Building Dream Careers with Chantelle Brinkley
Zerotrillion New York’s managing director on helping others achieve their dreams and approaching leadership with a spirit of experimentation
By Bossing It
Chantelle Brinkley is the managing director of Zerotrillion, New York where she is currently leading expansion into the United States. Prior to joining Zerotrillion, She held diverse roles in both best-in-class agencies and start-ups including BBDO, Rethink, & Unsplash. Chantelle is well-known for working with iconic brands including Unilever, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, and Molson. A deeply curious problem solver, her passion is figuring out things not yet mapped.
LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
Chantelle> When I was 12 years old, my best friend Jamie-Lee and I were known for dreaming up and starting ‘businesses.’ One summer, we decided to start a summer camp. We’d go door to door and ask all the parents to enroll their kids. I think we got most of the kids in the neighborhood signed up, and we organized events, food, park outings, etc., for an entire week. Leading a neighborhood of kids through organized events and activities was certainly more than we bargained for, but we did it and learned a lot. I’m not sure we got paid, though, so we still had a lot to learn with regard to profitability!
LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
Chantelle> I approach leadership with a spirit of experimentation and an openness to evolve. As with design thinking, the way we develop is to experiment until we can land on the best way to show up in the world. I think a healthy dose of trial and error can be good. It’s human, and it’s how we learn quickly. I think it’s important to stay curious and to see what works and feels authentic to you, your core values, and the people you are leading. Perhaps the most valuable lesson in leadership I’ve learned is that leadership is not about me. Leading is about creating an environment for others to thrive and the safety to fail at times. There is no one size fits all approach, and I think that’s what I love about building teams and businesses. No person is the same, just as no team or business is the same. Leadership requires thoughtful recalibration daily.
I strive to create space for my team to feel supported and to feel like the sky is the limit, but also that there really is space for them to be themselves, to have lives outside of work, and to value them as people first as well as teammates.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Chantelle> Just over a year ago, I had the life-changing and deeply humbling experience of becoming a mom to my wild and beautiful son, Ben. He has taught me a lesson that is reinforced each day. I have found that parenting and leadership have many parallels. Parenting is mostly about realizing you cannot control everything. This is something that is in direct opposition to my personality. Yet, I’ve learned that parenting is about creating an environment that invites a desired behavior and outcome…A bedtime ritual, trying a new meal, or learning a new skill. As a parent, you need to be adaptable yet consistent. You create the intention, you curate the journey, and to an extent, you must let go of the outcome. If you keep gratitude and a mindset of abundance, you will end up with a beautiful outcome. It might not be the outcome you planned, but it might be better. The same is true for leadership.
LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realizing that you had it in you?
Chantelle> In many ways, I’ve always felt inclined to lead, but I wasn’t always aware of why I wanted to lead. Earlier in my career, it was probably more about success and accomplishment. However, in recent years I have spent a lot of time moving away from ego and into leading in the service of others.
I care deeply about showing up for my team to create an environment that THEY need to thrive, live their purpose and succeed in whatever their definition of success may be. The best and most successful teams I’ve been a part of were composed of people with very different personal perspectives and goals but with similar values.
You can’t be afraid to lead. Leaders who serve with purpose. Moving away from your ego and into serving others.
LBB> When it comes to ‘leadership’ as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?
Chantelle> It’s a spectrum. I’m not so interested in whether someone is a natural leader or becomes one as a result of circumstances. I think what’s most interesting to me is how a leader shows up in the world in the way that was needed at the time.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Chantelle> Perfectionism and the desire to control outcomes. I’ve learned why it is so important to let go of outcomes. I have vulnerable conversations with those that remind me to practice mindfulness.
LBB> Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Chantelle> People have different drivers/motivations. Importance of having a really diverse team between motivators, drivers, strengths, and expertise, you have more success when not everyone is just like me.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Chantelle> For me, the answer is somewhere in the middle. Starting with empathy helps me find the balance between transparency and making sure I am being thoughtful and intentional about the way I communicate. Transparency is a sign of respect, as is being impeccable with how and when to do so.
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they, and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Chantelle> I have been so fortunate in my career to have some incredible mentors. Most of them are unofficial mentors but their impact on me has endured.
One of the first people I saw as a mentor was Michelle Archer. She is an incredible leader and I worked with her during my first marketing job. She leads with grace and charm all while being incredibly thoughtful and effective. Our entire team adored her and wanted to help bring her vision to life.
The second and also unofficial mentor in my life is Pema Hegan. He taught me so much about the importance of energy in leadership. Energy creates momentum, maintains it, and ultimately delivers outcomes. He taught me that leaders set the tone each day. They can walk into a room and change the energy instantly – for good or not. He was also the first person to ever tell me I could be a CEO. It was an off-the-cuff remark he made that he probably doesn’t remember, yet it changed my perspective and what I saw as possible for myself. A second lesson on how important words of encouragement can be.
When I mentor aspiring leaders, I often focus on paying it forward and helping them expand their ideas of what’s possible. This is especially important for women as I find that we can sometimes be hesitant to dream big or at least to say those BIG dreams out loud and I think it’s important to do that. The second piece of advice I focus on is encouraging people to find sponsors. Mentorship is not enough. You need to find sponsors, those who will fight for you when it counts.
LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
Chantelle> This is a topic near and dear to my heart. As an industry, we have to work through many facets to create change. This can be daunting, but we can all make small changes that add up to meaningful change.
A way of creating a more equitable industry is by listening and learning from the experiences of our peers. We can all identify parts of our industry that need to be re-evaluated and groups whose voices need to be amplified in order for progress to begin.
This summer, we collaborated with New York Festivals to create a new content series that delves into women’s career paths in brand and marketing leadership positions. The series advocates for industry change and serves as a guide for newcomers as they navigate the industry and seek to advance it and their careers. Our first episode will air in August, with the second episode following soon after. We’re thrilled to be able to share this initiative with the rest of the industry – look out for it in the next few weeks!
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Chantelle> The best resource I’ve found for my leadership journey has been finding my Executive Coach, Stephenie Girard. She is my biggest cheerleader and my secret weapon. In sports, the more skilled you become, the more important it is to find an amazing coach. The same is true in business. If it is available to you, find your person and be open to new perspectives.