Ella Tobias is a communications professional and current graduate student in DePaul University’s Public Relations and Advertising program in Chicago. Olivia Smaniotto is a marketing professional and recent graduate of the Professional Communication MA program at DePaul University.
Joining the ranks of senior-level communication leadership requires wearing many hats. Maria Gemskie, senior vice president of public affairs and communications at U.S. Bank, understands and embraces these responsibilities. Gemskie defines four C’s that serve as guiding principles for leading her global team of 33 employees at U.S. Bank, and shares how they can also lead to success for current and aspiring communications leaders.
Gemskie believes that strategic communication is at the core of effective leadership and that today’s leaders should “first and foremost” embrace the role of a communications counselor. Leaders who are effective counselors need to know how to respond proactively and reactively to different scenarios across the business.
When difficult issues arise, Gemskie says it is the job of a senior communications leader to “come to the table with advice and guidance.” This helps protect the reputation and advance the organization’s brand. She also believes that an effective leader must possess strong business acumen, stressing that impactful communications leaders can provide counsel not only from their own area of expertise, but also by demonstrating a firm understanding of a corporate balance sheet and how it operates.
An effective communications leader has a lens through which to view all activities happening across the company, allowing them to connect the dots across the organization andtell a unified story to both internal and external stakeholders. To develop this line of sight, you want to cultivate your internal relationships with partners across the organization. Communications is a relationship-building business, and the importance of having this skill only intensifies as you climb the ladder.
Exposure, visibility, and trust are Gemskie’ s “secret sauce” to coaching and mentorship. As a coach, Gemskie says you must be willing to give your team or mentee visibility and exposure to opportunities by providing them a seat at the table when they don’t necessarily have one. This means letting them in on high-level knowledge about the company growth and strategy, training them to speak the language of finance and frame communications goals as business goals. . While Gemskie mentored many individuals throughout her career, she believes mentorship is “a two-way street.” Successful senior leaders are open to learning from their mentees or their teams despite their role as their coach. “I’m so proud of the investment I’ve made [in mentorship],” Gemskie says. “But more important, I’m just as excited about what I’ve gotten in return.”
Knowledge is power as a rising leader. Gemskie believes that gaining an understanding of your organization’s business operations and your industry’s competitive landscape leads to self-empowerment. She underscores the power of showing up and being seen, even outside the office, through networking or industry events. More growth and learning happen outside of your comfort zone. For those who are intimidated by senior leadership and the titles that come with it, Gemskie imparts wisdom from one of her mentors: “Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.”
Gemskie says creativity should continue to stay top of mind even as priorities change after assuming a leadership position. To help break through all the clutter, Gemskie advises to continue to lean into “your spirit of creativity.” Creativity, especially visuals, provides an emotional connection and helps convey your key messages. When getting ready to communicate change or a major initiative, Gemskie often thinks of the Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Be creative with your communications and you will influence the hearts and minds of your stakeholders.