Dita Stejskalová is Business Director & Partner at Ogilvy Czech and a prominent figure among Czech women in leadership who delivered a moving and inspiring talk on her leadership journey at this year’s Femme Palette conference. In this interview, we caught up with Dita to talk more about a recent major career decision she made, key lessons learned after 30 years in PR, her passion for mentorship, and much more.
This interview is published in partnership with Ogilvy.
Please begin by telling us a bit about yourself and what you do.
I have been with Ogilvy for three decades, growing with the company and running its public relations business in the Czech Republic. I studied international business and politics at Prague University of Economics, and during my university years, I was active in AIESEC, an international student organization, where I had marketing responsibilities in the national committee. As I was always curious and passionate about building bridges among people and organizations, I have been involved in several NGOs active in various areas including science, mental health, disabilities, or democracy. I am a passionate mentor, both in our internal WPP Czech mentoring program and several organizations like Femme Palette, Odyssey, European Women on Boards and Equilibrium.
As a highly successful woman in leadership, your journey is without doubt very inspirational to other ambitious women. Can you tell us a little more about your career path and how you got to where you are today?
In a nutshell, my career is about focus, dedication, perseverance, responsibility and working through opportunities when they came. I joined Ogilvy PR when it was starting in the Czech Republic in the 1990s. It was the time of booming business, and we were super motivated to learn as quickly as possible and make an impact. Nobody thought about work-life balance. We were amazed by the breadth of opportunities, and we took them. I grew fast and in 1999 got the offer to take over the Ogilvy PR business from Vanda Wolfová which was extended to minority ownership a few years later.
At a certain point, I realized that if we wanted to accelerate growth, I needed to have a co-managing director to run and grow the business with me. I invited Radek Vítek to join me, and we spent almost nine years building the business together, expanding the client portfolio and services. Around 2018, following the global Ogilvy strategy, we merged several Ogilvy businesses in the Czech Republic into one core entity, which provides clients with the full scope of brand building and marketing communications services. Recently, I handed over the leadership of the Ogilvy PR business to my colleague, Václav Rambousek, and moved to new business development for the whole agency.
You recently made a switch in your career and became Business Director at Ogilvy CZ after 30 years of leading the company’s PR. What motivated this shift, and has it in any way impacted your leadership style?
It was a natural move in a way. Every few years, we did a major shift in the company that involved new team structures, business focus, growth plans. I have done this exercise several times with my teams, and this time I felt I could do it again rationally, but my heart was not there so passionately as before. In that moment, I realized that I must move on and open the door for completely new leadership. I am happy that Václav took this opportunity. My way of working shifted to cross-team, cross-expertise cooperation, building synergies, and supporting cooperation with other WPP agencies that share with us the WPP Campus in Prague.
Can you share some key lessons and insights gained during your 30 years spent in PR? Are you applying any of these learnings in your new role?
Cutting through the clutter and information obesity by packaging your story in a digestible way for the target audience is key. Giving it the right context and human aspect is also valuable. You cannot bore people with facts; you need to make them feel something.
The ability to put your message across through engaging stories is so important. The tools and channels are constantly changing, but the art of connecting with people through powerful storytelling is always relevant. Therefore, preparation for public appearances and interviews is crucial. Unfortunately, leaders sometimes underestimate it and then become frustrated when the result is not what they expected.
At the Femme Palette conference, I spoke about several leadership principles that are important to me. One of them that I live by is “be tough on business, be kind to people.”
What advice would you give to other leaders who want to make a significant career shift like you did, perhaps even change industries? What is the key to success?
The more leadership experience I have, the more I believe that it is not enough to follow just your brain and mental will. Our heart and our spirit must be aligned as well. We can push through many things with our mental power, but if our heart is not there, our spirit, values, our full self, things are not authentic and not sustainable in the long run. It becomes exhausting. I think we all have our inner compass; we feel deep inside when something is right for us or not. And I also understand that we all have our fears and uncertainties, including the fear of failure and stepping into the unknown.
What I always find useful for me is to ask questions and sharpen my thinking to achieve as much clarity as possible. A very good exercise is writing down 100 questions without stopping, letting your brain open up. At the beginning, the questions that we ask about our objective or new position are obvious. But the more we write, the deeper they become. We then find certain topic clusters; we can fine-tune the questions to sharpen our thinking. It is a good fun and thought-provoking exercise.
I also find it useful to do some homework on our “superpowers.” By this, I mean identifying what we are brilliant at, what we do so naturally and effortlessly that we do not even realize it. Then add three more areas: what you do excellently because you have learned it, practiced it, and enjoy it; what you can do and maybe have to do in your job, but it is a commodity with no extra value; and the last one is what you want to get rid of in your new job. It all adds up to your clarity.
Working with a professional coach is invaluable in making important decisions like a career change. We all get caught up in mental patterns, and coaching helps you get out of your comfort zone while being in a safe and supportive environment.
You’re also a passionate mentor who has also been helping mentees in our Femme Palette mentoring program succeed professionally. What motivated you to become a mentor and how has mentoring others benefitted you?
I love mentoring, and I have been involved in several mentoring programs for years. Sharing, supporting others to grow and shine is my big passion. It also gives me a wonderful opportunity to reflect on my own journey, my thinking, my ups and downs.
The areas you often help your mentees with are building a strong personal brand and becoming a strong voice in the company that has a seat at the decision-making table. How do you approach these topics with your mentees and what are some of their most common struggles in these areas?
“Am I good enough? Am I ready? Do I have something relevant to say?” Those are often the questions running through their heads and occupying their internal dialogue. My female mentees are usually very self-reflective, want to do a good thing, want to be well-prepared. They care a lot about the team, about the quality of relations, usually not putting themselves, their ego, and self-benefit first. We talk about clarity in what they really want, being true to their values, and realizing their unique contribution, which is based not only on what they know but who they are. We talk about creating networks, speaking up, and understanding their strengths. Sometimes we are not aware of our biggest strengths because they are so natural to us that we take them for granted and undervalue them.
Finally, do you have any memorable mentoring success stories which you’re particularly proud of and would like to share?
For me, the jewels on the journey are the “aha” moments when my mentee realizes something that is eye-opening for them. It can be one sentence like “there is no failure, only learning.” Or realizing that something we might see as our weakness is our big strength if we acknowledge it and re-frame the way we approach it. And those moments lead to breakthroughs, new ways of behavior or thinking, or approaching situations both in professional and private life. You can feel in those moments that something important is happening inside my mentee, and these are the moments that I am grateful for.
I was happy to witness career moves from local to regional positions, shifts from corporate to entrepreneurial careers, growth to partnership status in an international consulting firm, redefining and renegotiating a role to bring more impact, or successfully leading a complex project with critical importance to the company in a male-dominated environment. I am proud of all my mentees, and I am always looking forward to new discoveries."