Level Up is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.
We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Gerry for Level Up.
Mike: Hey everybody, welcome to the Level Up Leadership podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevarra.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian, and also gain insight into the leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity inclusion, and so much more.
Mike: We hope you enjoy the show.
Patty: Today, we’re excited to chat with Gerry, Chief Communications Officer of North America and head of Global External Communication. Thanks for joining us, Gerry.
Gerry: Hey, thanks for having me. Good to see you guys.
Mike: All right, so Gerry, I was thinking about this conversation on my bike ride this weekend. And my intro changed like 100 times every single time I was replaying this conversation. So I thought-
Gerry: Mike, I’m getting nervous that you’re thinking about me while you’re riding your bike. Let’s keep going.
Mike: So I thought I’d start off with the story the very first time I saw you. And this was when I first joined Experian and this was like eight and a half years ago. You weren’t my boss. But I got invited to a meeting. And it was like you and Susie and a bunch of others. And I walked into the meeting, and for some reason the person who organized the meeting wasn’t there. And there’s a bunch of us, there’s probably like 20 of us.
Mike: And we are over by the Malibu Room, and we’re all in around this table, and we’re all there. And the person who organized it for some reason wasn’t there. And I’m not even sur why we were all there. And so all of a sudden, you just took control. You just stood up and started to lead the conversation. And you said, “Oh, since so and so is not here. Let me just share my thought.” And you just set the stage. You then organize the entire meeting. And I was sitting there going, “Wow, who is this person?” Like it’s not even your meeting. But you like took control of it.
Mike: And then when I ended joining your team later on, and there’s a lot of reasons why I did, seeing you manage crisis, and chaos, you’re that calming voice, like there’s a storm happening out there, and you’re the captain of the ship, and we’re all looking to you. And you’re able to make sense of what’s happening, calm people down, steer a group, even though there’s all this stuff going on, all these unknown factors. And I’ve been kind of seeing you do that. So I just want to ask you about that.
Gerry: Well, thanks for the memory. I can’t recall that [crosstalk 00:02:55]. That can be part of aging and senility. I don’t know if it’s just over the years of being exposed to issues, or needing to … When you’re in a room, and you’re staring down 20 people, and nobody is there to take the lead, I’m happy to step, in if I have a sense of what the agenda may be. I also think from raising two boys, and being married for 20 years, gives you a sense of how to manage through those things a little bit.
Mike: Yeah, I mean, also I think you have that confidence. And I want to say confidence with a smile because you’re not … There’s a cold confidence, like a calculated, where someone can be very, very confident, but can be very, very cold. And those kind of leaders, I’m not really drawn to those type of leaders. They’re very confident, they’re great on stage, and they know how to command a presence, and command attention. But there’s also your kind of confidence where it’s like I say, “Confidence with a smile.” Because you’re confident up there, but you’re also relaxed, and you also don’t take yourself too seriously.
Gerry: Well, I think how I project myself, or how anybody projects themselves when they’re in meetings like this, will also set the tone of the meeting and the engagement with the people who are attending. I think if you have a demeanor that’s kind of either forceful or commanding, demanding in a way that can make people feel put off, you’re not going to get the best out of them.
Gerry: And when I am managing a meeting, and want to get the best out of the people, you got to figure out how do you get them to feel comfortable in that meeting, to speak up. Because sometimes people don’t want to raise their hand and speak up because there’s such a loud voice by whoever’s leading the meeting. So it’s a balance of saying, “Hey, this is my agenda,” or “This is our agenda and what we’re going to do,” and “Hey, Mike, hey, Patty, what do you guys think?” And by the way, if I’m speaking at a group for an hour, or forty-five minutes, then they’ll be bored. And number two, the reason I think so much of our team, and really the people of Experian, I learn from those people and you guys all the time.
Gerry: And so I want to hear different voices. And so you want to create an environment in a meeting where you get more voices, and you get more opinions. And I mean that’s important, especially for this group to think of is, always have a voice, and have a take, and share your opinion. And it might not always be right. But you’ve got an opinion, and then you kind of put it all together to assess what’s the right approach. So, don’t be afraid. So I think for the way I manage, I try and encourage engagement from people.
Mike: What would it be, I guess your advice to leaders who they’re leading a team, maybe they’re in a big brainstorming session with their team. And they’re just some, for whatever reason, more quiet people in the room who have a perspective, but it’s a little bit hard maybe they don’t feel confident sharing their perspective. What would be your advice to that leader to kind of draw out the best out of the people in the room?
Gerry: Well, I think there’s so many great leaders out there and they all have their kind of own approach. So I’ll just tell you my approach on something like that. And it comes down to a bit of psychology and understanding the mindset of the person. Like if I see somebody over in the corner, they probably want to speak up and not. And so I may look over and say, “Hey Mike, I know you’ve got this experience, what do you think about that?” And again, it goes back to the comfort. And there’s different management philosophies. Some say, “Hey, we want people to be uncomfortable.” [crosstalk 00:07:18]. So don’t ever get comfortable because you want to challenge yourself. If you want to hit your [crosstalk 00:07:25] you’d better be uncomfortable as soon as you get too comfortable. Now, that is factual for performance.
Gerry: But for engagement, you want to get in an environment where you can go over and say, “Yeah, okay, hey, Patty, what about that? And what do you think?” And it might be a bit uncomfortable right away. But once somebody speaks up, and it’s like, “Hey, good thought,” or, “Let’s just build on it.” And I know we’re not talking about brainstorming.
Gerry: But it also goes to the sense that when we’re talking about things, I do not like when people are throwing out, if somebody throws out an idea and somebody else says, “No, no, no, that’ll never work.” Well it may not, but as soon as you go with that, and say that, that person will just go back to the moment. So how do you foster the environment where you get people to think more, and encourage it? And for every five or 10 ideas that I throw out, four, five, six may be okay. Four may not be too good, but we’re still throwing out the ideas.
Patty: So for those of you listening, just so you know, Gerry actually is our boss [crosstalk 00:08:41].
Gerry: Full transparency.
Patty: Yeah. So Gerry, actually, you were my second interview when I was about to be hired on at Experian. And I remember being told by the recruiter after I first interviewed with Mike, “Oh, you’re going to be interviewing with the Chief Communications Officer next.” I was like, “Oh, really?” Because at my all my previous jobs, it was really rare for us to have open communication with our leaders. So in my previous job, I never even met the owners of the company that I worked for or anything, let alone like a C suite executive.
Patty: So going into our interview, I was actually super nervous, more nervous than a normal interview, but then you ended up being really cool, very approachable. Just like very, it was a very conversational atmosphere. So I want to know a little more about leadership styles that you learned from.
Patty: I know you say you learn from the team that you manage and all of that. But I want to know about the leadership styles that you maybe saw and wanted to avoid. Or maybe styles that you saw and wanted to mimic. Because I feel like the atmosphere that we work in, it’s very open. It’s very welcoming, and everyone is encouraged to participate like you mentioned.
Gerry: Yeah. I’m always surprised when I hear of hierarchal environments where people at either junior or mid-level don’t have access to, or can’t have conversations with either C suite executives or senior executives. And I think that’s a big plus of Experian. We have that sort of culture where everybody is kind of sharing, and open, and can we know about Craig Boundy’s meetings with employees, all employees. So that’s good. I don’t want to cite any one particular manager or leader I’ve had in my 25-plus years. But I’ve definitely had leaders who have been standoffish and not open.
Gerry: And then I’ve had leaders who are saying, “Hey, Gerry, come on in. I want to hear your opinion,” and “What do you think about this?” And it’s those sort of leaders that I try and emulate. And by the way, we have some leaders like that here. And I realized I can get more. And I got more out of the, and my boss got more out of the environment where it was more open, and so you can have that kind of relationship. You know, Patty going back to you coming in for the interview, we’re modestly small team anyways. And it doesn’t matter who the person is on the team, we’re all on one team, and I want to be able to have that conversation with every single person on the team, so it does matter. Well I’m glad that worked out.
Mike: And we’re glad [crosstalk 00:11:46] I’m glad I dd’ step in it and I’m glad I didn’t scare you away.
Patty: No, you didn’t.
Gerry: My inmates say differently.
Patty: No, but going back to you saying how there’s those kinds of leaders where they want it like hierarchical, and they don’t want you in to talk to them, and they don’t want it to be as open. And there’s going to be leaders like that at every company. How do you deal with working with those kinds of people? But I guess as when they’re your manager and as like peers.
Gerry: What I would advise for any person coming through the ranks is you have to also be flexible to the work environment and the leadership. Because you’re not always going to pick the perfect leader. And you’re not always going to get that perfect leader. And I’ve had those before and you just kind of understand what drives them. And, by the way, that leader, whether you agree with their style or not, they want to succeed. They want the company, the client, whoever to succeed.
Gerry: And they do want you, they do want the employees to succeed. So if I were in that environment where I didn’t necessarily agree with their approach, I would still say, “Well, how can I bring value to their decision making?” or “How can I help them out?” Because as soon as I help them succeed at something, then they may be a little more approachable for working with me. So you just understand, I think it’s understanding their motivations too. What’s going to make them feel like they’re successful?
Mike: Yeah. Yeah, I think that speaks to another quality that you have, Gerry, which is … And I wrote this down on my iPhone …
Patty: Not while you were biking, hopefully.
Mike: Not when I was biking. Not when I was biking, but afterwards-
Gerry: Does everybody who associates with you understand your biking style?
Mike: We’ll have a little episode about falling down on bikes and the dangers. But one of the things that I was thinking about, what are the things that are some of the qualities about Gerry that I really admire? And one of them was, I put down, that you are a very empowering leader. Like some people, some leaders, and I’ve had these leaders in the past, could be very, very domineering with their power, and making you feel, sometimes I felt in some cases worthless. I’ve had some-
Gerry: That wasn’t here right?
Mike: No that wasn’t here. That wasn’t here, but I’ve had some very bad leaders in my experience that were very domineering, very fear based. And I was feeling threatened all the time. I felt like very unsafe for a lot of different reasons. And then when I met you, and ended up working on your team, your style, I felt was very empowering, very collaborative. You were like, “Come on in, share your ideas. What can we do?” Can you talk a little about your … like that empowerment style?
Gerry: Many people have said this over the years, but you always want to surround yourself with smarter people than yourself. You want people who have different views and different takes. And I kind of cherish that. I embrace that, and I don’t have the answers for everything. I’ve got a general approach, and strategy, and where we want to go, and our ambition of how we want to be perceived, and maybe how we operate.
Gerry: But citing just social media as an example, do I know generally how to approach it, or what to think about it, and how it’s going to move our brand or reputation and have at it? Yeah, but who are the experts? You are Mike. You are Patty. Sarah. Those are the people and if I try and make those decisions on my own, or if I do that on my own, we won’t be as successful as having multiple points of view and coming in and then saying this is the right way to go.
Gerry: And I think we’re more successful because of that. And so it all goes back to what drives success. That in my opinion will drive more success than trying to say, “This is plan X,” and “This is what we’re going to do go do it.” Because then you’re also not motivating the employees. You’re not motivating the people. Because don’t you feel better when you collaborate on it and you go and say, “Hey, I’m part owner of this. I helped come up with this program. And I’m going to feel very passionate about achieving it.”
Mike: And also for those who don’t know, Gerry, so when you do brainstorm with Gerry, you’re in a meeting, all of a sudden Gerry goes to the whiteboard. And at that point, I know something good is happening. Because Gerry goes to the whiteboard, begins to write down these ideas that are like … And then you kind of make a map. And that map will stay on the whiteboard until it happens.
Gerry: I’m very uncomfortable when I don’t have my dry erase marker [crosstalk 00:17:09] ready to go. And but because as we’re talking, great idea. Let’s put it down. Otherwise you’re just talking, and okay walk away. But if you put it down it becomes more tangible. And then you can refer to it, and then as the example goes and you’re in there, you’ll snap a photo of it and say, “All right this where we’re going to go.”
Mike: Yeah, well, you’re really good at also organizing this stuff. I’m not good with that. You remember. You jot down in your notebook online.
Gerry: You’re being too nice. I’m telling you. [crosstalk 00:17:43].
Mike: No I’m not. You’ve got tons of notes on everything. You can go back and see things very, very fast.
Gerry: I will say that maybe this is just my crutch, is taking notes, and how you … When you, I thought like when you gave the example when you’re on your bike ride, and you go over and use your phone to take a note. I could be over … And you hear people having notepads by their bedside to take … I don’t go that far. But I do keep various programs, whether it’s Evernote, or now OneNote. And on my board is … I may have ideas all the time, and I jot it down. Or I may hear something or I’ll see a news story and I capture it because …
Gerry: And I think that’s a good takeaway for this sort of discussion is, be a sponge for all sorts of information and ideas. And you’re going to get that either through an environment, or I may be at the beach, or a lake and I hear something that somebody says and say, “Oh, that’s kind of inspiring. Let me write that down and see what that means.” Or I may watch CNBC and see a news story that says “We should do something,” or there’s all sorts of matter and inputs, and make sure you capture that. Because otherwise it could be a fleeting thought. At least for me. I need to write it down, and then say “What does that mean?” and “How can that contribute to our strategy?” And it might be a nugget of an idea, but it could be the next idea.
Mike: I think part of is also like a skill. Because I will jot down notes, but I have a long running online document, that just random notes of all these different ideas.
Patty: Oh no.
Mike: But you do a very good job of putting things into folders and I think I’ve already mentioned Evernote and OneNote.
Patty: I love Evernote.
Mike: Because you’re able to quickly find the stuff, so I think that’s a really good skill that I need to work on, like be able to organize. How do you organize your things Patty?
Patty: Yeah, I have my folders and then each document is a different note thing. I don’t do the whole one long document that would drive me crazy.
Mike: That’s me that’s my disheveled crazy mind.
Patty: Well, with Evernote and all your note-taking, and all your ideas, I feel like when I do it, I kind of get lost in my ideas. And there’s just so many things. And I know that with your position, you’re also having to pay attention to the news a lot. Even just with your notes, or the news, how do you cut through the noise, and focus on something that’s actually really important?
Gerry: Super hard. As a matter of fact, I have a great answer for it because there’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of noise in the media. There’s a lot of different ideas. There’s a lot of noise in the environment-
Patty: and in North America.
Gerry: And in North America we don’t paying attention to that. The big pushes you guys will all know right now is it’s high performance, and our ambition, and in getting a clear focus on what we need to work on. So as we said, our dominant goal, that becomes the centerpiece.
Gerry: And so as I’m taking information or giving consideration, can it impact our dominant goal that is to improve the reputation, and to become let’s say the world’s most admired company, whatever it may be? Is what I’m taking in helping that or not? And that’s on a business side of course, but I read everything and take in things that can also contribute to my personal side as well. My business is important, and it is, but also either raising my family and kids can’t suffer.
Patty: Of course.
Gerry: Also, I pull in a lot of different pieces of information and …
Mike: Gerry is like a computer. Like I’ll be sitting there chatting with him, and then Gerry always has Bloomberg on the screen there, And I was chatting with Gerry, and all of a sudden like something comes up and Gerry’s taking a picture while he is chatting with me. And I’m like, “I know Gerry never tells me what he’s doing.” But you’re a sponge for information, because you’ll see stuff and you’ll just keep in the back of your head like, “Oh, that, our competitor’s doing this, I’ll need to remember that.”
Gerry: Well it goes to documenting and noting what I see, and hopefully it’s never a distraction?
Mike: No, no, no.
Gerry: But for those who don’t know, I have a TV with CNBC or Bloomberg on all day, so I can pay attention to what is trending news and see what’s going on whether its competitors or industries.
Gerry: And I think that’s very important for any individual, any companies, to pay attention to what is happening in the media. But that particular example was around probably privacy. And I saw a headline I said, “Okay, we should probably pay attention to that,” I snapped it, and go. And then it reminds me to go back, look at the story, and say “How can that inform our team?” and then share it back out, So we just, again it’s a bit of multitasking. And most people say not to multitask. It’s a probably a bad habit of mine.
Mike: But I think in your role, you have to. I mean, I know that [inaudible 00:23:20] is not the best for being super productive, but part of being in Comms means you need to be totally aware of news cycles, things that are trending, which means even though you’re doing the work, and you’re busy doing thing, you have to be like… Unfortunately you got to be a little bit distracted, keep track of what’s happening on Twitter, what’s happening on Bloomberg, because that can hit us like that.
Gerry: Yeah. By the way, YouTube, you have to tell me what’s going on. I can watch Twitter while [crosstalk 00:23:46] I know you guys will. Yeah, an example of that, and this is very specific to Comms and crisis management. There was an incident within the industry a few years ago. A pretty serious one, and hadn’t heard it, and I saw it scroll across Bloomberg, and I said “Oh, that doesn’t look too good.” And immediately it put us into action because we saw it. And so paying attention to what’s happening will pay off in terms of, How do we go to market? What’s happening with competitors? Et cetera.
Mike: And Gerry is like the first one. Gerry catches stuff before I do.
Mike: I’ll get an email about something, and I’ll be like, “How did Gerry see that? How does he know about that already? That’s barely been [crosstalk 00:24:37].
Gerry: Two little words. It’s also, I wouldn’t proscribe this, but it’s a little bit of a workaholic thing.
Mike: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well you have to.
Gerry: I just, you know, my phone’s on and I’m watching it. Find balance. What I would say is, find balance and in what you do, and I do find balance, but in order for us to succeed, it’s also paying attention to some of those stories.
Mike: Can you talk a little bit about crisis management, and pulling together a team very quickly, and kind of just taking the reins? Because I’ve seen you in action so many times where something will happen, and you will all of a sudden, we’ll be on a phone call with 50 other people, executives, people in all different ranks, and you are so polished, so good in that call I would think, “Gerry must have scripted this.” You must have written a script to lead this phone call. Can you talk about your process for pulling together a quick meeting, and being able to lead a very successful meeting quickly?
Gerry: Well, I’ve monitored our leaders and what they expect. And this goes back to what I said a few minutes ago, which is understanding the mindset of whatever your audience is. And so whether it’s your team in PR or Comms professionals, or a group of CEOs, and Head of Security, and Legal, and Compliance, and Business leaders, you have to understand what are they thinking about, and do you then prep and take all this information into it. And I think it’s a matter of just digesting it and putting it into …
Gerry: Digest enough information so they have it and so they can action it, or we can action it. I don’t know, it’s probably a little bit of experience in managing so many issues over the years, and then what we can do, but it comes down to getting the intelligence and the information, and then figuring out how to action it and make recommendations. I think as a leader, I’m expected to, especially on Crisis Comms, to take in the information and have a take and have a recommendation.
Gerry: By the way, my recommendation may not be the right recommendation out of the gate. But it’s a recommendation, and then we start making decisions based on all the information and inputs. I don’t want to go into a lot of details, but there was an issue one time where we’re sitting around with the CEO, and our [inaudible 00:27:39] and the Head of Legal, and Business and, and we discussed it. And it wasn’t necessarily crisis comms recommendation from me. But we talked about the information, and the CEO just immediately said, “Okay, here’s what we need to do” and he set the tone. He set the marching …
Gerry: So for anybody around that table, including myself, as you get that information you get that directive, great. That’s a sign of a leader. And that’s what you need. So whether it’s me as a leader doing a Comm saying, or the CEO saying “This is what’s right for the company, and we have to do it.” And then you go with it. And that’s a good sign of leadership.
Mike: I like how you said that too, about how I think a lot of leaders, whether they’re making a marketing decision, making a decision on a product, making a decision on an investment, by clip time you don’t have all the data points. Like you said, you have to have a take. So it’s like, Okay, this is I think, the way we need to go, but we’re going to course correct?
Gerry: Based on what you know, it’s all the information. So step one, when you get into a situation like that is gather the facts and make sure you have the facts, and then understand what the perceptions or misperceptions are out there and how you balance it with the facts, and then figuring out what to do. And then thinking about the stakeholders, external stakeholders who are impacted by that. So if I have a business leader they may say, “Well listen, my clients in this category, you’re going to take it this way.” So we need to think about how to communicate there.
Gerry: Consumers may be impacted this way. Regulators may have a particular perspective that we have to address as well. What does it mean overseas? And so because it’s in today’s news cycle, even if an issue emanates from the U.S., it will certainly go overseas quickly. Like there’s no longer a kind of a regionally-focused issue. Most issues, big issues are going to cross the borders, and then you got to start making sure that we are connected with our colleagues as well.
Patty: Did you always want to be a leader?
Gerry: Yes. My father was a colonel in the Marine Corps. So I was raised with, moved along my brother, Colonel Tschopp would wake us up-
Patty: AKA Dad?
Gerry: AKA Dad yeah. He would say, “Boys get in the garage, 06:00.”
Patty: Oh my God.
Gerry: Like he would have this commanding presence, and my brother and I were 12 years old, he’s like “You got to sweep here.” And [inaudible 00:30:42]. What I saw, and what I watched, I was like, “All right boy.” And we got stuff done. He was probably my team player earlier. He might have been the guy [crosstalk 00:30:55] Colonel Tschopp was a little intense, but in a good way.
Gerry: But what I learned from that is how do I kind of use that? And then as I got into college, I had a professor, Jack [Keeger 00:31:08], who was amazing and a great mentor to me. And he said, “Look, if you want to really follow this PR profession, and you want to be a leader, you should start getting involved in organizations.” So I immediately joined a group in public relations student study in America. And my first year I became a treasurer. And then I was I became president of the organization. And I realized, “Oh, this is really good.” That’s kind of where I got my feet wet to do it. And then and then of course, Colonel Tschopp said “It’s about time.”
Gerry: So you feel good about it. But yeah, am I leader? Sure. I’m a follower too. I mean, just like you can be a leader of something, and it doesn’t mean that it’s all you. Because if I’m not also collaborating and working with others, you won’t be successful. So I think one of the tenets of being a good leader is also to be a good collaborator and a good teammate.
Patty: I mean we have a lot of individual contributors who still don’t know if they want to be a leader or be in a leadership position or manage people in the future. So can you kind of speak on what leadership looks like in your role? Like being C suite, were there any sacrifices you had to make? How does a day look like? How tired are you?
Gerry: I won’t whine about it. But, look, I feel like it’s interesting. So Craig Boundy, he’s a big believer in finding balance. Even though he’s got huge responsibilities, he says like, “I’m still going to go out and coach my kids who going to be are active.” And we kind of follow that philosophy, and say we find balance regardless. So, do you give up a little something? No. I don’t know. It’s all everybody’s giving up something it doesn’t matter whether you’re a leader. Everybody I believe, has the same kind of work motivation and wanting to succeed.
Gerry: But I have a very structured routine to manage both North America and then global interests as well. And that’s making sure I stay close with the regional leaders or regional Comms leaders and understanding what’s happening out there. And then getting up first thing in the morning and paying attention to either emails overnight and seeing what’s hit or seeing my Google Alerts or news feed of what’s happening to see if we how the day is going to shake out. I think being very organized in terms of what needs to get don. And it goes back to lists, and just making sure we’re hitting deadlines, and also trying to be very respectful of meeting times and whether you start on time.
Gerry: And be respectful of everybody who’s going to be on, and ending in an appropriate time. I’m not perfect at that by any means, but I try and look at the clock, and say “Hey, we got 10 minutes left. All right what do we need to do and any more questions on this? And how do we want to close it up?” Because we sometimes fall in a culture where it’s okay to be five minutes late to a meeting or end five minutes late. And like I said, I’m not preaching perfection here, but I do believe we can all benefit from doing more to that.
Patty: Have you ever dealt with burnout, either here at Experian, or any other company you’ve been at?
Gerry: Sure. 10 minutes ago. [crosstalk 00:35:06]. I haven’t. But I also work hard to recharge at the right time.
Patty: What does that look like to you, recharging?
Gerry: It could be playing basketball. It could be going for a bike ride on the beach with my kids. It could be going out to the lake to go water skiing. Could be a great dinner with my wife and friends, and sharing a good bottle of wine and a great meal, and some laughs. It’s putting the work down, and it’s going in and experiencing life, and having emotions and pleasures that don’t involve work.
Gerry: Because then, and going back to the mantra, “Bring your whole self to work,” I want to then say, “All right, how did that weekend or how did my activities influence it?” I think the more you do that, the better you are about coming up with new ideas or solutions or managing and getting the energy because it takes a lot of energy in any leadership position, or any position for that matter. And so make sure you focus on yourself, and your family, as well as work.
Mike: As I was in this recent Power Your Potential Program, as I was chatting with other people, they were talking about how they want to improve their public speaking skills. And when I look at you, and you as a communicator, you’ve done a fantastic job. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you have improved your presentation skills, your speaking skills over the years?
Gerry: Yeah, I can continue to use improvement. No matter what your level is, if you ask any senior leader, everybody’s going to have a little bit of tension going into it. And that’s good. And you have to harness that and use it as energy to resolve it. I use every opportunity, whether I’m speaking to two people, 20 people, 50 people, as a chance to hone in on whatever the message is. And also, I just believe eye contact matters. If you’re just kind of looking down the whole time, you’re never going to engage anybody. But if I make a point with eye contact, and I’m like, “Are you Patty?” And I’m going, and I just think that’s important. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
Mike: That’s interesting. I was just listening to a podcast with Brené Brown. And she’s known for doing one of the best TED Talk presentations. And she recently did A Netflix special. And she talked about how she told the directors at Netflix that she wanted the house lights up. She didn’t want the spotlight on her, because she wanted to see and connect with the eyes and the audience. So she said for her that was really important to connect with people at the eye level. I thought that was really interesting.
Gerry: Yeah, that’s why well, I think that’s an important point. Because if I’m also looking out at the audience, and if I look over at Patty, and she’s kind of looking down, or looking disinterested … I’ll immediately leave that. So I also think it’s a reminder when you’re in the audience, be present and try and make eye contact with the person. Like, “all right, good.” And I think you get more out of it as well. I do believe have an energy with your audience.
Gerry: I went to present to a group a few months ago, and it was like 25 or 30 people. It was a Friday afternoon at 2:30.
Mike: Oh, that’s a hard time.
Gerry: Yeah, it was horrible. I was watching them. They’re like “Why are we doing this on Friday afternoon?” I’m thinking, “How am I going to get them? And engage them and them going?” and I try and use a little humor and get them going. But generally, I could tell like Friday afternoon not the place to get people’s energy up. I’m going to go back to understanding the audience’s mindset. Where’s their head? Well, on Friday afternoon I knew where there head was. It was like, “I’m going bike riding the next day. I’ve got dinner tonight.” It wasn’t on learning about what’s going on in Communications [crosstalk 00:40:03].
Patty: Absolutely not.
Gerry: So then you try and switch the script a little bit to make it relatable to them. So that, I think, is the important point.
Patty: What has been the most humbling experience of your career so far?
Gerry: I’ve had quite a few. And I think the lessons along the way are you’re going to either fail, you’re going to miss step. And it’s just going to happen. If you think you’re going to have a perfect 100% perfect career, you’re fooling yourself. And it’s okay. And I’ve had a few. There’s twenty years ago, or so, I had a boss and I made a decision on doing a press release, or something. And I’m like “This the right thing to do. I don’t need to check in with that person.” And we did it. And I got a call from that person at my house that evening. I got ripped.
Mike: Oh, geeze.
Gerry: And, we didn’t do much harm, there’s no harm in what was done. But the lesson learned for me was, it just I don’t have to feel like I have to make all these decisions all the time. And so, it was a little bit humbling. I didn’t like the person’s approach. And then there’s a few years back, I had a good year but I didn’t have a great year. And I got some very candid feedback and criticism on my performance or what I could do better.
Gerry: And boy, I strive for perfection, and that was like, “Oh, all right. Okay.” But when I took it in, it made me better and smarter, and I adjusted to it, and then had a great year. And so you just, you should be humble enough to take the criticism and then figure out how can you make it better? And that’s why sometimes when we get … Many are afraid to provide the criticism to people because of sensitivities or emotions, or whatever it is.
Gerry: I try and look at it as, when I’m providing feedback or criticism, it’s not a personal criticism. It’s how do we do this better together? And it’s not because I don’t like your personality. It’s not because of the way you are. This is, all right, here’s my input and this is how we’re going to get better together. And I apply that same. So even though I’ve been humbled many times in my career in terms of doing things better, or how I can do it better. But hopefully because of that, I’m going to do better. I hope not to fail much moving forward. But there’s a good chance something will happen.
Mike: I think that’s the hard part. When you get constructive criticism, not to take it personally. That’s the hard thing.
Patty: Right. Because it’s about you. That’s the problem.
Mike: Because it’s about you, and the way you’re doing things, and maybe you thought you’re doing things the right way. And all of a sudden someone you respect comes and tells you something that all of a sudden puts the brakes on, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been doing it wrong?” Or “I can do a lot better?” That’s the hard part. And actually Patty and I were talking about, last Friday about feedback. So do you want to share the different perspectives on feedback, as we’re discussing like different ways of how, what sort of feedback is actually valuable.
Patty: I love that you’re asking me to explain this one. You know how confused I am about feedback [crosstalk 00:44:14].
Mike: We were both chatting about it and I’d love to hear your perspective on it. So go ahead.
Patty: So we’re reading a book, and it’s about the Nine Lies about Leadership, and just the workplace in general. And one of the lies is that people need feedback. And they’re arguing that people don’t need feedback, at least not feedback, the way that we’ve popularized it in the workplace. So candid feedback, 360 feedback, all the different types. So we were saying that it’s kind of confusing, because sometimes you want to be able to take feedback from whoever, whether it’s your peers, or you like worked with them, maybe once you were in a meeting with them once.
Patty: But then it’s like, does that person know me well enough to give me good, honest feedback. But then there’s also the argument that, well, you should take feedback from everyone because that’s how they perceive you. And you shouldn’t be taking into account the perception of what you’re putting out there. So it’s just like Wait, what? [crosstalk 00:45:00].
Mike: And then Alba’s comment.
Patty: Right. Yeah, she was just like, “You shouldn’t trust all the feedback that you’re given because not everybody knows you well. Like not everyone knows your intent and what you’re trying to do.” So it’s just like …
Gerry: I agree with Alba. I’ve got an analogy for you. When my wife and I, if we are traveling, or we’re going into a different city, or in a cab, or a new room, we say, “Hey, what do you think about this restaurant? Or what’s that best restaurant in town?” And they may recommend something. And then, and then my wife will be like, “What are his or her credentials to recommend the restaurant?”
Patty: Right. That’s such a good example.
Gerry: And so we really do have to think about why, where you get that feedback. And it also goes to something that I’ve learned from one of my bosses, probably 15-20 years ago. And she said, “Hey, Gerry being liked is not the same as being respected.”
Gerry: And so that one person who gives you feedback, you may be curious because you want them to like how you manage, but in aggregate, how you are, how you’re perceived either by your peers or bosses and that sort of thing is about are they respecting the way you work? So, how do you get the respect out of there? I think I totally went off on a tangent. But going on the analogy of, “Who do you trust for feedback?” Well, I want to get it so that I can earn respect. So I can be a good counselor. Sure I’d like to be liked. Everybody wants to be liked.
Gerry: That’s not going to make the difference in performance necessarily. I may get more out of people that way. But ultimately you want to be, I think, respected. Because if I’m giving you guys feedback, aren’t you going to take it more if you respect my opinion on it?
Gerry: If you like me, you’re maybe like, “Yeah, I like Gerry, he’s a nice guy, but I don’t know what the hell he is talking about on the social media stuff.”
Patty: I think that’s a really good distinction, actually. Because yeah, I was telling Mike, “I’m like so confused about where I should be taking me back from and what kind of feedback I want.” But yeah, I think not being able to take it personally also goes back to, “Oh, I want this person to like me.” So if they’re giving me negative feedback then they don’t like me, and going to take it personally. So I think that’s a good thing then take into account. That, do people like you or do they respect you?
Gerry: And if you don’t like their feedback, just ignore them [crosstalk 00:47:44].
Mike: So Gerry, I know we’re coming to an end, but I’m curious about some of the people, or training, or things that have made some of the biggest impact on your leadership style. You mentioned your dad.
Patty: Colonel Tschopp.
Gerry: Yeah, Colonel [crosstalk 00:48:11]. I could go on personal levels in family. So my dad, my mom. I do think my wife as a partner, is great about grounding me and saying, well, if I explained to her a situation, she’s pretty good, and she comes from a PR background. So that’s helpful. But, she’s got a good sense of humanity, to where she’s like, “Well, did you think about that?” So that’s my personal stuff.
Mike: That’s good, really good.
Gerry: So don’t ignore the people that you trust around to influence it. I don’t know if I ever had the perfect leader to say that is my true north or how I want to go. But I can take enough from various leaders over time, and philosophies. And I think that matters. And then, again the team around me, and watching how they react to stuff. That influences my leadership style as well. Yeah.
Mike: I have one more question and it’s around humor. So I think you do a really good job of diffusing tense situations with humor. We can be in a crisis mode working all weekend long. And we’re in meetings and Gerry will just have, will say something that is going to break the silence, break the tense situation, make it funny. Can you talk about a little about your, I mean, you always make me laugh. And like your presence..
Gerry: Is that a forced laugh though because … [crosstalk 00:50:00]
Patty: He’s my boss [crosstalk 00:50:04]
Mike: But I mean, I think, and actually there’s this book that I have that Claudette recommended that has like 200 leadership skills. One of them was humor. And it talks about people that overdo it with humor and disrupt a meeting and take things off course. But then they’re like the proper use of the humor like diffuse tenses and situations make things easier.
Gerry: Yeah. Hopefully I strike a balance on it. And because I think we all enjoy a laugh once while, or we have to infuse a little bit of levity in what we’re doing. Not all the time, and we can have some tense moments sometimes. So humor can be a part of it. I don’t know whether I’m funny or not, but it’s enough to force people to laugh and go with it. Then, I’m trying to follow my train of thought, but humor. I can be serious all day. I think everybody wants to enjoy a laugh. I do see it. This again gets back to the meeting.
Gerry: If I see people’s faces are really tense, they’re not going to do their best. So all right, let’s lighten it up a little bit. You know its interesting not every leader believes in the power of humor. I had a very senior leader here who since left. At one point he said “Hey, Gerry, you should use less humor.” Not everybody likes the humor. I said, “Well. Really?” And I trusted that person at the time. I trusted them.
Patty: That feedback.
Gerry: The feedback. We went into this roundtable discussion, and it was a panel and I was asked a question and I was like, “Oh, this would be perfect. I could nail this one liner.” And like, all right, so I went with a straight answer. The next person answered with a little bit of humor and a joke, and got some chuckles. And a particular senior leader after that said, “Uh, I’m glad you guys use some humor in that, [crosstalk 00:52:38].
Patty: You went, “Darn it.”
Gerry: So it goes back to, who are you taking feedback from? And this was three to five years ago, and I already sensed that I’m like “You know what, I’m just going to follow my own path on that.” And once in a while use humor. But we’re all humans, we’re not robots, not quite yet. We are leaning towards AI and such, but we’re all humans, and we have to be able to interact, and appeal to our emotions, and appeal to motivations and respect each other’s work lives and personal lives.
Gerry: And if I can have a team where we feel pretty good about working together, and you walk away respecting one another, I think we’re going to do better things together. And it’s when we don’t treat each other as humans, that becomes quite disrespectful. And I don’t think anybody wants to work in an environment like that. And that’s why one of the things I love about the culture that’s being driven here at Experian is that we’re, we try and create that sense of humanity and approachability.
Patty: I think that’s an amazing note to end off on. So thank you so much for giving us your time today, Gerry.
Patty: We hope you enjoyed today’s episode of Level Up.
Mike: If you like to see a summary of today’s show, you can go to the Experian blog, the short URL is just ex.pn/levelup.
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