Elise Mitchell, APR, Fellow PRSA, on Striving for Significance

April 1, 2016

I became a fan of Elise Mitchell, APR, Fellow PRSA, when we met at the 2008 Counselors Academy Spring Conference in Naples, Fla. We’ve since become friends, and I consider her one of my biggest supporters. We recently chatted about leadership, and her upcoming closing keynote at this year’s conference — taking place in Puerto Rico this May — titled: “Journey Mindset: The Quest for Passion and Purpose.” She also has a book in the works titled “Leading Through the Turn: Destination Leadership, Journey Mindset.”

You’re known as a brave leader, yet I assume you’ve had to tackle your fears, and often. Please share one such experience.

It was fear of failure. Most driven leaders work so hard for success, and our biggest fear is not reaching the destination we set our sights on. But if you’re a risk-taker, you have to be willing to deal with failure.

To do so, know that one, you can be mad for 24 hours, but after that you have to get over it and look ahead, and two, learn from it! Figure out what didn’t work and try something new next time. Don’t keep doing the same thing or you’ll keep getting the same result! This is where being nimble, adaptable and coachable are critical.

I imagine that along your journey from a one-person PR agency in 1995 to becoming CEO of the Dentsu Global PR Network you “failed” a few times. Please share a big failure, and what you learned from it.

One of my biggest mistakes in our early years was when we were growing so rapidly, and the team was working too many hours and feeling overwhelmed. That’s when we made what I call “desperate hires”: candidates who weren’t the best fit for the job, or worse, soon showed themselves to be cultural scoundrels. These are people who have knowledge and technical skills, but don’t live up to the values and culture that are the heart and soul of your organization.

When that happens, you must act swiftly to see if they are coachable and want to change in order to succeed here, or you must exit them for the good of everyone — including them. They’ll find a better fit somewhere else.

Please share a preview of your closing keynote at the upcoming Counselors Academy Spring Conference.

As leaders, we’re very goal-oriented and driven. For us, setting and achieving compelling goals lights our fires.

But you don’t often hear about striving for significance in one’s leadership journey. You can get to a lot of “theres” in your life. And while getting “there” has its rewards, it doesn’t completely satisfy.

As I went along my leadership journey, I realized I needed something more: finding passion and purpose in my work. It then becomes less about you, and more about everyone else. There’s so much you can do to impact others for good, whether it’s your time, your money, your mentoring or simply making a conscious decision to help those around you.

Leaders are often in the position to make these life-changing decisions. These are the crucial moments when you’re going to do something that can benefit others around you. I’ve found that when I put my people first, and focus on what’s right and best for them, as well as my companies, I’ve benefited tenfold. It’s been proven to me time and time again that that’s the right thing to do.

So strive to find significance and purpose in your work, more than money, fame, fortune and power. Those aren’t the be-all end-all, and they can’t solely define who you are as a leader. Those aren’t lasting rewards, they’re not completely satisfying and there’ll be something missing.

It’s been a far more rewarding leadership journey this way. It’s the way I was raised, the way my parents raised me and supports my spiritual beliefs. I guess I’ve always believed that God gives us opportunities. It’s up to you to do what you can with them. When you’re trustworthy with little, you are trustworthy for much. When people see this in you, they’ll walk through fire for you.

What advice do you have for managers who have the opportunity for leadership offered to them early in their careers? What are the things to watch out for?

Take it, but only if it's the right fit. And that's not an easy thing to determine. Great leaders know not only what they do, but why they do it and how they do it. Don't take a leadership opportunity just because you have the technical expertise or because it's another step up the chain; take it because the culture is consistent with your values and is conducive to a productive, happy team. Take the opportunity if you will be proud to see it through to fruition.

And be humble. A title is not the end game. Leadership is a process. Never stop learning from others, and, of course, leadership doesn't just come from people higher up the chain than you. Look for leadership qualities among your clients, your staff and your family and friends.

Ken Jacobs

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



This article was very insightful. As I achieve more and move further in my career fear is a major factor. Great perspective!

July 15, 2017

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