Hello, I'm Kerry Guard and welcome to our 100th episode of Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.
This podcast has gone through quite an evolution over the last three years. One hundred amazing conversations I've had and today is no different. Today I'm joined by Janice Dru-Bennett. Janice also joined me on our live roundtable where we discussed the well-being of the people that we lead. It's an important conversation and the link is in the show notes. So be sure to head on over there and check it out.
In this conversation, Janice and I focused more on you and your needs as part of a team versus the roundtable, which focused more on how you lead people and take care of them, making sure they have what they need. This is about you and how you get what you need when you're part of a team. Janice lost so much these last few years, personally. I'll have her share her story. But in her loss, we talk about how we can make sure we get what we need when we're going through a time of grief. When you're part of a team and you're trying to be there for your team, you can sometimes end up being yes people where we say yes to everything because we're afraid to let people down. But in doing that and not taking care of ourselves, we ended up creating more harm. And so this conversation, Janice, and I give you really good tools. Janice gives you good tools to understand what you need and then how to get what you need. So inspired by amazing reminders on how to take care of ourselves and still show up and unpack in an impactful way for our team and companies.
Janice has held senior level marketing positions at Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wolters Kluwer, and now at meQuilibrium. As a corporate strategist, marketer, entrepreneur/founder, and non-profit board director, Janice has helped clients and partners with data strategy and business transformation, imagining and creating unparalleled events, delivering seamless experiences through integrated platforms, building and growing sales and marketing departments and establishing key partnerships to impact revenues and profits. Her experience is immense. And what she's gone through is deep and so when those two things came together. We had an amazing conversation. So grab a lovely cup of tea and a cozy blanket and curl up to sink into this one. Take it all in.
Here's my conversation with Janice.
Kerry Guard: Hi, Janice. Thank you for joining me on Tea Time. I’m so excited to have you. Before we dive into our topic, I've been looking forward to it for a while. It's gonna be awesome. But before we get there, tell our audience about yourself. Janice, what do you do? How did you get there?
Janice Dru-Bennett: I'm currently focused on strategic partnership marketing with a health and wellness tech company. We have a digital resilience solution. I've been there eight months or so as of May 2022. I got here because I honed in on my desire to focus on partnerships last year, knowing that connecting people and building value through partnerships is something I value and am good at. I identified wanting a partnerships role and also wanting to work for a company that had a great culture. I think assessing leadership and values for a company, and that's what brought me to where I am in my current full-time
Kerry Guard: What about the company you're in makes it a really good culture? What made you excited when you initially started talking to them about culture?
Janice Dru-Bennett: I think having a woman-led company is where the tech space has over 50 to 60% women in leadership, so that's one factor. I've worked in male tech-heavy leadership companies, and it's just a different environment and way of collaborating and having a purpose-driven mission, where the goal is to help people become more resilient and help companies and organizations thrive and not just survive during times of change. That mission attracted me.
Kerry Guard: You talk a lot about partnerships and that being important to you. How did you get into the part you didn't know that you liked? How did you get into that?
Janice Dru-Bennett: Partnerships are a core part of the marketing function. I've led marketing teams, been in a number of different industries in the marketing space, and also had a little bit of a stint doing sales strategy for a company where our partnerships were a core way of growing business, and having the partnership as a sliver within the marketing and sales function is how I've grown.
One of the things I've also been part of is the entrepreneurial world. I also started my own business in 2011, so having the business, working evenings and weekends to build partnerships for my own company, was something I've been doing for over 10 years. Having both the leadership hat of realizing to grow a company, you can build more revenue and build more reach through partners is something that I've learned over time is art.
Kerry Guard: Yes, I agree. What challenges you're currently facing then and the work that you're currently doing?
Janice Dru-Bennett: Challenge that I face is distractions. The shiny object syndrome is something that I think, is a personal Achilles heel. Focusing on prioritizing is my mantra, as I learned to say no to more things, and look at my time and how I'm using it is something that just making sure that I'm closing the faucet as it relates to outreach because as a marketing leader, you often get a lot of people reaching out to you asking for mentorship or asking for partnership as well. Being laser-focused as to what partnerships are the right partnerships, what's the right strategy to approach saying yes or no, and when to say yes or no to what you're doing is an ongoing struggle.
Kerry Guard: I think we all can relate to that. Saying no is a great tactic there, but I know that's even hard. So what's helping you? I always like to go back to our values. I feel that that's such a great place. Does this fit into our values? Is this what we're trying to accomplish? Does it fit into our ICP? In terms of who we're talking to, does it fit into our mission? Those are all great things to point to, and you're trying to make decisions. How are you? Is that what you're basing your decisions on? Or what’s your compass there?
Janice Dru-Bennett: Having a personal list of questions in my head as well as organizational alignment questions as it relates to, is this moving forward short term versus long term? Is this something to file and have that framework of doing it now or don't do it at all or delegate it? Or just really assessing,” Do I delete it? Do I do it? Do I delegate it those that framework? Does it align with my values? Is it something that is going to help the company overall with our current goals, or long-term goals?” And that helps me ignore certain things, as well as be able to ping it, pin it as a task to do later, or give it to someone else if it's something that I think should be done now, but I don't need to do it.
Kerry Guard: Do it, delete it, or delegate it. I'm adopting that. Awesome. In terms of this is gonna get into the heart of where we want to go with this in terms of the last few years, the pandemic, and some personal challenges you've had, do you feel that's impacted your ability to say no and to focus a bit better? Or is it not helped? How is that? How is one impacted the other? Do you feel it or has it not?
Janice Dru-Bennett: When we look at the pandemic, the losses we've faced, and the challenges that we're all looking at, it has personally given me the realization that I need more space to be able to process loss and grief, and that means other people will likely need more space as well. And so being able to understand, we all may be running too fast at work or don't pause to realize how or feeling or how our team is feeling. My father passed away recently and I think understanding that, and the CMO told me that grief is not linear. As you've experienced loss, it doesn't just you don't feel it, and then it goes away. So just realizing that we're going through cycles and that at any given time, I might be feeling something and being able to express what I'm feeling to the team can help them give me space.
Kerry Guard: Wow, that's so brave to show up to your team, and to say, “here's where I and here's what I need right now.”
Janice Dru-Bennett: Mental health awareness month is also a great time to say, “it is okay to say I'm not okay right now.” I saw a course on LinkedIn called Leading with A Heavy Heart, and if you're not sharing that with your team, they may not realize that your current response or your lack of presence at a meeting is not related to their performance. It's how you're feeling and what's going on in your world. Being open and transparent about how we're feeling can help all of us be able to give each other that space and help with the anxiety that we might all be feeling, depending on how others are acting.
Kerry Guard: It's new. Would you say that this is new to show up as a leader this way? We've always made in the last five to 10 years, as leaders, we've made space for our team to show up that way, and to tell us what they need so we can support them. But as the leader showing up, to say, “We're human tail, and these are the things that we're experiencing that feels new and brave, for sure.” Scary. Is that where those are some of the things you were feeling when you were doing it or just feel natural that this is what it shouldn't be?
Janice Dru-Bennett: I don't think it feels natural to be vulnerable for anyone because our natural instinct is to put up a wall and to protect ourselves. There's that fear and the flight or fight syndrome that I think we all also still have in the back of our brains. There's also that historic leadership model of command and control that shows no vulnerability. And part of it is shifting our mindset around what leadership is. I don't think we're there yet, and I think it will take time.
There's a book I just read by an author here in Rhode Island, called The Leader You DON’T Want to Be and it's about shifting to that transformative leadership model and being more effective in a world that is moving toward more collaboration and away from the competition mindset. If we continue to move in the right direction, holistically, then we'll see more vulnerability in leaders because that's what we need.
Kerry Guard: I'm a big Brene Brown fan, and I was thinking of her as well. With the word vulnerability, you immediately think of Brene. She talks a lot about this, but to talk about people who are showing up that way, that isn't Brene Brown. She's making waves, which is great. But I don't know that people figured out how to do it. So for you to be this lovely example of somebody who can show up and say, “I'm having a tough day, and here's why.” Do you lead in with here's what I need, what's that next piece of it,? Because I feel so many times when we show up and say, “we're having a tough day, or here's where, what part of the fear” And that is the response we're gonna get, which is part empathy, part sympathy a part that people not knowing what to do with that information because it's on my leaders showing up and saying needed help. I don't know what to do with this. What's been the reaction you've gotten?
Janice Dru-Bennett: I had asked this question, too, because before I had experienced significant grief myself. I didn't always know how to respond to it, and one piece of advice is, whatever if you're on the receiving end of someone who's expressing how they're feeling, anything you say may be helpful because it's showing that you're acknowledging and you're hearing what they're saying. Now as a person expressing grief, I do think it can help the person who's receiving it by giving them some action. I would love to just have some time to think. I need to take the day off or so knowing what you need personally or I just want to talk about this. Do you have a similar experience? Can you share? I want to hear your thoughts. I think every person may have a different way of expressing what they need if you can articulate what helps you the most. The company I work for has an app so I often go in and search for little things, that I'm feeling a lack of energy today. What type of lack of energy? Is it a physical? Is it emotional? Is it some other factor and being able to do an energy meditation or to do a sleep meditation if I'm not getting enough sleep? I think just finding the right solution for me, whether it's within an app or talking to someone, letting others know what's helping you, and trying to figure that out for yourself, and then when you're hearing other people asking if this something that would help you and going through that process of really listening and communicating to others needs.
Kerry Guard: It’s so interesting because this is also new. It's important because you can't just show up as the leader and say, “I'm having a tough day, and here's why.” And then just that follow-up, I think is so key and such huge self-awareness to know what you need. I don't know, especially at the moment. I had this happen to me a few months ago, I was having a really tough time, and I talked to my leadership team, and I said, “here's where I am, here's what's happening, and I'm having a hard time thinking just try not to cry all the time. So they're like, ‘What do you need” And I was like, “Do you need a day off? Do you want to stop working? I think I need the opposite. I think I need to have something to do, but it took me a minute to think about what I needed.
Janice Dru-Bennett: That's exactly the conversation I had with someone as I was going through grief. Do you need the day off? The exact response is “No,” I don't need today off. I need to work today because that is going to fill my space and keep me from laying in bed all day. I'm crying. I don't want to do that. Giving me work allows me to step away from that. When I need that moment in the shower, or wherever I am, I can allow myself to feel that. I like to work through grief. Other people may need more time to process and perhaps it is in a different situation, I may ask for that extra time. I think privileged to be able to have the ability to ask for that extra space and time. One piece of advice somebody had given me too is when somebody is going through grief. What can you offer? Is it somebody close by who says, “Can I pick up the groceries for you?” If you're able to offer something very specific, it's sometimes easier for that person to say yes or no to that versus trying to think of what do I need when you're going through an emotional rollercoaster yourself.
Kerry Guard: Making that shift from being able to show up as a leader and talking through these conversations. I think you just said so beautifully in the sense of talking about where you are being able to lean into what you need at the moment if you know what you need to be able to say that. But on the flip side, it's really hard being on the receiving end of hearing about where somebody is not because for me anyway, it's not because of how it's going to impact me. What about me? I don't know what to say or do here so that was a great example of offering groceries. I want to lean into this. I pull it apart a bit because I think this is the hardest part for anybody being on the receiving end of grief, and I do think we sort of fall back into that. How can I help mentality versus what you're talking about, which is being very clear and knowing what you can do to even help? So groceries are a great one. Is it the offer? Do you actually offer something or do you figure out what you can do?
Janice Dru-Bennett: I think in the workplace, that's different. If it's a friend offering to buy groceries might make a lot of sense or neighbor, versus if it's your manager who's telling you that they're feeling upset and just saying, “Can I get your groceries?” might not be the right. From that perspective, as somebody reporting into a CMO or leader, the question might be, “What's on your plate that I can do?” Or “Is there anything that I'm doing that's frustrating you?” The question is saying, we're also sharing. I'm also feeling overwhelmed at work right now, and I appreciate your sharing that you've gone through this loss and wondering if we could put this project on the back burner for now. Do we need to prioritize this project? Or can we delegate it, because our team is just feeling too stressed? So making some suggestions around work mate may also be a way to kind of address what's going on. Or do you not want to even talk about work right now? Do you want to tell me more about your dad who just passed away? Can we share our stories and go personal? So I think that something that we've avoided and shied away from in the workplace is talking about our personal feelings and our personal stories. The bonding that we get when we do share, honestly, and authentically, with each other, can help with our team's growth.
Kerry Guard: I just attended a webinar with Simon Sinek and he was talking about remote work and how. These weren't his exact words, but it's how I talk about it too, in terms of being intentional. If you're in an office, and you see somebody, he talks about the trust that's built between people happens in between meetings. It's what happens in between meetings that build that trust. And so when you're in an office, and you happen to run into somebody, or you say, “Oh, I want to show you the same?” Or just stop and say, “How are you doing around the watercooler?” All those natural moments that happen in person don't happen remotely. You have to be so much more intentional about creating those in-between moments, and being in the middle of a meeting, and for somebody to share such big news. Yes, just taking a minute to stop and say this meeting is that priority right now. Tell me how you're doing. Would you like to talk about your dad? I'd love to learn more about how he impacted you. Talk about a moment of connection.
Janice Dru-Bennett: I think just being sensitive to different types of people, whether you're a more private employee, or we're introverted, and what kind of response so understanding the individual one-on-one, outside of that meeting space, I think is critical to understanding how to potentially respond if something comes up at a meeting versus if it comes up at a one on one conversation that sometimes is a little easier to talk through versus in front of everyone else. Whether you're in a Zoom meeting with your whole company, people may not feel as safe or comfortable speaking up, versus a smaller team that has built more trust around being able to share stories, or creating that structure around it beforehand. People can think through what they're going to say or if they're going to say anything and be able to say, “Please, don't ask me. I just don't want to talk about this right now.” Allowing people to be able to do that as well.
Kerry Guard: I had made the leap that this was happening on a one-on-one basis. But, if this happens in a public meeting, probably don't want to stop the meeting. Acknowledging if somebody's having a moment, and asking them if they need to take time out to step out or to take a break is something that they can certainly do. You don't want to have an open conversation probably in front of the whole people around that, but if it is in a small group or one on one, what an amazing opportunity to just take a minute and check in and if they want to get back to work. I don't want to talk about it. I just want to keep going great. Back to the meeting. Let's talk about this for a second. See how you're doing? What I'm hearing you say through all of this is about in terms of people hearing about the person going through grief or being in a tough spot is really to take their lead and not take it personally. If they shut you down or don't want to talk about it. It's not personal. You did the right thing. You took MIT and stuff. They don't talk about it. Keep on going.
Janice Dru-Bennett: Absolutely. It's all different. Every person is different, and another thought that popped into my head is that we're often inner-focused or thinking about how we perceive things and being able to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and having empathy and being able to figure out what the other's needs are and priorities. I think that's the shift that a good leader is making to be able to understand what the other departments need, what is the other person or the other, and how my team receives this message as well. Being able to put yourself in other shoes, even when you are going through grief yourself, knowing that not everyone has been trained to respond the same way or has the same personality, and taking that unique approach to understand the other, versus only seeing things through your own lens.
Kerry Guard: We have a saying here at MKG that I got from my mentor, and he said this, and I'm using this all the time for everything, which is the most respectable interpretation. If something's coming at you and it didn't land, or it didn't sit with you for a minute, just take a second and think about where it's coming from and who said it. And maybe it just happened for a minute, and this is an unusual behavior. It's so hard to put your ego aside and not because that's just how we're wired as humans, to always think about how things impact us as individuals, but it is. I love what you're saying about how it's not about you at that moment, and it's not being 100%, and to do your best in that moment as well. What's been the shift for you?
Janice Dru-Bennett: To show up at a company and to be able to be given a clearance of, to tell people where you are and what you need. How's the team dynamic shifted has it? Reframing how I perceive certain things, being an individual contributor, versus being a manager, sometimes we might feel less than or different or worse in certain situations, but one of the tools that we offer through our resilience tool is called Trap It, Map It, Zap It. It's a great reminder. To trap means you label this emotion, I'm feeling frustrated, or I'm feeling sad or upset or angry at this person, and then map it is what is causing this feeling and what is the story I'm telling behind it. I'm feeling put down or I think that person was saying something to talk over me. But then when you zap it, maybe they weren't. Thinking through this is my perspective and how I'm thinking, but maybe they were just trying to share their perspective. We can talk through this and we can move through it. Instead of allowing that emotion to ruin your whole day, you can reassess what the situation might be and calm down that emotion or reflect on whether that emotion is even reasonable or accurate based on how you're perceiving the situation. I think using tools like that can help with workforce resilience and being able to show up.
Kerry Guard: I love that. What a great tool and the stories we make up! How our minds can spiral and reaffirm things that are perception versus reality. Even just having that kind of understanding of how our brains work has been such so helpful for me. Am I making it up and then affirming it? Or is this actually what's happening? Probably not.
Janice Dru-Bennett: Yes. Critical thinking is a skill that we can develop by asking the right questions and it's something a lot of people think that they are thinking critically, but often it's just in our own heads.
Kerry Guard: So much of this I wish I knew in my 20s.
Janice Dru-Bennett: It's interesting because my 11-year-old is taking social-emotional learning courses at school. I've never had this, the middle schoolers don't have it, but he's coming home with exercises to work with me as an adult, and even solving home problems. One person is doing all the work. How do we solve that problem? Our house is messy, who's gonna do the cleaning?
Kerry Guard: That's amazing. I love that. I talk about my kids school to that way of just the emotional intelligence that they're getting these days that we just did not have access to. It's amazing to let them live in their feelings. We're learning that now. It's what you're talking about to Trap It, Map It, and Zap It to identify it the first thing you need to do, and trapping is to even identify what it is you're feeling like. For so many years, for so long, we were taught to just move through and keep going and to not feel take a second. We should identify how we're feeling and understand it, and pack it out, and for our kids to also be taught that is just game-changing, in my opinion.
Janice Dru-Bennett: Earlier education and skill building early on in our careers can help, and that's where seeing the leadership shift, and being able to support personal development. A huge reason there is a great resignation and turnover right now is that people are not feeling fulfilled personally. If you focus on that, as a manager or leader, I think that will retain your employees more.
Kerry Guard: Do you think there's boundaries to it? It's important to have feelings and to identify them, but there needs to be a balance to that. You can't just show up and fly off the handle, you need to run.
Janice Dru-Bennett: The factor for resilience is called emotion control, or the term emotion management. When you're able to label that emotion, and allows you to not necessarily fly off the handle instead, you're talking to yourself this is how you’re feeling and this is how I can manage that feeling without letting it take over. If you're not recognizing it, then that's when things might go off balance versus being able to name it and say it, maybe I do need an extra 10 minutes right now. Let's not send that email or have that meeting, because I'm just not feeling in the right mindset to be able to do that properly.
Kerry Guard: That sounds so great in theory. It sounds amazing. I know it takes because even for me, it's tough. I'm just getting to a place where I feel like I'm doing a better job of saying, “Let me think about that and come back to you.” Rather than trying to solve it at the moment. It takes practice and a great deal of mental capacity to slow your brain down and not react. Where did you learn to do that in the moment?
Janice Dru-Bennett: It's recognizing the cues. This is what even my 11-year-old will say. What are the signs that you're feeling angry? I'm short of breath, my face is turning red, and my heart is beating fast. You realize that when you're able to get the signals, and once you recognize those signals as a pattern, then breaking your natural way of responding to it is the next step. But if you don't even recognize what's happening, then you're not going to break it.
Kerry Guard: There is always a physical thing that happens in all of your feelings, no matter what you feeling there.
Janice Dru-Bennett: If you're tearing up or if your head is throbbing or they're just knowing what your reactions are physically can also help with naming that emotion.
Kerry Guard: In terms of the way you've been leading your team in this way, and the way that you've been led by your CMO who has given you the space to do this? How has this impacted your team? How are you all showing up together now? Is there a dynamic shift? Or was this just have you talked about the culture of being so great, where you are? Is that just part of the culture and how everything has always been? Or has there been this movement in terms of how you interact with one another?
Janice Dru-Bennett: Especially the marketing team, we're very tight-knit and continue to add on some of the tools that we preach, so practicing what we preach. We did a whole session on gratitude when Monday morning and what we're grateful for each other, and acknowledging each other can create positivity. We've done weekly wins when we have our Friday meetings, making sure we're acknowledging the little wins that we have. Having the regular daily and weekly habits and encouraging each other to practice it and being able to speak up when we're seeing something how happen and say, “Hey, are you mind reading in that situation? We have the language to speak with each other, and it's an ongoing process. Our company is growing so fast to that. There's this culture add that's happening with more people coming on, and as we go through growth, that's always the shift of how we ensure that we're maintaining this culture positively, but also bringing on new and diverse mindsets and perspectives.
Kerry Guard: I love that culture add because it's always scary of growing and adding a new people and trying to ensure that the culture you've created in a smaller unit can sustain as you add people. I love what you're talking about, not only sustaining it, but allowing it to mold with the people you have, or that are coming in. Is that really what you're saying in terms of adding on? Is it an addition, but also a mold, so to speak?
Janice Dru-Bennett: Yeah, we often talked about culture fit. I've been hearing more and more talk about culture. It's always tough to bring on someone who may not seem quite the right fit, but that's because they're adding a different perspective and that creates the ability to improve your perspective and have more diverse ways of approaching the market even. As a leader, being able to think about how your team can grow is something that I think will help you grow.
Kerry Guard: We all needed this with everything that's been going on in the world. I can't say it enough just how brave you are to show up and share your story and your journey and to lend us all some incredible tools to support each other better. In these really tough times, we can't ignore what's happening in the world and we need to continue to show up for each other. Having clear ways how to do that is just so helpful. Thank you. Is there any last piece of advice or anything else that you've learned in the last two years on this journey that you wish you had known before or that was sort of this aha moment for you?
Janice Dru-Bennett: Well, first, I want to thank you for making the space for this conversation. The practice of gratitude is something I've learned that can help us get through things. And I would say that just learning about resilience over the last few years is something that I wish I had learned earlier. In my career, as you said, it's not easy to deal with all the hits, and being able to address those challenges and think through them and give ourselves the space again, is something that I think is a learning and practice that I've continued to build on.
Kerry Guard: As we wrap up here, Janice, you shared so much about who you are in this journey and for everything that's happened, but it's been very focused on your career, which I love. I'm gonna pull back the curtain a little bit and get to know you beyond being a marketer. I've my rapid-fire questions if you're ready. First question for you. Have you picked up any new hobbies in the last few years, given the change in the pandemic and remote working?
Janice Dru-Bennett: It's interesting because I had run two marathons before the pandemic, and then stopped running with the running club during the pandemic. I've recently rejoined the running club with my kids, which is super fun. Seeing that I'm not as fast as my 11 and 12-year-olds now, and was able to beat them a few years ago. I think that's a shift. I have to run to catch up and do the seven-minute workout at home, turning on the app and just doing a quick workout. I did daily yoga for a little while so I think just finding things I can do at home, but now starting to go back to the gym and doing soccer coaching for my little one too. Those are just the physical activity that is really helpful to maintain.
Kerry Guard: Yes, I love that, I got a bike a few years ago, and that was a game changer for me to just get out and ride every day. I agree. Physical activity for sure. Awesome. Thank you so much, Janice. It was so good. I so appreciate you.
Janice Dru-Bennett: Thank you, Kerry. I appreciate you as well.
And that was my conversation with Janice. Perfect timing, am I right? Q4 is always a time to feel overwhelmed and the Q4 tunnel will never end. What a great reminder of how to not be order takers and to take a step back and think about what we need as individuals so that we can make a thoughtful impact on the team without saying yes to everything, and taking it all on and drowning under the weight. Trap It, Map It, Zap It. I love it.
Thank you, Janice. Thank you for your words of wisdom, and all these lovely tools that you have shared with us. There are links in the show notes to some of these tools so you can dig in more about how you're going to set up your Q4 for success.
This episode was brought to you by MKG Marketing. Our agency accelerates the mission of cybersecurity vendors via SEO, digital ads, and analytics.
It’s hosted by me, Kerry Guard - CEO and co-founder of MKG. Music mix and mastering done by Austin Ellis.
If you'd like to be a guest, please visit mkgmarketinginc.com to apply.
Janice has held senior-level marketing positions at Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Wolters Kluwer, and now at meQuilibrium.