Amber Guild of Collins: Call Out the Elephant in the Room

November 22nd, 2015   •   no comments   
Amber Guild of Collins: Call Out the Elephant in the Room

This interview with Amber Guild, president of Collins, a brand consultancy, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.

Q. What were some early influences for you?

A. I grew up in two different homes. I had my father’s home in New Jersey and my mother’s home in New York City.

Tell me more about your parents.

They never married. They became good friends, had me and then they separated. My dad later moved out to New Jersey with my stepmom, and my mother was in New York. Both were very politically active. I probably went to my first demonstration before I could walk. We were always protesting something or other at a rally.

And I grew up in these two different cultural households. My dad’s household was all white, and my mother and my two older sisters are black. I’m the only one who’s biracial. So I found myself always being a bridge in terms of culture and different classes.

In my home in the city, we were poor. My dad’s household was working-class, but there was always food on the table. Growing up with those two very distinct experiences started to form my relationship with the world and with people in different communities, and seeing both differences and similarities.

Then, to top it all off, I ended up getting a scholarship to boarding school in Connecticut when I was 14, which was another radically different culture and experience.

And how have your parents influenced your leadership style?

The organizing aspect of it — organizing people in a way that leads to collaboration because you have a shared vision and mission. I started organizing when I was 8 or 9.


It was with my classmates. Someone had been stealing from the cubbies in our classroom, and so I organized a couple of my classmates and we started the Star Detective Group. And I got my teacher to sign off on this group to make it legit, and we then investigated. When I got to junior high, I organized a walkout from the school to protest the first Iraq war. But I also got it endorsed by the teachers, because I was never too much of a rebel.

I also learned resilience from my mother. The confidence that you have to have as a survival skill — I saw that in her and learned that from her. You have to feel that your voice matters and that you can drive change and impact change, because if you feel like you can’t, then you won’t.

What were some early leadership lessons for you when you became a manager?

At first, I probably always tried to manage and develop team members of mine to be like me. But then I learned that when you have a team, you have to really understand what their strengths and weaknesses are and then play to their strengths. Everyone brings something different and unique and valuable to a team, so you have to get to know them and really understand what their strengths, skills and special powers are.

I find it’s probably the most rewarding part of any of the roles I’ve ever played. When you see someone really have this confidence in what they’re doing and they feel valued, and when you see that they can do something they didn’t even know that they could do, it’s just the most amazing, powerful moment. I’ve found that a lot of people sometimes underestimate themselves, and if you can help them find their strengths and bring them out and then deliver beautifully to get results, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Continue reading the main story

Continue reading the main story

What else?

To be an effective leader, you can’t be conflict-averse. So many people are conflict-averse. That’s been my biggest surprise in business. I wasn’t expecting how many people in leadership positions and in very senior managerial positions are averse to conflict. I don’t think you can push something forward if you don’t have that skill.

And is that something that’s always been natural for you?

It has, and maybe it’s because I grew up with so many different opinions and perspectives. I had to be able to address differences very early on as I moved through my life. It’s a skill set I had naturally, but I’ve also developed it over time. It’s about being direct and honest but constructive, and calling out the elephants in the room. Let’s talk about it and find a way forward.

How do you hire?

I typically just start off asking a little bit about how they spent their weekend or something that helps me understand them as a person. From a professional standpoint, I’m looking for people who are curious but who also have a point of view, and so I’ll often ask questions to see if people will give me a specific point of view on an issue, usually within our field.

It’s interesting how some people don’t want to do that. They want to kind of hedge their bets. They’re afraid to be wrong, and I don’t want people to be afraid to be wrong. I’m looking for people who are confident enough yet also open enough to have a point of view, but also open to talking about it and maybe changing their mind. I want to see someone who’s constantly thinking and asking questions and wanting to learn more.

What career advice do you give to new college grads?

I would tell them to be careful not to equate what you do for a living with who you are. I think it’s a part of who you are, but I don’t think it should be all of who you are. I’m better at what I do professionally since I’ve had children. Your self-worth and your sense of self should be multidimensional. That’s a much healthier, more productive and just a happier place to be.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *