Interview with Sharon Lawler-Sudell, International Schools Services

For this year’s International Women’s Day, our team at Slice is proud to celebrate women across the marketing and communications industry through an interview series. Follow along throughout the week leading up to International Women’s Day to read about these inspiring women and their stories.

This interview is with Sharon Lawler-Sudell, the Chief Marketing Officer for International Schools Services, a nonprofit that works with over 500 international schools and thousands of teachers.

How do you define your leadership?

My leadership style is all about team culture. It’s about helping others discover what they’re capable of, getting to know what motivates them and where they get stuck, and creating an environment where we all lean on and learn from each other. I want everyone on my team to see how their individual skills, experiences and perspectives can come together and propel the entire team forward. 

As a marketing leader, I also think it’s important to help illuminate the vision, encouraging my team to step away from where things currently are and consider the bigger picture and how things can be. I put the dots on the whiteboard and then everyone helps to crystallize the picture by adding their unique value.

The bottom line is that we’re going to work hard; we’re going to do big things on short deadlines; we’re going to get outside our comfort zones; but we’re going to do it together. And once that becomes organic, that’s when the magic happens. 

How has your leadership changed over the years you’ve been working?

I more consistently practice gratitude and reflect daily on how I can do better. I’ve also learned to b-r-e-a-t-h-e and put things in perspective. There’s no challenge or crisis you can’t handle if you cut out the drama, focus on what’s important and then get started. Some solutions aren’t immediately clear, but you can turn the issue upside down, shuffle a few preconceived ideas, and reconfigure the proverbial Rubik’s cube. There is always an answer. 

Through the years, I have worked with some really amazing leaders. I’ve learned from the great ones that there is no one formula or style. Two particular leaders come to mind who had completely opposite styles from each other, but both helped me grow exponentially. I better understand that to be a good leader, you have to be yourself, be someone a team can count on, leverage your own unique skills and style, and learn, learn, learn from others. 

Can you share a story that demonstrates a key learning for you in your leadership journey?

Early in my marketing career, when I was a very junior team member, I got into a discussion with the president of our company about the demand for one of our new products. We had different points of view, so he made a friendly wager with me about the campaign. No money was on the line but a whole lot of pride was at stake, and on the night the campaign launched, I was sweating! Would I be right? Would he? What would happen if I was wrong? In the end, I was right (whew!), but that wasn’t what I really learned. 

I learned it’s okay to speak up and let your voice be heard. I also learned how important it is for leaders to create an environment where people share their opinions and ideas. He was still the president but he was comfortable being right or wrong with me, even though I was a young junior marketer. I learned that a good leader isn’t so worried about being right or wrong; it’s much more important to give someone a voice, no matter level or role. 

What role do you think marketing communications should play in the future of your organization or industry?

Marketing communications has to be omnipresent. It’s about so much more than a logo or a flyer. It’s the very air that courses through an organization that creates and honors the relationship with a customer. The tools may change. The technology will definitely change. New buzzwords are bound to appear. Throughout all of that, it’s still about connecting to people. Relationships matter.

What do you think young women entering the marketing communications field should know? What advice do you have for them?

Be authentic and be unstoppable. Some will tell you there are glass ceilings and obstacles everywhere. Yes, some hurdles exist but just jump over them. Know your strengths, work hard and be good at what you do.  Don’t be afraid to ask people to teach you new things, whether it’s a leader, or someone who works next to you, or someone who is junior to you. They all can help you learn and grow. And always, always, lift up others. In the end, that means everyone rises.

Interested in more? Check out the full interview series here.

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