Becoming a Master Leader

In a remarkable journey that spans over two decades, Joni Fernandez Marmo began her career as a college intern navigating the halls of Univision Network, and ultimately claimed the respected title of senior vice president of marketing for the entire enterprise. An accomplished alumna of the FIU Business Master of Science in Marketing program, and adjunct professor for the same, she graciously unveils the valuable leadership lessons she has gathered throughout her 28-year tenure in the media industry.

People always ask her: "What's the secret to success? What helped you get to where you are?"

“Determination and focus are key, but it also took gumption, fearlessness, and leadership at every level.”

Definition of Leadership

Often leadership is associated with the C-suite: the tie, a nice, elegant outfit, anything with a "C title” (CEO, CIO, CCO, CFO... so many “C” executives!)

What the official definition of leadership says is:

Leader — a person who guides or directs a group, a person with the ability to lead.

In an organization, from the CEO and the high-level executives to mid-level management, all the way through the front lines, each one of us is held accountable. We are all responsible for something regardless of our position. We are each “masters of our domain,” which means that we have the opportunity to exemplify and demonstrate leadership. So, the big question is: how do I practice leadership if I am an intern or a coordinator?

How to Practice Leadership

1. Be Courageous

From my personal experience, let me share a valuable insight. Fear often creeps into our minds in the workplace, and it is something every one of us here can relate to. However, embracing courage and daring to take risks is crucial. It is perfectly fine to feel afraid; the important thing is to confront that fear head-on and push forward. Even if failure comes knocking, do not let it discourage you. Rise up from the fall and keep going. Remember, courage and boldness should be your companions along your career path. There is no predefined rulebook for success, and the corporate ladder we envision is not a straight, predictable line. It is more like a zigzag, where unexpected forks in the road appear, demanding decisions.

Embrace the bold choice, for it often yields fruitful results.

2. Be the Solution

I am sure you are familiar with the saying, "Don't be the problem; be the solution. “There is your boss, managing a million other things, with expectations for you to be the solution person amidst chaos. Life is bound to have problems, both at work and in general.

Instead of being the employee who huffs and puffs at their desk, rolls their eyes in meetings, and crosses their arms, why not take a different approach?

Avoid complaining at the water cooler because, let's face it, it won't get you anywhere. Be the person who steps up and finds a resolution.

By doing so, not only will you feel better about yourself, but you will also be seen as a valuable team player. Don't limit your potential—embrace abundance in your mindset and actions.

3. Don’t Limit Your Possibilities

Let your thinking soar, think big, and step outside the box! Don't confine yourself to limitations in your career, your future, or even your current position. Even if it was not what you initially desired, it is okay; take it to the next level.

Your position is yours to shape. It can be as grand or as modest as you envision. Regardless of the role you hold, embrace abundance in your thinking. Think big, not just for yourself, but for your team and the company you are a part of. This mindset will yield fruitful results.

Even when we have those wild, ambitious dreams, balancing them by being rational and pragmatic is essential. But let's not forget that some of the best concepts, marketing strategies, and campaign ideas often originate from those lofty aspirations. Always maintain an abundant mindset when it comes to your personal growth. Don't limit yourself or your potential.

Speaking of thinking, let's acknowledge that we all tend to overthink at times. It's time to let go and trust our instincts.

4. Don’t Overthink- be rational in your analysis

We often find ourselves trapped in a cycle of overthinking. The voice inside our heads grows louder, turning our thoughts into an exaggerated reality. We start reacting based on this false narrative we have created in our minds. It is a dangerous path to tread.

This tendency to overthink leads to a state of paralysis by analysis. We dwell on a matter excessively, driving ourselves, our colleagues, and even our families to the brink of madness. Instead of taking action, we become trapped in this endless loop.

To break free from this pattern, let's refrain from overthinking. Instead, approach the situation with a rational mindset. Detach ourselves from emotions and step back to gain a clear perspective.

When faced with a situation, it is crucial to approach things pragmatically. Assess the factors at hand and make a decision. The key is to keep moving forward and not let yourself become paralyzed by analysis. Remember, this principle applies not only to your professional life but also personally. Speaking from experience, this is one of my favorite lessons to live by.

5. Find Your Voice

Finding your voice is crucial for establishing your personal brand and navigating various situations, such as meetings, idea pitches, and interactions with colleagues. It shapes how you express yourself and conduct yourself authentically. I vividly recall a moment of fear during a creative presentation at an upfront event. However, a friend's advice transformed my perspective:

If you are invited to a dinner party, you are expected to eat; if you are invited to a meeting, your participation is also expected.

This realization empowered me to embrace my inner voice and take the leap. The outcome exceeded expectations, emphasizing the significance of finding one's voice. When entering nerve-wracking settings like conference rooms, remember that you were invited to be there.

Additionally, developing emotional intelligence is vital. Take the time to read the room, understand the context, and choose the right moment to effectively convey your thoughts to the appropriate audience.

6. Don’t Compare Yourself- trust in your abilities

It is a common tendency for us to compare ourselves to others. We often find ourselves looking over our shoulder, wondering why someone else got a fascinating project or has a great relationship with the boss. We question why others are getting the promotions we desired. However, it is important to avoid getting caught up in these comparisons. Instead, focus on yourself and your own journey. Trust in your abilities because each of us is uniquely special and brings something different to the table. Concentrate on your universe and how you conduct yourself. Believe in what you have to offer and what you bring to the table. Embracing this mindset will boost your self-esteem and give you the determination to keep moving forward.

7. Build Trust- be trustworthy

Speaking of is crucial to build and maintain it. Strive to be trustworthy, the person who others can rely on. Be the individual who people look to and think, "I can trust her with confidential information" or "I can trust him to handle this important project or analysis." Trustworthiness is pivotal in any setting, and numerous studies and books emphasize its significance in the workplace.

Just as employees need to trust their managers and senior leaders, the reverse is also true. Your colleagues and superiors need to trust you.

Regardless of your job responsibilities or how skilled you are with numbers, if you are not seen as trustworthy, your chances of promotion diminish. Trust is the key to elevating both yourself and others in the professional realm.

8. Core Values

When it comes to trust and values, an essential element lies in steadfastly upholding your principles without compromise. This is a significant issue, especially as you advance in your career. You might encounter situations where you are asked to do something that conflicts with your core values. In such moments, it is important to pause and question it. If it is causing significant discomfort, speak up about it. You might even have to consider walking away if it becomes a recurring issue. Making that decision can be tough, but ultimately, there's nothing more valuable than being able to sleep at night knowing that you operated with integrity and stayed true to your core values. Nothing is worse than going against what you believe in. No amount of money can ever justify being unethical. Stay curious, be inquisitive, and always uphold your values.

9. Be Curious- ask questions

The best leaders hire people smarter than themselves, willingly becoming the least knowledgeable person in the room. This approach brings them peace, as their highly creative team can solve problems they cannot handle alone. It is important not to pretend to know everything because people see through that, and it damages respect, credibility and trust. Leaders should be honest and ask questions when unsure, seeking guidance from others. Admitting lack of familiarity and asking for the best approach fosters strong leadership.

10. Consider the Reality of Leading

Consider the reality of your boss. We have all been guilty of it, including myself. Whether it is professors or anyone else, we often react with disbelief, finding their requests unreasonable or driving us crazy. But it is a part of life, and it is okay to vent. However, we must also learn to move on.

Now, picture yourself on the other side of that desk, and I hope each of you gets to experience it. It is a wonderful thing, but let me tell you, the reality is different. It comes with significant responsibility, having to answer for many things and make decisions that may not align with your personal choices. The demands of the business require it.

High-level positions can be lonely because, ultimately, the buck stops with you.

That is why I raise this point: it is crucial to cultivate compassion and empathy for those in such roles, even if they aren't the friendliest individuals. No matter what you think or feel, practicing empathy brings peace, joy, and helps you stay focused on what truly matters.

11. Leadership is Not Given- it’s earned

Leadership cannot be handed to you; it must be earned. You will not wake up one morning and suddenly become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Demonstrating your leadership abilities consistently throughout your career is key. It is during this time that people will take notice and consider you for leadership positions.

I would always stress this to my team: it is not given but earned. You must actively work towards it, even as you wait for that promotion. Seek out leadership opportunities in other areas. Volunteer for community organizations that have boards, advisory councils, or committees. You might even consider taking on the role of heading the gala committee. These experiences will help you practice decision-making and putting yourself out there.

When your boss learns about your involvement in such endeavors, their perception of you will change. It becomes part of your personal brand and shapes your identity as a professional. This ties back to finding your voice, as I mentioned earlier. So, consider these opportunities as they contribute to building your credibility and reputation.

12. Advocate for Yourself

Learn to advocate for yourself and others. Have an elevator pitch ready; you never know when you'll meet the right person in a building's elevator, hence the term “elevator pitch.” You have a short window of about 60 seconds, even 45 seconds, to highlight your strengths and what you do. Practice your elevator pitch in your daily interactions.

Take advantage of opportunities to demonstrate your accomplishments to your boss, such as during annual performance reviews. Use tangible metrics of success to showcase your achievements. It is not enough to simply desire a promotion without evidence of your capabilities.

Furthermore, advocate for others on your team. If the team achieves success, ensure that the deserving individuals receive proper credit. Elevating others is not a negative thing; it benefits them and yourself.

13. Find a Mentor/ Get Coaching/Seminars

To enhance your personal and professional growth, consider finding a mentor, receiving coaching, and attending seminars at FIU. FIU has exceptional leadership programs, which offer insightful lectures, discussions, and events focused on leadership. Take advantage of the valuable information they provide. Finding a mentor is a valuable opportunity to learn from someone you admire. Express your admiration for their career path and ask if they would be willing to guide and support you. It is important to establish good chemistry with your mentor and ensure that they have the time to dedicate to your development. Remember that mentoring is an ongoing process, even if you hold a high position as a CEO. Additionally, never stop learning – it is a continuous journey.

14. Always Learn the Lesson

Always prioritize learning the lessons in any situation, even when you feel wronged or betrayed. Regardless of the circumstance, there is a lesson to be found. Reflect on what you could have done differently, turning the focus inward. This practice is equally important in your personal life, as it facilitates personal growth. Interestingly, it is during difficult moments that you experience the most profound growth, far beyond the exhilaration of victory. Failure and being knocked down may feel disheartening, but they provide valuable lessons. Instead of dwelling in sorrow, focus on extracting the lessons from the pain. Pick yourself up, stay focused, trust your abilities, embrace bravery, maintain integrity, and foster an abundant mindset. These qualities will guide you as you continue your journey forward.

15. Leadership = Service

After all these years, I have come to define leadership in one word: service. More than 30 years of experience have taught me that serving others is at the core of being a leader. I used to joke with my team, telling them “I work for YOU.” It became an ongoing joke, but in reality, it held a deeper meaning. I genuinely worked for them. I faced challenging situations where I had to advocate for the well-being of the 150 to 200 individuals I was responsible for. Every decision I made for the department was in service to them. With that mindset, I felt a greater purpose in my role, a greater responsibility, because I knew that I had many people looking to me for guidance, direction and motivation.

When I look back to my years as an intern, my role involved literal acts of service like bringing coffee or lunch to the team. That was part of the gig, and I didn’t have a problem doing it. On the contrary, I felt important! As I grew in different areas and responsibilities, I never lost the sense that I was serving others in the work that I was doing. I was keenly aware that my role was just a small part of something bigger and that my output was going to have an impact on my superiors, peers, and the overall project.

In summary, it doesn’t matter the position or title one holds, a good leader always focuses on how they can serve - whether it is their team, colleagues, the company or the consumers.

Ultimately, leadership is simply, service.