A leader should provide security, stability and vision

Tamara Ingram, chief executive of J Walter Thompson, talks about how to empower your staff and why diversity must be a company-wide commitment.

What’s your leadership style?

People bring their personality into their leadership. Mine was formed prior to starting work – my father was a very creative entrepreneur and my mother was a psychotherapist, so my style is based on understanding people and trying to get the best out of them.

It’s also about being yourself, but being open to the idea of self-improvement. Responsiveness, for example, is something on which I’m constantly trying to improve.

If you love what you do and you wake up feeling excited, you’re in the right place. I don’t think of work as work; I think of it as my life.

What lessons did you learn from becoming a chief executive in difficult circumstances [following a HR dispute that led to your predecessor to step down]?

Any change is a moment of fragility. Understanding that, and the fact that people are fragile too, is important. You have to engage with your team and give them a sense of security and stability.

But at the same time, even early on, you have to give your team a sense of vision, because leadership is about taking people with you. They need to know where they’re going. Also make sure that people feel like they’re going to be listened to.

Support the team – they’re the ones who are going to deliver, so give them the confidence to move forward.

What steps must business leaders take to ensure diversity targets are met?

I put diversity at the centre of our strategy because as a business, we’re changing so fast. It means that we need diversity of capability and talent. I call it “from the street to the street” – we have to represent the communities in which we live if we’re to get the innovative ideas that we need to operate.

It has to be a top-down as well as bottom-up approach. Every recruitment opportunity needs to be more diverse in terms of the people a company looks to attract. It has to be recruitment that enables you to get rid of any unconscious bias. Don’t look in the usual spot – recruit in different places. This provides a new combination of people to do different work.

What industry trends you are excited about in 2017?

We’re seeing a rise of politicised consumers who are questioning brands and institutions.

It’s more important than ever for brands to stand for something and try to do good. It’s about going back to what your company is about and the values behind it. Brands that get this right can bring people together and make a difference – and grow their business because of it.

What has been your biggest triumph?

I don’t believe in big triumphs. It’s about the everyday – facilitating people to be a little bit better, to do better work.

There’s no big brass ring; no finishing line. I think it is a triumph to do something every day to make staff feel empowered – to help a person in their career, to see them flourish and enable them to grow a client’s business.

What’s the key to running a meeting effectively?

The key is not to have them if you don’t need them. But when you do hold one, have a clear agenda.

We’re taking a different approach to meetings through the “Scrum” philosophy [an agile development approach and underpinned by the values of commitment, courage, openness, focus and respect].

We start with a small, multi-disciplinary group who have the ability to make decisions quickly, and then take action. Each meeting is scheduled to be brief, but with regular check-ins. We find that teams are more accountable to each other and the final output this way, not to mention things actually get done.

(Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/connect/better-business/leadership/leaders-should-provide-security-stability-vision/)

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