GameChangers | NAWBO


A conversation with NAWBO Member and CEO/Founder Leslie Vickrey of ClearEdge Marketing about the genius of Abraham Lincoln, the magic of mentorship, three must-have criteria for big decisions, and NAWBO’s inner “why.”

How do you cultivate your leadership style?

As far as cultivating my leadership style, here are a few things that come top-of-mind:

  • Lessons Learned. I remember leaders I’ve worked with over the years, what I loved about them specifically and how I can leverage those traits for myself – good listeners (they didn’t need to be the center of attention), humble (I did a project for the global CEO of McDonald’s and he was so gracious with his time; he never made me feel beneath him), praise others often, ask for feedback, let me be independent while giving some guidance and focus on accountability (inspect what you expect!).
  • Exposure to Thought Leaders. I love attending events and listening to keynotes to learn everything I can from their experiences. One such example is Doris Kearns Goodwin – an author and historian. I literally bought her book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln while she was speaking. I would say not to ever underestimate the power of a good keynote as you attend events.  
  • Mentorship. I surround myself with mentors and leaders I respect so I can lean on them not only for advice and counsel, but to learn from their styles too.
  • Executive Coaching. I have an executive coach who had most of the people on our team take Strength Finders to help map as a company where our strengths were focused and how that aligned with our vision; as a coach, she has helped me embrace my leadership style and accentuate my strengths (Strategic, Futuristic, Activator, Command and Competition).
  • Read. Read. Read. Even if it is just quick-read articles on traits of successful leaders, I try to read as much as I can on the subject of being a strong leader.
  • Learn by Teaching Others. On the flip side, I love to mentor other entrepreneurs and marketing leaders and by doing so, feel strongly that it helps evolve my own leadership style; I can learn from them as much as they learn from me.

Looking back on your career, share an instance where you learned leadership through adversity.

First and foremost, it’s imperative to be self-aware. Leaders aren’t always perfect. And that’s OK. That said, how you handle an adverse situation will help determine if you are over your head as a leader or if you are a really strong leader.  

An instance that stands out to me is when we had to terminate one of our largest clients as they just simply weren’t a fit for our firm (we’ve only had to do this two times over the course of 11 years in business). 

We put into place three key decision criteria when making big decisions for our firm, including when we evaluate our own client relationships. To be successful in this regard, you have to make sure your business is diversified and doesn’t rely solely on your top three to five accounts for survival. We decided for our business to succeed, we must focus on clients who will treat us like a partner, not a vendor. When we are considered a true extension of their team, we see better results as does the client who sees us as experts and listens to our counsel (not that they always take it, but they at least listen).  

We also need to ensure the client engagement is a) profitable (or an investment into a service that we can then replicate) and b) is referenceable (always deliver as if your work is going to win an award!). 

Lastly, we want to make sure the team is learning from the work professionally speaking and enjoy the client interactions – that they feel like they’re really making a difference. While it was painful at first to terminate a large client account (in some cases, there can be up to 15 people working on a client account), in the end, we knew it was the right decision all around. 

When the team understood the thought that went into the decision (client/company/team hats), they were also on board and appreciated the transparency we gave them along the way. It didn’t feel like a decision I was making on my own – the team was invested as much as I was to do the right thing for our company. 

Any leadership superheroes on your list?

I always have a mentor or two I turn to for questions and advice ongoing – mostly about work, but sometimes personal too. One mentor, in particular, was really a catalyst in helping me launch ClearEdge, Bob Miano. It’s nice to have a respected leader in our industry available. Today, I’m loving the leadership of Dana Shaw-Arimoto with Phoenix. I have personally seen her rise-up members of our team to take on more responsibility and she spreads a wealth of confidence for female leaders. She’s truly transformational leadership wise. I recently met Joyce Russell with Adecco and heard her speak at a client event – her leadership advice transcended into her personal life and I really admired her thinking. She’s one of those people I could sit and listen to for hours – so much energy! I’ll be paying closer attention to what she has to say.

What inspired you to start ARA (Attract, Retain and Advance), a mentoring program for women in tech, and has pursued a social mission helped you become a better leader?

With a shortage of IT talent coupled with diversity issues impacting companies around the world, three of us (myself, Jane Hamner, Vice President of Sales, Harvey Nash, and Megan McCann, Founder & CEO of McCann Partners, together with a strong network of supporters!) decided there was an opportunity to create a group that not only attracted more women to the industry but also gave them access to resources that ultimately would encourage them to stay in industry so they could make a dent in the gender gap and of course, advance. I have learned that I have a strong voice to share when it comes to helping women. We needed to keep building a group of both men and women alike who would support our mission. And we learned two important things along the way: If you don’t ask, you won’t get yes; and, You need to be seen to be heard (in other words, network, network, network). 

Any advice you would give to your college-age self during your Central Michigan days about leadership?

There’s a lot of advice I’d give myself in general, such as soaking in as much as possible about the overall college experience from a learning perspective. Going to guest lectures to learn from people in the business world and getting to know my professors more. We had relatively small classes for my major (journalism) and brilliant minds to learn from – I really wish I would have taken the time to learn more from them, get to know them personally – what motivates them and ask questions about their experiences, etc. That said, what I did learn was exactly what I’m passionate about today (PR, writing and communications) and that doesn’t always happen for everyone.

What do you love most about being a NAWBO member? 

I’m a new NAWBO member as part of the Enterprising Women of the Year program. From what I’ve seen so far, the speakers and content are really strong, and I enjoyed my first NAWBO CONNECTS meeting. One thing I will say, everyone seems to go out of their way to help each other – I’ve received a lot of positive outreach and support!

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