2-12: "The Gentle Leader" - Cindy Judge

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"The Gentle Leader"

Cindy Judge is the President and CEO of Sterling-Rice Group, a Colorado based creative consultancy.

She is thoughtful, focused and sensitive about how to get the most creative thinking out of other people.

So this week’s theme is Influence.

And this week’s episode is called “The Gentle Leader”.


Three Takeaways

  • Enjoy the journey

  • Lead by influence

  • Give others room to grow


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-12: "The Gentle Leader" - Cindy Judge

Hi.  I’m Charles Day.  And this is ‘Fearless’.

Cindy Judge is the President and CEO of Sterling-Rice Group, a Colorado based creative consultancy.

She is thoughtful, focused and sensitive about how to get the most creative thinking out of other people.

So this week’s theme is Influence.

And this week’s episode is called “The Gentle Leader”.

“Well, one of the things that I think is just really important from a leadership standpoint is, I try not lead from a place of authority, and I think if you lead from a place of influence you are a much more effective leader.”

In the old days of top-down company structures, it was easy to see where the power lay. Look at the org chart, the size of the office and the floor number. If top, big and high were the answers to those pieces of exploration, then voila, you had found the leader.

Today, none of that works as well as it used to.

Org charts are flat, offices are open-plan and more companies are starting to work more virtually. Reed Hastings of Netflix has no office. He walks around the company constantly, working where he finds space.

The other factor at play here is the changing nature of the workforce. 20 years ago, the workforce was filled with people who would have 3-4 jobs on average during their career. 

Today, 3-4 jobs within the first 5 years is much more likely. Talented people are much less reverential about org charts and big offices. About big titles and salaries.

They’re prepared to ask for something else much more quickly. The chance to make a difference.

Which means they are looking for people inside the organization that can help them do that. They’re not very interested in being told what to do. They’re much more interested in finding people who share their beliefs and can help them realize their ambitions.

Which is why the biggest measurement of your leadership is not whether your title or office or view is better than last year. It’s whether more people are following you than last year. Following as in the real world.

Do you walk out of a meeting and find people asking you what they should do? Do they seek out your opinion and help? Do they come to you with ideas without waiting for you to tell them?

That’s what influence feels like. That’s what modern leadership looks like.

Here’s Cindy Judge.


Charles:

Cindy welcome to Fearless, thanks for being here today.

Cindy Judge:

Well thank you for having me.

Charles:

I have a couple of different questions I usually start the show with. Let me ask you this one, what's your relationship with fear?

Cindy Judge:

With fear, well that's an interesting question. It's very interesting in that fear is a pretty powerful emotion and I think given that your show is centered so much around creativity, one of the things that's important to recognize in fear is that there is a relationship between fear and creativity.

If you think about the importance of fairy tales for example, in the lives of children. Fairy tales typically have an element of fear in them and they're so healthy for children because by following a fairy tale, children often work out solutions and try to imagine what will happen to these characters and how they'll solve the problem. I think there's a lot to be said for fear in terms of its ability to help stimulate a creative tension that is really effective in terms of delivering creative solutions.

We spend time at Sterling-Rice thinking about emotions that people move towards and emotions that people move away from. People are so often motivated by what they aspire to or what they hope will happen. But people are also often very, very motivated by the things that they are running away from. And from an insights perspective, which is really helpful for us in the course of doing business, it's important for us to understand both and the powerful combination of those things that people move towards.

Things like belonging, accomplishment, release for example and the things that people move away from, things like shame or fear for example, sadness. I think understanding fear and its context in two ways, one in terms of what it means in terms of creative tension and two, how it motivates and guides people's behavior. I have actually a very healthy respect for fear.

Charles:

Yeah, it's a very powerful force isn't it?

Cindy Judge:

It really is.

Charles:

Were you a risk taker as a child?

Cindy Judge:

It depended on what sort of thing, so a risk taker in terms of there's no group that I'm afraid to stand up and speak to. There was no adult that I was afraid to speak to as a child. There were certain types of things that I was maybe a little afraid of, I was afraid of heights for example, skiing was something that scared me a lot as a child and certain things that all kids are afraid of like snakes. But I would say in terms of people and situations no, I wasn't fearful of people or situations.

Charles:

What's your first memory of creativity, when did creativity first show up in your life?

Cindy Judge:

Well I think that creativity is probably what powers us throughout every stage of life and I think infancy is really the beginning of creativity isn't it? Because if you think about it infancy, every day, every moment is with infancy an experience and so every moment you have to do something that you've never done before. And I think that is essentially creativity, creativity is finding a new way to do something.

But having said that, I would say creativity was absolutely part of my childhood, my mother was very committed to creative play. She had a background in early childhood education in music and she really fostered an environment that was very creative. Our coffee table in our living room became a ship when it was turned upside down and we were two and three years old.

And table pads became walls for houses that we could build when we were that size and I think my father was the same way. My father was just full of great humor and imagination and he would take us on long magical walks and trick us and make us laugh and scare us and delight us. I think creativity was a part of my life from a very, very early stage.

Charles:

Where was the ship in the living room headed, did you imagine out that part?

Cindy Judge:

Oh we managed it all the time, yes, it headed all kinds of places. Many times at this time of year, we were pilgrims on our way to the states. And it's amazing how a few pieces of pewter can turn you into pilgrims, along with having the ship.

Charles:

Yeah, isn't that true yes, what a lovely thought as well. Was creativity part of your childhood adolescence as you grew up?

Cindy Judge:

Yes, I was always someone who drawing, acting, being in plays and that sort of thing. I loved painting and so creativity was always, always part of it.

Charles:

What did you study at the university?

Cindy Judge:

I studied Radio/TV/Film and then I was at Northwestern and Northwestern doesn't officially offer minors at least they didn't at that time. But my minor if there were such a thing, would have been in art history, that was the other area where I had a concentration.

Charles:

Was it what you thought it would be, did the experience play out the way you hoped it would?

Cindy Judge:

In many ways it did, when I was a student I had a lot of very interesting internships.

I interned at a television station in the Twin Cities and was the assistant producer on what was then called the Twin Cities Today Show.

And in that role it was my job to pre-interview all of the guests that would come on the show and that was wonderful in that it allowed me to meet all kinds of famous and fascinating people. Dick Van Dyke and Red Skeleton and Mike Love from the Beach Boys, John Ehrlichman, many fascinating people. Anyone who'd written a book of course, came on the talk show circuit so that was a lot of fun.

Charles:

I mean at some point if I think if I did my research correctly, at some point you ended up moving to Italy right?

Cindy Judge:

We did, actually-

Charles:

Tell me about that.

Cindy Judge:

Yes, that was wonderful. It was during the period that I was working for Kraft and my husband had an opportunity to move to Italy. And we packed up our belongings, we put everything in a 40 foot container and headed off to Italy. We moved to a little hill town outside of Turino which Turin and it was one of those wonderful little towns where it wound its way up the side of a small mountain.

It was in the foothills of the Alps and it was the kind of town that had a 12th century church, it had a herd of cows that would come through town when the shops would close for lunch at 1 o'clock. And cows would come back into town from the pasture and 4:00 when the shops would reopen. And it was a wonderful experience, I studied the language, I went to Soul Food Cooking School. I spent a lot of my time painting and exploring and traveling with my husband and with our children.

Charles:

You're in Italy and you've got relative freedom, obviously you're raising a family and so on but from a professional employment standpoint you've got the freedom to decide how you spend your time. How did that kind of freedom, how did that kind of choice change your relationship or effect your relationship with creativity?

Cindy Judge:

Well that makes me think of what is actually my favorite story about creativity. And this took place when we first moved to Italy, which was in 1992. And please keep in mind that we were moving from a suburb of Chicago where we had a wonderful K-2 elementary school and I had a child at first grade at that time and a child in preschool.

Anyway at the K-2 school we had an incredible music department, so our head, our director of music actually had a PHD in musical education. And there were enough instruments available to students to veritably have a symphony. When we moved to Italy, we moved to an international school that the building had a very interesting past. It had originated as a villa, a private home. It was then used as an insane asylum. It was then used as a retirement home for Fiat employees and finally as an international school.

And as you may or may not know, Italy isn't a particularly litigious society and as a result the physical layout of this school and the physical attributes of this school were quite different than the schools that we had come from in the United States. To give you an example, one of the classrooms was actually the bottom of a drained swimming pool. You would walk down the steps of the shallow end to get to the classroom.

And another classroom you reached only through the fire escape, I believe that was the third grade classroom. And there are relics to the time, it had been an insane asylum for example. The library which had been used as some sort of a solarium in the past, had artificial stalactites hanging from the ceiling since that was meant to be soothing to those patients.

This had a very unusual past and I had some questions about how all of this was going to go. Well on the first day of school my son came home and I of course asked him how things went and he said, "Well it was great, we acted like trolls." And I thought oh my, how bad is this going to be? "What, why did you act like trolls in school today?"

And he went on to explain to me that the music room in this school, was located in a cave below the school. And as we all know caves have perfect acoustics. And he managed to explain to me that what they were doing is they were listening to Edvaird Grieg's, In the Hall of the Mountain King and they were acting like trolls. And their music teacher had nothing like a PHD in musical education, she was an aspiring opera singer.

But I thought what a wonderful, wonderful way to engage children in the song, in Edvaird Grieg, in the music, right? And to make use of the facilities and it was from that day on that I was absolutely sold on the school, which turned out to be absolutely wonderful school. And it was also I thought, just a perfect expression of creativity at its best.

Charles:

Yeah, absolutely isn't that true, it speaks so powerfully to how important space and environment is in helping unlock people's creativity. And I think acts as fair warnings to an entire industry that is racing towards open space as somehow being conducive to allowing people to think more clearly.

Cindy Judge:

That's right and it also speaks powerfully against institutions, right and the institutionalization of children. That was what we saw over the years there is that there's a great deal of freedom and a great deal of invention, throughout all the years that my children were at that school. And I think that that served all of the children as well as the faculty, well.

Charles:

Yes, absolutely inspiring for both I'm sure and will allow them to feed off each other. Yeah, such a powerful foundation to your children and for people that work there, amazing. Yes, I can't imagine a former insane asylum, anything other than wow.

Cindy Judge:

It was absolutely crazy but also absolutely wonderful as creative experiences often are.

Charles:

Yeah, well yes exactly, I mean there is a little madness in creativity at least.

Cindy Judge:

Right, right.

Charles:

So, you come back to the States after a number of years, and do you jump straight back into your career? Or did you wait a while? What was that transition like?

Cindy Judge:

No, I started pretty quickly. We arrived in the summer, and by maybe February, I was already back to work. And I went back-

Charles:

What were you looking for when you came back?

Cindy Judge:

You mean why did I go back?

Charles:

Yeah. What was the motivation to come back into the workforce?

Cindy Judge:

Well, part of it was the fact that I had enjoyed, really had enjoyed, my work before we left. And part of it was becoming reacquainted with what American women were all about. You know, someone described ... I think it was the Financial Times, described "Italy is the land that feminism forgot." And I found that to be really true. While I had a absolutely delightful life, all of what work meant for me in the United States, was transferred to other sorts of pursuits in Italy. The creativity that I'd felt in my job in the United States, was really transferred to these other things I talked about, to cooking to painting.

I was raising my family at the same time. So I really poured a lot of my soul into doing all of those things. I felt very in-step with culture in Italy at that time. But when I came back to the United States, I saw women through the lens of time. And I realized that in those 12 years that I'd been gone, so many of the women that I had known and I admired, had continued in their careers, and they were getting great satisfaction out of their careers. And that was really motivating for me to see. And that's part of what really attracted me to go back to the workforce.

Charles:

Had you had a sense or feeling something was missing while you were in Italy? Were you conscious that not working was absent from your life?

Cindy Judge:

I was not so much conscious that ... I didn't miss work for work's sake. I was aware though, that if we were to come back, and I went too long without working, and if something were to happen to my husband, then I would be in a much better situation if I had a career ... if I had something to do with my life. So I was aware of the potential risk of not maintaining a profession.

Charles:

A lot of women I know are also conscious of being a role model for their children. Was that part of your thinking?

Cindy Judge:

Yes, it certainly was. I have a daughter and a son, and they ... You know, it was really interesting. They loved having me home during the years that we were living in Italy. And we also lived in Germany. They absolutely loved having me home. But they were also really proud of me when I went back to work. My daughter in particular, often does talk about the fact that I have been a good role model for her ... professionally, as well as, as a mother.

Charles:

Yeah. It's a very powerful and important reference, I think, isn't it? For a lot of professional women.

Cindy Judge:

Absolutely.

Charles:

To provide that role model perspective or opportunity for their kids. Tell me about what it was like to get back into the workforce. How did you respond to that? What did you find reassuring? What did you find challenging?

Cindy Judge:

Those are good questions. Time had changed; time had marched on. So there was a lot of technology to catch up to, obviously. But you know, in many ways, that was really the easy part. One of the challenges for me, when I came back is ... You know, if you've been in the workforce, and then you've been out of the workforce, and embedded in another culture, and then you go back into the workforce ... you're always adjusting to the values of the community in which you are participating.

So there was an adjustment from when I was working at Kraft, and it was very high pressure, and it was very demanding work ... to moving to Italy, where as I said before, everything stopped for lunch. Then to come back to the United States and pick up the pace again, and be a part of a culture that's moving fast, and that is valuing the goals for all good reason, valuing the goals of the company. So there was an adjustment in terms of sort of the values of my various tribes, if you will.

Charles:

And how did you reconcile those?

Cindy Judge:

Well, I think that I reconciled them in part by, in every case, bringing the part of culture that I felt was appropriate to each new experience. When I left Kraft and moved to Italy, and became involved, for example, in my children's school, I brought a lot of those organizational skills to that endeavor ... and the creative skills to that endeavor. And then when I left Italy and moved back into the workforce, I had all these years of deeply knowing another culture. Two cultures really, with Germany, plus all of the travel that we did. And having a sensitivity outside of the U.S., that I think was really valuable. Plus a knowledge of food, and an appreciation of food that would serve me very well, going back to work for Kraft.

Charles:

And you must have had a really strong understanding of who you are, as well. In a way that is different, I think, for a lot of people who have had continuous stresses and strains and pressures of fitting into a work environment. You had an amazing opportunity to really explore who you were, and what you were about, I would imagine.

Cindy Judge:

Absolutely. Absolutely. That's very insightful.

Charles:

Did that make you more selective about the kinds of things you wanted to get back into?

Cindy Judge:

I was pretty sure that going back to work for Kraft would be something that I would want to do, so I didn't hesitate. But it was interesting that I wasn't there that long before the Sterling-Rice Group approached me, and asked if I would join them. I didn't anticipate that coming, but I realized that that was really a perfect opportunity for me, given the time, and given my interests.

Charles:

What made it perfect?

Cindy Judge:

Well, I could see even then ... you know, I had been a client of Sterling- Rice before we left for Italy. So I knew the organization fairly well. And I loved it from the time I first started working with SRG. And then, as I thought about what I wanted to do with my time and my career ... I've always liked client service. And I've always liked truly creative environments. And I could see that Sterling-Rice was a creative and inventive environment, a creative and inventive culture.

And that was the kind of culture that really attracted me. So I was very interested in making that move. Even though I also was very grateful to Kraft, for the opportunity to come back to work after all that time. And I also had great admiration for the people I was working with there, and great relationships there, as well.

Charles:

So you made the move, and discovered what? What was the experience like, compared to what you thought it was going to be?

Cindy Judge:

Well, I worked remotely, which worked out well for me. It was fabulous. Right? Because all those years I was building relationships with these clients, and growing these businesses, and we were working on really exciting things. And creating new products, and creating strategies for companies that would move them into new kinds of businesses. Just doing so many things that I truly enjoyed doing, and I liked the way that the responsibility was growing, and I truly enjoyed the work. So yes, I would say it did. It lived up to what I hoped it would be.

Charles:

As you moved into that position, what was the position that you first took at Sterling-Rice?

Cindy Judge:

I joined the company as a managing director and a relationship lead.

Charles:

And as you started getting into that position, what were the challenges you were facing?

Cindy Judge:

Well, I was facing challenges of A, being remote. I was really the first person to do this job remotely. Now we have a handful of people who do it, and I'm, of course, very, very supportive of the model of people working remotely. So that was a challenge, to connect with that organization and at the same time, to be connecting with my clients, who were all over the country ... and within the first year already, taking us all over the world. There were those challenges. There were challenges still ...

You know, this was 2004, and the world's come a long way since 2004. And I think there were still some challenges in terms of being female, and moving into a role like that. I think I had to work very, very hard in order to succeed. And there were some challenges in the length of time that I'd been gone, but I really don't think that that provided too many barriers.

Charles:

Over the last, what, 14 years, I guess? Is that right? [crosstalk]

Cindy Judge:

Yes, that's right.

Charles:

So, talk to me about how those barriers have shifted, or haven't, in terms of being a woman in a senior leadership position. How do you experience that now, compared to what it was like back in 2004?

Cindy Judge:

Well, it is really interesting now that ... I mean, the culture that surrounds the workplace, with regard to women, has changed tremendously. Right? We are a majority female-owned organization, and that's something that we are so proud of. We became majority female-owned in 2017, when we bought control of the company from the founders. That's something that is truly celebrating the organization, and we are committed to making sure that women have a good experience at SRG, that we're committed to pay equity.

We have, at SRG, we have a female head of research and strategy. We have a female head of accounts. We have a female COO, female COOO, female head of HR, female head of design ... So we have a lot of our top positions in my senior leadership team are female, which again, is something we're really proud of. And I would just say that opportunities for women have opened up. Doors have opened up so much wider in the 14 years since I re-entered the workforce.

Charles:

How have you been able to staff so many senior positions with women? Because obviously, you hear so many complaints, right? Or push-back in the industry, when we talk about equality. And one of the complaints is the pipeline isn't there, or the candidates aren't there. Clearly you've solved that. How have you gone about solving that?

Cindy Judge:

Well, part of it is philosophy of pull them up. You know, when women are qualified for the job, we move them into the job. Not through intention or design, not women over men by any means. But there's nothing that ... We had qualified women in the organization to fill these roles. And moving women into these roles was the right thing to do, because they were the right candidates for the job.

Charles:

Has this been the outcome of a ... Obviously, the company is committed to some really foundational principles. But do you have candidates in the company because of these principles, and these principles have been around for a while? And how long have you had pay equality, for instance?

Cindy Judge:

You mean pay equity? How long have we been [crosstalk]?

Charles:

Well, yeah. Yeah.

Cindy Judge:

We've had a very strong commitment to that for the last several years. And we're quite ... This is something that has great meaning for us, and this is something that we ... We want to ensure it gets done, and gets done the right way. So, were those values that were there for a long time? Yes. But have those values increased in sort of clarity and resonance in the last couple of years? I would say that is also true. And I think your question was, how ... Was your question how did those values affect this leadership group?

Charles:

Yeah. I'm fascinated by ... when I find companies that have actually been able to create a genuine balance, a healthy, valuable balance in terms of the workforce, and particularly in the senior leadership positions ... how you have been able to solve that. Because there are so many companies out there for whom that is at best, a struggle, and at worst, not desirable. Right?

I mean, it's clearly part of the issue in the industry, is that many, many companies haven't paid enough attention, haven't made a big enough commitment to actually solving this problem. So I'm fascinated when I find companies that have done it, to understand how have you been able to develop candidates to be able to fill those leadership roles when they came available.

Cindy Judge:

I think that many of the people that are in these roles are long-term employees of the company. So we haven't gone out to hire that many people in our senior leadership group. I think there is maybe one female member of our leadership team that has been there for 18 months. But for the most part, they're people that have been there six years, ten years, and some as long as twenty years. So they acquired the knowledge and the skills throughout the course of their career.

One of the women that we brought in, who's on senior leadership now, was someone who I'd worked with as a client. She'd left her position at the client, and then following that, she contacted me. And I knew she would be absolutely perfect for the job. So, it's a combination of knowing people, and bringing people in. But also, the way that they cultivated their careers within the organization. They cultivated their skill set, and relationships, and that sort of thing.

There are also a handful of women who are not part of the senior leadership team, but otherwise quite senior in the organization. And three or four of those women, we've hired within the last 20 months. And again, that was knowing those women, knowing what they could bring to the organization ... that they would be great hires for us, and so we've brought them in, as well.

Charles:

What do you think attracts them to the organization? What is it about your organization that draws them to want to work there, do you think?

Cindy Judge:

That's a great question. I think people are really attracted to SRG because it is such a creative environment. And it's really interesting. When clients come to visit us in Boulder, they are exposed to this environment that is ... it's relaxed, and it's fun, and we're situated ... We're right in the mountains, and from our offices you can see the mountains all around. There's lots of food. There's a casual atmosphere, and just this ethos of creativity throughout the entire organization. I think that is the biggest thing that attracts people. They see it, and they want to be a part of it.

We also have a culture in which people are genuinely kind to each other, and I think that's the other thing that comes through. Our clients say to us all the time, "Everybody is so nice there."

I'm so proud that that's a big part of what comes through in our culture, and it is an authentic part of our culture. I think it's those things, the creative environment, the challenge of working with the kinds of clients that we work with, the interesting sorts of projects that we do. I think to a certain extent that the stage that many of our clients that we work with. And also, this culture of genuine courtesy, and frankly, kindness towards each other. Those things are all a part of who we are at SRG.

Charles:

And how do you engender that in a deeply competitive industry? How do you engender that culture of authenticity, and sounds like generosity, supportiveness. How do you make sure that is part of everybody's day to day, in an industry that is A: moving really fast, and B: extraordinarily competitive?

Cindy Judge:

Well, to begin with, it begins with the facts that Boulder is very often ranked the happiest city in the country, and so if you start there it's a little bit easier to understand how the people coming in often they show up happy, and then when you're happy it's easier to be kind, and to be courteous.

But, I think that those values have been a part of our values for a very long time, and, I think that while we are very competitive, and we want to win just as much as the next agency wants to win, that edgy, competitive spirit that seems to grind out some of those courtesies, that's just not something that has ever been a part of the way things are at SRG. So, I guess with our leaders modeling this, with happy people showing up for work, and with the authentic personality of the organization, I guess those are the things that result in that sort of a culture. And, I do-

Charles:

And what do you ... I'm sorry. Go ahead. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

Cindy Judge:

I was just going to say, I do think that cultures in which people are comfortable, and feel as if they were respected by others are cultures that do engender creativity.

Charles:

Yeah, I would agree entirely with that. How do you maintain that? How do you make ... I guess there are two parts of this question. How do you hire? How do make sure you're hiring the right people? And then, how do you deal with people who are seemingly out of sync with that kind of environment?

Cindy Judge:

One of the things that I spend a lot of time thinking about is making sure that we understand what we actually value, and that our values are reflective of the things that we hire for, that we reward people for and that we promote people for. Right?

So, the kind of values that show up as collaboration, as consideration, as being for each other, as putting the company first before putting yourself first, those are the kinds of values, among many others, that I want to see rewarded in the organization. Other things like impact and judgment, and creativity, those are all very, very important. These are the kinds of things that I really want to see us put first at SRG, and recognize that these are the values that really matter to us.

There are lots of other values. Values like excellence, honesty, integrity, all of which are critically important to organizations. Those sorts of values are values that are kind of bedrock and given, but we also really look to value those things that we really do want to reward, and as I said, hire for, and promote for.

Charles:

How do you inspire creativity, and creative thinking across the organization?

Cindy Judge:

Well yes, there's I think a lot to that, right? So, I think one of the things that needs to be done in any creative situation is, you try to the extent possible to remove the limits. So, try not to remove boundaries to the degree possible, and really encourage imaginative thinking.

I think a part of that is recognizing that the way we perceive things is, basically it's habitual. We perceive things in certain ways, and a big part of what we need to do as an organization is defamiliarize ourselves with the way we see things, and see things through a new lens, through fresh eyes, and I think that's a part of how we think about creativity and innovation. And, you know, there's some things that are a given, and probably true of lots of innovation organizations, but one of the things is don't focus on the how, focus on the what. Right? We can figure out the how later. At SRG we try to link our creativity, and our creative work to higher order emotions, and higher order values. So whether they'd be those things that drive us as forward in life, things like achievement, belonging, all sorts of things, or things that we move away from, like fear for example, or shame. We try to link our creativity to that because we believe the link to those emotions are really an unlock for creative endeavors.

Another way that we foster creativity, is by tuning into culture, and letting culture inspire us. So, many times we have to go out, and we have to seek it, we have to understand it. Our work may at times take us all over the world, where we're really looking to understand culture, and sub-culture in different parts of the world, and we have to bring that in.

I think another thought there ... And, this sort of goes with the idea of removing limits, but it's about containing process. We're a company that's had really healthy growth over the 34 years we've been in business, and we're growing now, and as I see us as growing one of the things I think is really important is to not let process slip in as a way to kind of control the chaos that comes with growth in a creative organization.

I'm sure you've seen some of the writing that's been done for Netflix on this, and I think that it's important to take that to heart, because a process, I think, is certainly not what I want us to rely on as we continue to grow. I think what we need to reward is ... and we need to recognize is that, that we are an organization of professionals who are creative, who seek out a certain amount of accountability, and responsibility. For people who are creative and responsible, one of the things that can really drive those people either out of the organization, or subdue their creativity is too much process.

So, I guess those are sort of the very specific things I would think of in terms of fostering creativity. But, on a very broad scale on a higher level in terms of a creative culture, I think it's really important as an organization to value words, to value images, it's important to value aesthetics.

I think instilling an appreciation for that throughout the organization is so incredibly important to supporting the creative process. I think it's about being choiceful in expression, and at the same time, encouraging the organization to be disciplined enough to use restraint. And so, I think ultimately that takes you to a place that's really very elegant, doesn't it? I guess it's probably more than you wanted to hear.

Charles:

No, that's great.

Cindy Judge:

Those are the ways I think of creativity.

Charles:

And I'm particularly sensitive to this balance between allowing original thinking, and exploration to come from anywhere, and finding the right level of process, as you described it, the right kinds of boundaries and perimeter, and parameters. Right? Because creativity thrives when it's put to work, as opposed to allowed run amok, and go wherever it chooses, which i think you also said, in some situations.

How do you find that balance? Obviously, there's instinct and judgment, and experience that goes on, but on a day to day basis, how are you, as from a leadership standpoint, judging whether we're too restrained, or we are too permissive at the moment?

Cindy Judge:

Well, one of the things that I think is just really important from a leadership standpoint is, I try not lead from a place of authority, and I think if you lead from a place of influence you are a much more effective leader. And why I bring that up in response to your question is because one of the things I think is really important is that authority can also get in the way of creativity, and so, I try not to be the kind of leader that comes down hard one way or another in a creative process. But, asking the right questions. Right? Have we pushed far enough? Have we pushed hard enough? Have we thought about this? Should we open this up and ask the broader questions?

I think that's how we really push creativity further, and I don't see a lot of examples where creativity has run amok. I think creativity that goes too far is almost always ... You know, in our organization, I think in many other high-performing organizations, that kind of creativity is often refined and redirected, and it's sort of brought back to what the objective is. But, the act of going to the edge, and coming back usually brings with it a lot of really fertile ideas, and it accomplishes a lot.

So, I don't very often find myself saying, "You guys have gone too far. Let's not do that." We might say, "love that we've gone this far, but we may be getting out of scope her. We may no longer dressiness the problem. Let's direct that energy a little bit more carefully."

Charles:

That's a fantastic answer to a question I often ask, which is, "How do you lead?" And I'm sensing the fact that you might've already answered it, but I'm going to ask it anyway in case there's anything else that the question sparks in you.

Cindy Judge:

Well, I think for me that it really the central ... that's a really a central thing from my standpoint, is that I do believe that leading by influence, and for most of my years at Sterling Rice, that certainly was the way that I had to lead. I had to bring people with me. I didn't have a lot of direct rapport, so I had to bring people with me on the ideas and I'm growing the business in the way that I was growing business, so I would say that's really important.

I also think it's really important to be connected to people of all levels throughout the organization. I feel like we have a Senior Leadership Team that's close, that's productive, that's aligned, and that's really important. I also feel like it's important to bring in the voices of people at other levels in the organization, and let them have opportunities, be agile enough as an organization to let junior people do things that are big, and impactful and meaningful in the organization. Let them do that, and let them be rewarded for it. I think that's really important.

The other thing I have to say that I think is critically important to leadership, is having a very, very, clear strategy. There's no one in our organization that can't tell you what our strategy is from a mission and vision standpoint, nor what our revenue goal for this year is, and what our revenue goal is five years out is. Everyone in our organization can tell you that, and can speak to that. They can speak to what our pillars of growth are. I joke. We have our strategy on a page, right? I put that up, and I often joke about having someone else at random come up out of the group and speak to that, because it's something that the entire organization needs to know, and they do know that. I think you can lead so much more effectively when people are crystal clear on what the strategy is, and where we're going.

Charles:

Absolutely agree with that. That's really well stated. I'm conscious you have to get on a plane, so I wrap every episode with three takeaways that I've heard, that I think attribute to your success as a leader. It's presumptuous of me, but I do it anyway. So, listen to these and tell me what you think.

One is, it strikes me that you appreciate and enjoy the journey, and you take full value from wherever life has taken you in that particular period and time. I'm struck by the way you have really invested yourself, and allowed yourself to explore who you are at various stages of the journey that you've described.

Second, I think is, you clearly have the confidence, as you said, to lead by influence. And I agree with you entirely. Leading by influence is critical in today's business world. And I think it takes a lot of confidence to lead by influence and to not assert bureaucratic or organizational power, and I think you clearly exhibit that.

And then I think third, and related to that, is that gives you the ability to get the best out of the people around you, because I think when you're leading by influence it gives people more room to come to their own conclusions about what they would like to do, and how they would like to do it. And, that clearly fosters unblocked creative thinking, and original thought across the entire organization.

Do those resonate with you?

Cindy Judge:

Yeah, I think that those do resonate with me. I think one of the things about my sort of leadership, and my journey is honestly the to have had twelve years when I wasn't in the workforce, and then to come back, and to end up in the role that I'm in right now, that's unusual, right?

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Cindy Judge:

And I appreciate how unusual that situation is. I think it's also really meaningful to other women that this is a possibility. I guess that is a huge part of what makes me who I am in this job.

Charles:

Beautiful finish. I think that's a perfect wrap. It's really well said.

Cindy Judge:

Good.

Charles:

Cindy, thank you for joining me today. I've really appreciated it. The insight of the experiences that you've had, I think it's an important part of this conversation.

Cindy Judge:

It was delightful talking to you. Thank you so much.

Charles:

Thank you.