Continuing its Social Profile Spotlight Project, the WLN NY recently interviewed Val DiFebo, CEO, Deutsch NY.valdifebo1

What characteristics in general make for strong leadership, and are those characteristics harder for women to own?

These things have helped me tremendously:

  • Having the confidence to hire smart, talented people.
  • Empowering and inspiring them to perform, and rewarding them when they do perform.
  • Being decisive and having the courage to course correct.
  • Having the self confidence to be yourself and do the right thing.

Technology: Has it helped you create better work/life balance, or has it hindered you since you typically become more available outside of normal working hours? What is your philosophy on working during your personal time, such as weekends and vacations?  Do you answer emails or shut your phone completely off?

Technology, has been a tremendous asset disguised as a pair of handcuffs. “Normal working hours” is a term that is virtually extinct, because technology allows us to have real-time face-to-face conversations with our global partners, and to react to crises that happen “during the dinner hour, or the middle of the night.” Technology has enabled inclusion and innovation.

Philosophically, I believe we need to have personal time. Sometimes, work needs to happen on weekends. And sometimes (like today), you need to work from home because your son has a 103-degree fever and you need to make chicken soup and get to the pediatrician while you stay connected to the office. I answer emails that require my input. I read the others and move on. I empower my leadership team to make decisions, and I know they’ll know when they need my input. I respect people’s vacations and their time off. I also respect their judgment of what works best for them, for balance. I NEVER shut off my phone, it connects me to my extended family and my Deutsch family.

What was the scariest/most intimidating moment of your career? How did you prepare for it?

Ironically, I had no time to prepare for my scariest moment. I was a young Media Planner accompanying my Media Director to present annual media plans for approval by the President of a large CPG company. My role was to field questions when the Media Director pointed my way. As we were wolfing down lunch in the conference room pre-meeting, the Media Director turned to me and said “DiFebo, you’re on.” On what? Had we made some bet?

Absolutely not, I protested. This is the big Kahuna. I’ve never presented to a brand manager, let alone PRESIDENT! “You got this,” he said, “just do your thing.”

I thought I’d barf. What if… what if… What if. Indeed. What if he asked me the cost per point for every media vehicle on the plan, why one magazine versus another, why this week and not that week? The three-plus reach, the frequency, the target behaviors? I knew all that…I did the plans. So I got up and did my thing. He asked what seemed like a million questions, I answered all of them. The feeling was great, and I never turned back. I wanted to present all my work, answer questions candidly. My scariest moment turned into a pivotal point in my career.

What would you tell your daughter if she were embarking on a career in Advertising?

I would tell my daughter precisely the same thing I’d tell my son. Be yourself, find a place and the people who help you grow, people who elevate your game as you elevate theirs. I’d say, remember that what you learn growing brands and businesses gives you the strength to give back—to causes you have a passion for, to the leaders of tomorrow. I’d tell him or her to cherish, nourish and fight for great ideas and great people. Finally, I’d tell them that no matter how successful they become, there is always something just above their reach that makes every day new, interesting and rewarding.

What are some qualities or traits in yourself that have helped you advance? What are some traits you see in men that help them advance that we can learn from?

While others might identify my traits differently, here are some of the qualities I’d use to describe myself:

I’m curious. I love looking for clues and new information for problem solving and for thinking about how to do things differently.

  • I possess the confidence to have a POV.
  • I express myself in a transparent straightforward way.
  • Decisiveness.
  • I listen for the core of an issue.
  • Passion for public speaking.
  • I know it’s not all about ME.

Many men have the traits I listed above, as do many women. I would encourage women to look at the traits of impressive leaders in any field (i.e. an effective principal from your school days, an effective coach, world leader, leaders in philanthropy) and learn. In my view, gender traits are less important than behavioral and personality traits. Giving women the same permission men have been enjoying for decades to live into these traits is the responsibility of all managers and leaders.