Jim Weiss on Letting Go of Ego and Fear

June 3, 2019

Jim Weiss Highlights

Current job title: Chairman, CEO and Founder, W2O Group

Previous executive roles: Senior Director, Corporate Communications, Heatport

Other leadership positions: Board of Advisors Member, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University


What tenets have you followed to become a leader?

Integrity, being true to your word, is perhaps the most important. Do what you say you are going to do.

Surround yourself with people who are as good as — or better than — you are. Listen and take their advice. Give them a job and trust them to do it.

Clear communication is also very important. Articulating expectations and a vision that people can rally around is essential. Helping your people understand “the why” and not just “the how” and “the what” can sustain your organization through many challenges.

Staying optimistic while hitting challenges and opportunities head-on is a balancing act that I seek to achieve in my leadership style.


Who are the most talented leaders you’ve worked for, and what made them so effective?

I’ve worked for many talented leaders in my career, starting with Beverly Simons and Laura Leber at Hill & Knowlton, and Laura again at Genentech. They never asked of me what they weren’t willing to do themselves. They were honest and real, and never sugarcoated anything. They showed me the value of working hard and playing hard.

Finally, I learned a lot from my mom, who was the CEO of our family business. She took it over when she was 65, an age when most people retire. She turned the business around from a sleepy, family life-style business that was breaking even to one that innovated and made money.

She took risks, forged relationships with some very tough customers and gave back as a great community citizen, philanthropist and leader.

My father was similar and taught me the importance of being generous with your time, not just with your money.


What have your biggest leadership missteps been? 

My biggest misstep was making decisions for money, which almost never works out. Another was letting negative or nonperforming people remain in the company for too long, despite a clear policy to the contrary. You get what you tolerate; be clear about your boundaries.

Your firm W2O just announced its 17th year of double-digit growth. What helped achieve those remarkable numbers?

The old adage is true: Always hire someone smarter than you to do things you don’t know how to do yourself; then let them do it. Give them support, resources and coaching to achieve their goals. Enroll them to do what needs to be done, rather than cajole them. Financially vest them in a collective future.

Be decisive. Cultivate a culture of accountability and ensure that everyone has clear, measurable and timely goals. You can’t get there if you don’t know where you’re going.


How can the PR profession make sure it’s not just training practitioners, but also creating leaders?

It’s up to individual leaders to act as role models for the next generation. Show them what’s possible and lead by example. Create a more diversified workforce, support women and minorities and support organizations that are making an impact.

Leadership often involves a culmination of experiences that transcends being a good practitioner. A great leader must first be a great practitioner, and then a great manager, and then someone who possesses a vision and direction that people are willing to follow.

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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