#LeadLikeAWoman with Jenell Leonard

The trail-blazers that came before me made it possible to be one of the only woman-owned public relations firms in Lansing.

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is not just about holding a title, but also having the confidence to lead with integrity and invest in those around you. I recently assumed ownership of a small public relations firm in Lansing. Taking on this role and responsibility means much more to me than making dollars and cents or reaching bottom lines on a spread sheet. We have clients that rely on me to carry out and advance their goals. Some of these clients have been with us for over two decades. Serving their needs must be done with integrity. Simultaneously, I am responsible for leading a valued team that continues to invest their time and talents into our business. Their hard work drives me to invest in each of them to achieve their personal and professional goals as we work for our clients.

Who has influenced your idea of leadership?

I have been blessed with many wonderful mentors in my life. One that stands out is Dennis Muchmore. Dennis was Governor Rick Snyder’s Chief-of-Staff when I served as the External and Strategic Affairs Director for Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley.

Dennis was like a father figure to many of us in the office - the “steady hand” that provided guidance and helped us prioritize our goals. Under Dennis’ leadership, we executed our responsibilities to the highest level. When stress levels were high, “dad” would walk into the room and we knew everything was going to be okay. Dennis was a calming force. He bore a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders – much of which we never witnessed, even though his office was just down the hall.

Despite the weight he carried each day, Dennis always invested in our staff. He often stopped by my office to check in; “Leonard, you doing okay?” He would often inquire about what I was working on, and then provide insight and guidance on the next steps.

Dennis always cared about my professional goals and wanted to be there to help me achieve them. Two of my greatest highlights while working for the administration was executing the Council of Great Lakes Governor Summit on Mackinac Island on behalf of the governor and coordinating the 2015 inaugural. It was Dennis that made each of these a reality for me.

Dennis embodies the values of a great leader. I will forever be grateful for the personal investment he made in me and my professional career.

Why do we need more women in leadership roles? What do they add to the table?

One of the greatest blessings in my life is raising my three-year-old daughter, Hannah. I am at a point where she is imitating everything I do. Literally everything. It’s cute, and slightly terrifying, to be honest. But it makes me take a step back and try to see myself and the world through her eyes. I want her to see a mom that works hard and invests in others. A mom that gives back to the community. A mom that keeps her (and our family) the top priority in life.

When she looks at the world, I want Hannah to know that she truly can do whatever she wants when she grows up. I want her to see a professional world that empowers women for our strengths, skills, and talents. If she becomes a working mom, I want her to do so in a world that embraces and integrates family and children in the workplace.

When I was my daughter’s age, I never thought I’d be a business owner, or any of the other positions I have held in my career. The trail-blazers that came before me made it possible to be one of the only woman-owned public relations firms in Lansing. We need more women in leadership roles to not only invest their skills and talents in current organizations but to continue to serve as mentors and role-models for the next generation of women leaders. I can only hope my daughter is one of them. She is already watching and learning from me and you.

How are you leading in your career/community?

I have been blessed with a wide array of experiences in my short career. I have worked in the legislature (2006-2010), the governor’s office (2010-2015), served as Michigan’s film commissioner (2015-2018), and now own one of Lansing’s only women-owned public relations and political consulting firms. Beyond my career, I have also been the spouse of a state representative who served as Speaker of the House and was the Republican nominee for attorney general. Each of these roles – whether personal or professional – have yielded opportunities to be a leader. I have mentioned a lot about my professional perspective on leadership, but the personal side is even more important. Politics is not just a job. It impacts every part of your life – spouse, children, finances, etc. – and while most of the focus is on the candidate, the spouse is typically the one responsible for keeping all things running smoothly at home. I have a passion to continue to support and mentor other spouses in the political world who go through this process. I had a few role-models I looked up to when Tom and I first plunged into public service. While I definitely don’t have all of the answers, I leverage my experience to serve as a support system for other political spouses who are called to public service. 

What is the best way for someone to contact you?

I can be reached by email at jleonard@mrgmi.com or on my cell at 765.210.7971

Michigan ATHENA is a program dedicated to developing, supporting, and honoring women leaders throughout Michigan. This program is part of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiatives. To find out more about this program please visit us at www.michamber.com/ATHENA

If you have any questions or would like to nominate someone to be featured in our #LeadLikeAWoman series please email me at akeimach@michamber.com