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Three Questions With Toni Tiemann

Toni Tiemann, Account Director

When Toni’s team was asked what she was the de facto expert on, the response was a unanimous “everything.” Toni is known for her ability to immerse herself in her client’s business and approach challenges from both a consultative and tactical perspective. Team Pi’s newly-minted Account Director is a master of her craft and clearly has the confidence of her troops. Which led us to wonder, how do you become such a steadfast leader?

What are some of the principles by which you lead? How do they show up in your day-to-day work?

Toni: I’ve recently been reading this life-changing book, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. While the book isn’t about management or even business, a line in one of the short stories stood out to me: “Leadership is rooted not in power and authority, but in service and wisdom.”

I want to foster my team’s talent and help them grow in a direction that excites them. In doing so, I aim to build their respect through service to their future.

Last year I earned the Inclusive Managers Certificate from the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. One of the workshops dove into effective motivation, and it stood out to me when they asserted that the most effective way to motivate staff isn’t through salary or benefits, but by appealing to their values.

That struck me as particularly tricky at an agency that specializes in paid media: not many folks would describe their personal core values as efficient CPAs or strong ROIs.

But what I can do as a manager is create an environment that supports development, that strives for inclusivity, that champions creativity, and that provides a stepping stone for whatever opportunity comes next, internally or externally.

Our work may not be mission-driven, but our culture and leadership can be. And out of that framework I am able to push my team to deliver world-class, continually improving work for our clients.

You’ve primarily built your relationship with your team remotely. How have you done that? How have you established trust?

Toni: It's funny, in writing this I realized that my career was built on developing trust with clients that I was rarely in a room with. The foundation of most of these relationships started on email, phone, and Zoom.

What makes being remote different is not necessarily the skills, but the tools. I can't see if someone has their head in their hands out of stress, and I can't hear if someone exclaims "yes!" when they find a solution to a tricky problem. I try to check-in frequently with Teams and phone calls so I can still offer support or celebration in these moments.

There's also the flipside of that: my team doesn't hear me speak on candid calls with clients and I can't ask them to swing over to my desk to watch when I'm building something new. I have to thoughtfully consider how I can still bring those interactions to the team from afar.

Remote or in-person, I try to emulate the qualities that I appreciate most in a manager. Early in my career, one of my first managers was particularly skilled at building trust across the agency. He would go up-to-bat for his team whenever he could and, perhaps more importantly, when he couldn't he would take care to explain why. That level of transparency is something I try to bring to all of my team interactions.

To sum this all up in one word: overcommunication.

You named your team Pi. Why is that?

Toni: There’s the symbolic, the practical, and the fun reason.

The symbolic: I left Gupta Media to run paid media for an organization in-house, before returning a couple years later as a senior analyst. This is the journey of so many of our clients and alumni. Oftentimes clients will leave one company, only to return to our services in a new role. I wanted a name that tied back to the cyclical nature of our work and our people.

The practical: My initials, TT, form the pi symbol.

The fun: I’m an avid pie baker, once deemed the “MVP” of pies by the NYT Cooking Instagram account when I launched a bracket-style pie baking competition to rank their Thanksgiving pie recipes.

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