Public Relations Tactics

Tough Leadership Decisions With Jean Walcher

August 4, 2017

Like a number of leaders in our industry, Jean Walcher, president of San Diego’s J. Walcher Communications, is a second-generation PR practitioner. We recently talked about following a parent into the business, getting through tough leadership moments and what one can learn from jumping out of a plane.

 

What was your toughest leadership moment and how did you get through it?

We work in a big, open office with a small staff, and it’s very important that the atmosphere remains positive. I [once] experienced an incident with an employee who was skilled, but brought a negative dynamic into the office. Balancing the need to judiciously explain the justification for parting ways with this person while maintaining a positive energy was challenging!

My motto of “kill ‘em with communication” worked on this occasion. I made very clear the kind of environment I wanted and expected, given the hurdles of working physically close to one other. This made that challenge a lot easier, and brought us closer together as a group in the process.

What I learned from the experience is that sometimes you must make very painful and difficult decisions, and to avoid them can be damaging for the business. 

 

When your mother, San Diego PR pioneer Laura Walcher, started out in the mid-‘70s, there weren’t many women agency owners. How has working with her shaped your leadership philosophy?

She ingrained in me that it’s just public relations. We’re not doing brain surgery or saving people’s lives.
 

Nothing should, or ever will, take the place of my staff’s general well-being and happiness. Stuff happens, mistakes are made, but that’s all it is. Life is tough enough; why make it tougher on people?

 

You’ve represented the U.S. Parachute Association, and in fact you took a jump once yourself. Talk about client service! What did taking the plunge teach you about leadership?

We can’t promote our clients without knowing them very well, and I try hard to instill that in my staff. Of course, I had to lead by example, right? Besides doing it for client research, it was an amazing experience and made everyone feel very empowered — not just for public relations and the work for the client, but for life!

 

Your agency just celebrated its 15th anniversary. What do you know about leadership now that you wish you had known when you started J. Walcher Communications?

It’s the cultural shift that I didn’t anticipate when I started the company, and the need to control my expectations so I don’t create any negativity. I have a fantastic staff. They work hard. They are talented, smart and loyal.

But as generations of employees change, priorities change. I have to accept that millennials have priorities that might be different than that of my generation. They want to exercise, be with friends and family, and volunteer their time — and that is OK.

 

What’s the most important step for a manager to move into leadership?

Show that you truly care about the business. Go above and beyond what is expected of you. A strong level of interest will get you far in my book. There’s nothing like not feeling as if you’re in this on your own!

 

You’ve served as a member of the PRSA Counselors Academy Executive Committee. What did you learn from your service on the committee that has enhanced your leadership in the workplace?

Talk about a group of Type A personalities! This is a very impressive group of people and there’s no getting away with not following through on committee commitments.

We all lead by example — deadlines must be met, promises fulfilled —whether they are volunteer boards, pro-bono work or in-kind donations! I will not serve on a board unless I can contribute beyond sitting in a monthly meeting — whether it’s with time or money.

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which helps PR and communications leaders empower themselves to breakthrough results, and helps communications organizations achieve their goals. It does so via consulting, training and executive coaching. You can find him at www.jacobscomm.com, ken@jacobscomm.com, @KensViews or on LinkedIn.

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