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Finding the Leader Within

BY Matt Williams

The debate regarding where the next leaders in the communications industry are coming from is one that comes around all too frequently.

But while many seem happy to ask the question, too few are willing to come up with the answers.

Luckily, that’s where NABS comes in. The charity works tirelessly to provide a support for people working in adland – and puts a particular emphasis on helping the career development of the stars of tomorrow.

One way in which NABS does this is through it’s Tuesday Club, which gives people the chance to be inspired by some of the greats in the communications industry.

Last night, the Tuesday Club was held here at Engine. Led by our chief executive Debbie Klein, the session looked at how people can ‘find the leader within them’.

As well as a talk by Debbie, industry bigwigs Stevie Spring, Darren Rubins and Rob Forshaw each spent 10 minutes giving their perspective on leadership, before participating in a Q&A with the 100-strong audience.

Each speaker covered a broad range of leadership topics and entertained the crowd with a range of amusing anecdotes from times that they’d experienced good (and bad) leadership qualities, but over the course of the evening a series of themes seemed to emerge…

-    Leaders are created, not born. “There’s no qualification in leadership,” Grand Union’s Rob Forshaw said. He emphasised that it’s a myth that leaders are ‘these special management figures,’ everyone has the ability to be a leader, they just need to working on finding the leadership style that works best for them.

-    Leaders are authentic. PHD’s Darren Rubins – who describes himself as anything but a ‘classic’ leader, stressed that you mustn’t waste time trying to be someone your not, just because you think that’s what makes a great leader. Be yourself more, with skill.

-    Leaders are flexible. “You need different leadership skills at different times,” Stevie Spring said. The best leaders are therefore adaptable, and have the emotional intelligence to determine which management style you need when.

-    Trust your instinct. It’s important, Debbie explained, to know when you need to dive in and get your hands dirty on a project, and when you just need to let people get on with it.

-    You need to think about your leadership qualities now. Whether you’re in a position of seniority or not, don’t make the mistake of thinking that leadership skills is just something you’ll need in 10 years time. “Particularly now, in times of great change, it’s incumbent on everybody to be a leader,” Forshaw said.

-    Leadership can be lonely. “You’re going to be saying no more than yes,” Spring says, so you need that courage to be able to say no. And while this means you’re never going to be liked by everybody, you can be respected.

-    Have a cool head, a firm hand and a warm heart. It’s a tricky balance, Debbie acknowledged, but they are all qualities that are needed at some point in your managerial career.

-    Don’t tolerate politics or bad behaviour. Rubins attributed his (and PHD’s) recent success down to putting the human touch into everything they did. “We intensely scrutinised how we treated all our people,” he said.  

-    Learn the language of finance. Spring reckons that, particularly in the communications industry when you can spend much of your career getting away with just being a good salesperson, learning the rules of business can often be ignored. But being au fait with finance will not only make you more confident, it’ll also make you more respected in the long run.

-    Leadership is about delivery. “Being a great leader is saying you’re going to do something and doing it,” Forshaw believes. You can be as smart as you like and have hundreds of great ideas, but true leaders are the ones who get on and implement them.

All great pieces advice – lessons that can be applied to anyone at any level in their career. But for those still starting out – or at least those with a few rungs of the career ladder still to be climbed, Debbie reserved one piece of final advice.

“Don’t think your boss is a mind reader,” she said. “They’re not sitting around thinking about your career all day. Be forthcoming and tell them your aspirations.”

In the long run, you’ll both benefit from that.


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