Chris Lukach, APR, on Being a ‘Game Manager’

June 1, 2016

Chris Lukach, APR
Chris Lukach, APR

I met Chris Lukach, APR, president of Anne Klein Communications Group (AKCG) at PRSA’s Counselors Academy Spring Conference in 2010. He has lived the PR career dream, and was hired at Anne Klein right out of Rowan University in 2004, rapidly rising through the ranks to his current position. We talked about the challenge of being promoted into leadership at an early age.

You became a leader in your career earlier than most. What special challenges did that pose?

I think “imposter syndrome” is an epidemic among agency entrepreneurs, but you can imagine it’s more heightened when you’re entering a path to full ownership at 24. Because we are, at heart, a crisis and issues consultancy, I struggled with a perception, both as a counselor and an agency leader, that someone in my role should have far more gray hairs than I did when I entered a leadership position. To this day, I’m not sure how much of this burden was real and how much of it was perceived.

How did you overcome those challenges?

I was fortunate to have the benefit of a few years to become comfortable, not only in my capacity as a counselor, but in my role as a “game manager.” AKCG has a deep bench with many strong counselors from many backgrounds. Becoming AKCG’s leader has not been about putting the agency on my back; it has been about managing the resources we have to meet client needs and expectations. When I began to see my obligation within that framework, my confidence grew immensely.

Now that you’re president of the firm, how did making the leap to leadership at an early age help you?

As a small-agency leader, I wear my agency leader hat, but also still wear my counselor hat, and I’ve found there has been a wonderfully symbiotic relationship between the two roles. Being a young leader bolstered my credibility as a counselor, and being a strong counselor boosted my credibility as a leader. Without one hat, I wouldn’t have had nearly as many opportunities to wear the other.

I’m a big believer in learning by osmosis, and young leadership afforded me access to great thinkers, through our IPREX network and The Croft Society (a think-tank of agency leaders), at pivotal moments in my career, [which aided] my personal growth.

What specific leadership tips did you learn from the agency founder, Anne Klein?

Anne is a people-focused leader. From my first day as an entry-level employee, she showed me that every employee has value, and every employee can contribute. She’s a true connector, in the Gladwell-ian “Tipping Point” sense, which is an essential quality of leadership. Aside from the karmic benefits of connecting, she is able to surround herself with intelligent, able people and people of diverse skill sets and backgrounds. “Hire people you think are smarter than you,” she told me, and that stuck.

I watched Anne make difficult decisions that were in the best interest of our employees, even if they worked against the bottom line. That’s a leadership quality I’ve unapologetically stolen. If a client doesn’t respect or value our team, is overly tactical or into publicity for its own sake, we say “goodbye.”

Anne always told me she would not be the richest lady in the cemetery, but that was OK if she could look at herself in the mirror. This attitude fosters a culture not only of strong retention, but also one of stability. Even when we battled the economic downturn of the late 2000s, AKCG’s culture never became one of desperation. Strong leadership steadied that ship.

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).

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