You are on page 1of 10

For this assignment, the person who most strongly embodied my vision and the examples

learned in class of an effective leader and communicator-a personally balanced, professionally

and financially successful individual who enjoys strong, healthy professional and personal
relationships-was Laura Min Jackson. As discussed briefly in class, she is in fact my sister, but
her outstanding leadership qualities and work ethic are exceptional by any measure. Observing
her in action and then gleaning detailed, personal insights by interviewing her, illustrated points
which beautifully and in some cases uncannily, aligned with the concepts that we have been
studying and practicing in HD 411. Seeing these methods being demonstrated in real life was
inspiring, and closed the gap for me between conceptual, in-class learning versus real life
professional practices. It was exhilarating to be able to understand the flow of her thoughts and
her work and to watch methods and examples from class unfold before my eyes in real time.
My observation took place at Lauras in-home office: a spacious, dedicated room that has
been transformed to a fully equipped, one-woman work factory. I shadowed her for a full day
from 8:30 AM until approximately 7:00 PM. She has a Public Relations Consulting business and
also works as an adjunct Professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication teaching
Graduate students. She occasionally employs interns, hand selecting from the brightest students
of her classes, but on this day she worked alone and focused solely on her PR consulting work.
I watched as she multitasked via e-mail and phone with a dizzying array of people and
information. She is at the helm of keeping clients well advised and informed; ensuring that
communications are open and projects are understood. She worked at high energy, planning and
organizing numerous things, from detailed projects, preparing clients for meetings and events,
analyzing and composing information for release to mass media outlets, to researching medical
and legal issues. She most frequently works with healthcare companies, so her responsibility is to

have a firm grasp on these matters in order to write effectively as well as advising clients on
ethical and legal matters concerning their business operations.
She has expert power, because her career has made her a fluent in the minutiae of medical
language, devices and technology. She is able to converse with and even instruct physicians on
how artificial heart valves function, and explain and write about the inner workings of prosthetic
limbs so advanced that they respond intuitively to the users brain impulses via a computer chip
implanted in the users extremity. Her scope of knowledge and expertise seems limitless.
It is remarkable to see how her professional knowledge combined with her innate,
intuitive skills and refined communication styles manifest to produce success in working with
others. At the end of the day, she oversimplifies all that she does by describing herself as merely
a writer, but I believe that in addition to her writing, her communication and leadership skills are
the core strength behind her success.
Another leadership strength that she wields is that she shares her power. Her intentional
efforts to advance and assist with the careers of many of her interns and her past, lower-level
staff is the greatest example of her practicing one of Coveys concepts of win/win and also the
power distribution that we have discussed in class-that an effective leader shares power, is not
threatened by the advancement of others.
We discussed how she supports and encourages growth, which she does by modeling
positive behaviors and using reflective supervision models to encourage her past interns to excel
and progress beyond her employ. As a result, we counted the number of people she hired, during
what time frame, and what the long term results rendered. The facts were astonishing: in her
thirty year career, she could handily count half a dozen people whom she trained and mentored,

who all have had extraordinarily successful careers, starting from the year 1988. The reward is
that she still has contact with them all, a wonderful networking system, for referrals and
collaboration, and a satisfying sense of helping others.
In terms of interacting with others and although Laura often works alone from her office,
her coworkers consist of all the people that she consults for and thus has contact with constantly.
I observed her utilizing effective communication with one person in particular who frequently
presents challenges, because this individual is not only an employee, but also the wife of one of
her main clients. The wife is not employed due to her professional expertise or qualifications but
rather due to her status as the company cofounders wife. To further complicate matters she has
been given a considerable amount of power and authority over decision making and other areas
in which she lacks technical understanding or skills. She has a strong personality, and exhibits a
combination of overt entitlement combined with an unspoken, overall lack of confidence, so her
behavior and communicating can be erratic, emotionally charged and defensive.
Laura demonstrated effective communication with her about an independent decision that
was made in poor judgment (the wife posted a short infomercial about their product on You
Tube. The problem is that You Tube has an automatic/unstoppable algorithm which connects
related follow up videos. In this case, they were all harmful to their marketing and can cause
unwarranted yet still damaging questions of credibility toward their product). She was able to
demonstrate ways of using appropriate influence and persuasion in dealing with the clients wife
by utilizing a very effective and disarming technique which did not cast blame, but addressed the
problem in a neutral, non-volatile nature, which aligned with class discussion about the
importance of communicating in a way that does not make people feel attacked.

She began by acknowledging the clients good intentions, saying, I appreciate that you
took the initiative to address a finding a way for more people to independently access viewing
our marketing video. She then tactfully pointed out that the outcome was not helpful by saying,
unfortunately, the outcome has been less than desirable because You Tube has an automatic
algorithm that prompts viewers who watch our video to then watch related videos. We cannot
control which videos follow ours, or stop them in any way. The ones that automatically come up
after ours are damaging to our products perceived functionality and our companys credibility.
She patiently, objectively listened to feedback, then explained why this is true (because the
follow ups suggested do-it-yourself, homespun/non-scientific remedies which were either
inexpensive or free. Although they are most likely useless in solving the medical issue, they still
bring into question the expense of their medical device, and deter potential consumers). She then
turned to focusing on how to arrive at a viable solution. She was clear that this issue needed to be
corrected immediately, and after letting the wife know why this needed to change, she stayed
positive and solution oriented.
Laura further discussed with me how imperative it was to keep a cool head on her own
behalf, and that teamwork was paramount in solving this problem sufficiently. Although the
origin of the problem sprang from the cofounders wife taking a shortsighted, ill informed
approach, explaining it to her will not likely change the way she operates, which has historically
been on her own whims, it had to be solved by others. Laura recognized and accepted this fact as
beyond her realm of control, but it caused a tremendous conflict and a lot of stress amongst other
company employees; my sister described the engineer as having, a total meltdown due to the
fall out from this problem. Teamwork ensued when Laura worked with that engineer to solve the
problem, and as a side note, she mentioned how varied the thinking was from her coworkers

engineering capacity, versus her perspective as a Public Relations and Marketing Consultant. She
utilized the principles discussed in class which encompassed the concepts of open-mindedness
and flexibility in problem solving, in working with her engineer and asking him a lot of
questions. Ultimately, a solution was found (the engineer decided on five minutes of black screen
and dead air, which no viewer would be likely to remain watching, thus the follow up videos
would-in most cases-never be viewed; a solution which was brilliant in its simplicity). This also
showed me how critical thinking plays out in solving unpredictable matters in work situations.
Here is a partial list of the interview questions I asked, and the responses:
1. What values drive you and how have your values changed from your early career?
My values are quality, integrity, collaboration and value in solving problems that
the client wants solved, not what I think should be solved. I dont upsell, I never propose
services just to generate more income for myself. I want my client to say, that was worth
it. In my business, organic growth is more profitable when they see the value from me
that they seek. No one has ever disputed price over value.
What has changed most from my early career was when I went to Grad school
and read the book Process Consultation Redesign, by Edgar Schein. It changed my
opinions on collaboration and value, because the consulting model is wrong; its on a
doctor-patient model. It should instead be, how can we fix this together? which takes
the consultants ego out of the equation. I was heavily influenced by my Graduate
program. After a twenty year career, I finally read Schein, because of Pepperdine. So
after working for twelve years from a PR agencys view, I worked ten years on the
corporate communications side, which equals the clients side, so I have been on both
sides of the table, and I saw from the clients side, how broken the model was, because it
emphasizes not the quality of the work, but the bottom line. In the nine years Ive had my

own consulting company I have changed my work model. In the beginning of my career,
the thinking was to do whatever worked for the CEO. Now I want employees to
understand the company mission and feel valued, and I want to offer my clients value in
the services I provide for them.
2. How do you pace yourself and find balance in your work day?
I dont. Its changed a little since I started some personal meditation practices, but I
still get extra work done no matter how much time it takes or what everyone else is doing. I
am a high C (conscientious) on the Ocean 5 Business Model. It sometimes leads to
over-service and it can even end up not being profitable. The working hours are intense and
overwhelming. Sometimes I cant sleep; it veers into the unhealthy.
3. Did a drive to be future oriented in your early career help you to arrive to the present?
Im not future oriented. Mostly in my career I was only looking at the next immediate
step ahead- not at the total outcome; my vision evolved over time. For example when I was
an intern, I wanted to get an account executive position, so I made this my mantra: think AE,
dress AE, act AE, be AE. I had my internship at the biggest firm in the world and I did not
want to leave. I thought of myself not only as an intern, but that I was there to show them I
am long term material, I am a professional, and Im ready to show you what I can do. I knew
there were fifty resumes for my job every day. They used to say: if you dont show up on
Saturday, dont even think about showing up on Sunday. There was a sense of masochism
there; thats where the bar was set and thats what I did. People who folded did not make it,
the ones who did earned fortitude. Then I continued to work and work, up to the next
promotion or position as time passed.

If I were to immolate any qualities observed, it would be Lauras propensity toward

work-a-holism. Her drive is unstoppable, and she has surpassed many of her own
expectations in terms of performance, accomplishments and earnings, but she does work to
the extreme which may render some imbalance in life.
When I asked her if she felt she was a workaholic, she quickly dismissed it, citing a lack
of consequences that occur for workaholics, saying that she did not have any. We discussed
a time in her distant past; when she was climbing the corporate ladder, and worked so
relentlessly that she deprived herself of adequate nutrition and hydration for days on end. It
was so severe, that she landed in the hospital for a week due to borderline kidney failure. She
dismissed it with a laugh, but she did make an interesting remark, I won all these awards
because I was a maniac! I was so consumed with doing wellit was kind of obnoxious.
I would eradicate that mindset because I think that it is unhealthy physically, mentally
and spiritually. She no longer works in an environment where that is necessary and even
though she sets her own standards since she is self-employed, she keeps up a truly
superhuman pace. She independently handles the workload of at least two, reasonable
individuals. She has also worked so late for international clients that they have mistakenly
thought she must be in Europe (because no sane person would work that late in the Pacific
Standard Time Zone!). I do not think that being consumed with work to the point of illness is
acceptable, a healthy goal to aspire toward, or a reasonable habit to have.
Despite my thoughts on the volume and pace at which Laura consistently works, this
experience was inspirational and very motivational. I found that especially in her active

influence in the early careers of so many others, she embodied some of the elements
discussed in the final chapter of Learning as a Way of Leading.
On p. 214 it says, Central to these leaders work was the constant search for colleagues
who could fashion organizational conditions that allowed people to flourish as learners and as
human beings. Also relevant to that, is the quote from p. 219 which states, A significant
part of leadership is learning when the most valuable thing you can do is get out of the way
so that good people can employ their skills and knowledge to do good work. My sister
definitely did that time and again in order to let her interns learn directly from her and then
launch their own careers. She happily supported their efforts without interfering, claiming
credit for any part of their many successful and productive endeavors or needing to be looked
upon as a leader. Although they generally did not work directly on some of the more
politically charged or directly oriented aspects of human rights and social change as
discussed in the book, those who became her colleagues and contemporaries certainly serve
many communities by working in fields of healthcare, social service and education, as my
sister does. Additionally, her strong sense of business ethics perpetuates right-doing in terms
of how she trains people, and in the classes she teaches at USC.
From watching her and interviewing her I learned things about her that I had never
known before, despite our lifelong relationship. We discussed far more than I can include in
this paper, and I was amazed and delighted to be able to communicate with her on a higher
level as a result of our class, our texts, discussions and exercises. I will be able to pay
forward this experience by utilizing many of the same, principled and ethical standards that
my sister uses as her guide in her career and in her life, which I got to observe firsthand for
this assignment.

Additionally, I have already found new ways to discuss and pay forward these concepts
through unexpected conversations with people that I would have previously thought I had no
common qualities or interests with. I was recently a guest at a party, and got arbitrarily seated
across from my friends step-father. While making small talk, we discussed school;
specifically this class and then this assignment. Instead of being bored or feeling awkward, I
had a most enlightening and satisfying conversation with this gentleman because of this class
and our material. It turns out that he has been a manager at a corporation for thirty-six years,
and he is very successful with motivating and bringing his staff together, because he utilizes
so many of these techniques very precisely. I was truly astonished and amazed by how
accurately the things that we have learned are actually being practiced in business, and how
successfully they truly connect people and solve problems.
The more that I continue to learn, the more people that I meet, the more opportunities I
will have to study their communication and practice my own styles of improved
communication and leadership. It is starting now, on a small scale, socially. I know that these
are all universally useful skills, and I am grateful that I now feel much more educated and
equipped to effectively and respectfully work with adults. I am motivated to continue
learning every day, no matter what capacity or employment situation I may land in. I am
confident that professionally, in the not too distant future, my own career will garner strength
and skills which will bring people together to work toward common professional goals in
many contexts.
Preskill, S. & Brookfield, S. D. (2009). Learning as a Way of Leading.

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Covey, S. (1989, 2004). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Powerful Lessons in
Personal Change.
New York: Free Press, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.