Attributes of a Leader: Clairemont Communications CEO Dana Hughens on Successful Management

April 1, 2015

Dana Hughens
Dana Hughens

When it comes to leadership, Dana Hughens certainly has a wealth of experience: She has worked in public relations, marketing, analyst relations and has done planning and integration for a nonprofit — at a small, suburban PR agency, outposts of global agencies and a 90,000-employee global corporation.

She is now the CEO of her growing boutique agency, Clairemont Communications. Recently, we talked about how the tenets of leadership are the same, regardless of organizational type or size. She says there are five essential attributes that leaders must have to be successful. They include:

1. Integrity

Followers can’t follow the leader, [or] get behind a mission [they don’t] believe in and live the values if the leader doesn’t have integrity. That attribute comes first.

2. Open communications and transparency

Effective leaders share as much information as possible. “I share everything other than other people’s compensation” is a statement I heard with frequency among the most successful agency leaders at the PRSA Counselors Academy Spring Conference.

I follow that wisdom at Clairemont because it helps the team better understand why we do what we do. How can you tell your people only part of your organization’s story or mission? All of my team members know the client budgets, and we give them a solid sense of the agency financials. We have a new hire just out of college and we’re already talking about budgets, the traps of over-servicing, billable hours, and why we would or wouldn’t over-service certain clients.

3. Trust

Leaders trust their people to do their jobs. It’s so hard to let go sometimes.

When I think of my bosses and leaders to whom I gave my loyalty, it’s the ones who trusted me to do things I’d never done before.

But they believed that I’d figure it out. It’s hard to do, but how do you lead an organization if you’re trying to do everyone else’s job? People of all levels, experience, backgrounds and ages have so much to contribute. Trust your people to bring what they can to the table.

I have a client who’s a CMO of a great organization, and she really trusts her people once she’s hired them. I’ve even seen her feeling not totally comfortable with a decision someone on the team has made, knowing she might have to make a fix down the road if it doesn’t work out. But she’ll really see it through and go with her team member’s approach.

4. Passion

Leaders must be passionate. I once had a boss who was instrumental in saving a theater. He made it his life’s mission, starting a nonprofit to save the theater, and ultimately, became its director. Sometimes leaders are the brand. We used to say “Cecil, you are the Alabama Theater.” It was impossible not to follow someone like that!

5. Humor

Leaders should have a great sense of humor. Things are serious in our business, but it’s easy to get stressed and take things too seriously. Leaders must know when to be thoughtful, but also know when to lighten the mood and when to encourage your team to “dance it out!” That’s something we do here in the agency’s kitchen!

What’s a leadership misstep you’ve made?

Not being totally honest when things are tough. Sometimes I’ll sugarcoat things, not wanting to hurt people’s feelings. But then, people walk away not having gotten all the information they need to improve. Or I’ll present the information more lightly than I should, and that ends badly. It’s hard to do, but effective leaders figure out how to share constructive feedback fully, in a way that doesn’t crush someone’s spirit, but is direct and honest.

Dana Hughens will be one of the many senior-level PR practitioners attending the PRSA Counselors Academy Conference on May 3-5 in Laguna, Calif.

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


Robert N. Carver says:

Having worked with Dana, I can attest to her leadership skills. She has a subtle style, but one that instantly alerts you to the fact that she knows the drill. Like a good leader, she also takes cues from the bottom up and never performs as though she has the corner on the market of good ideas. We're fortunate to have her on the board at the North Carolina Chapter.

April 3, 2015

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