2008 Woman to Watch
Vicki Lins
Senior Vice President, Marketing & Communications, Comcast Spotlight

As a leader, you need enthusiasm. Without it, nothing works. The best leaders are people who do what they love. Being good at what they do comes from their enjoyment of doing it and their commitment to doing it to the best of their abilities.  There are many things each of us can do with our life, and it is only up to each of us to decide what it is. I have been fortunate to be able to develop a career doing what I enjoy; My successes have come from the enjoyment I get from the job. I have been inspired by good leaders whose energy and enthusiasm were contagious, and have also learned a great deal from those who have not been as motivated.  Motivation fuels action, and something I've learned about leadership is how complacency leads to mediocrity.  Leaders cannot be afraid to make mistakes, they simply must be sure to learn from them. Leaders only develop the confidence to take risks, try a new direction, or to challenge the status quo by experiencing success. Leaders must create opportunities, take risks, and build on the momentum generated, enhancing confidence, encouraging growth, and creating movement in the organization.  One of my favorite quotes on leadership is: "I am a great leader. I follow my people wherever they go."  Once a leader has infused an organization with enthusiasm, energy, and movement the people will take you to new heights.

Know Yourself
What was your most challenging professional achievement and what did you learn from this experience about your own personal strengths and weaknesses (limitations)?

In 2002, I moved from Los Angeles to New York to join Comcast.  At that time the ad sales organization was experiencing a lot of change. Not only was the Comcast/AT&T merger imminent, but Ad Sales HQ was being restructured and moving from Philadelphia to New York.  It was my responsibility to structure and staff the HQ marketing and communications team pretty much from scratch as well as to establish the vertical marketing team throughout the field – all the while repositioning the ad sales division under a new brand. Designing an organizational structure, hiring a corporate team and identifying a field team of divisional marketing leaders to act as corporate liaisons, developing a brand, and getting 3,500 ad sales employees to rally around the new name under which Comcast would all operate was a big undertaking, but one that brought many insights and results that were ultimately very rewarding.  On a side note, I was also moving from L.A. to New York, buying a house, and getting married.  To this day, I am proud of pulling it ALL off. 

I don’t believe it is what I learned about myself as much as how well I already knew myself that fueled me during this chaotic time.  I knew what I was capable of doing and when I would need to call in the troops. Knowing how I best work with others made it easier to meet the demands of establishing the team and its goals in the early days of getting Comcast Spotlight up and running. It is important to know yourself and to apply what you know about yourself to how you do your job.  Your strengths matter but so do the areas where you are in need of improvement.  Leveraging your strengths impacts the work; reinforcing your limitations with others’ abilities strengthens the team. Overall success is often the result of how well you utilize others and their strengths as much as how well you perform; knowing yourself is the first step to being able to create the right formula for success.

Communicate
What is the best way to reach out to and captivate an audience of senior-level management in order to discuss professional development opportunities within the business or to pitch new ideas?

Listen and seize - Listen to what is important to the leaders of the organization as well as what matters to the organization as a whole.  Understand the goals, priorities and business principles where you work.  Seize the opportunity to strengthen what is important.   Pick the right time to demonstrate how what you want to accomplish, introduce, or change will impact what is important to the leaders and to the business.
 
Listen
How do you benefit as a leader by opening your office doors and allowing employees to freely address their concerns and ideas for the business?
 
There is a fine line between being a listener who encourages open discussion as a way of creating a forum for identifying opportunities for improvement, and a listener who encourages “whining,” ultimately wasting time and effort.  Listening without clarifying expectations and setting boundaries can easily be misinterpreted as agreement.  If the end result of the conversation is not agreement, then you have merely generated dissatisfaction by misleading the person. Set clear boundaries and then be available and open to discussion.  If everyone understands coming into the dialogue what may or may not result from it, it will be a more productive and positive experience for all.

Connect
When you started your career what impact did mentoring have on where you are today in the business?

Although I have not had any formal mentors, I have learned a great deal from watching first-rate talent. Mentoring can be a formal relationship or it can happen less formally by witnessing talent in action.  Talented leaders understand that they are also teachers; they recognize that their values and actions establish the boundaries and protocols for what is acceptable, how things are done, and what will be recognized and rewarded throughout the organization. In this sense, proximity is important. Having the chance to work with people who have done it before, done it well, and are senior in the organization has provided me a great opportunity. 
              
Be a Catalyst
What is the most unique aspect of the cable industry, compared to other industries that have kept you engaged through the years?

The cable industry has camaraderie unlike any other industry. We are part of a community.  We know each other, engage in deals with one another, and very often work to impact the industry as a whole and not just to benefit our respective companies or individual selves.  I enjoy being part of the cable community, seeing colleagues succeed, new alliances being formed, and creating new value that continues to fuel the opportunities we have for future successes.  In the face of increasing competition; we are stronger working together than against one another.

Be Fearless
Give an example of a business venture that you took a chance on, despite the odds, and ended up being a success for the business? What made you continue to push forward supporting this business venture despite the opposition?

Early in my career, I worked in the mobile telephone business. It was a time of significant development and increasing competition, resulting in the need for more retail outlets and customer-facing interaction than the company could provide.  The need for expansion resulted in the development of new distribution channels: authorized dealers, authorized retailers and resellers.  Watching these businesses in action, and seeing the need for the brand and our products to have an increased presence in the marketplace, I identified the opportunity to introduce a co-op advertising program - we would fund a portion of all advertising and promotion introduced by these new channels of business as long as the materials were on brand and within guidelines.  The idea was not well met.  How could we sacrifice the clarity and control of our marketing and advertising plans and allow for other sellers to promote our products? And, how could we ever do it under our brand and maintain its identity and standards?
 
I pushed. I pitched, promoted, presented and positioned the idea to everyone in the organization who could sway the decision to try it, highlighting how it supported key company goals, and, ultimately, getting the necessary support to launch the effort.  Its first year went ok, but by year two, the company was seeing a 300% increase in advertising and promotion exposure, and the ads were properly branded and within guidelines.  The impact to the business was significant and the program continued to grow in scope and success. 
 
I didn't give up on getting it launched because I believed in the idea, understood the success/failure equation, and was able to see that the main obstacle was challenging the status quo. I understood the business and the competitive climate, and had identified a solution I knew was workable and, importantly, knew that my direct efforts towards keeping it on track could help drive its success. 
 
Inspire
What significance will mentoring have in regards to building new employees’ commitment to a company and the cable industry? 

Connections are important, and the experience and information gained through mentoring matters, however, mentors cannot light a fire if the fuel isn’t there.  Without drive, someone will not succeed. Too often, people expect a mentor to create new opportunities for them.  It doesn’t always work that way.
One needs to create opportunities for them self; identifying good mentors and establishing new relationships is one way to strengthen connections.  The relationships we build, both formally and informally, can create a platform on which to generate opportunity and build success, but one’s individual drive must be the fuel. Employees will be committed to companies and an industry that offers them opportunity. As long as we continue to challenge ourselves and our competitors, opportunity exists. Combined with individual ambition, our industry has a lot to offer someone who is motivated.