In this month’s edition of In The Lead, I talk to Rebecca Szymczak, aka Cardsy B, about the leadership qualities that made her successful as a leader in the fashion industry and how she mentors others in her current role as an intuitive tarot reader and author of The Saturn Diaries: A Modern Day Grimoire by Cardsy B. Before she read tarot cards for everyone from celebrities to C-suite executives, Rebecca held leadership positions at fashion giants, including Nike, DKNY, and Playboy. I can attest to her incredible leadership qualities since she was one of my first managers.
Rebecca and I worked together at a fashion company in New York City in 2007. I had just moved to NYC from my previous job in Ohio and was equally nervous and excited. Based on other experiences I had in the fashion industry, I expected Rebecca to put me through the wringer as I got up to speed. Instead, she helped define and shape how I would manage my teams in the upcoming years.
During our interview, I asked Rebecca about the leadership qualities that served her most. She explains that, in general, there are two types of leaders: The Helpers and The Hazers.
“Early in my career, I experienced a few Hazer managers, which really shaped my experience in terms of what type of leader I wanted to be. Hazing went a little like this, “This was hard for me when I started, so you’ll have to go through it too.” Those experiences taught me that if I can help people grow and not go through trauma in the workplace, I will absolutely do what I can to facilitate a healthy environment.”
Rebecca is a ball of fire (Sun Sign = Sagittarius, Rising Sign = Aries). Her Aries Rising Sign helps her move at the speed of light, and her Sagittarius Sun Sign tries to incorporate as much play into work as possible. In her experience, ensuring your team members are having fun increases productivity and helps create a positive work environment.
“First off, you need to have your finger on the pulse of what is “fun” for your team, because what’s fun for someone might be awful for someone else. Once you know that, you can incorporate it into their day-to-day. If you try to squeeze productivity out of your team with no rest or reward, you’ve drained them.”
I asked Rebecca if she’s worked for toxic leaders.
“I have, and they usually share similar traits. The most damaging leaders I had used fear as a motivator and tended to micromanage every step of the process. In fashion, it’s common for companies to feel that they own all your time. They expect you to be accessible at all hours of the day and night. You can get short-term results from micromanaging and fear, but I don’t think you will get retention or have a happy team. You burn people out to the point of resentment until they cannot take it anymore. Incentivizing with positive reinforcement makes everyone happy.”
She continues her point about this leadership quality of empowering others by adding, “And it can be little things like taking people out to lunch, verbal affirmations, and acknowledgement. Encourage junior team members to present their work to the leadership team. It makes people work harder when they know they are presenting their work and they feel seen.”
Rebecca is an amazing manager, but even she is not immune to experiencing Imposter Syndrome and struggling with confidence.
“I think I’ve been a mostly confident person throughout my life. And maybe it’s the rebel Sagittarius energy, or maybe it’s because I always felt like a weirdo. I think I always knew that my options were to lean into my weirdness or try to blend in with the mainstream. And I was never going to blend in, so I needed to love what made me different. However, I lost some confidence in my 30s after years of being beaten down by the fashion industry.”
Rebecca did feel Imposter Syndrome when she was promoted to Director of Design at Playboy and had to build a team from scratch.
“I told the leadership team, of course, I can do it. But in my head, I wasn’t so sure because, in previous roles, I always had a Director or VP to help support me, but in this case, it was all on me. I adopted the attitude of fake it ’til you make it, but I was still terrified. I remember going to work every morning and listening to Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance,’ which was my mantra. I’m just going to go in and make this work. And I did. Trusting yourself that you’ll figure it out is so important.”
Rebecca recommends this self awareness leadership quality – reflecting on your work life to determine what brings you joy.
“Ask yourself what makes you the happiest when you’re working. What is the thing that brings you the most joy? When you’re working on something that brings you joy, your energy will last longer, and you will want to pursue it with a different commitment. Get clear on what drives you and what part of your day makes you the happiest. Once you figure that out, you’ll be able to find opportunities where you can spend more of your day working on what makes you happy.”
Rebecca took this approach, which helped her understand what would bring her long-term happiness. She realized that what she loved most about her job as a leader was helping people who were stuck.
“As a manager, I would approach interactions with my team with a simple question: How can I elevate your day? Now that’s what I do all day with Tarot, and it makes me so happy.”
Rebecca loves music, so naturally, I need to know her favorite pump-up song.
“I love ‘Marry the Night‘ by Lady Gaga. The central theme is going head-on into the darkness and knowing it will not break you. We’re all stronger than we think.”