I remember that day 22 years ago like it was yesterday. It was the day my first editor in my first job – I genuinely can’t remember her full name, but her first name was definitely Pam hurled a copy of the latest edition of our rival weekly newspaper in my face and hit me round the head with it because I had missed a story its reporter had got ahead of me.
It was then as I dealt with the feelings of both shock and failure that I decided if I ever became a manager I would never act in the same manner.
Now 22 years later as a CEO, and having been a manager of different teams, people and organisations in both business and on the sports field, I still use that moment to remind how not to be a bad manager.
My reasoning for creating this context is to allow me to talk about, arguably, one of the most testing weeks I have had as a CEO and potentially to share my story with other business leaders who may be, or about to experience similar issues.
I’ve always thought of myself as a sort of Steven Gerrard meets Bryan Robson type of leader – apologies for the football reference, but at times it’s where I feel most safe – which means I like to lead by example and inspire my teams to follow me into battle.
I’ve never been a manager that feels the need to shout at those who have made mistakes in front of everyone else. My style has always been to take them into a private room and explain why they feel they made the mistake and then work with them to curate a solution to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In fact this week my FD even called me MacGyver, which probably means nothing to anyone under the age of 35, but to me it was a compliment, I hope.
In today’s continually changing global landscape information is readily available in seconds and not days like it was just a decade ago. It means that employees – and this is both healthy and good in equal measure – have more courage to challenge the rules, demand more and argue their position. As a leader that can prove a tricky minefield to navigate, be very tiring and test your resolve.
However, it is solving this sort of challenge that spurs me on. When I took over as CEO ten months ago this company’s culture was on its knees – I’m hoping my investor/boss doesn’t mind me saying this- with nearly a third of our employees leaving or wanting to depart, so my biggest challenge was changing the culture and making people feel wanted.
This involved creating a transparent company, gaining a greater understanding of what each of my employees wanted from a job, how they wanted to progress and what direction they felt the company should move in. This involved a number of individual and group meetings and making everyone feel they were part of the company and the direction it is heading, encouraging creativity, responsibility and entrepreneurialism. The key for me was developing a culture of ‘people wanting to come to work’ and ensuring we progressed and developed the people already within the company as opposed to bringing in more senior people, which had been a key trend in my first few years here.
From my experience making your teams feel part of the company’s DNA and being as transparent as possible gains trust, increases productivity and allows employees to express themselves, come up with challenging debates, creative ideas and have a voice. Every leader is only as good as the team they have, and yes, they ultimately have to make decisions, but only after taking onboard their employees thoughts and opinions.
Sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong, but as long as you are honest, transparent and show a deep understanding then your team will respect your decisions.
But like with all leadership roles there comes a challenging week and this one has tested my managerial skills a great deal. From navigating and solving a difference of opinion between two colleagues to dealing with a resignation and its impact on the team it has been tough, particularly while at the same time ensuring I keep the company collective of harmony, culture and motivation at a happy level, and still deliver on the revenue targets promised to my investor.
I would like to think that apart from a few grey hairs, lots of discussions and plenty of honesty I have kept the company on course in a very challenging environment and maintained an environment of togetherness.
As well as the aforementioned the key for a good leader is being open to change, a good listener, a continual learner, a head full of solutions, and to try and not take things too personally, well at least I hope that’s what it is…
Anyway, I hope this helps other leaders. Speak to you all next week where I will have insights and trends driving APAC media from our Festival of Media Asia Awards.