Our Leadership, Stylish interview series celebrates stylish women in leadership and executive roles. You’ll get personal insights about their role models and inspiration, how these amazing ladies get their teams excited, and what wardrobe and grooming choices they make to give their performance an extra boost of confidence. — Tell us what you think in the comments.
Today’s stylish leader is Lubna Abu-Osba. She’s an art director and a self-described “intensely curious omnivorous aesthete.” When you meet her you’ll be drawn in by her big laugh that makes you secretly hope she’s laughing with you, not at you. She likes to wear slightly uncomfortable shoes for important meetings and presentations as that keeps her alert and on her toes. She thinks about these things and talks about them in such a refreshing manner. You’ll see when you read on.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and where you are in your career.
Lubna Abu-Osba: After 20 years of working as a creative at the top ad and branding agencies in NYC, I felt it was time to start my own studio. I created Influence Bureau with a mission to help marketers speak to women in a new way. I want to shatter the female stereotypes: housewives happily cleaning the kitchen, models retouched to impossible perfection, and products that are Pepto-Bismal pink.
Do you have role models you draw inspiration from for your life and career?
My parents have always been my primary role models. They are Palestinian and grew up in refugee camps in the West Bank. They lost all their property but held their culture close. This is what allowed my parents to become leading intellectuals in their fields. They taught me that it’s possible to create what you want in this world, with a disciplined work ethic powered by your intelligence and creativity. That is the culture I was raised in, and I’m grateful to them for that. I also have a collection of “fairy godmothers” who inspire me: Audrey Hepburn, Diane von Fürstenburg, Diana Vreeland, Coco Chanel, Kate Spade, and Oprah (Yes, Oprah). They’re all self-made women who brought beauty into the world.
What are typical situations in which you get to show off your leadership qualities?
Whether I’m influencing clients to embark on a new brand direction or motivating creative teams, I want everyone to feel that we are working towards a common goal. When clients or teams see that I’m all in, they are too. It’s an exciting moment as a leader when individuals coalesce into a team.
Are there any habits or rituals that make you feel at the top of your game before a public appearance, a client meeting, or a critical team meeting?
“Clear, Bright, Beautiful” is both my personal mantra and my company mantra; it’s my guiding principle. I meditate before every important client or team meeting and visualize the outcome I’m hoping for. I then align my talking points to my three power words: Clear, Bright and Beautiful. Rehearsing what I’m going to say out load makes me feel prepared. If it’s an important presentation, I get my hair done. I have found that it is soothing and empowering all at once. When we look good, we feel good!
If you have to get a group of people excited, what works best for you?
An audience can focus on what you’re saying if they are being lead through a story versus a series of data points or bullets. I try to speak in short vivid sentences, and I enunciate my words and speak slightly slower than my talking voice. I deliberately say things that are provocative and even controversial to keep the group thinking, engaged and reactive. It brings out passion, opinions and other points of view – the magic of collaborative work.
If we asked the people around you what your leadership style was, what words do you think would come up?
I hope they would say I’m a passionate, transparent and collaborative leader. I have a direct and open style that encourages others to share their opinions and ideas yet I can make decision and inspire the group to work towards the goal.
What are some of your go-to outfits, hair or makeup styles that make you feel most confident in any business situation?
I want my appearance to compliment what I’m saying rather than distract from it. I have really wild curly hair so I either have my hair blown-out straight or I slick it back into a chignon if I’m seeing clients.
My favorite designers for a tailored but feminine look are Nanette Lepore, Diego Binetti, Milly, Prada, Theory, Alexander McQueen, BCBG, J. Crew, Burberry and Catherine Malandrino. I also like to mix in vintage pieces from the 50, 60’s and 70’s.
For shoes, I love Prada, Miu Miu, Sigerson Morrison and J.Crew. Christian Louboutin’s Simple Pump with 4” heel works with everything.
I like my makeup polished yet natural. I often have meetings that can last all day. I found that Blinc Mascara, Yves St. Laurent under-eye concealer, Nars blush, Covergirl lip stain, Tom Ford or Elizabeth Arden lipstick have the required endurance.
Guys just have to throw on a suit and tie and look “business,” we have so many options. Are there any ladies out there you think get the balance between stylish and business just right?
Dermatologist Dr. Lisa Airan always looks impeccable. Her style is professional but never boring. Interior designer Kelly Wearstler, has a cool-girl vibe that’s fun and pulled-together. I love her look. Visionaire Co-Founder Cecilia Dean is avant-garde and classic — not an easy combination to pull-off. If I woke up with any one of these women’s wardrobes I would be very happy indeed!
If you were giving a piece of advice to a group of young women about to embark on their careers, what would it be?
If I were writing a letter to my younger self I would say this: be more respectful and less rebellious towards mentors, listen more and speak less, don’t let your ego stand in the way of learning from others, and that criticism might hurt, but it is valuable. Believe in yourself and what you have to offer. Stay open-minded, hone your talents and then offer them to the world. This is the truest measure of success.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Lubna.
Check out the other Leadership, Stylish interviews. Enjoy!