Three ways you can lead more effectively in these changing times

Blog post by Elise Mitchell, CEO/Mitchell, CEO/Dentsu Aegis Public Relations Network, Vice President, ICCO


May you live in interesting times. I’ve never been sure if that’s a blessing or a curse. But the year we’ve just had certainly fits the description.

What a year – 2016 brought so much unexpected change: Brexit, Trump, the refugee crisis, Istanbul, Zika, Rio, David Bowie, Wells Fargo, Harambe. On top of that, it was also the hottest year on record.

While it’s not always welcome, change is something public relations professionals are very good at managing. Leading through change is an executive-level capability that requires a strategic mind, strong business acumen, adaptability, composure and guts. Now more than ever, clients need this, and need us.

The question is how prepared are we to lead effectively in these changing times?

No matter how much/little change management expertise you have, you must continue expanding your capabilities in this critical area. The amount and type of change in the world is only speeding up, thanks to technology, social and political upheaval, and shifting demographics. We must push ourselves to stay one step ahead of change. Only then will we be prepared to step in — and step up — to lead in the most interesting times.

Looking through the turn

I ride a motorcycle, and that experience has taught me so much about being nimble and adaptive to change. One of the most critical lessons I learned years ago as a beginning rider is how to “look through the turn,” which works like this: As you approach a turn, you must look where you want to go rather than focusing on all the potential hazards within the turn itself. The difficulty comes in keeping your eyes focused on where you want to end up while using your instincts and experience to adjust within the turn — all at a moment’s notice.

“Looking through the turn” is a powerful metaphor for business and life, and it has become my mantra. It’s also the inspiration for my new book, Leading Through the Turn, a leadership handbook that shares dozens of lessons I’ve learned during the past 20 years while building Mitchell Communications Group from scratch. I’d like to share three of those lessons that helped me learn how to lead more effectively through change.

  1. Expect the unexpected — This seems so obvious, and yet we seldom do it. When we’re in the middle of a project, we’re focused on what’s in front of us or on the plans we’re making for the future. We’re thinking about the destination and how to get there. Then the road shifts beneath our wheels. We need to get better at anticipating change and being prepared to respond when it happens – especially in how we help our agencies evolve.

This takes effort – and time. Work with your team to regularly ask “what if” questions that help you spot potential change sooner rather than later. What if our clients’ needs fundamentally change and they no longer want what we offer? What if there is a change in one of our client’s top leadership that directly impacts us? What if a new technology disrupts the way we or they are doing business?

By asking the right questions and looking ahead more frequently, we’ll become better and expecting the unexpected.

  1. Create a “culture of try” – To deal with change, you must be an agile leader, on the one hand staying very close to what is happening around you with your employees and clients; on the other hand stepping back to see the bigger picture.

But as a leader, it’s your job to think about what’s possible, not what is. That means empowering your team to come up with new solutions and not be afraid to try new things.

You must create “a culture of try.” Trust me, your team and your clients want you to try new things. Employees are empowered by a “let’s do it” mentality. And clients want to know you can take them places they’ve never been and can’t get to on their own.

Leaders need to create a greenhouse environment that encourages teams to try new things and see what works without fear of punishment or embarrassment if it fails. Ultimately, you want a culture that’s not afraid to fail—it’s afraid not to try. This is part attitude, of course, but it’s also part practice. You must set the tone by being a role model for taking smart risk and inspiring your people to try new things.

  1. Enjoy the ride – When we ride, my husband and I will occasionally pull our motorcycles over, put the kickstand down and just drink in how beautiful it is. This always makes the journey more enjoyable and memorable.

No matter what changes come your way, you need to have a journey mindset, willing to deal with uncertainty, staying fully present in the moment and enjoying the ride along the way.  When you do, you have a much better chance of setting aside your frustrations and fears, and channeling your efforts towards finding solutions.  

This also goes for how you live and lead on a daily basis. How often are you pausing to celebrate success at work? Saying thank you to others? Letting those in your personal life know how much you value them?

Take a good look around and appreciate where you are right now. You must make time to live in the moment, because it will be gone before you know it. Embracing the journey is key to enjoying the ride.

Whether it’s challenge or change, we have much to look forward to in 2017. I hope to lead at my best this year – how about you? Let’s help each other through ICCO and our own country PR associations. I look forward to staying connected with you this year.


Elise has just written a new leadership book, released this month by McGraw Hill: “Leading Through the Turn”

Find Elise at and follow Elise on Twitter: @elisemitch LinkedIn and Facebook