Burning Ambition Academy's Michelle Thomas on Inspiring Today's Leaders

By Publicis Media InSites Archives
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Many in media and marketing focus primarily on understanding new technology as the industry continues to shift. While that's essential, it's not the only critical area of learning needed to keep pace with today's industry upheaval. Industry leaders should also get personal, according to Michelle Thomas, senior vice president of Spark Foundry's Burning Ambition Academy. Thomas asserts that to achieve the personal and professional development necessary to succeed today, leaders must explore their fears while developing a sense of inner purpose within a safe environment.

Publicis Media's Spark Foundry launched Burning Ambition Academy (BAA) in 2012 as a holistic solution that helps industry leaders develop their leadership style. Today, it does so much more. "We're looking to inspire personal empowerment and nurture a sense of inner purpose that makes [professionals'] work more fulfilling," Thomas says. Through BAA's deeply rooted foundations in coaching, leaders who attend the academy are able to overcome self-limiting beliefs and learn to lead their teams with intent. As participants move through their journey of self-discovery, Thomas explains, they often find opportunities to overcome career-related obstacles, not just within their company, but also in their personal lives.

BAA also helps participants gain insights that will help them develop their personal leadership brand. "We know that when brands have a clear sense of purpose, those brands withstand the test of time," Thomas says. She believes that leaders can apply the same framework used to position the brands they work with to their own lives. By doing so they carve out their own unique niche within the industry, learn to lead with integrity, and can gain the trust of their clients and colleagues — which is essential to long-term success.

Thomas knows firsthand the importance of that coveted long-term commitment. She considers herself a "lifer" within Publicis, having gotten her start on the media side at Leo Burnett 28 years ago before eventually joining Spark Foundry. She earned her stripes as a leader working in client-facing roles with category-leading brands such as Hallmark, General Motors, and through a turbulent economy and global restructuring, Kellogg's. Rather than crumble under the pressure, Thomas was inspired to help other industry leaders. "I dreamed, with a like-minded colleague, of [creating] a leadership coaching organization," says Thomas. "I started building the program through Spark Foundry because I grew up on the frontlines of the business. I feel like it really set me up to lead the program."

And she's done so quite successfully. Through its whole-person approach, BAA is inspiring leaders to explore their strengths and find enthusiasm for their work. The benefits of work-based passion extend not only to colleagues and employees, but also all the way through to clients. Gallup research indicates that when leaders have the opportunity to step up and thoroughly engage in their work, that positivity reaches employees and inspires them to take pride in their work by proxy — and that positivity bleeds through to the client experience. "All of this creates a better quality of life for employees," Thomas affirms.

The program's results confirm this: Nearly 100 percent of participants feel confident in recommending the program to their coworkers.

All participants are encouraged to provide feedback after they complete the program, which gives Thomas vital insight. The post-participation surveys show that program graduates "feel they really invested in their personal and professional growth" by participating in the program, Thomas explains. She also notes that "they truly felt cared for."

Participants' feedback also helps BAA improve the future curriculum. This approach benefits program alumni as much as future attendees; allowing participants to see that their feedback helps future program-goers leads to feelings of fulfillment.

Due in large part to BAA's success, next year Spark Foundry plans to unveil Find Your Heat, a development program that aims to help midlevel employees, such as supervisors and managers. Find Your Heat will use a strength-based approach to bring together managers who are just learning to be responsible for a team.

With senior leaders learning to embrace their best selves and an upcoming opportunity for midlevel managers to find their footing, it seems that Spark Foundry's future is burning bright.

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