A leadership and management Q&A with Trulia’s VP of Communications and Economic Research, Lynnette Bruno
This mini-series gives you an inside peek at the leaders at Trulia, and sheds light on their management style. Up next in the series is Trulia’s Vice President of Communications and Economic Research, Lynnette Bruno. Lynnette has nearly 20 years of experience in the tech and communications world, working with a number of major brands. She even spent a year in India while at Cisco Systems, focusing on employee and external comms as well as government affairs as the company built a large presence in the country. Read on to learn more about Lynnette and how she operates.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given by one of your direct reports?
The first time I managed a team, I had 30 people under me. Before that, I was working independently in a foreign country. That was a big transition and I didn’t exactly change my work style, and I quickly learned that people saw me as too intense. I remember one team member telling me at one point to “just let it go.” That was eye opening. I know I’m not a super laid back person – I can’t sit still for long periods of time – but I realized in that moment that my intensity was stressing people out. So, I keep that feedback in mind to this day. When you’re too intense, people won’t feel comfortable coming to talk with you. By relaxing just a bit, letting the small things go and celebrating wins, I’ve been able to build incredible connections with my direct reports and skip-level employees.
What is your advice for working smarter and faster?
Rely on your skills and strengths and they will go to work for you. Following this principle changed my entire life. In my mid-20s I was hired to coach seasoned executives on improving their communication skills – ranging from presentation skills and delivering feedback to developing company pitches. It was terrifying at first; I often thought to myself, who am I to go toe-to-toe with these brilliant leaders, and how am I going to get them to listen to me and practice what I teach? I relied on my skills, which includes giving honest and purposeful, yet direct, feedback, and I kept an objective viewpoint. I often told myself, “I am the communications expert – not him/her – and I have a job to do.” I quickly started identifying weaknesses these execs had no clue they had, helped address them, and ended up developing strategies to obtain buy-in, discover hidden motivators, identify decision influencers, read a room, etc. When they saw progress being made, the partnership flourished. What I learned is that my level didn’t matter. I had strengths and gifts that people could use, so my recommendation is to know your strengths and play to those, and you’ll go far.
Do you have a specific hiring style?
I love meeting candidates that inspire me or challenge me. I’m motivated by people who have passion for what they do and curiosity to learn and try new things. What’s most important to me when building a team is to seek out people with differing view points, backgrounds, personalities, etc. So, I do look for that when I’m interviewing. I want discussions, debates, and engagement on my team, and hiring individuals with diverse backgrounds lends itself to that, it also helps produce a better product and output for our consumers.
Assuming that candidates I meet already possess the skills for the job, I look for culture and team fit. I always ask interviewees, “What do you love doing?” This tells me how I can play to his/her strengths. Conversely, I follow up with, “What do you hate doing?” I’m always surprised with what people tell me. Clearly, if they hate doing things that are part of the job they’re interviewing for, then they’re not going to be a good match.
What is one early leadership lesson you learned?
One lesson that has really stuck with me is to really know the people on your team. When you take the time to understand someone and their strengths, fears, motivations and everything in between, you can better guide them and help them achieve more. This openness builds relationships and encourages people to feel comfortable sharing the good and bad news. In addition, this transparency brings the entire team together. Every Monday morning I look forward to hearing what everyone did over the weekend, it gives me insight into who they are as individuals. My team here at Trulia sits together in an open environment and we’re always swapping stories, and I’m proud of the respect and understanding we have for each other as a result of our openness.
I also learned early on to respect people’s skills and what they bring to the table, especially when you’re not an expert in what they do. Accept that you’re not an expert and respect your team’s opinions, ideas and needs. Your job is to remove any roadblocks so they can do what they do best.
What characteristics do you think make up a great leader or mentor?
- Honesty: Honesty establishes trust, credibility, and faith that during the good and bad times, a leader will do the right thing for the company, its employees, their team, and shareholders.
- Authenticity: Know who you are and be who you are. Sounds simple, but it’s tough to put into practice. This requires constant evaluation and self-awareness.
- Respect: I remember when I started growing my team at a previous job and my boss told me that I was going to be managing people who had more years of experience than me. He asked if I would be able to handle it. I really didn’t have to think twice about it – I believe you can learn from everyone and that mutual respect is everything. In fact, just this past summer we had two interns who not only inspired me with their energy, but also taught me a few things like new channels to target media.
- Communication skills: Communication is the root of everything. If you aren’t communicating effectively, you will not move forward in your profession. I’ve worked with executives throughout my career who have been held back because of miscommunication, no communication or poor communication. I know a chief product officer at a leading tech company who is super successful and her degree is in speech communications. Her superb communications skills have been her gift to developing and delivering cool products.
What has been one of your biggest leadership challenges and how did you navigate through it?
Moving from big companies that are often known as political and full of processes to a smaller company with little process was difficult for me. When you’re at a big company, process must be in place to scale, and I was used to that. It helps everyone move faster and work more efficiently (contrary to what people believe). When I joined Trulia, it was almost like culture shock. I had to banish the word “process” from my vocabulary. But, I believe process isn’t a dirty word, so I focused on slowly creating processes for small things and for my team. It took some persuasion to show people how impactful process can be before we eventually saw the benefits.
If you were to liken your leadership style to a character in a movie, who would it be?
I really identified with the character Joy Mangano in the film, “Joy.” She was hardworking, tenacious, didn’t take no for an answer and paved her own path to success. She knew what she wanted and she went after it. Although this isn’t a distinct leadership style, a lot of these practiced characteristics are the way I work and engage with my team and upper management. I started working at the age of 12 and believe hard work always pays off.
What’s your go-to piece of advice for new managers?
Stop talking and start listening. After you listen, repeat it back to make sure your employee feels heard and has the opportunity to confirm, modify or reject what you heard. When you actually stop talking and start listening, you discover hidden fears, aspirations, challenges, etc. You start to learn about the person behind the work.
Who has made the biggest impact on your career and how/why?
There are many leaders who have influenced my career over the years, but the person who has made the biggest impact was my professor and friend, Kurt Nordstrom. He taught journalism, and gender and multicultural studies. He was incredibly smart and had a dry sense of humor that makes me giggle to myself to this day. He constantly challenged me to think bigger, try new things, fight for the unjust and celebrate my authentic self. In graduate school, we co-taught a Women, Men and the Media course. This is where I learned to hone my teaching skills, foster an interactive classroom, and develop my honest and direct style – similar to Kurt’s approach. I still apply a lot of the techniques that I learned from Kurt in today’s workplace.