Weber Shandwick’s Andy Polansky on Avoiding an ‘Either/Or’ Proposition

February 1, 2016

Andy Polansky
Andy Polansky

Executive leaders often have the reputation of being simply a figurehead to the average employee. But Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky makes a point to be visible, transparent and authentic, which has earned him respect from both colleagues and clients.

For a leader, what’s more important: being respected or being liked?

It’s possible to be both respected and liked. They’re not mutually exclusive qualities.

When you’re leading a complex professional services firm, with talent who live in different parts of the world and who perform a variety of different roles in the enterprise, people are looking to their leaders for a unifying vision and a collaborative spirit that connects people to the organization and to their clients. That’s what holds the company together.

If you get that right, then you gain a lot of respect from people you work with, from your clients and from people across the profession. That respect is something that’s earned, and it’s a two-way street. I can’t expect respect if I’m not respectful to people with whom I work.

You’ve earned a reputation for being well-liked across multiple levels, inside and outside Weber Shandwick.  What do you attribute this to?

Whether you work for a PR firm or a diversified industrial company, people want to know their CEO. They want a clear articulation of what’s important to the company [and] how it operates with social purpose around the world.

We live in the era of the social CEO. It’s about transparency and authenticity, and those things apply to how one leads a company, one’s transparency and how one engages with people across the company. When you have a profile on social media, your people can get a sense of you, and that allows you to create relationships.

My key responsibilities are: Do the best for my people and look out for our clients, come up with great ideas and advocate effectively for them. When you do that, you create relationships, and you feel like you’re in the trenches with them. 

 How do you keep the balance between the two?

You must be honest and open with everyone about what you’re thinking and feeling. You can’t rely on the fact that you have a strong relationship with someone, at the expense of making sure you’re being straightforward and clear about what an issue or a priority might be. If you’re respectful and have open dialogue, then it shouldn’t be an “either/or” proposition.

What’s the most important thing managers can do to become more effective leaders?

The most important thing, and perhaps the hardest transition, is they grow up in the business as great account management, but leadership takes a different set of skills. The path to the success that they might have had might be different than the path of others on the team they’re now leading.

You must always be open-minded. Spend a disproportionate amount of time listening to your colleagues, regardless of their position in the organization. It should be a meritocracy: How you evaluate people [and] how you promote them should be based on their abilities, and have nothing to do with how you succeeded in your own progression.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?

There are smart people spread across different agencies. One of our most distinctive features is our collaborative culture. Other firms seem to have more silos and celebrate individual performance and achievements.

We think about the clients holistically and about team success. When you have a collaborative culture that’s enduring around the globe, it’s hard to replicate. That’s why people stay here so long, and are attracted to us.

We always monitor our performance on all levels and ask: “Are we outperforming our competition?” And that’s not just about fiscal performance, but about constantly monitoring employee morale. More than anything, I monitor how we’re doing by traveling to our offices around the world. I’m on a constant listening tour. That’s how you find out about what people are interested in and what they care about. 


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