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Bossing It: Blood, Sweat, Tears and Laughter with Lisa Buckley


Managing director of VaynerMedia LA on being a Royal Engineer and how good leadership stems from one's value system

Bossing It: Blood, Sweat, Tears and Laughter with Lisa Buckley

Lisa Buckley is managing director of VaynerMedia Los Angeles. In this role, she is responsible for shaping the strategic direction and growth of the agency, with a focus on deploying the agency’s integrated creative and media offering to drive relevance and growth for clients’ businesses. 

Lisa has over 20 years of global experience in the advertising industry. She joined VaynerMedia’s headquarter office in New York in 2015. As Executive Vice President of Client Services, Lisa oversaw some of the agency’s biggest clients such as JPMorgan Chase, Sabra, Tyson Foods, Unilever, Campbell’s, Comcast, WeWork and O-I Glass, helping them transform their brand challenges into cultural opportunities and effectively grow their businesses.

Prior to VaynerMedia, Lisa spent time with WPP, Grey New York, London and Paris. Lisa has extensive brand building CPG background having led and shaped some of the World’s most iconic brands such as Downy/Lenor, Pantene ProV, E-Trade, Hugo Boss, Pandora to name but a few. 

Lisa is passionate about using new technologies to push the boundaries of storytelling and believes innovative fast solutions versus ‘this is the way things should be done’. Well known for her servant leadership, Lisa loves to build integrated teams and foster a culture of creative collaboration. With empathy and understanding, she spends time helping employees navigate challenges while encouraging real growth at every level of her team.  

To improve the diversity of VaynerMedia LA, Lisa implemented a new college and COOP approach to recruitment to build a community of talent and outreach. Hailed by her team as the “Culture Queen,” Lisa takes pride in driving inclusivity in the workplace. She’s created social events (in person and virtually) and introduced monthly #VaynerThanks for people to share what they’re most grateful for. And, as a qualified yoga and meditation teacher, Lisa brings her training into the workplace every day. She is a huge advocate for encouraging employees to make time to focus on themselves and find balance in their day-to-day lives.

Lisa is currently living the dream in Manhattan Beach in sunny Los Angeles with her French Bulldog, Baxter. 

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Lisa> My first experience with leadership was when I was 15. I was a Royal Engineer 23 Cadet Detachment – training took place after school and during the weekends. Through this experience, I worked with all different types of teams. I naturally found my position upfront, ready to roll up my sleeves and galvanise a team behind a goal. It was here that I experienced many failures and the consequences that can come from poor decisions. I learned to keep at it and reapply these lessons, so each time I felt an improvement. I like to think of it as, ”always learning,” a motto that stands true to me to this day. 

I think leaders know who they are. I am very mindful of the weight of my words. I know what I'm good at and what my blind spots are, and I enjoy leading with authenticity. It takes courage as it’s a lot of internal work and being honest with oneself, so in turn I can encourage others to do the same. 

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Lisa> I think good leadership stems from one's value system. I learned very early on that I like to be in the dirt with everyone, blood, sweat, tears and laughter. I live life through a positive lens. It's who I am and I don’t shy away from it. I really enjoy connecting with people, gaining their trust and respect, and building a team to deliver a shared common goal.

Recently I was listening to the “Oprah's Super Soul” podcast where she discussed  the importance of defining who you are in one sentence. I thought about this a lot and I think for myself,  I inspire people to be their true selves, and to show up fully as they are, by being my true self and bringing them my whole self.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Lisa> Yes, I always knew that I wanted to be in a leadership role, whether it be being CEO at a company or running my own. In order to work towards this goal, I decided to put myself through university, so I worked after school and on the weekends to pay for my tuition. I made sure that during my time off I gained work experience at several advertising agencies within WPP and Omnicom. It was at these companies where  I met people in the industry that later became friends. I also learned during this time, the importance of being kind to people along the way, as you never know when your paths may cross down the road. 

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned? 

Lisa> Leadership is in service of others and it is not for the faint-hearted. While aspects of leadership can be practised over time, it takes a lot of heart, grit and care. Strong communication is crucial to motivate and inspire people around you. Also understanding that interaction goes both ways to truly see, hear, and value a team and seeing people as individuals. 

I’m human - I can get stressed and overwhelmed too, but I remind myself that to feel pressure is a privilege and this perspective, along with meditation, allows me to reset and feel grounded. 

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them? 

Lisa> A leader provides psychological safety for the team. Encouraging them to go boldly into the light and make magical things happen. I find letting go to be the most challenging aspect of leadership, especially when I see the teams coming up against difficulty. The impact that it can have when it’s your first job in particular is hard. I want to run and protect the team, but I know it’s in the messiness/the grey that people will find their own way out, like I did. I ensure they know that I will always have their backs, while encouraging them to discover their own path. 

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it? 

Lisa> As humans, I think failing is a part of the process for us all – if you don’t fail, you don’t learn. I have failed countless times in the past. In one instance, I provided constructive feedback to an employee. After recognising that this individual has never received this type of assessment, I apologised for not demonstrating more empathy. I learned never to assume something as important as feedback has been shared before to an individual and to pay more attention by asking questions about the individual’s experience first. Underpinning all I do with empathy is everything. 

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Lisa> My approach to leading is to do so with transparency and authenticity. I root things in facts, and I am comfortable with talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly as it paints a fuller picture. I'm a practical person and I take things step-by-step. In the office I have a quote on our walls which reads, ‘Each tiny effort builds on the next so that brick by brick magnificent things can be created.’  It’s the little things, that by doing them every day, will pay off in the end. Client business can come and go, but the work we do as a team every day is real. It’s a thriving culture and staying focused on that is all that matters. 

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship? 

Lisa> Mentorship has come in many forms for me along the way. Often it’s been organic, which I have found works better for me. One of my favourite mentors, my former boss, said something that has stuck with me, ‘Never feel like you have to compromise on being good to be effective.’ It resonates with me because it’s authentic while being kind. I can be a good, decent person, kindness doesn’t make me weaker, it makes me stronger. 

I mentor a few Gen Zers - one of them is a graduate I met on a plane who was doing a paper on Thatcherism. We struck up a conversation and I helped her on her path to her first job, and now counsel her as she navigates working in the corporate world. To me, I’m both  student and teacher as we learn from each other.

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Lisa> The past few years have been really challenging. With the responsibility of leading a team during such an uncertain time, I made sure I showed up with compassion for others and for myself too. I found that leaning in and having empathy for the circumstance we all are in, allowed me to get closer and connect with people in a way I could never have imagined. 

In early 2020, I also recognised I didn’t have all the answers – no one did. All I knew was that I had to create stability in what I could control. Fortunately, at VaynerX, we have an exceptional People and Experience Team who provided everything from well-being talks and tips, to how to keep children occupied at home, baking, and arts and crafts. I’m very grateful to them, our people and our clients that we were able to get through this together. 

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this? 

Lisa> At VaynerMedia, we believe that deeds, not words impact the DE&I of an agency. Therefore, as a leader, I confronted the lack of progress by acting. Since moving to the west coast, it’s been important to me that we deepen our roots in the community. We’ve achieved this by enhancing our recruiting efforts, partnering with several California colleges and COOPS, committing to a number of hires as a result – which we’ve already surpassed. In addition, we provide ongoing DEI training and dialogues to our teams. We put in the work each and every day and continue to build a more diverse and equitable workplace.

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Lisa> Company culture is intrinsically linked to the success of our business. As Managing Director, I encourage everyone at VaynerMedia Los Angeles to lead with their heart. With the leadership team I put in place, coupled with our people-first management style, how we lead our team together is seen, felt, and appreciated amongst our employees. 

Keeping company culture alive whilst working remotely in 2020 was no easy feat. However, it presented us with an opportunity to get creative with how we incorporate breaks in the day, and find meaningful ways to stay connected. During this time, employees' mental well-being was top of mind, so to assist employees in taking the time for themselves, I launched Vayner Mindfulness. In partnership with our People and Experiences team, we rolled out this weekly mediation series. This gave employees an opportunity to take a brief moment to reset, recharge, and be reinvigorated. In addition as a trained yoga teacher, I took the time to provide yoga classes for employees. I found that doing something other than working together was important for us to do as colleagues and human beings. 

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Lisa> There are a variety of resources that have helped me along my  journey. Ted Talks and podcasts are some of my favourite tools. I’ve found “How Great Leaders Inspire Action'' from author Simon Sinek,  “How To Make Stress Your Friend,” by health psychologist Kelly McGonigal and The Mel Robbins podcast to be helpful as well. I also find Kobe Bryant’s talk “Be Still and Get Over Yourself” very powerful. In addition, books are fantastic tools. Some I’ve enjoyed and found beneficial include: Atomic Habits, by James Clear, It Takes What It Takes, by Trevor Moawad, The Four Agreements by Don Miquel Ruiz, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Shift Your Mind, by Brian Levenson. 

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VaynerMedia, Thu, 17 Nov 2022 14:51:00 GMT