Liz Kaplow
Liz Kaplow

We’re leading through unique times. In a moment when agencies and brands are experiencing undo challenges, I believe the role of leadership is changing.

I founded Kaplow Communications on the premise that every brand has a great story to tell. I’ve seen, through working with countless brands over the years, that time and time again it’s the leaders behind the brand that bring those stories to life. In doing so, those leaders become an inspiration to their teams and customers.

Overnight, COVID-19 changed everything. As an industry, we had to learn to work in a new way. We are still being tested. These changes will have sustained impact on the way we collaborate, communicate and create.

And yet, during these very uncertain days, agencies and brands look to their leaders for guidance and strength. The best leaders are letting their humanity show. They’re present. They demonstrate optimism, collaboration, resiliency, vulnerability. They understand the power of relationships and the importance of people. My guess is that as we move into the future, these will be the very qualities that will determine ultimate success. Today, we need to rely on the kind of leadership that’s both collaborative and reciprocal. I believe that today presents an opportunity for each of us, whether we’re starting out, rising through the middle or at the pinnacle of our career, to demonstrate human leadership. This notion was reinforced recently by our client Erik Anderson, CEO of the venture fund WestRiver Group, when he said, “The unprecedented issues in the business sector are unearthing a new wave of leadership that is less focused on competition and more on collaboration. This kind of leadership will ultimately lead to stronger business outcomes.”

At our agency, I see that the power of connection to people is the key to leading. Our team craves it. We’re coming together day after day, collaborating in new ways, being generous with ideas. Every obstacle opens up an opportunity. As a result, creativity is springing to the surface with new uses of technology allowing us to be faster and more efficient. The idea of “one story told many ways” which is at the core of our culture, is being unleashed as we remain open minded to the changes that media and consumers are experiencing. Most importantly, we’re moving together and thinking forward.

Each leader must find their unique interpretation of human leadership. There’s certainly no formula. With that in mind, below are the qualities that I believe are relevant to these times. If practiced, I’m optimistic they’ll help us individually, with our teams and our clients, positively impacting the future of our industry.

Relationships for the long haul

I’ve always been an optimist and cheerleader for people. It started as a kid when I’d watch my grandfather, the original people person, connect with the tenants he was collecting rent from in Harlem. He’d always ask about their families and take the time to understand their challenges and struggles. He taught me the power of building relationships. Most importantly, relationships that would withstand the test of time. Today, it’s important to remember the real gifts that come from viewing others as people and using empathy and human connection to sustain relationships.

Don’t just show up, be in the moment

It is not easy to feel present when we are talking through a screen all day. I’ve always been a fan of reading people’s faces and body language in a room. You can see the nuances. A slight nod of the head means you are on the right track, while a shifting of feet could mean you need to pivot. Overnight, we moved to new means of communicating via video calls where it can be harder to read the signs. Without the benefit of live energy and feedback, leaders need to bring added clarity and purpose through their communication. Over the past weeks, I’ve seen many CEOs effectively present their thought leadership in the moment, using stories and experiences to motivate and inspire.

It’s okay not to be okay: the power of vulnerability

The other day, nothing felt right. I missed seeing my kids and my mother. I missed sitting at the conference room table, surrounded by an engaged and collaborative team. Then, I did something unusual for me. At our team Zoom meeting, I dropped my guard and told the team how I’d been feeling. I allowed there to be pauses, because at that moment there was no solution, and that was okay. I let them know I was feeling better, stronger now, but that its okay to have moments where our vulnerability comes through. And there’s power in that.

Resiliency leads to creativity and innovation

During these last weeks, I’ve been watching and learning from my 93-year-old mother, who’s a career artist. It certainly hasn’t been easy. That said, things started to get better when she began to paint again. She suddenly sounded excited about her day, about her purpose. As business leaders, I believe we can take a cue from this mindset: through what may seem as constraint, there’s the opportunity for each of us to call on our “inner child.” To explore possibilities and draw on our unique creativity. We’re seeing incredible ideas developing, new uses of technology, business solutions springing up. This openness and acceptance to change is yielding creative solutions that will surely impact the future.

So, where do we go from here? Each night at 7 p.m., I take a break from Zoom to join the cheers for first responders outside my window. I’m lifted by the sounds of purpose and connection. It is a time when each of us has a chance to use our voice to lift others. To be inspired by what we have seen in the business sector and beyond, to allow us to lead using what comes naturally: our humanity.


Liz Kaplow is founder and CEO of Kaplow Communications.