Bossing It in association withLBB's Bossing It

Bossing It: Taking Failures as Lessons with Suzie Bao

Advertising Agency
Los Angeles, USA
Quigley's group account director on learning what not to do, being a positive influence and setting your team up for success

Suzie Boa is a group account director at Quigley, a fully-integrated brand performance agency uniting brand and demand.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership? 

Suzie> My first leadership experience was when I was in college. I applied to join the American Advertising Federation (AAF) team. The team advisor not only accepted me but also made me the new president, even though I had no prior experience. This advisor saw something in me well before I realised it myself. 

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? 

Suzie> For many years, I led teams with the motto ‘lead by example.’ Though it's still true today in many aspects, I have realised that this saying is too broad. It begs the question, what's the example? Unfortunately, there were more bad examples of leaders than positive ones during my career. However, bad leadership has taught me quite a lot. I learned what NOT to do. 

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? 

Suzie> I first realised that I wanted to grow into a leadership role when I was in college. I spent many years under poor management and had little to no exposure to strong leaders. I had an experience early in my career that completely pivoted my life for a bit. I worked at an advertising firm and felt I had no voice because my boss kept taking credit for my work, overshadowing me in front of executives, and didn't promote me until I was about to quit. I decided the work environment was toxic for me, so I left the account and decided to pursue my other passion, fashion school. From that experience, I had a revelation about leadership and my potential. I realised that I could be a positive influence and ultimately inspire others. Over the years, I have developed leadership techniques based on empathy and compassion, which have positively impacted my team and peers. 

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of the personality, and how much can be taught and learned? 

Suzie> Some people are natural leaders, but leadership skills can be learned through experience and introspection. For example, many people of Colour, especially Women of Colour, must first break through their cultural barriers to display their leadership qualities. I would not call this a skill but rather a character trait. Many people have the characteristics of a leader. Whether they choose to use them and bring them to the forefront sets them on a true leadership path.

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

Suzie> The most challenging aspect of a leadership position is knowing when to be prepared and how to act your best. As a group account director at Quigley, my job holds many roles. I currently lead a 6-person account team that manages projects, as well as creative and studio teams. To be the best leader I can be, I make sure that everyone working with me has the resources they need to be successful. I learned this lesson while working in a sales position at Pandora Media. During this period, I was a sales executive and also had the opportunity to become an individual contributor (although not overseeing a team). I was excited to have a position outside of my typical role; however, I began to feel FOMO after some time. I realised that I enjoy mentoring colleagues and helping them improve their position. For me, being a leader in this way is personally rewarding and fulfilling. 

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? 

Suzie> If you take on a leadership role, you take on the responsibility of setting your team up for success. The wins and losses are shared, but the leader would and should take most of the burden. I don't like to think of the ‘failures’ as losses but instead as lessons. It's always a good idea to look back at these situations and assess what worked and what didn't. This is a great way to learn and grow. 

LBB> As you develop 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? 

Suzie> When I was starting my career, I did not have the guidance of a mentor. I assumed that my boss or senior superiors would take me under their wing as their mentee. As I originally started to climb the ranks, I would seek mentorship from various departments, such as media, creative, and production teams. It wasn't until my later client-side role at Aha Radio (a division of Harman International) as a senior manager and partner marketer that I found my mentor! At the time, I reported to the vice president of marketing, Chia-Lin Simmons. One of the most important leadership lessons she taught me was about talent: it is a leader's skill set to recruit and retain great talents. Chia-Lin's mentorship taught me that to become a strong leader, it is essential to have a strong mentor. I believe that obtaining mentorships and also being a mentor is critical to being a strong leader. I often mentor others and am truly passionate about helping people find a direction. Leaders are in a position of power and hold a responsibility to turn the people they lead into leaders. 

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? 

Suzie> As an Asian woman, I've been personally affected by this my entire career. The most significant action I have taken recently was to join the board for Asians In Advertising.

Our goal is to create a free community for Asians to connect and thrive in this industry. Our mission is to provide networking opportunities, spotlight Asian talent, and level up more Asian representation in C-suite roles. We are getting ready for a 2-day summit starting on May 5th called 'Breaking Barriers.' I've been involved in securing sponsors and speakers and am also moderating one of the sessions. Allies are welcome and encouraged to attend. Feel free to use this 30% discount code: WELOVEAIA. 

LBB> What are the most useful resources you've found to help you along your leadership journey? What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership? 

Suzie> I leave you with a piece of advice that came from an ‘aha’ moment for me. Anyone who wants to become a leader should have mentors and sponsors and invest in an executive coach. There is not a single person who can serve the role of all three.

Work from Quigley-Simpson
Take Your Turn
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District