America is in the midst of awesome change, some good, some not so good. And which is which may depend on where you sit. Change and conflict are scary for many people, but it's during periods like this that others see opportunity. We call those people entrepreneurs.
I caught up with one entrepreneur who's been at it for several years, and continues to find opportunities. Kristi Faulkner is president and co-founder of Womenkind, where she advises clients who need and want to better reach, engage and motivate women through enhanced marketing messages, product innovation, and organizational evolution. As a creative director, she has conceived and produced multi-media, multi-channel campaigns for blue chip clients nationally and globally. She is currently writing a book about women as a competitive edge in business.
Sydney: What was the biggest surprise you experienced when you started Womenkind?
Kristi Faulkner: After many years in huge Madison Avenue agencies, I thought going out on my own meant “on my own,” and that meant having to do everything myself. It quickly hit me that when you start your own company, you need more support than ever. I had to get comfortable asking for help from people outside of our little company. Over time, I gathered a team of advisers who have generously offered their wisdom, inspiration, strategic perspective, motivation, advice, and sometimes just an ear. Like Hellen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
Sydney: Are female bosses different from male bosses? In what ways?
Kristi: Ad agencies are mostly run by guys, so I’ve only ever had male bosses. They could work till midnight or travel for weeks, while their wives made everything at home run smoothly. Once I had babies, I struggled to pretend I wasn’t struggling. I was not comfortable expressing my vulnerability. As a single mother and now a boss myself, I appreciate that there is no work-life balance, there’s only life. I coach our team to manage expectations, and I respect their ability to deliver expertly. No one’s ever let me down.
Sydney: You’re in the communications business, telling stories for clients with particular appeal to women. If I was looking for someone to help me teach women to be more like superbosses, what story would you tell?
Kristi: It’s uncanny that all the superbosses demonstrate qualities that are classically female. They are nurturing of talent. They are adaptable. They take pride in the accomplishments of others. They value teamwork over individuals. And it’s as important to them that their teams learn, grow and succeed as it is that they do. I would share the story that women have natural superboss aptitudes, and to leverage those gifts as women in the workplace. To stop buying “business is a man’s world, be like a man to be a contender” story and embrace the superboss attitude that great team members complement each other rather than compete with one other.
Sydney: I love your motto: Be confident, be curious, be kind. You taught your daughters these lessons, and now use it as a sort of personal mantra. Please share a story on how this has helped you in your own life.
Kristi: Recently, in the midst of developing a new marketing campaign, the CMO was dismissed and replaced with a former colleague of the CEO. The new CMO could have easily blown up 6 months of work, but we stayed grounded and didn’t allow ourselves to feel threatened. Instead, we supported him with empathy – he was walking into a new job, managing a category he had no experience in, working with people he didn’t know. We expressed an honest curiosity in his marketing philosophy and a desire to learn from his experience. While we were very confident in our campaign’s insight, we valued his input and new perspective. He seemed to appreciate our kindness, as anyone would, and our relationship, and the campaign, launched successfully.
Sydney: Who are your favorite leaders, whether in modern times or in history. Why?
Kristi: I am a super fan of two amazing leaders who surely must be superbosses. Dana Anderson of Mondelez is bold and fearless in the face of constant change and urges the fraying industry to always put strategy first. She is candid, eloquent, and a powerful voice of reason in chaos. I also revere Linda Boff, who has successfully repositioned GE, one of the stodgiest old industrial manufacturing companies, into a powerhouse of global innovation. Linda has unleashed GE’s inner storyteller to engage audiences, and particularly women, respectfully. These two incredible CMOs demonstrate that risky, inspiring, visionary business leadership is female.