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Bossing It: Janet Thompson on Being a Total 'Type A'


Performance Art's managing director on the importance of being kind, the desire to lead and why self awareness is critical to leadership

Bossing It: Janet Thompson on Being a Total 'Type A'

Janet is a passionate marketer with a 20-year track record leading global clients to breakthrough solutions. As the managing director of Performance Art's fast-growing New York office, she brings her unique, multi-disciplinary expertise and her deep knowledge of data and emerging technologies to bear across all the agency's clients. Her signature wit, creative fire and unending optimism are just a few of the reasons why Janet has risen to become a leader in the industry.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Janet> I loved being involved with student government and organising intramural sports in high school. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, this was my first experience of leadership. I learned how to create a plan, inspire others, and achieve an outcome. 

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?

Janet> I have been fortunate to work for some good leaders but, in truth, the bad outnumbered the good. Our industry is changing for the better; the increasing focus on positive leadership is long overdue. For too many years, leaders replicated the toxic habits they themselves had been subjected to. This was the culture of advertising. You were forced to ‘toughen-up’ – and those who couldn’t or wouldn’t – were eliminated. My journey to leadership has been shaped by that reality and the conviction that I never wanted to be that kind of leader. I knew I performed my best when given positive encouragement. I knew I liked myself better when I was kind. I knew clients got better work when they were respectful. And that led me to be the kind of leader I am today.


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?

Janet> Like a lot of people in advertising, I couldn’t be more ‘Type A’. I have always wanted to be the boss. Some of that was to escape the monotony of junior roles, but mostly, I wanted to be respected. As I have grown in my career, I’ve found that teaching and mentoring other people toward success is the single greatest joy in my day. Promoting my first AE to a Supervisor filled me with pride. I was proud of their accomplishments – and that changed everything. In my opinion, leadership has little to do with you, and everything to do with how you help those around you be their best. 


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?

Janet> I think the desire to be a leader is natural, but the leader that you become has a lot to do with experience and training. It is for this reason that I hold hope for the future of our industry and the quality of work it will produce. The better the leaders… the better the team… the better the product.


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

Janet> I am a people person. I have always made friends easily, including friends at work. As I’ve progressed in my career, I have found it necessary to create some distance between work and personal life. I am privileged to work with rock stars. I care about them as people, not just colleagues or employees. However, for me to be the best leader, I need to separate the person from the position and focus on their professional success. That’s where our worlds overlap, and where I can provide the greatest value to the growth of others. 

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?

Janet> Everyday! I’ve learned to get up quicker, apologise and catalogue it. It’s only a failure if you stay in that moment. It’s a success when you don’t repeat it.

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?

Janet> Transparency is critical to building trust with colleagues and clients. I always recommend brutal honesty when it comes to an issue that you cannot solve alone. That said, there is nothing positive about sharing a problem with someone who is not empowered or able to participate in finding a solution. True leaders know the difference. 

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?

Janet> Most of my mentors don’t even know they were my mentors. I watched them intently, I witnessed the effect they had on me and those around them. And I saw several qualities in my mentors that were not as natural to my personality; they were more considerate and diplomatic. They listened before they spoke. I copied those qualities until they became my own (mostly).

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?

Janet> It has been challenging, but it has also introduced flexibility that I think has greatly improved work/life balance in our industry. And the pandemic has been a great equaliser. We have experienced this event in real time – together. None of us had a playbook. All we could do was be human and listen.


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?

Janet> Obviously, our industry has work to do. I think the first step, which is already taking place, is acknowledgement of the problem. The second is, to recognize how exclusion and bias – based on race, nepotism, cronyism, and sexism – have shaped our industry, and it continues today. The third and most critical step is to raise awareness and create change. At Performance Art, we’ve taken action to address DE&I by addressing these three areas. We invite guest speakers to help educate our staff and reveal unconscious biases. We’ve put DE&I at the centre of our recruiting practices and are actively seeking out diverse candidates and people with adjacent or transferable skills. We have recently launched DE&I scholarships in both the US and Canada. We’re doing a lot – and we have more to do. We all do.

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?

Janet> I joined Performance Art because of its agency culture. I was told the founder CEO and CCO were creating the agency they always wanted to work for; a place where the people were as good as the work, kindness was valued, and respect was expected. I’ll be honest – I assumed it was BS. It wasn’t. 

The wonderful thing about this kind of agency culture is how fundamental it is to how the agency operates. You don’t need to work in-person to practice or experience it. Throughout the pandemic, we saw teams independently scheduling virtual happy hours, game nights and other events to connect with their colleagues. Meetings typically started by asking how folks were feeling, and it was common for co-workers to pick up the slack for others who were struggling in the face of the pandemic. This grace and humanity are core to the success of Performance Art, the loyalty we enjoy, and the work we produce. 

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

Janet> Perhaps the greatest resource is friends in different industries. There’s nothing as humbling – and enlightening – as talking to your friends in healthcare, education, or HR. You gain perspective and appreciation for everything, the good and the bad. That self-awareness is critical to leadership.   

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Performance Art US, Tue, 05 Apr 2022 14:33:49 GMT