because technology has allowed us to operate effectively in a virtual world. But, the initial mad rush to see and experience people close up will be like nothing we’ve ever experienced before throughout the latter half of 2021.”

Ed Moed, CEO

“Taking a page from Charles Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities,” 2021 will be the best of times and the worst of times. The worst of times during the first half of the year will be plagued by the rapid and unchecked spread of COVID-19. Infections, deaths and lockdowns will soar as the country awaits the mass roll-out of the vaccine – all of which will place additional strain on the U.S. healthcare system and economy. However, as vaccine deployment reaches a tipping point where society and the economy can resume more normal operations, which I anticipate will be sometime during Q3, consumers will unleash pent-up demand and spending in what some are predicting will resemble the Roaring ‘20s. This dichotomy between the best and worst of times – and the speed in which it is likely to happen — will create challenges and opportunities for brands like never experienced before. 

With some surveys showing that a majority of Americans are hesitant or afraid to take the vaccine, the public relations industry will play a central role in educating the public, assuaging fears and convincing people that the vaccine is safe and viable. The stakes will be high and the risk of failure will loom large for those who wade into these waters, but it’s also a huge opportunity for the industry (and those who take the lead) to showcase the impact of strategic communications in what is arguably the most significant campaign of our lifetimes.” 

Ted Birkhahn, President 

“Corporate purpose, as an anchor to build out feel good initiatives that serve to better the world is, without a doubt, essential. In 2021, with the tenor of uncertainty and mistrust, purpose must also have meaning. Individuals – be they employees, customers, partners or prospects – have wants and needs that have shifted. People may or may not want to know your purpose; but people need to see that you mean what you say. 

Actions will be rewarded. Words will not. And words that are not supported by positive and direct actions will render purpose meaningless.” 

Mike Friedin, Chief Strategy Officer  

“Leadership communications and actions around mental and physical health – for employees, customers, partners and themselves – will remain at the top of list of 2021 priorities. Pandemic fatigue and prolonged challenges will test that focus and commitment but keeping that at the core of all actions and decisions will strengthen resolve, perseverance, creativity and performance in 2021.”    

Sara Whitman, Chief People Officer

Our outlook for what lies ahead is cautiously optimistic for the marketing and communications industry. The first half of the year will likely present similar challenges to those we have faced throughout 2020, however, this will dramatically shift as vaccines continue to roll out. Mental and physical health will continue to be paramount for informing leadership communication strategies, and corporate purpose will be centered around organizations’ actions, not promises.  

What are your 2021 predictions for the communications industry?

Inclusive Leadership


Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR

As if the pandemic wasn’t enough to keep leaders up at night. Tragic events earlier this year and mounting pressure also have leaders seeking ways to be more inclusive. Many companies have since ramped up their diversity and equality initiatives and programs. This year, the difference is that many of the changes are operational and reflect a commitment to rebuilding diversity structures that will endure.

The killings of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor earlier this year sparked emotional worldwide protests. But like all reactions to tragic events, they eventually die down and often disappear. These moments transformed many companies into movements that will have a long-lasting effect on hiring, training, and succession planning. But what else might leaders in these organizations do to perpetuate positive change?

A cornerstone to this type of initiative is building and maintaining trust among employees, shareholders, and customers. Many of the companies that initiated diversity changes in their organizations brought in people the skills to successfully transform the transformation.

As marketer Alexei Orlov says, “These components of trust went a long way in these hires. Competence and whether the person hired to install and lead the program could do what they were hired to do was one. Another was communication skills. Could they be trusted to be transparent and candid, but yet discreet? And finally, could they be trusted to be dependable and follow through, so people knew they were reliable? Value those who exhibit trustworthy behavior.”

Listening and learning are important. Inclusive leaders should ask a lot of questions. Not only does doing so engage others, but it also gives them an understanding that their leader doesn’t have all the answers and is open to other ideas and suggestions. AT&T executives did a successful listening tour among its employees earlier this year before launching its new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative (DEI) and sharing it with its workforce.

One of the changes implemented at AT&T after announcing its new DEI initiative included holding its employees to higher standards. DEI is now a part of employee performance evaluations. Employees are incentivized to do better with DEI and penalized if they don’t as part of this new standard.

Even while introducing new initiatives around DEI, leaders should be truly inclusive, which even means listening to people who don’t share the same ideas or values. This kind of empathy can be difficult but is important for leaders who wish to “walk the talk” about DEI. And it will be a shining example for others to follow.

Change can sometimes be difficult and may take time in some organizations, but leaders must continue to communicate openly and frequently with their staff. Openly sharing thoughts or personal feelings about inclusion can be extremely powerful, and leaders should use them when possible. Not every employee can be expected to be on the same learning curve when it comes to equality, but keeping them informed and listening to them will produce positive results and a motivated workforce that will endure for a long time.

About the Author: Ronn Torossian is CEO of leading PR firm 5WPR.

The America Derby: How We Pick Leaders is More Like a Horse Race

Thomas J. Madden, Chairman and CEO, Transmedia Group

The contenders in this past America Derby were the favorites, “The Economy” (3 to 2) ridden by Donald Trump and “Pandemic” ridden by Joe Biden (2 to 1).  

Pandemic is the only horse with blinders while besides conventional hat and goggles jockey Biden proudly dons his signature facemask. Many horse race handicappers say if Trump wasn’t such a stubborn jockey, he could easily win if he wore a facemask too and kept distance from fans who made him a heavy favorite.

Other horses in this year’s America Derby were “Systemic Racism” (4 to 1); “Immigration” 10 to 1; “Juris Prudence” (6 to 1); “Supreme Court” (7 to 2); “Healthcare” (6 to 2); “Climate Change” (20 to 1); “Criminal Justice” (5 to 1); “Coronavirus Vaccine” (30 to 1); “Higher Taxes” (20 to 1); “Obama Care” (20 to 1); “Tariff Diplomacy” (20 to 1).


Health Care takes the lead followed by Supreme Court second, Obama Care third.  Then Juris Prudence, Climate Change and Criminal Justice. 

As they turn into the backstretch, coming up fast on the outside is Systemic Racism taking second place, Obama Care drops to third with Healthcare still in front by a furlong as we head into the homestretch.

Now Juris Prudence and Coronavirus Vaccine make their moves racing up to third and fourth place followed by Immigration, Tariff Diplomacy, then Supreme Court, The Economy and Pandemic.

Now heading into the homestretch, picking up speed The Economy moves up to third place with Pandemic a close second as the two are almost neck and neck heading to overtake the leader Healthcare.  

It’s a battle in the stretch with Pandemic and The Economy edging by Healthcare and racing neck and neck. They cross the finish line.

It’s Pandemic by a nose!

The winner is Pandemic, but wait a minute, there’s a flag, an objection so maybe Pandemic is not the winner as one of the judges says there was a foul committed against The Economy.  Something to do with mail-in ballots. Whatever that means.

We’ll have to see what happens after judges watch the film to decide if a foul was indeed committed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the judges have ruled the finish stands.  Pandemic is the winner.  And it’s just as the handicappers called it.  

If there was no Pandemic, The Economy would have won!  


Do You Have a Leadership Presence?

Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D

Leadership presence is a blending of attitudes, qualities, and behaviors that send all the right signals and makes you stand out from your peers.

But leadership presence isn’t automatically assigned to you because you have a leadership title, advanced technical skills, or a high-level of leadership potential — and it’s not necessarily an accurate reflection of your true qualities and talents.

Instead, leadership presence depends entirely on how other people evaluate you. (It’s what they say about you after you’ve left the room.) Knowing how to influence people’s perception of you requires a deep understanding of the impact of your appearance, your body language, your emotional state, and your communication style.

The good news is, leadership presence can be developed. Like any other skill set, it takes application and practice. But unlike other skills, even minor changes in verbal and nonverbal habits can have a major impact on people’s positive impression of you. To help you align people’s perception of you with your best authentic self, I wrote my latest book, STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

Throughout my speaking and coaching career, I’ve worked with thousands of wonderful, high-performing professionals, helping them project the qualities needed to advance their careers. Here are the five qualities of leadership presence: Credibility, Confidence, Composure, Connection, and Charisma.

Credibility: You may be knowledgeable, skilled, and innovative, but that doesn’t guarantee that others see you as the credible leader you authentically are.

Attention spans are so short today that you have to communicate in a way that’s both compelling and brief.

• One sure way to increase people’s perception of your credibility is to get to the point. (It’s a technique I call “start with the headline,” in which you start your conclusion first and fill in detail later.

• You can also practice stating your points simply and succinctly. Simplicity isn’t just a “nice to have” communication skill. It’s a necessity to be perceived as credible. If you ramble or beat around the bush, any hope of holding people’s attention is lost. A good test is to ask yourself: “In 10 words or less, what is my key message?” If you can’t state it succinctly to yourself, you are not ready to communicate it to others.

Confidence: Confidence is the trait most associated with leadership presence, and your body language can help send the right message.

• When you want to look your confident best, remember to stand and sit with good posture — shoulders squared, head straight, arms slightly away from your torso, feet flat on the floor if seated and about shoulder-width apart if standing. Posture is especially important in a virtual environment where your body language makes an instantaneous statement about your authority and personal power. A side benefit is that good posture not only makes you appear more confident, it also makes you feel more grounded and self-assured.

Composure: Staying poised under pressure can be difficult, but it is essential to projecting leadership presence. By keeping your composure in stressful situations, you appear reliable, capable, and in control — all qualities that people look for in a leader.

If you don’t have a strategy for dealing with high-stress situations, here’s what likely happens: That situation becomes the trigger for a reaction commonly known as the “flight or fight” response. As your body gets flooded with the “stress hormone,” cortisol, your heart rate increases, your breathing gets rapid and shallow, and your muscles tense. In addition, your amygdala (the emotional region of your brain) begins to override your prefontal cortex (the rational decision-making part of your brain). In other words, you literally lose your ability to think straight.

To unlink a trigger event from this self-defeating reaction, the moment you’re aware that you are in a stressful situation, mentally say the word “stop.” Then take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Instead of automatically reacting to the trigger event, pausing gives you the time needed to take back control and choose how to respond.

Connection: Your ability to connect with others has everything to do with how you make people feel. Which is why the most important skill for connection is empathetic listening.

If you already rank high in empathy, you gain a genuine professional advantage. If not, empathetic listening is a skill worth further developing. Here is what’s required:

• Be fully present. Put away all distractions and focus all your energy on what the what the other person is saying.

• Ask questions to make sure you understand: “Tell me more about this situation.” “Did I understand you to say (restate what you heard) . . .?

• Ignore the urge to prematurely offer your opinion or advice. Not everyone is looking for a solution. Often, people just want a “sounding board,” where they can safely express their feelings and ideas. Make sure someone wants your help before you offer it.

Charisma: When most people think of charisma, they picture a celebrity making a flamboyant entrance to command the attention of all those present. While that may be a fitting display of charisma for celebrities, it’s not realistic nor needed to project leadership presence. You can exude charisma without being flamboyant, extroverted, or commanding.

Charisma is a flow of energy that attracts people like a magnet – and you project this energy when you are genuinely enthused and engaged.

That’s why I wholeheartedly endorse preparing and rehearsing for an important presentation But when you are actually standing on stage or at the front of the meeting room, you’ll be more charismatic if you stop thinking about your technique. Instead, remember these two things:

1) When you are genuinely invested in what you’re saying, your body language automatically aligns with your words.

2) When you focus on the audience, rather than on yourself, you connect with them at a deeper, more personal, level.

You can’t avoid making an impression, but you can learn how to align the impression you make with your best authentic self. By understanding the five C’s of leadership presence, you can help people see you as the outstanding leader you truly are.

Author’s Note: This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and I give thanks for all of you who sign up for my newsletter, buy copies of my book, write reviews on Amazon, send me creative, beautiful, and funny photos of you with the book, and bring me to your audiences in webinars and interviews. I am so very grateful!

5 Body Language Hacks that Make You Look Like a LeaderAbout the Author: I offer keynote speeches, webinars, and one-on-one coaching sessions. For more information, please email: or phone: 1-510-526-1727. My website is:

“The Most Important Work of Our Careers” – Agency Leaders Find Unexpected Challenges and Lots of Opportunity in the Middle of the Pandemic

Britt Carter, President, TPC Growth

During a recent CommPRO Executive Roundtable, the mood was surprisingly upbeat. Just months before, this group, comprised of leaders and legends from across the PR agency world, was expressing an existential predicament: business disappearing, payroll and rent mounting, teams dissolving, and every day seemed to deliver another steaming GrubHub bucket of bad news.

This latest Roundtable was different. These leaders have adapted. They have built new ways to communicate with their clients and teams, and they have found creative ways to grow new client programs, all while keeping their cultures strong.

In attendance were:


Culture & Morale

We asked the panel to discuss morale, as at our previous meeting there were serious concerns about how their teams were holding up. What we heard is that, generally, morale is high.

People are feeling more confident in the stability of their careers and the prospects of a good career path. Agencies that managed to survive initial lockdowns and budget shocks have found a way to stabilize and even grow. The novelty (and frustrations) of Zoom have largely passed. Some agencies are focusing on making WFH not just productive, but fun. Of course there are the afternoon Zoom cocktails, but agencies are doing more, including WFH kits (white boards, brainstorm games and toys, even egg timers to remind folks to leave the screen and get some outside time), meal delivery gift cards, even school supplies for team members’ kids who are also stuck in their own limbo.

Also, those from larger agency networks have seen greater collaboration and sense of collegiality during the pandemic. The rules have changed, and the vibe is different now. The “in this together” is now a requirement rather than an aspiration.

A caution, pointed out by a number of our panelists, is that our people are overworked and don’t know how to disengage. WFH burnout is real. Most agencies are operating with smaller teams. In many cases, however, the workload has actually grown. Leaders have to work hard to push their people away from the screens.

New Business

Our group was clearly bullish on prospecting for new business. As many agencies adapt and pivot their business toward different offerings, clients are doing the same. Our panel was finding a greater receptiveness to introing a new capability or pursuing a category adjacency that may not have felt right in the past.

The point was also made that, as our agencies change we encounter new competition. So while we are knocking on new client doors, other agencies are pursuing our clients more aggressively.

Organic Growth

Since my partner Mark and I focus only on organic growth, we wanted to hear how our panelists were managing this part of their business. Most were finding opportunities with existing clients, often in the form of ancillary workstreams. Some of the ideas shared:

  • Adding “program management” fees to accounts. A surprising number of agencies don’t build this into SOWs. As those scopes get renewed, adding this line item boosts revenue and builds a stronger long-term relationship with the client.
  • Reputation and issues planning. Again, we find many clients don’t have an effective reputation management program. With market uncertainty comes reputational vulnerability. Offering to develop a plan, media train leadership, coordinate internal comms, etc., can boost the budget and demonstrate the agency’s broader capabilities.
  • Pick up the phone or send a Zoom invite. Within this ongoing weirdness, our panel finds that it’s easier to set up that intro call/zoom with a new contact within an existing client. There is greater receptivity for hearing from a new voice.

We’re Human

Likely the most widely (and certainly most heartwarming) sentiment expressed by the panel was that, during this strange and awful period, we have been reminded of our humanity. The pandemic has offered us a respite from the typical heads-down grind. Our collective bewilderment has inspired an outpouring of kindness.  In our group alone, fierce competitors have now become friends. Agency leaders are sharing ideas for clients, and for staff, that, in normal times, would have been held as state secrets.

The success of our industry depends on this mutual support. It extends to our clients, too. Our group is having conversations with clients that would have felt unprofessional, perhaps, in the past. We’re talking about our career anxieties and uncertainties about the future. Within this new dynamic, business is happening with a new, more human touch.

About: TPC Growth exists to be the go-to resource for agencies of all sizes and disciplines to discover and reveal pathways to organic growth while changing the mindset of an industry from being RFP-obsessed, to being proactive, opportunistic and in-tune with existing client partners that view an agency as an investment in their own growth strategy. 

Ken Jacobs Shares Nine Critical Leadership Traits for Today

Due to COVID19 it’s been more challenging than ever to lead: Our teams, our peers, our stakeholders, our leaders, and yes, ourselves. And it appears that these uncertain times will be here for a while longer.

As a result, the aforementioned groups are exhausted. You might be too.

But these times that can try people’s souls create your greatest leadership opportunity ever: The chance to become that effective leader that these groups need and want you to be, right now!

You don’t have to do it alone. I’ve created our second leadership e-Book, “Nine Critical Leadership Traits For Today”  to give you insights, strategies, and tips to empower you to navigate through these uncertain times, and whatever challenges may come your way as a leader.

They’re based on interviews I conducted with respected leaders, research I uncovered, and my own views about leadership honed over decades as an agency leader and leadership coach.

Just click on the icon on the above image to download your complimentary copy. I hope it brings you value and helps you on your path to more effective leadership.

Click here to register to for Ken’s new e-Book.

Looking for more reading on leadership? Find my first e-Book here.

Perhaps the Largest Failure of Leadership in U.S. History

Helio Fred Garcia discusses: Contrasts in Leadership: Cuomo v. TrumpHelio Fred Garcia

Leaders are judged based on how they deal with their most difficult challenges.

Inspired leaders rise to the occasion and ignite and inspire their people to a common purpose. Ineffective or malign leaders fail to rise to the challenges before them, and almost always make matters even worse.

In two of my books – The Agony of Decision and Reputation Management – I describe the ten most common mis-steps in crisis response.

Crisis Mis-Steps #1 & #2

The most common mis-step is to ignore or deny a problem.

In the aftermath of the U.S. government’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina, the late General Electric CEO Jack Welch reflected on a common pattern of ineffective crisis management. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, he described predictable stages of crises that are handled poorly:

“The first stage of that pattern is denial…”

Welch says that one of the hallmarks of good leadership is to acknowledge the reality of what is happening without denial. He says leaders need to,

“dispense with denial quickly and look into the hard stuff with eyes open.”

And he describes the temperament that is best suited to handle crises: 

“a forthright, calm, fierce boldness.”*   

*(“The five stages of crisis-management” by Jack Welch, The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2005, p. A20. No longer available online free of charge.)

The second most common mis-step is to diminish the significance of the problem.

In The Agony of Decision I identify the U.S. Roman Catholic Church’s ignoring, diminishing, and hiding the systemic abuse of children by priests for decades as a signal example of these two mis-steps, and as one of the worst handled crises of all time.

But now there’s another, and it may be even worse.

As write this post, the United States is about to reach two hundred thousand confirmed COVID-19 deaths, with about one thousand two hundred Americans dying from the virus every day.

The Ten Most Common Crisis Mis-Steps, as articulated in
Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication

Trump Admits in March That He Is Downplaying COVID-19

In the last ten days, we learned that Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward has recordings of 19 conversations with President Donald Trump, 18 of which served as the basis for his some of the content in his just-published book, Rage.

According to Woodward, on January 28, 2020, U.S. National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien told Trump that COVID-19 would be,

“the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.”

In a call Trump made to Woodward on February 7, Trump described what he knew about COVID-19:

“It goes through air, Bob, so it’s tougher than the touch. But the air, you just breathe the air. That’s how it’s passed.”

He then explained that COVID-19 is more deadly than flu:

“It’s also more deadly than even your most strenuous flus. You know, people don’t realize this, we lose 25,000, 30,000 people a year [to the flu] here. Who would ever think that, right? This is more deadly. This is five percent [death rate] versus one percent or less than one percent [for the flu], you know, so this is deadly stuff.”

A Washington Post analysis by reporters Robert Costa and Phil Rucker notes,

“At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control.”

On March 19, when there were 265 confirmed COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S., Trump told Woodward that he was aware that young people and children could catch the disease:

“It’s not just old people, Bob. Today and yesterday some startling facts came out. It’s not just old people. Young people too, plenty of young people.”

But he also told Woodward that he was playing down the risks:

“To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

It is not clear what he meant by creating a panic, since many observers have pointed out that Trump doesn’t mind scaring people about other topics. My own sense is that he was worried about panicking Wall Street and causing the stock market to crash.

Indeed, the S&P had fallen 34 percent in the month before this interview, and the Dow Jones Industrial Index was about to complete its worst first quarter since 1987.

Woodward notes that the tone was set at the top, but that others in the White House also denied the severity of the pandemic. He told The Post’s Philip Rucker:

“I think there was denial across the board… [Trump is] a one-man band [who is] going to do what he wants to do on impulse or on information he has… He’s a bulldozer to the staff and, quite frankly, to the country… And he just says what he wants, and so there’s no control. And this is one of the problems of the Trump presidency, that he doesn’t build a team. He doesn’t plan.”

On April 5, 2020, Trump told Woodward,

“It’s a horrible thing. It’s unbelievable. Can you believe it? It moves rapidly and viciously. If you’re the wrong person and if it gets you, your life is pretty much over. If you’re in the wrong group; it’s our age group.”

On April 13, 2020, Trump told Woodward,

“It’s so easily transmissible. You wouldn’t even believe it… This thing is a killer if it gets you. If you’re the wrong person, you don’t have a chance. So this rips you apart. It is a plague.”

Crisis Mis-Step #5: Lie

The fifth common crisis mis-step is to lie.

The Washington Post has documented the scope and frequency of Trump lying while president: In his first 827 days in office he told 10,000 lies or false statements, he told 10,000 more in the next 444 days. By July 2020, he was averaging 23 lies or false statements per day.

And Woodward’s book now reveals just how dangerous Trump’s lies were. In his interviews with Woodward, Trump acknowledged knowing the following about COVID-19:

  • It is spread in the air.
  • You catch it by breathing it.
  • Young people can get it.
  • It is far deadlier than the flu.
  • It’s easily transmissible.
  • If you’re the wrong person and it gets you, your life is pretty much over. It rips you apart.
  • It moves rapidly and viciously.
  • It is a plague.

But he was telling the nation the opposite:

The Consequences of Downplaying the Severity of the Pandemic

As the president was downplaying the pandemic, there was no whole of government response, no national testing policy, no national masking policy, and no agreement on the severity of the disease. And tens of thousands died.

On September 10, Dr. Irwin Redlener, founding director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness and director of its Pandemic Resource & Response Initiative, told The Daily Beast that Trump, 

“has blood on his hands.”

Dr. Redlener elaborated,

“If we had the leadership we needed, I’m pretty certain we would have been under 100,000 fatalities—and probably under 50,000 if we had been aggressive from the beginning.”

The Daily Beast explained,

“Redlener didn’t just pull that number out of thin air. In a May study, Redlener’s Columbia University colleague Jeffrey Shaman and co-authors simulated aggressive, coordinated, ‘counterfactual’ U.S. responses to the pandemic. They asked what might have happened if Trump had followed expert advice and locked the country down no later than early March.

In that case, 35,000 American lives would have been saved through early May, Shaman and his team found.

Redlenner extended that calculation through September, and concluded that as many of 150,000 of the fatalities to date could have been avoided, but were caused by Trump’s incompetence.

“The pandemic didn’t have to be so bad. Other countries with better leaders avoided the worst outcomes. America has suffered among the worst possible outcomes because, in Trump, America has a weak, dishonest leader, Redlener said.”

Dr. Redlener noted,

“This is criminal negligence. If [Trump] didn’t have this thing called sovereign immunity, I would see this as basis for being charged with criminal negligence.’”

The President Continues to Model Irresponsible Behavior

Two days after Bob Woodward’s release of the audio of President Trump acknowledging that COVID-19 is airborne, transmitted through breathing, and is deadly, President Trump held a campaign rally in Michigan. There were thousands of people at the rally, with no social distancing and very few masks.

CNN asked some of the attendees why they were not wearing masks. One said,

“Because there’s no COVID. It’s a fake pandemic, created to destroy the United States of America.”

Told that President Trump had admitted to Bob Woodward that there is a virus and it is deadly, the Trump supporter said,

“That’s his opinion. The truth is that the CDC says that only less than 10,000 people have died from COVID.”

Another said,

“I’m not afraid. The good Lord takes care of me. If I die, I die. We gotta get this country moving. What are we going to do? Wear masks and stay inside for another year? Where will that get us?”

Several days later, Trump held an indoor rally in Nevada, also without social distancing and with few masks. This was a violation of Nevada law, but Trump went ahead with the rally. The Washington Post warned that the rally could become a superspreader of the virus. It said that Trump’s,

“… appearance Sunday was not a misunderstanding but a deliberate defiance of rules intended to keep people safe, rules that were advanced by Mr. Trump’s own White House…. Mr. Trump’s rhetoric was also disconnected from the reality of a nation still staggering under the pandemic wave, with at least 191,000 people killed and 6.5 million infected. ‘We will very easily defeat the… virus,’ Mr. Trump sunnily declared. ‘That’s what’s happening. And we’re already making that turn. We’re making that round beautiful last turn, but it should have never happened.’

Mr. Trump plays a huckster’s game, thinking he can fool enough of the people all of the time. The clock is running out on this gambit. The nation is long past his misplaced bravado and happy talk. Behind it lies reckless abandon with people’s health and well-being.”

Failure to Pass the Leadership Test of a Lifetime

In their March 19 interview, Woodward named COVID-19 the leadership test of a lifetime, but Trump disagreed. And Trump continues to speak and act in ways that are contrary to what he told Woodward about the disease. And people continue to die.

In an August 14 interview, when the death count was more than 168,000, Trump told Woodward, about his leadership of the COVID-19 response,

“But nothing more could have been done. Nothing more could have been done.” 

With 200,000 Americans already dead, three quarters of which could have been prevented through decisive and consistent leadership, Trump’s handling of COVID-19 may be more than the failure of a leadership test of a lifetime.

It may well be the worst handled crisis, and the most significant failure of leadership, in United States history.

About the Author: Helio Fred Garcia is the president of Logos Consulting Group, and teaches crisis management, ethics, leadership, and communication at both New York University and Columbia University. His most recent book is Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It.


Carol Kinsey Goman Releases New Book, “Stand Out: How to Build Your Leadership Presence”

New Book Reveals How to Use Body Language to Increase Leadership Effectiveness, Build Trust & Inspire Other

CommPRO Editorial Staff

In business, first impressions are crucial—especially during 2020 and the age of Zoom meetings. If you are labeled as “trustworthy” or “suspicious,” “powerful” or “submissive” everything else you do will be viewed through that filter. Your use of personal space, physical gestures, posture, facial expressions and eye contact can enhance, support, weaken or even sabotage your impact as a leader. 

In her timely new book, Stand Out: How to Build Your Leadership Presence [Kogan Page, September 29, 2020] international speaker and body language expert, Carol Kinsey Goman, walks you through achieving a powerful physical presence so you get that next promotion and give your career that extra boost. Stand Out’s timely topic will help emerging leaders develop their leadership presence and secure a spot at the board-room table or an office in the C-suite as we head in to 2021.

“In Stand Out, readers will learn that the goal of leadership presence is to align other people’s impression of you with your best authentic self,” Goman says. “I also reveal how leadership presence is different for women, why you can’t ‘fake it until you make it’ and why self-promotion is essential.”

Can you project confidence and poise under pressure – do you already have a presence? Stand Out also covers the following themes: 

  • Tips for developing the five C’s of Leadership Presence: Credibility, Confidence, Composure, Connection, and Charisma
  • A leadership title or tremendous leadership potential alone does not give you presence 
  • Leadership presence is what people say about your after you leave the room
  • Leadership presence won’t matter if you’re not visible
  • How leadership presence is different for men and women
  • How to project a leadership presence on Zoom & Skype
  • The science behind talking with your hands

    An engaging, international speaker, and veteran media commentator, Goman can also discuss:

    • The biggest mistake you can make during a meeting 
    • How to make a positive first impression in seven seconds
    • What leadership presence looks like to your global team
    • Demystifying the body language of top business leaders 
    • What men need to know to help women succeed 
    • How to prepare for in-person meetings as physical distancing (hopefully) ends in 2021

    Think Bigger with Thought Leadership

    Stacey Ross Cohen, CEO/President of Co-Communications

    So, what exactly is a thought leader?  And how can it benefit you? A thought leader is considered an authority on a particular subject matter or industry. They share their deep knowledge, insights and ideas with audiences through speaking engagements, media interviews and content development — — and have a truly distinct (sometimes disruptive) perspective which inspires innovative thinking in others. Establishing yourself as an expert in your field gives you a competitive edge and builds both mind and market share. When done right, you can reap many benefits — career advancement, higher salary, rewarding partnerships, new clients/business opportunities, and revenue growth.

    Consumers make purchase decisions based on an emotional connection with a brand or individual. In order for someone to engage or buy something — they need to know, like and trust you.. Since thought leaders humanize a brand and are perceived as credible sources, they (positively) influence purchase decisions which drives sales. Below are five steps to become known as a thought leader: 

    Define Your Brand. Building a personal brand is the first step to develop thought leader status. Identify your purpose, strengths, values and passion. This is not about me, me, me — — it’s about your value to others. You need to understand your target audience as well as competition. What’s important to your audience? How can you solve their needs better than your competitors? Only then can you crystallize your expertise or niche and put your stake in the ground. Although it seems personal brands (and thought leadership) “just happen,” they don’t — the best ones take years and require an ongoing effort.

    Create a strategic roadmap. Throwing spaghetti at the wall simply does not work. It’s all too easy to jump into the tactics (e.g., creating a blog). You need to be both intentional and proactive and have a well-informed strategy. When we work with a new client to build thought leadership, we insist on starting with a plan which details objectives, target audiences, messaging, tactics and a 6–12 month timeline. It’s also a good idea to create a monthly content calendar to schedule what, when, and where to publish. Align your content with trends and national holidays. For instance, if you’re a climate change expert, you may want to step up your content during Earth month (April).

    Develop Content That’s Relevant (and Platform-Appropriate) Good is not enough — you need to create great content (curated and self-published) to capture your audience. Whether you develop articles, blog posts, ebooks, news releases, white papers or videos, make certain the content speaks to your audience. It is also important to be bold, share your point of view, and make industry predictions. Content is more than words; make use of striking visuals. Consider creating infographics to present data in a more digestible way. Also, showcase your value with a “wow” portfolio of client testimonials, earned media, achievements, success stories, and a professional bio/profile with headshot. 

    Become your own news channel: Once you have great content, you need to deliver through a multi-channel approach (websites, speaking engagements, social media, blogs, e-newsletters, podcasts). Select channels that are in sync with who you are and reach your audience — — you can’t be on everywhere. Speaking is a top tool to build thought leadership. Capture your speaking engagements and make sure to publish them on your website and social channels. Create a speaker’s bio and/or sizzle reel to further grow your opportunities within the speaking realm. I recently interviewed Ryan Serhant, a top-ranking real estate broker, author, and television personality (Million Dollar Listing New York) who recognizes the importance of educating and entertaining his audience. With 2 million plus social media followers, Ryan is an example of “broadcasting” at its best. He is a Forbes contributor, YouTube Vlogger, speaks at industry associations, and is frequently interviewed and quoted by national media. 

    Grow Your Network. It’s been said that “Your network is your net worth.” Networking is one of the most important investments you can make to grow your following. Engage and build relationships with mentors, influencers, and industry leaders. Consider joining a board or committee (both professional and community). Be social — — attend virtual networking events and be sure to connect with your new contact promptly via LinkedIn etc. I have organically grown my LinkedIn followers to 27,000 which has given me brand visibility, higher search ranking, and business/speaking opportunities.

    Thought leadership is earned and requires time, effort and reinforcement plus a large and engaged following to help spread insights and ideas. Ultimately, it is your audience who decides if you deserve thought leader status. Time to think big!

    Stacey Ross Cohen is CEO/President of Co-Communications, a full-service marketing communications agency, with offices in New York and Connecticut. She can be reached at

    About the Author:  Stacey is an award-winning communications professional who earned her marketing stripes on Madison Avenue and at major television networks before launching Co-Communications, an integrated marketing communications firm with offices in New York and Connecticut. Co-Communications serves clients in education, healthcare, real estate, professional services, technology, and the nonprofit realm. Services include branding, website development, inbound marketing, PR and social media. Stacey excels at taking brands to market — leveraging each client’s unique voice to make an indelible impact on social media, in board rooms, and everywhere in between. She has garnered the Forbes Enterprise and PRSA Practitioner of the Year awards for her work in the communications field.  

    Stacey is a sought-after speaker and recently made her debut on the TED stage. She is a blogger at the Huffington Post and Thrive Global and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Forbes, Crain’s, and a suite of other national media. Stacey holds a B.S. from Syracuse University, MBA from Fordham University and recently completed a certificate program in Media, Technology and Entertainment at NYU Leonard Stern School of Business.