Jacqueline M Baker of Scarlet: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Make the time and space to connect — Uncertain and turbulent times can be quite uncomfortable. But that discomfort isn’t selective. While you as the people leader may be experiencing discomfort and fear, so are the people that you’re leading. It’s essential to maintain a line of communication so that people feel seen, heard and guided.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline M. Baker, a speaker, leadership consultant for Fortune 500 companies, and two-time author.
Jacqueline has a commitment to inspiring people like you and organizations just like yours to take meaningful action. From podcast producer and author, to founder and leadership advocate, she occupies many spaces. Through each of these roles, she is committed to helping you embrace your inner leader, confidently move to your next leadership level and “Just Start™️” the things you want to do.
As the founder and principal consultant at Scarlet, Jacqueline has provided training, coaching, and consultation to thousands of corporations and community organizations across the globe. The impact that she has made is firmly rooted in her approach to modern etiquette and leadership and the belief that everyone has leadership potential.
Leadership isn’t just a skill that’s reserved for those in the c-suite. We all have the power to lead in our own unique ways across both social and professional settings. Sometimes we just need a little push in the right direction to get there.
That’s why she wrote two books: The Unexpected Leader: Discovering The Leader Within You (2022) and Leader By Mistake: Becoming a Leader One Mistake at a Time (2017), which shows how you too can find your inner leader by learning from your mistakes and homing in on the skills you already possess to lead confidently.
Jacqueline lives and breathes this leadership-for-all concept and her expertise is grounded in years of experience across a variety of organizations. In her most recent corporate role as vice president of startup programming at AARP Innovation Labs, she led a team committed to finding the most promising startups world-wide and identifying how they can move their innovations forward and become better leaders of their organizations.
Jacqueline also serves as a corporate board member at Plastipak Packaging on the Functional Leadership Development Committee.
She proudly holds two degrees from Wayne State University — a Bachelor of Arts in public relations and Master of Education in instructional technology with specializations in interactive technologies and performance improvement. She is also a graduate of the Protocol School of Washington, where she focused on international etiquette & protocol, and holds a Six Sigma Green Belt certification in process improvement, which she uses to help clients develop systems and processes that will allow them to reach their strategic planning and development goals.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Just Start™ is literally one of the hallmarks and mantras that guides how I live my life and make key decisions. When I think about my backstory and how I get started, I can’t help but to be quickly reminded of the first entrepreneurial foray that I engaged in that set the course for the spaces that I am in today. In my early 20’s, while both working on my undergraduate degree at Wayne State University in Detroit, I was also concurrently working as an events specialist alongside a dear friend of mine, Zemen Marrugi. Our primary role was to execute events for on-campus students, which truly had its bright lights and joy.
One day, Zemen and I decided that what we really wanted to do is execute our own events. So, we literally went down to the Detroit City County building to register what the world would eventually come to know as Opal E Event Planning, which we operated for 8 years.
While event production was fulfilling and has a host of memories, it wasn’t the actual execution of events that I would come to fall in love with. It was actually the protocol of it all — the order, the guidelines — the etiquette. Producing events — mostly weddings planted the seed for me to take a massive interest in the world of etiquette, which is how Scarlet came to be.
Scarlet Communications was formally launched in October of 2011 with an intentional focus on modern etiquette specifically for teen girls. When corporate organizations and even professional sports teams began calling to secure this training for their employees, I realized that I had the opportunity to dream bigger. While teaching etiquette to teens is still something that our company does, I realized that organizations were asking for something bigger than that. They were asking us to develop their leaders. So now, Scarlet Communication is a global leadership consultancy dedicated to helping leaders become better leaders.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Oh, so many funny ones, but so little time…
The funniest mistake that I (we) made was charging a bride a total of $157.00 to execute their entire wedding. It was the very first fully playing (sorta) client that we ever had and we were eager to get the business. Although we worked our tails off for very little money, we ended up unknowingly acquiring inventory from the very beginning.
In hindsight, that was a crazy initial decision, but one that also reminds me that you have to get started with what you know in that moment.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve been grateful to have several people join me and guide me at various points of my journey. Every chance that I get, I reach out to one particular woman who unknowingly changed the trajectory and direction of my life by encouraging me to use my voice. Ms. Leanna Jackson, my 4th grade teacher, taught me the power and the impact of using my voice. This woman single handedly coached me to several successful oratorical content wins throughout grade school and middle school. The reason why I can confidently use my voice, navigate a virtual and in-person stage and lead other people to do the same is because Ms. Jackson planted a very well appreciated seed very early in my life.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
When Scarlet first launched in 2011, we had a single vision of ensuring that teen girls had access to modern etiquette instruction. Now, 10 years later, we are still committed to that work on a broader scale. Scarlet is a leadership consultancy with a focus on helping leaders become better leaders.
It has always been our intent and vision to meet our audience where they are and help them to develop. That work commitment and focus is still the same with the Fortune 500s, community organizations and individuals that we work with across the globe.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The height of the pandemic is riddled with story after story of how roadblocks, hurdles and challenges remained at the forefront of almost every project, initiative and conversation that I was a part of.
One of the most memorable stories that required intentional leading during uncertainty was when I found myself in the midst of leading a team in a period of producing several large scale initiatives, but also in the midst of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis and the untimely death of my father. While trying to navigate grief and also trying to maintain my health, I had to remember why Scarlet exists and why we do this work.
We are in the business of helping leaders become better leaders and my everyday interactions with members of my team and colleagues are always rooted in this.
So, since I am on a daily mission of creating better leaders and providing support to my team in service of that, when it was time for them to step up, lead and be the owner of important initiatives and projects, I needed to trust that they were ready. And, for anything that perhaps they weren’t fully prepared for, I needed to remind myself that they were capable of going on their own learning journey, making a few mistakes and self-correcting.
I make it a habit of reminding my team (and myself) that we can do hard and difficult things — even when its uncomfortable, unclear and feels like an uphill battle. This consistent reminder helps us to actually rise above those difficult situations, when they do arise.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
The short answer is: no. The work that I engage in (all of it) is purposeful and important. From the early periods of my life — as early as high school, I had this notion and belief that there had to be another way when roadblocks and challenges surfaced. I believe that this motivation came from watching people in my family early on and recognizing their commitment to making things happen. (whatever they were)
My drive is sustained through a belief in my life thesis. I have a strong commitment to helping people start the things that they want to do and elevate to their next level of leadership. By having this commitment and life thesis in place, I’m able to see past the challenges of the day and have more of a focus on the outcomes that I want. That keeps my drive sustainable and consistently refreshed.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I’ve been asked this question a lot lately. Because I’m a two-time author, I take pride in consuming the works of other authors and content creators. While I could go on and on about recommended books, one that absolutely rises to the top of my list is: Being Is The New Doing by Radiah Rhodes.
I can honestly say that I am a “starter”. I can be a bit of an idea factory, which is hugely beneficial and also distracting. When growing anything, I find that it’s necessary to have a certain level of focus versus chasing the newest shining things over and over again. I enjoyed and recommend Being Is The New Doing because it is an opportunity to look inward and remind yourself that many of the things that you need in challenging times or in times when you really need to step up and lead are already within you.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The skills that I find to be most essential when leading during challenging times are listening intentionally, activating your empathy and remembering the importance of flexibility.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Morale boosting for me has been accomplished with equal parts reality and equal parts vision. I find it to be critical to acknowledge where you and a team are at in a particular situation before encouraging the advancement to somewhere else. If you’re not willing to start where you are, a team may not believe that you have the appropriate grasp on what’s necessary to march forward. Once the current reality has been set, a leader can then inspire a team by painting an image of what’s possible through appropriate word choice and by highlighting the skill sets that the team already has to accomplish what’s being forecasted in the vision.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The best way to communicate difficult news to a team is as quickly as possible and empathetically. When an unreasonable amount of time has passed, it’s easier for irrational fears, virtual water cooler gossip and anxiety to exacerbate a scenario.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
It’s true that there is no perfect plan or situation, so even with the best laid plans, a leader will have to make adjustments along the way. But, when a situation is completely devoid from a plan at all, a leader and a team can be significantly unprepared for what’s ahead. Having plans and being open to adjusting them keeps you from starting from scratch and gives you a significant advantage versus not having a plan at all.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Throughout history, many companies have met their demise by being unwilling to innovate, think expansively and embrace new ways of achieving their company goals. When turbulent times arise, it’s important that companies view each situation uniquely and embrace different ways of tackling challenges.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
The 3 most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times are:
- Treating their employees like robots. Empathy is a necessary item on the menu and when you are hopefully making a point to prioritize your most important resource — your employees, it’s essential to actively work at understanding their perspectives, vantage points and unique challenges.
- Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different outcome. Think about a company that existed when you were a child that is no longer in operation. While companies fold for various reasons, often the inability or unwillingness to embrace innovation or a new way to meet the organization’s mission and goals is a common culprit.
- Not communicating with their teams and customers. Without clear direction, employees and stakeholders are left to fill in the blanks around what might be happening at an organization during a difficult time. By sharing what you know and what is appropriate and even leaving the transparent space to say what isn’t known or what can’t be communicated, it leaves less room for innuendos and false narratives.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Make the time and space to connect
Uncertain and turbulent times can be quite uncomfortable. But that discomfort isn’t selective. While you as the people leader may be experiencing discomfort and fear, so are the people that you’re leading. It’s essential to maintain a line of communication so that people feel seen, heard and guided.
2. You will not have all of the answers and you will not need to
You don’t instantly become omniscient because you have taken on the role of leading others. There is no rule that says that you need to be perfect and know everything. Saying, “I don’t know, but let me see if I can get some answers and direction,” is much more noble than making things up or projecting false, uninformed responses. When uncertainty kicks in, remember that there are smart and capable resources around you where an environment can morph into, “Let’s solve this together”.
3. You aren’t a robot, so don’t try to act like one
A crash and burn in the middle of an uncertain and turbulent time is a tragedy. It can be a tragedy for you and for the people that you are leading. As much as you may encourage the people that you’re leading to rest, recharge and give themselves some grace, you’ll need to do that same. Yes, — your team will need you during tough, challenging and turbulent times, but you’re no good to anyone if you too don’t also take mindful moments to reset.
4. Listen to listen
While there is an expectation that people will want some direction and guidance during uncertain times, it also requires you to focus and prioritize what’s important for the business and for your leaders. In those rocky moments, you may need to remind yourself to schedule in listen time. In the haste of you putting out fires and solving the problem of the hour, ask yourself, have I listened to triage the most pressing needs of the moment? Committing to listen to listen can snap you out of the robotic practice of thinking that you are listening, when you’re really just listening to respond versus listening to listen.
5. Be willing to try new things and embrace innovation
Our world is on a constant path of change and even though we know that the world is nothing like it was 75 years ago it will be nothing like it is in 75 years, we still tend to hold on to what was, in terms of how we solve challenges, how we navigate the world and even how we engage with others to solve business challenges. As you’re in the realm of dealing with uncertain times, resist the urge to commit to solving today’s problems with only yesterday’s solutions. How might you encourage and inspire your team to think expansively, critically and in service of solving today’s challenges?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My life lesson quote is a simple two-word mantra that I use to guide me out of challenging moments, anxiety inducing scenarios and the most fear ridden obstacles.
“Just Start™️”! Be the leader that gives yourself and your teams permission to get started where you are and with the information that you have at your fingertips. Many of our questions get answered in the action!
How can our readers further follow your work?
Readers can learn more about my work at https://
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Jacqueline M Baker of Scarlet: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.