For Carla Hassan, Curiosity, Empathy, and Humility Make Better Leaders

Carla Hassan, Chief Marketing Officer at JPMorgan Chase & Co., has covered the spectrum of marketing challenges. Starting at Kellogg Company, she has served in CMO roles at PepsiCo, Toys “R” Us, Citigroup, and currently at JPMorgan Chase. For her, each role was an opportunity to learn more about how marketing can make an impact on a global scale.

During the 2021 CMO Club Innovation and Inspiration Summit, Jon Suarez-Davis (jsd) spoke with Carla about what it means to lead authentically, with vision and purpose.

In her own words, Carla shares what she’s learned over the years that will help any CMO striving to be a better leader and marketer.

Be Curious

Anybody who tells me they’ve got it all figured out, I don’t believe them. The world is changing so fast. I don’t know how someone can succeed without even thinking about asking questions or being curious about those changes.

There’s so much that I don’t know. One of the secrets is you’ve got to be curious. At JPMorgan Chase, it’s not just being curious about marketing, it’s equally important to be curious about the business. What is going on in the business? How do we make money? What are the business models and how does marketing fit into that? How does marketing drive growth? You won’t know that unless you know the totality of what the company is trying to do. Curiosity is an extremely important leadership quality that has helped me.

Take a risk. I promise you it will pay off. I’ve always put my hand up and said, ‘give me the thing no one wants.’ It has always given me a new perspective about the business.

Be Humble

If I’m 100 percent honest, my ego gets in the way sometimes. Sometimes I’ll sit in a meeting and not know what’s going on. My ego says, “don’t ask, you are supposed to know!” But over time I’ve found that humility is a trait of great leaders. The world is moving so fast it’s okay to say, “I thought I knew, educate me in layman’s terms.”

If I’m sitting in a meeting and thinking about something I don’t know the answer to, sometimes I’ll just text or email someone on the team or I’ll say something as straightforward as “I’m new at the company and I don’t know that acronym.” It’s okay you don’t know everything. Find those two or three people who are safe for you to ask. We need to create environments where people feel comfortable and safe, so you don’t feel silly asking questions.

Over time I’ve found that humility is a trait of great leaders.

Be Empathetic

I never do anything that at the end of the night I can’t put my head on the pillow and feel good about. I don’t mean rationalizing feeling good about, but feel good about at the guttural level. So honesty, to me, is important.

Being empathetic is also a value of mine. This notion that everybody has a story, everybody is coming from somewhere. Be kind to people and understand where they are coming from. We are all living in matrix organizations and have very different perspectives. If we can just pause and say, “Let me understand. Let me put myself in the CFO’s shoes and understand where they are coming from. I may not agree with it but I may be able to add value to it.” That’s empathy at work.

Be Realistic About Work-Life Balance

I have long since abandoned the notion that day in and day out, you can have work-life balance. I say that positively. It freed me from the expectations that every single day I had to strike a perfect work-life balance. If I look back across a year and say over that time I had a good work-life balance, I’m good. But I know there are days work will win over life and there are days life will win over work. There must be fluidity.