Letting the Cat Out of the Bag: 6 Things I’ve Learned about Leadership

By Bridgette Borst Ombres 

Imagine you’re driving hard to bring the development of a new campaign across the finish line when your team just learns the client’s business goal has changed – a surprising, unwelcome twist on a Friday afternoon that squashes any weekend plans.

There is one team member who jumps right in with solutions, eager to recommend a new course of action while another individual starts asking questions.

Ever think the first person to come up with fresh, new ideas is the smartest in the room – or the leader of the group?

I’m going to let the cat out of the bag.

Next time you’re in a group setting, sit back and watch the people who lead with questions instead of answers. It’s one of the tell-tale signs of a leader.

As we start to unpack leadership in this post, I’ll start by admitting that early on in my career there was a time I believed “boss” equaled leader. The corner office. Expensive car. Fancy title.

Don’t get me wrong – a boss can be a leader, but not necessarily. A leader could be the person sitting next to you who shares your stapler. Most of us have been in situations where the real leader of a team or even a whole organization, is not the boss. Someone else is. Leadership has nothing to do with age, a job title or one’s position in the hierarchy of an organization.

A decade later as a communications professional, I’ve reported directly to and worked with CEOs; done a fair amount of traveling for business; managed teams and met a lot of great people both in PR and across other industries.

Based on my mashup of experiences in the workplace, here’s what I can tell you about leadership:

People may respect the boss but everyone loves the leader.

That’s because they are skilled at emotional intelligence. They practice humility and they are positive and approachable. This guy right here is a model for just that – not to mention, he’s one of PR’s finest.

Great leaders pass the credit and take the blame.

This means when you win the RFP – the leader gives a little more kudos to the team than earned and when an ad falls flat, accepts a bit more of the responsibility than deserved.

Leaders are masters of effective communication.

Learning to communicate effectively is one of the most important life skills and it’s especially critical in public relations.

If you want to lead well, begin with the end in mind.

That’s called vision.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” – Steven Covey

Excellent leaders work hard to understand the other person’s perspective. A lot of people listen with the intent to reply, not understand. Don’t pretend to be listening and enter the conversation only to get your point across.

Leaders act like winners before they start winning.

Remember that confident, talented kid in your theater class who is now on Broadway or the super-driven, recent grad who started as a marketing assistant and is now the CMO of a Fortune 100 company? Leaders start with having the right mindset.

While leadership can be defined in many ways – to me, the legendary John C. Maxwell says it best:Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

Think Gandhi. The single most important part of the Indian freedom struggle against colonial rule.

MLK, a visionary whose tireless and inspirational work to advance the civil rights movement in the United States continues to live today.

Mother Theresa: Nobel Peace Prize winner and humanitarian who fought for the rights of the sick and helpless.

Looking back at historic leaders, some have brought peace to troubled lands while others have even strewn corruption. Regardless, the one thing they all have in common is the power to influence people. It’s having the ability to turn vision into reality.

Contrary to my recent-grad viewpoint years ago, a boss is simply a person who is in charge of the workplace. It’s an individual who is focused on process, but not always people.

As I put the pen down on this leadership post, I’ll leave you with this –

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, you are a leader,” John Quincy Adams.

Interested in learning more about leadership and hearing different perspectives? Check out these killer TED talks here and here.


Bridgette Borst Ombres is a former television news reporter turned PR and marketing professional with a decade of experience working in the communications field across agency, corporate and nonprofit sectors. Bridgette is the director of marketing and communications at a tech company in Pittsburgh and also consults for a variety of businesses.

She is a member of PRSA Pittsburgh, serves on the TEDxPittsburgh committee, the co-founder of Not Your Mama’s Book Club and volunteers as a mentor at both of her alma maters.


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