Why leaders must learn mindfulness with Deutsch NY CEO Val DiFebo

When things get overwhelming, I literally sit down and say to myself, “this is in your control, start breathing and you’re not going to let your body take control, you got this!

As CEO of the Deutsch NY office, Val DiFebo has been a key architect of the Agency’s continual success and leadership in the advertising industry since joining in 1992. Val’s vast experience includes brand-building work on industry leaders, such as Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, IKEA, Procter & Gamble, AB InBev, PNC Bank, and Reebok.

Along with the Agency’s success, The Today Show, CNN, and other media outlets have all sought out her point of view, and she has been profiled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Fortune. A trusted industry thought leader, Val is anything but shy when it comes to advocating for equality in the workplace. Passionate about supporting early career playwrights, creative storytellers and educating young students about the performing arts, she holds board positions for The Playwrights Realm and On Broadway’s Performing Arts Training Program. She is Chairman of the Hearts of Gold Foundation, which assists at-risk mothers, and holds board positions with the ANA Educational Foundation (AEF), Buckley Country Day School, and at her alma mater, Williams College.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you please share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up in a working-class Italian family from the Bronx. I was a natural-born leader and my first elected leadership opportunity was when I became student body president of my high school.

While in college, at Williams, I developed an interest in advertising after taking classes in psychology, specifically in cognitive psych. My first job out of college was at an advertising agency, in the media department, where I worked on a large packaged-goods client.

In 1992, I joined Deutsch as an Account Director and rose through the ranks to President in 2005, and CEO in 2009. Spending 25 years at the same agency is very rare, but I love that I’ve been able to shape the culture and spirit, as well as continuously redefine and reinvent our integrated multidisciplinary offerings, to create efficient, strategic business solutions that go beyond advertising.

One of the most important aspects of my job is to seek out, hire, and nurture great talent. A top priority is motivating talent, and I do that by being inclusive, and empowering our people to do their jobs and to be accountable. I have the confidence to hire smart, talented people; I inspire them to perform, help them to learn from failure, and reward them for their successes. My goal is to have great people here and to make this an environment where they want to spend their energy and time.

I am involved on a number of boards, and I am drawn to causes where people who are underfunded and underrepresented, get support and access to live their best lives and realize their potential. I am grateful for the opportunities I was given and, in turn, am passionate about lending a hand to help others achieve their potential and have equal access to opportunities.

Board involvement includes:

  • The Playwrights Realm and On Broadway’s Performing Arts Training Program: supporting early career playwrights, creative storytellers and harnessing the power of the performing arts to teach young students about self-expression and confidence
  • Chairman of the Hearts of Gold Foundation, which assists at-risk mothers and their children
  • Association of National Advertisers/Educational Foundation (AEF) Board
  • Buckley Country Day School, and my alma mater, Williams College

As CEO of Deutsch, I’ve also ensured that the Agency participates in multiple internship programs including the 4A’s MAIP (Multicultural Advertising Intern Program), the AEF MADE program (Marketing and Advertising Education), and Williams College Winter Study Intern programs, among others. Each is designed to provide students with experiences that are critical to future career paths.

What role did mindfulness or spiritual practice play in your life growing up? Do you have a funny or touching story about that?

Growing up in the Bronx, I was surrounded by family — on any given Sunday there would be 15 to 20 family members gathered for dinner at my grandmother’s. So, at a very young age, I learned the importance of being present around family and friends. I was mindful that you get a limited amount of time with the people you love. Having the awareness that you can lose people encourages you to be present and appreciate the lives of others, and the time you have with them.

As a child and young adult, I was always drawn to the ocean. I experienced a sense of solitude and peacefulness when I would quietly sit and listen to the water. When I practice meditation now, it takes me back to when I’d sit on the beach with my sisters. I know now that this non religious spiritual practice was my form of meditation — I just didn’t know it back then. Even now, when I can’t physically visit the beach, I think about the peacefulness that I find there.

How do your mindfulness or spiritual practices affect your business and personal life today?

Dealing with stress in our everyday lives, whether personal or business-related, I find that meditation has been a real asset. Personally, when my dad was sick, one of the things that helped me through such a difficult, stressful time was meditating. When you understand how your body reacts to stress, you also realize — with meditation and breathing — it is something you can control. When things get overwhelming, I literally sit down and say to myself, “this is in your control, start breathing and you’re not going to let your body take control, you got this!”

Do you find that you are more successful or less successful because of your integration of spiritual and mindful practices? Can you share an example or story about that with us?

My meditation practice is a tool, it has helped me slow down my thinking, my multitasking mind, and to think more carefully and be more thoughtful before I speak or react. This is true for both my professional and personal life. Short moments of meditation have not only helped me change the way I react, it has also taught me to be more empathetic and put myself in someone else’s shoes.

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?

There are a lot of people whose support, mentally and emotionally, helped me get to where I am today. I am grateful to have incredible support from my family. My mother has incredible energy, strength and resilience. She taught me the importance of critical thinking, working hard and honoring family values. At 83, my mom still works, is active, and is a very strong force in our family. My husband, Dixon, has always supported my growth and ambitions, and our son Bryan has brought a perspective to “success” that is grounding, and realigns building a legacy into the definition of success. And Lindsey, my mindfulness and yoga coach, works with me to see the light in others and myself.

Can you share 3 or 4 pieces of advice about how leaders can create a very “healthy and uplifting” work culture?

Say “YES.” I have a huge neon “YES” sign that hangs behind my desk. It’s not only symbolic of my open-door policy, an invitation to have courageous conversations, but it is a reminder to make saying YES everyone’s job. It inspires people to think about how to make strong arguments for why YES is the right answer and to make the case for why/how YES can push limits and help us build the “never before”:

  • Be inclusive and empower people to do their jobs, listen. My leadership style is very inclusive and transparent. Be decisive and have the courage to course correct — and inspire others to have the self-confidence to be themselves and do the right thing. These are all traits that I strongly believe lead to success.
  • Encourage people to be themselves by respecting their views, allowing them to express themselves without judgement. When people know you respect them, they come to work as their true selves.
  • Take care of yourself: Meditate, spend time with family, work out, schedule vacations. I’m a better leader when I have clarity and focus.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. ?

I would advocate for integrating mindfulness, gratitude, and empathy practices into education for all our children. Developing these skills alongside traditional ways of teaching could inspire more peaceful and rewarding experiences.

How can people follow you and find out more about you?

LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/val-difebo-1837b634/

Twitter @ValDiFebo

About the author: Jacob Rupp is a coach, author, speaker, podcaster, and rabbi. He is the founder of Lift Your Legacy, a community that helps people live a more authentic life. He has a regular, syndicated column that appears in ThriveGlobal and Authority magazine. To learn more about him or to listen to the Lift Your Legacy podcast, search iTunes or visit his site: liftyourlegacy.live

Why leaders must learn mindfulness with Deutsch NY CEO Val DiFebo was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.