Bookmark CEO Simon Hobbs believes that a handful of important leadership team qualities are essential to promoting overall growth.
In 2018 I was honoured to be invited by WPP Stella, the senior leadership and networking group for WPP women in the UK, to speak at their annual Ignite conference. At Stella Ignite, presentations are restricted to fifteen slides at fifteen seconds each, each speaker having just a few minutes to give a passionate talk related to the event’s theme.
In this case, the evening’s topic was growth.
My talk outlined the qualities of a leadership team that drive growth, a recipe formulated with input from our senior team. These attributes have been instrumental to Bookmark’s healthy development over these last few years:
An agency’s leadership team needs a ratio of 50:50 women to men, or better – this group’s make-up should mirror that of the agency. Despite accounting for 40% of the global workforce – closer to 50% in Europe and North America – in 2019 only 29% of all senior management roles are held by women. Encouragingly, this number is up 5% from 2018, and we are committed to ensuring that that trend continues.
At Bookmark, our team is 60:40 women to men across the business and no one has a casting vote when making decisions at board level. As a senior team, we have to agree collectively on the best way forward, and if we can’t agree, it’s not a convincing or winning strategy and we won’t proceed with a particular proposal.
Diversity in the workplace is important. According to a survey by Weber Shandwick, half of American millennials (the largest working demographic) actively consider potential employers’ diversity when weighing new career opportunities. And beyond striving for equality and social justice, cultivating a diverse team throughout the ranks inherently means access to diverse perspectives – which is good for our business and for our people.
People are less concerned about particular management styles so long as they remain consistent. If you, as a leadership team, are consistent – even if consistently slightly manic or over-optimistic – people can deal with it. What’s confusing is when there is unpredictable variation from one day to the next. A ten-year study of CEO behavior undertaken by management consultancy ghSMART found that inconsistency was the defining trait shared by almost all ineffective leaders.
Communication and Feedback
When making high-level decisions, it’s important to create space for dialogue with those executing the finer details. On occasion, we invite non-board members (at least two) from around the business to board meetings and ask them to report back on what they learned, only redacting the stuff that really is financially sensitive/client confidential. Constant communication and feedback at all levels of an organization has been found to lead to higher levels of engagement from employees. Town Hall meetings are really effective, too – the leadership team must tell people what it is doing and regularly. We rarely have to answer difficult questions, but if we do then we are openly dealing with issues that concern people, so it’s worth it.
Surrounding oneself with a homogenous group of lookalikes is a surefire way to build an echo-chamber, the antithesis of growth. Successful teams embrace different characters and styles – at Bookmark we’ve used tools like the DiSC model to help provide a framework for understanding our colleagues and build stronger teams by leveraging our differences. One of our client leads is, by her own admittance, probably more “eccentric” than most people, but her relationship with her client is second to none.
Honesty and Authenticity
Projecting both authenticity and professionalism can be a delicate balancing act, but building trust through transparency been proven to inspire engagement and motivate individuals to perform to a higher standard, and also have a positive impact on company culture. Lead by example – if you embrace that mindset and extend it to your interpersonal interactions, it becomes an effective way of working rather than a concern.
What we have learned from working with global clients and especially with our colleagues abroad, is that in our industry it’s easy to confuse language with culture. It’s only when you immerse yourself in learning a culture – and use local talent effectively – that you will create engaging, relevant work.
Being nice (really)
Senior management should be nice. It’s underrated. We honestly believe that being considerate and understanding is the most effective way to foster commitment, hard work, and team building, full stop.
And it’s not just us refuting the Machiavellian approach – the Harvard Business School has concluded that managers who project warmth facilitate the communication and absorption of ideas more effectively than those who lead with toughness.
It’s not a perfect recipe by any means, but these are the qualities that we at Bookmark try to lead by. And from a business point of view, we’ve seen some pretty solid growth over the past few years – so we must be doing something right.
At Bookmark, we pride ourselves on our understanding of local cultures on a global platform. If you’re interested in joining our team, see our current openings here.