I met Jennifer Leuer several years ago while on the Board of OneOC. At the time she was President of Experian Partner Solutions. I was so taken by her business savvy, positive energy and personal down to earth warmth. She clearly is a big picture thinker and embraces the human side of growing a business.
One year ago, Jennifer took on the CEO role at CyberScout, a global leader in cyber risk protection. We stayed in touch and I have learned a lot about her ability to be resilient especially during this pandemic. Her team supports over 17 million households worldwide and 770,000 businesses. They understand the importance of high-touch and the pressures of shifting priorities. I caught up with Jennifer to learn more about how she sees resilience as a primary leadership capability today.
Sherry: What does resilience mean to you?
Jennifer: Resilience is a word we are using a lot lately. We use it with our employees and clients. This is truly a time of uncertainty and unpredictability requiring us to let go of old operating assumptions. I know people want something to count on but during this time, we have to let go of that and realize we can’t count on things as they were.
The image that comes to my mind is the oak tree and the reed. One of Aesop’s Fables is a story about a big storm that comes with heavy wind. The tree loses its limbs and yet the reed moves and bends more easily with the wind. I think about that for us, for when the wind is fast and furious, should we stand firm? If we do as a tree, we might break yet, if we are the reed, we bend and survive. So in all the situations that we are dealing with now, how do you want your team to handle these storms? I am encouraging our team to accept the rapid pace of change right now and use it to creatively move forward.
Sherry: How do you navigate the unknown?
Jennifer: I did an improv comedy class, which was such a learning experience and introduced the notion of ‘yes, and…’. We were forced to be creative on the spot. A statement would come at me and I would not be able to change it yet, I could accept it with a yes, and then add my take on what came next. The idea to ‘yes, and…’ is that we accept what is in front of us and make something out of it.
Sherry: How are you applying that to this time of COVID?
Jennifer: It has forced me and my team to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Just in terms of our team members, early on, we started talking about mental health – we made every effort to reach out and have remote coffees and connection opportunities with each other on Zoom and with clients too. That is aligned with our culture of care and whole hearted service to our clients and each other.
We also are getting creative around how we can assist clients and their customers in this unprecedented time. Working in the cyber risk space, we understand what it’s like to work in a crisis situation and we naturally want to to contribute when people are in crisis.
Sherry : What are you learning about yourself during this time?
Jennifer: I am learning the importance of taking breaks and reflecting. Some folks are finding themselves on video calls all day without any breathing time. I am encouraging time to take a break and step away to get perspective.
I’ve also learned there’s no perfect solution. The best teams take chances and are as prepared as they can be. We actually had a pandemic plan prepared and our team pulled it out in early January. It was a great starting point. Of course, it was not perfect the first time and frankly, perfection is out the window in times like this. It is too tough to control all the risks while showing up and dealing with the situation at the same time.
Sherry: Describe your approach to learning and self-reflection?
Jennifer: In the beginning, it seemed that many of us felt as though we had to be the strong ones during a crisis. It is clearly still a crisis.
I have experienced the running on adrenaline and hitting the wall. I have that experience personally and professionally. My most important learning is that I have to be ok where I am. I realize the power of acknowledging feelings, and mindfully letting them pass to hopefully reveal a broader perspective. You can only push through the stress so long and my commitment to show up for myself and my team is the priority.
I am proud that our team has focused on transparency and being open about how we are processing the changes. We are intentional about the human connection that we all value. I have learned to get comfortable on virtual platforms. In some surprising ways, it has allowed us to share more of our human side when working from home. We learn who has a great garden or really unusual pets. We also learn about each other’s families. For instance, we saw one employee talking to us from his son’s bedroom. It turns out his son gives up his bedroom every day so his dad has a quiet place for customer calls. It was incredibly touching that families like his are so committed to our business.
Sherry: Do you recommend we tap into or expand our networks during this time?
Jennifer: Absolutely! I have directly benefitted from a diverse community of folks who are always there to share their expertise, especially in this year’s rapidly changing environment. I used to dislike the term “networking.” But when I reframed it as creating connections and relationships, it became more natural.
I’m regularly reaching out to my network for assistance with finding a resource or referral for help.
Sharing information and connecting people together are both really relevant ways to build your network right now. I am grateful to have met with people recently who were so open to sharing best practices. I highly recommend reaching out to your community and others that are tackling some of the big business challenges during COVID. And it’s also a great time to find out how they are doing personally and their families as well.
Sherry: Given the importance of resilience today, has this changed the way you select talent?
Jennifer: I select talent based on potential. I focus on trying to understand a person’s demonstrated capacity to continually learn and grow—especially when dealing with failure. So in that respect, resilience has been at the center of what I look for in talent. I’m now adding the quality of creativity to the top of my list. We collectively have been tested and stretched in so many unforeseen ways this year. It has required both true resilience and serious creativity to thrive.