Love-Driven Leadership – From Punk Rock Rebel To B&T Women In Media Executive Leader Finalist

Love-Driven Leadership – From Punk Rock Rebel To B&T Women In Media Executive Leader Finalist

Michelle O’Keeffe (lead image) is CEO of CRM integration agency Engaging.io and was also a finalist in the Executive Leader category at B&T’s Women In Media Awards on Friday. Here she talks her unorthodox style to management and inspiring her staff..

On Friday night I had the privilege of being in the room with a lot of inspirational women who came together to celebrate B&T’s Women in Media Awards. As a finalist in the Executive Leader category, with 13 outstanding women nominated alongside me, I got to thinking about what it is that makes a great leader.

While everyone has their own unique style and approach to leadership, mine is a simple one.

My whole life I’ve never ‘led’ anything. I was never the type A. I was a questioner with punk rock tendencies who was a pain in the arse to my mum, my teachers and lecturers. I struggled with the inconsistencies and hypocrisy around me and I spoke up where I could with a weak and unconfident voice.

Without really having any sense of direction, I followed the expected path. I went to Uni, got a corporate job, worked my way up some form of batshit crazy corporate ladder in very male-dominated industries where, quite frankly, the women leaders were just sometimes as arseholey as the men – although I got propositioned less by the women.

I wasn’t a particularly maternal type either, but I had some unexplainable need inside of me to procreate. 17 years ago I had my eldest son. What a miracle. An absolutely exhausting, ego-leveling, painful miracle.

This love got unlocked inside of me. It was so powerful, but to be honest, it really made me struggle deeply with the pain, unfairness, sorrow and greed that I saw everywhere around me. My partner banned me from watching animal rescue shows.

So, as cliche as it may sound, I went searching for the meaning of life. I found, studied and practiced Tibetan Buddhism, Daoism, Qigong, Shamanism. To this day I still talk to trees.

When I re-entered the workforce, I had a very clear vision of everything I would not carry into my work life. Work had to be balanced, with an understanding it was just to provide us all with a foundation to enjoy our ‘real lives’. We wouldn’t work with arseholes, and God help anyone that makes a single one of my staff cry… any inkling of disrespect from a client and they are gone.

I had a clearer idea of what ‘meaning’ was and how to incorporate that into a business. I realised that at its core, being an effective leader resided in cultivating love and respect. It may be twee to some, but it’s an approach that when done well, drives results for our team and our clients.

As the CEO of Engaging, I am supported by three exceptional male directors who enable me to shape our company culture in my own unique way. Our mission is clear: to provide our employees with the support to thrive in their careers and personal lives, while upholding the principle that work is a means to enhance our “real lives”.

Is it naive? Maybe. Too big a vision? If you don’t aim high you certainly won’t achieve those heights. Too weird to talk about love in the context of business? Perhaps, but the world could use some more ‘weird’.

So for now, the world’s best team of people (my team) takes love into their work days. They feel protected, supported and acknowledged for the unique individuals that they are and I see them spreading that light. I couldn’t be more proud. Does it mean I don’t have to make some tough calls from time to time, of course not. That’s the nature of the business beast, but how these moments materialise is done differently.

So while I was not fortunate to toast a B&T win on Friday night, being nominated was a validation of how we run things at Engaging. While this may be slightly vomit-inducing for some, in a business environment dominated by corporate bullshit and doublespeak, bringing things back to basics from a leadership perspective works. More importantly, it delivers for our team and clients. I was never certain it would work, but our growth, our team and our CFO confirm that, in fact, it does.




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Engaging.io Michelle O’Keeffe

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