LENZ views leadership broadly and encourages leadership development among everyone on our team. In this series of interviews, several of our leaders reflect on their principles and practices, and on the lessons in leadership they’ve learned along the way.
Rachel Cushing came to LENZ with a background in nonprofit development and political marketing. As Media Supervisor at LENZ, she oversees the company’s media buying, social media, and public relations efforts. She loves working with the talented and innovative LENZ team and especially respects the organization‘s commitment to both for-profit and philanthropic efforts. Rachel attributes her well-rounded skill set to her liberal arts education from Agnes Scott College and her intrinsic curiosity.
Excluding colleagues at LENZ, who taught you the most important lesson that guides your leadership at LENZ today? What did you learn from them?
My mom. She’s one of the most compassionate and empathetic people I know. Being raised by her (and my dad, of course) with those values showed me the benefits and importance of always approaching others with compassion.
Essentially, the lesson I learned from her example is that people respond better and give more of themselves when they feel heard, and when they feel they’re in a safe space with people who care about them. Applying that thinking to my work as a leader here at Lenz has served me very well.
I also think an often-overlooked part of that lesson is that compassion and empathy are more than just “being nice.” It’s about putting yourself in the position of the people you lead, looking out for them, and wanting the best for them. When you approach people that way, they feel it and respond with wanting to do their best for you, and also with wanting to look out for their peers.
My goal is to create an environment where everyone not only gets along, but also understands the importance of empowering and looking out for each other. I try to lead in a way that sets that tone.
What is an important lesson about leadership that you learned from a client?
Working with the Atlanta Science Festival has taught me a lot about the benefits of “letting go” and trusting others.
I care a lot. I want to make sure everything goes perfectly. So sometimes my instinct is: let me just do it myself to make sure it’s done right. But that mindset is actually very selfish and often smothers development in a lot of ways. People need the space to succeed AND to fail. That’s how they grow.
So with the Atlanta Science Festival, their approach as a client was: We’ve given you our goals and set some ground rules. We’ll give you feedback when you need it. But we trust you. We’re going to let you do your thing and shine. We know it’s going to be great.
And the result of this trust and space has been fantastic. We do some of our best, most creative work for them, and in turn they continue to give us more freedom and responsibilities. It creates a positive cycle of development and mutual benefit. They continue to get our top creative work, and we continue to get more and more opportunities from them.
Watching the success of this account has taught me a lot about how I should approach managing my team. If I trust them enough to have hired them and to have put the work into training them, then I should trust them to do the work without me being involved every step of the way.
I like to think I’ve made a lot of improvements in that area over the years, but it’s something I will probably always have to be mindful of.
Fast forward as many years as necessary. You’re leaving your present role, whether for a promotion or a job change or retirement. What advice would you give to the next person who fills your position?
Make time to ensure your team feels heard.
When I first stepped into a management role, I didn’t think a lot about how different communication styles might impact productivity, workflow, and even employee satisfaction. Thankfully, I learned pretty quickly that a big part of my job is to learn these different communication styles and do what I can (within reason) to accommodate them.
A lot of times, the key is creating a safe space for communication. For example, I decided a few years ago to have monthly one-on-one meetings with each of my team members. This is in addition to department meetings we have all together each week. By creating that individual space, a lot of challenges and concerns that could’ve turned into something really negative instead end up unknotting themselves naturally because we have this touchpoint every month.
Another specific example of this relates to managing women in the workplace. I’ve had the privilege of having many amazing women on my team over the years, which is something I really cherish. For women, I think the practice of making a safe space for dialogue is even more important. We’ve been taught to avoid conflict and not trouble the water, which often leads to not speaking up when an issue or concern develops. But the more you practice the exercise of asking for this type of feedback, the more people learn it’s not only OK, but actually really important to speak up.
So in general, I guess my advice for the next person would be to remember that people communicate differently, and it’s important to keep that in mind when you’re making space for employees to share ideas, thoughts, concerns, or feedback.
If you could send a message back to yourself during your first year working at LENZ, what advice would you give?
Give yourself more credit. Remember you’re not here by luck or chance. Well, maybe a little bit of it. Doors were opened for you. But for the most part, you’re here because you worked really hard and you care a lot.
It’s easier to manage the ups and downs in your career if you believe that in your heart. I’m here because I put in the effort, threw my hat in the ring, stepped up to the challenge.
That’s the advice I’d give myself then and would still give myself now.
One beautiful benefit of being a manager is that you’re forced to take ideas and principles that you believe in and put them into practice for other people. For me, that’s easier than doing it for myself. I practice it so much more through managing my team, so it’s now easier to turn that inward and apply it to my own success.
Managing is hard, but nothing makes you grow faster.