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SiriusXM CMO Denise Karkos Shares How To Coach Confidence

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In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership Thought Leader Don Yaeger sits down with Denise Karkos, Chief Marketing Officer of SiriusXM, to discuss the importance of being confidently vulnerable as a leader.

You don’t become the captain of the Notre Dame women’s soccer team and earn Ad Age’s CMO of the Year by lacking confidence. Sirius XM Chief Marketing Officer Denise Karkos has done both and credits her success to a decision to invest as much effort into building relationships as any hard skill associated with her job.

The key to forming good relationships at work, especially those of mentor and mentee, she says, is to be observant of other people, be vulnerable when you ask questions, seek specific feedback that you can apply immediately, and be constantly intellectually curious.

“You always want to be honest about why it is that you’re trying to learn what it is you’re asking of a mentor,” said Karkos. “Being vulnerable in this way allows the mentor to feel more invested in helping you.”

In the above podcast, Karkos shares some of her more vulnerable moments, including a poorly run meeting caused by a failure to read the room. But she also notes that having developed a trusting relationship with a mentor helped her learn from those moments and develop into a  better leader.

As both mentor and mentee, Karkos operates on the principle that any ambitious career will have plenty of downs as well as ups. So she created a “happy folder” of her accomplishments at SiriusXM, which include crafting a new vision statement, launching a new customer segmentation model and developing the company’s first multimedia advertising campaign. She also keeps notes from people who have told her how something she said to them has helped them.

“At a minimum, having a happy folder is a confidence builder,” Karkos explained. “Confidence is a hard thing to coach, but I like to recommend keeping a log of the things you’re proud of so that when you experience the low points, you always have something to revisit and get a little boost.”

Listeners to the podcast will enjoy Karkos’ examples of relationship building as well as the lessons she learned from playing soccer at an elite level including:

• The important lesson in humility Karkos learned by losing to Olympic gold medalist Julie Foudy’s Stanford soccer team.

• Implementing the “10-minute rule” to grind out a success even when you’re behind.

• What soccer taught Karkos about setting higher expectations for herself and her team.

Karkos says the most important thing is not to compare yourself with others but to emulate people you think are doing what you’d like to do at a higher level–then learn either from afar or in person. “Figure out what’s authentic to you and that you can really raise the bar on,” she adds, “and really go deep on that.”


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