Wake The Town
Stuck in Motion
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Bossing It: Chris Desjardins on Leading with Passion and Empathy


Publicis Toronto's SVP of sports and entertainment on leading during a crisis, avoiding the 'candle blower outers' and why it isn't always a one size fits all role

Bossing It: Chris Desjardins on Leading with Passion and Empathy

Chris is the epitome of a passionate and caring leader. 

With 20 years of marketing experience, in XM, digital, promotional and shopper marketing, Chris is a valued asset to all his team and clients.

Having started his career working as a brand ambassador, he has worked his way up through the ranks and possesses a true understanding of every aspect of delivering award winning consumer programming.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Chris> Leadership in Crisis

Although it may not have been my first experience in a leadership role, one moment stands out as particularly impactful and memorable one for me. At the time, I was a relatively new director when our company experienced a significant loss of a major client early in the fiscal year. This loss presented the harsh reality that we would need to restructure our team.

I wanted to do everything in my power to retain our people and insulate them from this potential action. So, I immediately sprang into action, supported by our leadership team within our group. Together, we came up with a two-pronged approach; the first was to drive even harder on organic growth across our existing client base, and second was to hunt hard for new client opportunities. 

With the team’s support, we were able to not only deliver against the gap of the loss but over-deliver on our plan and forecast. It was our strongest year organically and we acquired two new Clients that become partners for many years. It was a beautiful team win.

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Chris> Lessons Learned! 

For me, understanding the leader I wanted to be was as easy as emulating the leaders I most respected. Over the years, I’ve made it a goal to learn from and embody the qualities of strong leaders I’ve worked with or been exposed to.  One such leader was Erin McCarthy, who was not only my hiring manager but is now my wife. Erin is arguably one of the best people leaders I've had the pleasure of working with and her example has greatly influenced my own leadership style.

On the flip side, I’ve also experienced the negative effects of mismanagement both personally and from afar. What not to do in this case is just as important as what to do, and I have first-hand experience with both, which have helped me form and develop my management style. 

I have also been blessed to surround myself with people who offer ongoing feedback both on the agency and Client side. This is a tremendous benefit and opportunity to check myself regularly and recalibrate when and where needed.

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Chris> Leading Through a Global Crisis

Covid really cemented for me that business and the way we traditionally led it had forever changed! One challenge faced was that we couldn’t separate our personal lives from our work and vice-versa and in the first 12 to 18 months had a profound impact on the mental wellbeing of the team. 

These challenges were incredibly tough, but they also provided an opportunity for growth and adaptation, and I am proud of how our team not only rose to the occasion but came to thrive in this new hybrid working world. 

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Chris> From Passion and Empathy to SVP

While I didn’t always envision myself as an SVP at a thriving global agency, Publicis; I am grateful that others saw it in me and encouraged me to lead early on. One of those moments that I fondly recollect was at George Brown where my fellow business marketing students voted me in to VP of the Marketing Association. That early on experience really gave me a taste, and I realised that the care, passion, and empathetic skills served very well in a leadership role, even if it was as simple as supporting in a leadership role in our Business Marketing association.

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Chris> While some may possess certain qualities that make them more predisposed to leadership roles, such as charisma, confidence, and communication skills, 

I believe that leadership is also a learned skill that can be developed and improved over time. Having a strong, authentic foundation is certainly important for leadership, but it is not the only factor. Developing emotional intelligence, critical thinking skills, and the ability to inspire and motivate others are all skills that can be developed through training, and experience.

Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all. Different situations and challenges may require different leadership styles, and effective leaders must be adaptable and able to tailor their approach accordingly. 

While natural qualities may provide a great foundation, continuous learning and development are also important for successful leaders! 

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Chris> I have always struggled with negativity and unnecessary drama that brings people down. Full stop, there is no place for bullying or poor behaviour in our industry, especially at the leadership levels. When this happens, it sucks the energy right out of me and has always had a huge impact on my well-being, even if it hasn’t been directed at me. 

My wife and I regularly talk with our daughter about the 'Candle blower outers', a concept coined by Brene Brown to describe people who, consciously or unconsciously, criticise or downplay the achievements of others. My goal is to avoid them at all costs, both in my professional and personal life. 

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Chris> Absolutely. This happened in my first year as a director at a new agency. I was focused on delivering top and bottom-line growth, and as a result, I lost sight of my role as a leader to motivate and inspire our people. I didn't show enough appreciation for my team’s hard work and always wanted more from them. However, their honest feedback humbled me and made me realise the need to reset priorities and grow as a leader. I learned that it's important to balance the drive for results with the need to support and motivate the team, and I've been more mindful of this since then.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Chris> Transparency is key for learning moments to explain the 'why' behind decisions and paths forward. However, a more modest approach is needed when sharing could hurt someone, breach trust or damage the company or client in general. It’s not black and white, so the more experience you have, the easier it is to navigate these scenarios. 

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Chris> Having people in your life that support your through the ups and downs is essential for continuous learning and growth as a leader. I am fortunate to have amazing mentors and sponsors such as Nicole Pekerman, Kelly McCarten, Dave Jeffries and Matthew Diamond. They’ve helped guide me through this crazy world. EACH ONE OF THEM HAD a Genuine passion for putting good into the world and care for people! 

Additionally, I take great pride in mentoring some of the up-and-coming Client and Agency high performing leaders in our industry. I am here to be their sounding board and offer unbiased support. I do my best to be there to support them however and whenever they need. Sometimes that means supporting them with internal / external career conversations or guiding them through a tough business decision. 

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Chris> My approach involves prioritising open communication, positivity, empathy and a realistic understanding of the challenges we face as a team and as a nation. 

Supporting the team’s mental health is priority #1. That starts with ensuring their family always remain their priority. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it allows them to strongly focus on work knowing their loved-ones and mental health are well.

With respect to work and goals, I like to provide a north star that we are working collaboratively towards to ensure alignment and a collaborative rallying cry. 

I work on buy in at all levels and provide team members with a platform to have a voice in our collective path to growth and success.  

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Chris> The pandemic, while hard on everyone, has over-burdened women in the marketplace and halted progress with breaking the glass ceiling. Women not only took on increased stress at work but carried the majority of the burden at home with childcare, at-home-schooling and managing a family through a very stressful and uncertain time.

To address this, I have made the commitment to educate myself on these issues and continue to actively seek out diverse perspectives and voices in my professional and personal networks. Being a proud member of NEW (Network of Executive Women), now rebranded as NextUp, has been key in expanding my understanding of gender equality and other underrepresented groups. 

There is much work to be done across gender equality, LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC inclusion and advancement in the workplace. I am also looking forward to being involved in 'Driving Change' at Publicis; this is a program developed by our people for our people to ensure we are delivering on the changing needs of all employees! 

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Chris> Culture is incredibly important to the success of our business. 

While we lost our ability to engage live in 2020, the progression and evolution of working remotely has shown us there are always ways to keep culture at the forefront. 

This is a new world now – one post pandemic; and companies that embrace this new way of working will have a better success rate of attracting and retaining top talent.

We are now working in a hybrid-model and find that the in-person time we spend together is having a huge impact on our ability to build bonds, have laughs and moments that connect us, all of which forge partnerships beyond the work. 

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Chris> My wife Erin, Mentors, Managers, Friends, LinkedIn, L&Ds and Audiobooks! 

view more - Bossing It
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
Publicis Canada, Fri, 14 Apr 2023 12:27:32 GMT