Best Boss Series: Nora Connolly, CBS Interactive, Group Sales Director, UK

Nora has been working at CBS Interactive in London for 5 years now, prior to that, living and working in New York City. She is a strategic, consultative senior sales leader with 12+ years of experience in digital advertising. She is well versed in both branded content integration and data/audience targeting with a deep understanding of the digital and mobile ecosystems with an ability to connect and build relationships with agency and client decision makers of all levels.

Tell me how you define a successful leader.

A successful leader to me is someone who leads by example in a very real way; who is dedicated to the greater good of the company but who looks out for the good welfare of their employees; through drive, honesty, and empathy. A successful leader is someone who puts others needs before their own and strives to get the best results from each individual, by challenging their lows and rewarding their highs. Being a leader also means being really honest with people and treating each person, as you’d like to be treated. Seems like an easy thing to do in theory, but I find some people are way better at this than others.

When in your career did you find you really began to be an impactful leader and what gave you proof of this?  

When I took over a sales team that had been not hitting budget for several years. They were complacent, unmotivated and resistant to change. The proof to show it’s working as a sales leader is an easy, as it’s all in the numbers. Since I took over the team, we’ve been hitting or exceeding budget quarter after quarter. The team all work really well with one another and are highly passionate and motivated individuals. We’ve been able to continue to grow the business about 5-10% every year since 2015.

Share with me your greatest leadership success/experience.

I think my greatest leadership success experience to date has been in the hiring of my team. As corny as the saying is, “there is no ‘I’ in team, but it is so true. It can be really challenging finding and nurturing good talent with budget and industry constraints but I’ve managed to build us a highly successful sales team that I am proud of. I focus on what really drives people and help them achieve personal success in whatever aspect of work or life they may need guidance and/or support in. It’s important for any organization to retain and nurture talent, that encourages cross-division organizational sharing of ideas and allowing people to have an open platform to share those ideas. I’ve hoped that I’ve created a comfortable environment where people can not only share their ideas and promote positive change in their role and/or the role of others.

Recall your biggest managerial challenge. Tell me how you handled this. What did you learn that you might do differently next time?

I was told in confidence, very early on, that a woman on my team was pregnant. She confided in me and said she didn’t want to go on an upcoming client trip we had planned abroad. I hid this from HR and management and simply said she could just join the next trip (at her initial request, because it was early days / her first trimester). Months later, and right before we were set to fly, she changed her mind and went to HR saying that I didn’t want her to go and she felt like she was being left out. I was crushed. We wound up having to fly her out last minute and then she couldn’t partake in any of the activities as they were deemed too dangerous for a pregnant person. It wound up costing the company a lot of money. I learned a lot in the process, mostly to protect myself and the business from any “risk.” It was a tough way to learn, but it taught me the value of letting others know when it could affect the business and to lean on HR a bit more.

 Who have been your greatest mentor/s? Were they a colleague or did you hire a professional coach? What about this person or the experience had the biggest impact on your growth?

I have been really fortunate and can honestly say, I’ve never had a bad boss. I definitely consider them as mentors in every way – they’ve provided career, industry and client advice, and become very close confidants and friends. They too, have controlled the progression of my career and have challenged me and helped me be the best leader I can be.

Common opinion states that in order to succeed in business one has to be ruthless. A quick survey of world’s most domineering companies seems to support that view. Do you think it’s possible to be very successful in business and still be a nice/kind person?

That’s a tricky one. I do think it’s hard the higher up you go, it can be hard to think about how every single person is feeling when you have such a big role and need to deliver the bottom line, but at the same time – kindness and being polite go a long way.

 

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Let’s talk about managing pressure – how do you control your own emotions and temper when things don’t go to plan? Not lashing out at those around you is a skill – what are your tips?

I try to really listen to what’s being said and not react for 5-10 seconds, if possible. Sometimes I even rotate a ring on my finger or squeeze my thumb. I find that you can distract your mind if you focus on something else in a heated moment and that gives you a little time to collect yourself and then react/respond.

 At times, we all hit a low point. How do you motivate yourself?

I talk to family and friends and cuddle my dog for an instant boost and/or plan a holiday! I think the best thing to do when you’re feeling stagnant is to remove yourself for a week or so, relax, and come back fully refreshed.

 What are your top three book titles that were most impactful for your leadership development?

The First 90 Days, by Michael D. Watkins, Superforecasting (The Art & Science of Prediction), by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner and Friend or Foe, by Adam Galinsky and Maurice Schweitzer.

 Most large organisations today have a strict bonus and pay raise policy, which makes it difficult to reward people even when you know they truly deserve it. Have you found a way of dealing with this?

It is a real challenge at times, I try to focus the attention to other employee benefits that we have, private healthcare, yearly gym membership, monthly massages, monthly socials, a pretty healthy expense account and I’ll give them a cheeky “duvet” day here and there and allow them to work from home. I find that flexibility and time are under-valued and really appreciated.

 Companies often refer to themselves as “family”, yet only a few support their employees like a family supports its members – unconditionally. Aside from professional training, what support do you offer your employees?

We are a small company in the UK, about 125 employees in total, so you really do know a lot about a lot of people, just because of size and how close we all sit to one another. However, in addition to professional training, we always band together when we’re celebrating something – a promotion, an engagement or wedding, a birth of a child, etc, or on the flip side, offer support when someone on the team is going through a hard time, if there has been a death or health issues. I think listening and taking time out of the day to celebrate success and joy or console and offer support to those going through hard times, makes a world of difference to their support systems.

Some managers believe in a strict hierarchy and the “do what I say approach”, sighting cultural norm as an excuse. What are your thoughts on this?

I think if you’re leading a difficult team you might need to use language like that, but most of the time, the team(s) should already know they have to respect their manager and do what they’re told. I think each case would need to be looked at, but in theory, I don’t have a big problem with leading that way if needed. Hire the right people and hopefully, you won’t have to speak like that.

 

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Tell me how you decide what to delegate and to whom.

It totally depends on what exactly needs to get done, how labour intensive it is or how quickly the deadline is approaching. Any projects I have a bit of time to work on, I’d probably just tackle myself or divide up, but projects that need immediate attention I would need to delegate and gather the information asap. Delegation of a new manager doesn’t come easy, but you learn who’s good at what and then you can divvy up the responsibilities’ accordingly. Plus, a lot of times, it empowers the employee because they feel valued that you’ve asked them for assistance.

Team building has become a buzzword in the corporate world, yet many still do not see the value in applying it to their group or organization. What are your beliefs and or successes around team building?

I am a big believer in team building. People spend so much time with their peers and colleagues at work, if you don’t make it interesting and enjoyable, then retention won’t be great. I think team building and bringing people together is just as important as any other company benefit offered.

When it comes to morning or weekly briefings do you conduct those in person or via a memo?

We don’t do a daily morning de-brief, but we do have weekly sales meetings every Monday and 1×1’s with each team member on almost a monthly basis.

How do you decide to be available to your team (i.e. text/Email/voice call/video call)? How do you determine the best way for them to contact you that does not interrupt your workflow?

I am always on. The team can get in touch with me via phone, email, What’s App, Facebook, Instagram, etc. I am way too contactable! If I need to disappear to a quiet place for a few hours or work from home, that’s one way to get work done, but other than that, I’m totally reachable.

How much do you value transparency of information at work? To what extent do you share information with your team?

I think it’s important to be open and honest, but there’s a fine line and there are certain things that have to remain private. Transparency is important so everyone feels included and in-the-know about what’s happening with the business and/or role, but it has to be vetted through HR and not put anyone else at risk by divulging the information.

How do you best separate work life from personal life – for a healthy balance? What are your biggest challenges around this? How does this impact you personally?

I don’t. My team, colleagues and I are all quite close. After working at CBS for 10+ years now, the lines are definitely blurred. I’ve hosted dinners at my house for the team, have gone on holiday with co-workers, have been invited to people’s weddings in the office and we all know a lot about each other’s personal lives. We spend so much time working alongside one another, it’s almost impossible not to form strong relationships outside the office. I don’t look at it as a negative, to be honest, you spend the majority of your adult life at work, so it’s really important to like the people you’re working with and for. I always think about this Steve Jobs quote, when thinking about work/life balance:

 “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs

Explain how you work with HR for recruiting and interviewing. What works for you and how do you handle the interviewing process for vetting candidates?

We typically don’t and can’t use a recruiter for hiring. We’d rather use the budget to put towards people’s compensation rather than use a recruiter, which can be quite expensive. We do a lot of word of mouth hires, as well as use sites like LinkedIn and Guru and HR are briefed on the job description and vet all the candidate’s CVs before people are brought in for an initial interview. Several people interview each candidate within the business to ensure the person is well-rounded and suited for the position and will work well with the team(s) dynamics.

Sometimes an employee is not working out despite your best efforts and you know that this relationship is not serving them or the business. At which point do you decide to part company and how do you go about it?

I think you have to give people fair warning way before making a decision to part ways. You need to make sure they are well aware about the role and company expectations; this can include speaking in-depth during 1×1’s and putting expectations in writing. I think transparency, honesty and managing perception is really important and if something isn’t working, you need to call it out early and work through it, so both the employer and employee are content.

The Best Boss Coaching Project brought to you by Talent Investors is here to promote excellence in the workplace. Throughout 2018 we are speaking to people from across the world, and across different industries, regardless of the companies’ size or their job title. Over the course of 52 weeks, you will be introduced to 52 bosses, from 52 backgrounds, answering 20+ questions. All designed to motivate you to lead, and grow effectively. We are here to provide wisdom from, and recognition for those who every day make other people’s lives better.