With a breadth of marketing and strategy expertise, Virginia is known for building and scaling high-performing customer-focused teams. A Business Strategist and Marketing Partner at ELIM5, a Toronto-based digital media company, she’s a valued member of the Women of Influence Advisory Board and an American Marketing Association mentor.
by Virginia Brailey
Leads are through the roof. Our customers love us. We doubled our revenue. Some of the best moments in my career have been successes resulting from the work and collaboration of teams I have had the privilege to build, scale and lead. There is no denying how great it feels when things fall into place and results surpass expectations.
My most rewarding experiences, however, have actually been during the tough times. Years ago, I was leading marketing and strategy at a mid-sized organization facing growing competition, shrinking margins and integration challenges from recent acquisitions. The company’s sales were down, we couldn’t seem to get the new products delivered on time and employees were tired from putting in long hours. We needed to transform our product lines and our company in the face of disruption and figure out our new North Star. The President had built a strong leadership team — lots of skill and grit and collaboration — and was adept at helping us manage increasingly demanding shareholder expectations, but we were also stretched.
Stress was getting to the team, and we were starting to see some bad behaviour. As part of the strategic planning program, I suggested engaging our employees to get their input and to help operationalize the strategy. In the end, it was not just their great input, but also their attitude that helped us gain support from our board to get the additional investment we needed to transform our business. Ultimately, the company doubled its revenue.
It is not the moment of achievement that stays with me, but rather the willingness of the employees to pitch in to help develop the aspirational goals as well as the programs that put the strategy in motion. It sounds so simple and straightforward now — involve your team in setting out and achieving the destiny of your company — but it was not easy to chart the course and keep the revenue coming in at the same time. There were things I learned during this time that I won’t soon forget.
Leadership is an obligation.
You owe it to the company you work for and all of those you are leading to hold yourself to a higher standard of behaviour and accountability. Leadership is no easy task, and you need the resolve to successfully lead others — not just during the easy times, but the make-or-break moments and times of disruption, as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about leadership as an obligation to read Vince Molinaro’s book, The Leadership Contract.
Stay true to yourself during tough times.
There are always going to be tough situations — how you respond is what matters most. Stick to your core values, and if you find yourself in a negative situation where taking a stand is not possible, you can leave the room and keep your integrity intact. I think, however, leaders have an obligation to not only steer the ship in the right direction but also call out bad behaviour. That usually means staying in the room when it is really tough to do so.
Believe in the good in people, seek to understand.
No one goes to work wanting to do a bad job. As a team leader, you owe it to your employees to set them up for success, with the right structure and programs to facilitate teamwork and inclusion. I have generally found that people act inappropriately or underperform because of complicated corporate structures or difficulties in their personal and work lives. This doesn’t excuse the bad behaviour, but being open to understanding the context can help you to resolve it.
To me, there is really nothing like that moment when a team comes together to chart a new course, venture into new territory and challenge to improve the outcome. A lot goes into setting up teams for success and I am thankful for the lessons I have learned myself, for all those who share their learnings so willingly, and for all the amazing teams and team leaders I have had the privilege of working with.