Cindi Leive Talks Glamour, Success & Family

Work + Money

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Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief, Glamour magazine

Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine, talks to us about the “secrets of her success,” how she balances work and family, and what young women want.

When you were starting out professionally, what was the best piece of advice you received?

I think it was, essentially, to fight for my dreams. Like a lot of young women, I worked hard but was never sure how forthright to be about the jobs and assignments I wanted—I didn’t want to be pushy.

In my mid-twenties, I was working at Glamour in a pretty junior role. I pitched my editors an ambitious story I thought the magazine should do, but they wanted to assign it to someone much more experienced. I understood that thinking, but wrote a memo to the editor-in-chief about what I would bring to the story if they went with me. She walked it back to my desk, handed it to me and said, “Anyone who wants something that badly should get it.”

I wrote the hell out of that story, and it went on to win a couple of awards for the magazine. I’ll always remember that: If you want it badly, go get it!

You've spent much of your career at Glamour. What are the pros and cons of staying with one employer?

Well, what I’ve done is very unusual—and not right for everyone. I think it doesn’t matter whether you move around a lot or a little, you should be in a job that excites you and energizes you. If you’re bored, your customer—or in my case, reader—will be bored too!

I’m also lucky to have an amazing team I’ve worked with for ages. The advantage there is that you develop mind-meld—it’s easy to work quickly because you’re all on the same page. The disadvantage is that you all have to question constantly, “Are we doing this because it’s right, or just because we did it this way last year?” We try to poke and prod our “traditions” constantly so they don’t get stale.

What is the "secret to your success"?

I try to listen to readers. Almost every good idea I’ve ever had has come out of reading our reader mail, our comments online, or by listening to women talk about their lives. There’s no better source of inspiration.

You've raised circulation at Glamour to its highest in history, even as other magazines fold. To what would you attribute this growth?

Well, we bridge a gap between fashion magazines and women’s magazines: We give readers all the fashion and beauty trends they want, and enthusiastically so, but we also cover their work lives, love lives, friendships, health and everything else. I think that’s an appealing mix right now, especially as the economy has shifted.

I also think that women are hungry for things that make them feel good, and that’s always been a key element at Glamour: We want you to feel better, not worse, about yourself and your life when you finish reading this magazine.

On a more practical note, we hired a new design director last year, Geraldine Hessler, who has a great sense of pop culture and energy. You need that when your target is a young, visually sophisticated woman.

With a husband, two children and a very successful career, you seem to be an example of a woman who “has it all.” How hard is it for women today to “have it all?”

I hate the phrase “having it all” —no one has it all, and trying to is the surest way to make yourself feel like a failure. I try to think of it as “having what matters.” What matters to me right now are my family and my work. I don’t throw huge dinner parties or even go to many, and every plant in my house for the last decade has died. Maybe it’ll be different when my kids are older, but keeping focused on the two things I care about helps me not beat myself up for the 17 things I’m not doing at any given moment.

The other, more important answer here is that I don’t do it alone. My husband does easily half, if not more, of everything: the school appointments, the getting-up-in-the-night moments, the morning drop-offs. When I am asked how to juggle it all, I generally say that I don’t like the term juggling, which implies a desperate one-woman effort to keep everything afloat before it all inevitably comes crashing down. My own life, thank God, is more like catch—and catch is a much easier game to play.

What do you think are three issues foremost on the minds of young women today?

How to get a job, how to find love and—once you’ve done those things—how to balance it all and still be happy. I think they’re less concerned about doing the “right” thing than women of the last generation were. And that’s wonderful!

Cindi Leive has served as editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine since May 2001. Glamour has won more than 170 journalism awards. It reaches more than 12 million readers each month, and outsells more than 98% of all magazines on the newsstand.

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  • I recently had to decide how far I should go in pursuing my passion and Cindi's advice feels like the pep talk I needed in feeling good with my decision.

    Thanks for the great kitchen table topic. Excellent words of wisdom from a respectable source on a relevant topic.

    Posted by Kellimwheeler, 4 November 2009.