Grabbing it by the ball ponds

The Marketing Academy introduces the scholars as ‘the future leaders of tomorrow’. Blimey. No pressure there then. It’s been an interesting journey since hearing that line; it’s quite easy to see how our thoughts on the definition of this terrifying title have evolved.

We began with an awful lot of self-reflection: what kind of leader am I? Hated? Admired? Lazy? Bossy? We looked to our mentors as the shining beacons of Ultimate Leaders. Our analysis was probably a little superficial, based purely on our own ego. How did we want to be seen by others? It was all about self-promotion and inevitably drew on our own shaky self-confidence in an increasingly fast moving professional environment.

As the months of the Marketing Academy have sped by I think our focus has broadened. With increased confidence about our own abilities and strengths, we’ve started to talk more about a wider definition of ‘future leader of tomorrow’. It’s not all about us anymore. The shift from self to others is a fascinating one, and a massive motivator. As a leader, how can we influence others and how can we make a positive impact on the companies we work for?

Personally, I find this endlessly interesting. I’ve spent my last couple of mentor sessions discussing office environments and how to nurture a culture of innovation.

Momentum’s Julian Ingram and I spoke about the importance of accepting risk and failure within a workplace. He was insistent that even in such tough times, we must must must experiment and encourage others to do so. Being a leader isn’t about coming up with these bonkers ideas, but instead empowering others to do so. Mike Hughes from ISBA spoke of how he used to walk the factory floor asking employees what they’d like to change and giving them the power to make it happen. Both Julian and Mike believed in flat corporate structures, and the belief that ideas can come from anywhere.

This week Peter Jones explored what makes a millionaire on his BBC show, meeting Innocent’s Richard Reed and Ultimo’s Michelle Mone. The two entrepreneurs have very different views on how to run a business: Innocent employees walk shoeless around the office with Astroturf underfoot, Ultimo employees enjoy a very traditional, shiny, super tidy corporate dream house.

Having just moved from agency side to client side it was good to see the contrast. In my first week I was sure someone had just forgotten to point me in the direction of the ping pong table, the free breakfasts and the games room. I was utterly confused as to why meetings happened at desks and not in the pub.

The point that I think Peter Jones possibly missed was not that a ball pond is any better or worse than a glass desk at making millionaires, but that being a great leader means being able to define the company you work for and introducing that ethic within everything the company tackles. My new working environment is FAST. It has to be, but the lack of ping pong table doesn’t mean that we don’t have a culture for innovation. It just happens a lot more speedily. Got an idea? Quick, get it done, we’ll see if it works. Don’t ponder it in the games room, get it done. It makes sense for us.

So, as the next months inevitably zoom past, I’m going to start thinking about this a little more. What can I do to foster the right environment at work? What even is that environment? I suppose the first step is to find out what the big wigs think it should be! I’m not in charge of these decisions just yet!

by Helen Lawrence

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The Scholarship – a 9 month, free, part time program for 30 of the UK’s fastest rising stars in Marketing, Advertising, Media and Communications.

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