Michelle Kaczor is the director of offline and studio services at Harbor. Based out of New York, she started at Harbor as a Client Services Associate and now oversees Harbor’s offline editorial department and has grown the Studio Services team across NY, LA, Chicago, and the UK.
Recent credits include Better Nate Than Ever, Fire Island, Confess Fletch, Armageddon Time, and SEE Season 3.
LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
Michelle> My first experience of leadership was when I went from being a member of a team to taking over from my manager to head the department which you can imagine was an adjustment.
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?
Michelle> I have always tried to observe and learn from those around me, trying to emulate the characteristics that I admired in my colleagues and managers, and avoiding those that I felt were not productive.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Michelle> When I was first promoted into a leadership role, I went from being a friend and colleague to becoming those same people’s manager. It was a big moment for me to learn how to prove myself as a manager, while maintaining respectful and healthy relationships with my colleagues.
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?
Michelle> I have always been a natural leader in my academic and personal life, but I did not expect to have the opportunity to take on a leadership role in the workplace so early on in my career. It was initially intimidating. But, as I saw myself enacting positive change in my team’s performance and output, I was more confident in my capacity for success in the role. I believe leadership is a learning journey that never ends, and I still learn from those around me.
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?
Michelle> I think it can absolutely be learned, if you have the drive. I’ve seen so many different personalities succeed as leaders; I don’t think it’s a one-size-fits-all answer.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Michelle> My biggest challenge is working with so many different types of personalities and identifying ways that different types of people respond to your leadership. For example, I always try to make sure my team members feel empowered to try new ideas, speak their mind, and be creative, but I’ve worked with people who needed more structure and guidance to succeed. I try to adjust my style of leadership according to my employees’ needs.
LBB> Have you ever felt like you’ve failed while in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Michelle> I don’t like to use ‘failure’ when it comes to human behavior, since it mitigates the opportunity for future growth and personal development. When something goes wrong, I look at what happened, what caused the issue, and what could be done differently now, and in the future, to ensure a better outcome.
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?
Michelle> I live by the motto of being as transparent and honest as possible with those around me. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an open book. However, some matters are delicate or private and should be dealt with on a “need to know” basis. I think a good leader can ride that line, where their team members feel included and informed on important matters, yet not bogged down with matters that don’t serve them or empower them to succeed. I always want to be open with my team, so that they feel that they can be honest in return when they need my support.
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?
Michelle> I try to learn from everyone around me, both personally and professionally. My mom has always been one of my top examples of strong leadership – she runs the show at home and at work. She treats everyone with kindness and respect but pushes you to be the best version of yourself. Those who have helped me grow at work always stick in my mind as amazing mentors, but I also learned a lot from those who I didn’t agree with who showed me what won’t work for me, which is equally if not more important !
I don’t think there is any one answer to being a successful leader, so when I have someone who is aspiring to that, I share my experiences (both good and bad) to help them learn from my life lessons.
LBB> It’s been a really challenging year – and that’s an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Michelle> I think it’s been a very challenging couple of years, but I think it’s always important to keep a positive outlook. Recent times have been difficult for all of us, and some of us may feel burnt out, overworked, confused, etc., but on the flip side, I consider myself to be a stronger and wiser person thanks to those experiences. And I hope to impart that positivity to my colleagues. I like to frame it as: if we can get through everything that has happened recently, what can’t we do?
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?
Michelle> I always enforce the expectation that all my team members and all my peers treat everyone (staff, clients, and vendors) with the utmost respect and kindness. I think respect opens the doors to more opportunities for everyone. It allows for people’s voices and viewpoints to be heard and fosters an environment of growth and diversity that we all benefit from.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?
Michelle> Our company culture is #1. I consider it to be an honor to be in a role where I can foster that culture and make a direct impact daily. Ultimately, open and honest communication is the most important thing when it comes to maintaining a positive and healthy workplace culture.
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Michelle> I know I sound like a broken record, but I continue to learn by being observant and open-minded to everyone I encounter. When I see a successful leader in another department of my company, or even on the client side, I always try to think deeply about what it is that they are doing so well, and how I can incorporate that into my actions and mindset to grow my leadership skills.