Daring Women: Wunderman Thompson’s Danielle Trivisonno-Hawley Says Great Leaders Display Charisma, Talent and Vulnerability

She also says women seeking to break into the leadership ranks have to ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’

Over the course of the past decade, Danielle Trivisonno-Hawley has risen through the ranks of the high-powered advertising world, starting out as a copywriter. She is now executive vice president and executive creative director at the recently formed Wunderman Thompson Seattle, a merger of the Wunderman Seattle, Possible Seattle and Cole & Weber creative agencies.

Prior to the merger, announced this past March, Trivisonno-Hawley served as chief creative officer of the Americas for Possible, which is part the British firm WPP, one of the largest advertising agencies on the planet. In her COO role at Possible, she was based in Seattle and oversaw the development and execution of the agency’s campaigns for North America.

Under the Possible umbrella, Trivisonno-Hawley also helped to drive the agency’s data-driven approach to creativity and counted among her clients companies like Bacardi, P&G and HBO. Her career journey at Wunderman Thompson Seattle is just beginning, although there is plenty of promise ahead ― with the three WPP brands that have come together to form the new entity steeped in creative, technology and analytics capabilities.

As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Trivisonno-Hawley shares some insights about the challenges faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?

The truth is, you can’t be a good leader if people won’t follow you. Being able to set a vision that rallies the group toward a common end goal isn’t an easy feat, especially in a world where young talent demands that corporations and leaders stand for something ― and live those values daily. In the past, we’ve operated as if leaders had to have everything figured out. That’s an overrated and outdated view in my mind because it’s not and never has been true.

The leaders I’m most inspired by admit they’re making it up as they go along ― but they possess the perfect balance of charisma, talent and vulnerability that makes it impossible not to want to join their team. Winning together is an awesome feeling and the best leaders ensure others feel like they had a real stake in that win.

As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?

Expectations for woman are different than they are for men. Men get hired on potential. Women have to do the work for at least a year before we ever get the promotion or the recognition we deserve. My mentor, Charlotte Beers, is great at calling it like it is. She says women tend to go horizontal instead of focusing on vertical advancement, which in essence has sort of “tricked” us into believing the only path forward is by taking on more and more responsibility.

This ultimately creates the biggest barrier of all because it demands constant bravery ― a pursuit for women that requires us to say “no” more often instead of asking for what we want and deserve. On the other hand, men get taken care of by other men. They get offered moves forward without having to ask for it. This can feel exhausting and daunting and difficult ― but it’s also the kind of experience that turns us into the very best leaders.

How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?

I’ve found it breaks down into a few simple behaviors. Say no. Set very clear boundaries about what’s OK and not OK ― and that goes for what others ask of us as well as how much we’re willing to ask of ourselves. We have to be willing to draw the lines. Work today has a way of taking more of us than we can give if we don’t know exactly where our boundaries are.

Be reliable. Show up for people and they will show up for you. Lean on the people you trust and let others lean on you. Don’t overextend yourself or give in to the lure of shinier projects if it means you can’t deliver on your promises first.

Admit when you’ve missed the mark. Sorry goes a long way but moving on quickly and making up for the loss goes even farther. When I coached soccer years ago, I used to tell my players that it’s OK to lose the ball, but it’s not OK to sulk about it. Go win it back!

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. I find women can utilize strong communication skills to get honest fast, and that can be disarming in the best way. Say the thing others aren’t willing to say in the pursuit of progress. In other words, cut the crap and get everyone focused on the work! I guarantee it will make for a better result. Choosing to be brave when it’s more comfortable to take the easy road is the true mark of leadership. Being generous while doing so is how great leaders become legends.

What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?

Charlotte Beers has been called a force of nature and no truer words have ever been spoken. She runs a WPP women-in-leadership program called “X Factor,” and I was lucky enough to get to participate in that experience. She’s an enigma ― the advertising industry’s first female CEO, former undersecretary of state, etc. You can’t help but be inspired just to breathe the same air as Charlotte.

I learned so many things through that program, but the thing that changed my life was being able to realize and embrace my own unique traits. Being able to stand firmly in my own skin, to know exactly what drives me, and what doesn’t, has been paramount to my success. This deep understanding of self finally gave me the ability to really listen and apply feedback without letting it destroy my confidence or define me.

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?

If there isn’t a culture for women in your workplace, take the lead and make one. Spearhead an initiative that cultivates a community for women to comfortably convene, share their thoughts and make an impact on women inside and out of your office building. I would also say it’s extremely important to remember that it took a village of people, places and experiences to shape you for the moment you are in now.

Paying it forward to the generation of women who will come after you is how you positively shape and empower a successful future of female leaders. I’m grateful to the men and women mentors I’ve had along the way. I’ve said before that there were many years when my potential outweighed my performance by a landslide. My advocates took a chance on “future me,” and I’ll spend my career hoping to do the same for others.

How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

Networking is integral not only to the success of any career path you choose, but also in how you’re able to develop professionally. It matters that you network with people who range from interns all the way up to the C-Suite. Any person at any level has a wealth of information they can offer up that can be instrumental in becoming a well-rounded professional. Satya Nadella has adopted a culture at Microsoft that’s all about moving from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” culture, and I just really love that.

One way that I expand my contacts is by joining or speaking at professional associations, organizations and conferences that are central to my interests and industry. In the past, I spoke at the 3 Percent Conference. This is a great way to meet people with whom you have shared passions professionally and personally. And, when meeting new people at networking events, I’ll make sure I have the next steps in mind: exchanging contact information, setting a time to have lunch, or something similar, so that we can extend the conversation beyond that first meeting and learn more about one another.

The women I have met through X Factor, and I have a WhatsApp thread ― it blows up when someone needs career advice and it’s really amazing to watch everyone come to one another’s aid. Women supporting women is really a beautiful thing to watch.

What would you do differently in your career?

One day I looked around and I was leading a group of men, some of whom I’d even previously worked for. I’d spent so much of my career trying to outshout them that when I finally had the top spot, I forgot to stop the shouting, metaphorically, and even sometimes literally. A mentor gave me good advice at that time. He said, “you’ve made it, can you please stop reminding all of us!”

Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?

At home cooking a meal with my family after having spent the morning on bike 8 in the SoulCycle Studio getting my ass kicked.

What would be the title of your autobiography?

“Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.”

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. 

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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