27/12/2015 10:55 GMT | Updated 27/12/2016 05:12 GMT

Women in Business Q&A: Stacy DeBroff, Influence Central

Stacy DeBroff, founder and CEO of Influence Central, is a social media strategist, attorney, and best-selling author. A frequent national and international speaker, she consults with brands on consumer and social media trends.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

People often say that there's strength to be gained through tragedy and that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Having lost both my parents in a plane crash at age 12, I suddenly had to assess what I considered to be meaningful in life and what was meaningful enough to spend my lifetime doing it. I came away from that with a very strong need to blend vision and passion in everything I do because I realized that life is precious, that relationships ultimately matter most in life, and that having a vision behind what you're doing, both personally and professionally, proves transformative. I emerged an especially relationship-driven leader, prioritizing a collegial atmosphere - one that's supportive, encourages the cheering on of others, and forges a close, work-family culture - that has defined my company today. Moreover, I'm the type of leader who will go valiantly striding up a mountain that seems an incredible challenge to hike and as a leader, I love others coming along - buying into the vision of the summit and forging their own pathways and explorations to get us there as a team.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Influence Central?

Ironically, the most important part of my previous employment experience that has aided my tenure at Influence Central was the one piece I wanted to escape the most. I started my career as a lawyer, in fact, a litigator. I felt that being an attorney felt confining, in terms of the constant risk aversion built into decision-making, as well as a thinking-within-the-box mentality. And yet today, every week as CEO at Influence Central, I find myself continually drawing on my counselor background - whether it's talking an entire legal team at a Fortune 100 company, in what I call 'off the cliff,' in terms of the legal implications of social media marketing or negotiating international contracts with companies utilizing our services to reach an American audience. So while I've dropped the Esquire, that law degree sure does come in handy!

What have been the highlights and challenges?

The highlights have come from the sheer delight and excitement of realized entrepreneurism. It's proved particularly rewarding to take something from a disruptive, somewhat rebellious idea and to emerge with a thriving and growing multi-million dollar business and a team passionate and excited about the innovative work we do.

As far as challenges, two in particular come to mind. The first being that social media and digital marketing has proved a brave new world - with its rules reinvented almost daily by changes in social media platforms and algorithms, as well as a profound metamorphosis in the way brand marketers perceive successful reaching of consumers. The second challenge has been a surprise in that as I look around at my other CEO/founder peers - the key being not just leaders but having started an organization - I find women overall to be a rarity. I think my success and profound happiness in what I do now comes from having ramped up once my kids left for college, which gave me the freedom and energy to truly vest in growing something other than a teen.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

There has never been a more exciting time to enter the field of social media and marketing. The metamorphosis of the space has created incredible opportunities that combine strategic thinking and tactical implementation. Moreover, it's a time that offers an exciting, equal playing field for women who are smart, ambitious, analytical, and want to be able - at different times in their life - to be able to balance work and family.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

Expect the unexpected! Just when you think you have launched on a particular linear path. For me, that has included attorney, book author, regular national media show guest, spokesperson, and marketer. Careers have truly become non-linear, and the best thing you can do in your career is to follow your passion and the unexpected opportunities that arise and to push your internal whispers of risk aversion aside.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

The first thing I've learned is that there's no such thing as a static work/life balance. It is a continual challenge that means keeping flexibility to respond to inevitable life crises and needs of your family and friends. I think of my professional life and my personal life as both needing dramatic moments of oxygen to survive. If either withers, both suffer. If you make it a priority to have that balance as a high-priority goal, while it does mean giving up something on both sides - such as constant availability in your personal life or the height of ambitions in your work life - it turns out, you can achieve remarkable things in both.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

I continue to think that the single biggest issue for women is that we grow up being told "be all that you can be." Then, as we have kids or family and personal obligations, we realize it's not the glass ceiling - it's the sticky floor. As women, we've still been brought up to consider ourselves as prime nurturers and highly relationship oriented and that priority often conflicts with the 24/7 work culture. So navigating the waters between professional ambition and personal fulfillment becomes both an ongoing struggle and a reason why so many women, in essence, tread water during the years of, on average, 30 to 45.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Strikingly, mentorship has proved a huge issue in my life and that of my closest friends. As very few women from the generation above us achieved professional heights, particularly in the entrepreneurial realm, there has been a dramatic lack of mentorship from this generation, both in terms of professional women to guide us, as well as on the personal front to openly share their experiences, struggles, and challenges as they tend to be more guarded with that information. So what has made a huge difference is peer-to-peer mentorship and having a close circle of successful, compassionate peers for whom we reciprocate continually in terms of our learnings, what's worked best, how to handle tough situations, and how to keep it all in perspective.

Secondly, as a result, I have made it a huge priority to take on dozens of younger women mentees to help those with whom I feel a strong personal connection actualize their own careers in profoundly exciting ways.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

The female leaders I have come to most respect, it turns out, are not women who have achieved very high leadership positions in what they do, but women who have had the vision and entrepreneurship to create an opportunity for themselves and lead that to success. If you focus on many of the leaders, particularly within business, you find that many of them have worked their way up to senior positions or the mantle of leadership but haven't really built something from the ground up for themselves. It's the intrepid spirit and acumen that leads me to so deeply respect these entrepreneurial women. Secondly, I deeply admire female leaders who have managed to bring relationship priorities and compassion into their workplaces, as it often takes strong confidence and self-assurance to incorporate these characteristics into a workplace culture.

What do you want Influence Central to accomplish in the next year?

Part of the delight that I take in our work with Influence Central, comes not from setting specific goals, such as increased revenue, percentage growth, higher profitability (all of which we're doing great on and we continue to strive to do better) but instead on the delight of the journey. It's seeing people passionately come to work on a steep learning curve in a rapidly accelerating and changing space, cheering each other on and both excited and deeply, thoughtfully, strategically looking at the future - that to me has become the greatest accomplishment of all.