The best way to get over fear is to immerse yourself in the scariest possible scenarios instead of running from them. Don’t quit, don’t ask to be moved to a different project, don’t hide behind a colleague. Now that I’ve dealt with the most difficult clients and most complex situations, I’m not afraid of anything.
Shannon Tucker is a senior director of media relations at SSPR, a nationally recognized tech PR firm headquartered in Colorado. She’s a media relations guru who believes in the power of news to create awareness, drive action and ultimately change behavior. She was one of 12 finalists for DC Inno’s 50 on Fire award in the education category, which honors Washington D.C.’s most creative voices. As a former high school English and Journalism teacher, being a mentor is part of Shannon’s DNA. She has a master’s degree in strategic public relations from The George Washington University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I worked as a high school teacher in Tampa for five years. I moved to D.C. to earn a graduate degree in crisis communications after seeing the challenges my school district faced. Instead of going back to Tampa as planned, I fell in love with public relations and have been working in PR ever since.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I work at a company with multiple leaders — almost all female. When I started at SSPR, I was surprised at how different the company culture felt, especially after coming from somewhere predominately lead by men. Titles don’t matter that much here, in fact, they are intentionally left out of our email signatures. The most junior person on the team is empowered to communicate with the client. It’s a less intimidating culture.
What was your biggest challenge to date either personally or professionally and how did you overcome it?
Getting over the fear — fear of the client, fear of failure, fear of disapproval. The best way to get over it is to immerse yourself in the scariest possible scenarios instead of running from them. Don’t quit, don’t ask to be moved to a different project, don’t hide behind a colleague. Now that I’ve dealt with the most difficult clients and most complex situations, I’m not afraid of anything.
What does leadership mean to you and how do you best inspire others to lead?
Leadership isn’t about being in charge or being the loudest voice in the room. A good leader is confident enough in themselves that they don’t need to take credit for anything. The best leaders are ones who can reflectively listen and empower others. Give praise when praise is due — it will motivate others to step up.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My dad. I used to call him in a panic when I got a new project or assignment that felt unmanageable. “I just can’t do it,” I used to say. “I am not cut out for this.” He taught me that the only thing that was getting in the way was…myself.
Was it difficult to fit your life into your business/career and how did you do that?
No, it wasn’t difficult. If I let my career take over as the most important part of my life, I would not be happy. I set boundaries. I find ways to work smarter, not harder.
Did you find that as your success grew it became more difficult to focus on the other areas of your life?
No — because my job does not come first, and it never will. A few years ago, some colleagues and I bought lottery tickets when the prize was especially high. I jokingly said, “If I win, I won’t be seeing you on Monday.” I was surprised to hear that my coworkers all had a different opinion. “I wouldn’t quit my job,” they said. “I’d get bored” or “I wouldn’t know what to do with my time.” That made me sad. I love my career. I work hard. But it’s not what fulfills me most about my life.
Can you share five pieces of advice to other leaders about how to achieve the best balance between work and personal life?
- Do mix business and pleasure. Find opportunities for professional development happening in the community and invite the friend you keep meaning to get together with. See a documentary playing at the local theater, attend a networking happy hour (because no one wants to go alone anyway), take in a panel presentation, or attend a book signing — connect with a friend but also learn something new that can help with your job or career growth.
- Turn off work email when you get home. WHAT?! But that’s absurd. What if I miss an urgent email? Unless you know there is something that will require you to be online that evening, Turn. It. Off. When you get into the habit of responding to every 9pm email that comes your way, people will come to expect immediacy. Give yourself permission to respond in the morning and then enjoy your evening without being interrupted by the little ding of a new email. You’ll be more refreshed and energized the next day.
- Talk about work with your friends. Most of my friends are other professional women in their 30s who are at the same place in their careers. Although we all work in different industries, they get it — they’re dealing with similar challenges. Some of the best career advice or fresh ideas I get come from my friends. It’s a win-win: talking to them helps with my job, but it also gives us an opportunity to bond over shared experiences.
- Embrace your screw-ups. I’m not ashamed to say that I struggle with anxiety, which can negatively impact both my work and personal life. To manage it, I remind myself that I work in PR — not ER. I’m not saving lives here. If I make mistake, I will learn from it and move on. In fact, I am a more valuable employee after a make a mistake because of what I have learned. Let that sink in a minute. Mistakes make you better at your job.
- Don’t respond to every email. This is hard for me because I’m type A. Not responding to every email that I receive feels wrong. However, the next time you receive an email from an employee that says, “Should I do X or should I do Y?” wait it out. In most cases, your lack of response forces them to come up with their own solution and allows you to get back precious minutes of your day. If they truly can’t come to a conclusion on their own and it’s important enough, they will follow-up.
What gives you the greatest sense of accomplishment and pride.
Growth. The moment a lightbulb goes off, tackling something new, seeing past mistakes that aren’t repeated. This can be for myself or a colleague. Seeing change or marked improvement is one of the best feelings.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I want people to continue to talk about mental health openly — in the workplace and in your personal life. It should not be a source of shame. We’re getting there as a society, but we have a long way to go. I mentioned earlier that I have anxiety — I am trying to practice what I preach!
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?