Kim Bardakian on Learning to Self-Motivate

June 27, 2018

Kim Bardakian Highlights

Current job title: Director of Media Relations, Kapor Center for Social Impact

Previous executive role: VP of Public Relations and Community Relations, Visit Oakland

Other leadership positions: Senior Communications Manager, Pandora

What are some of your key leadership principles?

Passion, honesty, confidence and communication. Without passion, it’s just work. No matter what you’re doing, if you don’t believe in it, you won’t be able to sell it. Passion is something you simply can’t fake. 

Honesty [is key] because when you’re a leader, people are always following and watching you. It’s critical to do the right thing and stick to your core beliefs.

Who are the most inspiring leaders you’ve worked for?

When I worked at [music-streaming service] Pandora on the communications team, I reported to founder Tim Westergren. Tim was as nondescript as leaders come. He donned bluejeans and a T-shirt as part of his daily uniform. He was creative, smart and musically gifted, with an infectious likability.

I would arrange for Tim to speak at “Town Hall” discussions with Pandora listeners around the country — at coffee shops, colleges, company lunchrooms, etc. People loved hearing him talk about his journey and the company. He had this charismatic way about him that by the end of his talk, you felt like you were his friend and could get a beer with him. And people often did! He had a unique ability to engage every person in the room and make them feel like he was talking directly to them. It was masterful and something I’ve always admired.

Another leader I look up to is Freada Kapor Klein, the co-founder of the Kapor Center where I currently work.

Freada and her husband Mitch have worked for decades in the intersection of technology and social justice. Freada has an ability to distill complex, emotionally-charged topics and break them down clearly and concisely. Her leadership style starts from the top down. A true leader needs to be passionate and believe in their convictions, and nobody demonstrates this better than Freada.

What’s your advice for a manager looking to move up in the company and land a leadership role?

A manager is focused on what’s needed to be accomplished to move things forward, while a leader takes the day-to-day and folds it into the big-picture strategy.

As they plan to jump to leadership, managers will need to know how to provide timely feedback to their employees, build a pipeline of talent to take over as they move up, and always welcome [criticism] from others on how they can improve. Also: Stop micromanaging. Step back and trust your team.

Once you do become a leader, [lay out] a clear vision for your team to follow. It’s just as important to give your employees the tools and trust to get there. Now that makes for good leadership!

You’ve also owned your own firm. How does leading yourself differ from leading others?

When you work for or by yourself, it takes extra motivation to stay focused all the time. I found that when I had my own business and worked from home, discipline was key. Without it, you could find 100 other things to do around the house other than your actual work.

How is leading for cause-based organizations different from leading in the private sector?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced leading various cause-based groups, committees and organizations is the lack of funding. Additionally, volunteers are needed to help implement the main objective, and their skill sets are varied. 

In these instances, a strong leader needs to communicate their vision to ensure everyone is on the same page. There’s nothing better than having a team of passionate individuals who all believe in the common goal.

Ken Jacobs

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


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