- Programme: Essentials of Leadership
- Nationality: British
- Job Post-programme: Director of Strategy, Saatchi & Saatchi, New Zealand
Murray has been at Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand since 2004. In 2007, he became Director of Strategy, managing a team of six planners across the country and working with the agency's major clients. He is a member of the agency's management team and works on business strategy with the CEO. Murray attended the Essentials of Leadership programme in July 2013.
Transforming and growing
Essentials of Leadership was a transformative experience for me. I’d had various roles at Saatchi, but knew I wanted to be in senior agency leadership. With my CEO’s backing, after some online research I knew that this was the ideal programme – an intense, short-course format at a highly regarded international school. It came at just the right time.
From managing to leading
I needed to make the move from managing to leading. What was great about the programme is that it forensically broke that down: it was clear in the pre-work I did, getting anonymous feedback from peers – colleagues and clients – that leadership was an area I should work on. I could no longer dismiss my weaknesses with a shrug and “maybe that’s just somebody else’s issue”. It became clear that my weaker areas were coaching and mentoring and making myself emotionally and physically available to my team. I tended to assume that because I’d worked out how to do something that others would be smart enough to work out how to do it, too. And that was creating a disconnect from my direct reports back up to me.
A dynamic learning environment
I’d never studied at a business school, so wasn’t sure what to expect. I was worried it would be too theoretical, perhaps po-faced. I come from the advertising world where life can be quite colourful, and I wondered whether I might feel like a fish out of water. I needn’t have worried. These were guys who walked the talk! The faculty were really engaging, and they modelled the behaviours they were teaching. You couldn’t help but learn. I took so much from the group work, too. They’d mix us up so that we were thrown in with different people all the time. They forced us not to fall into a rut, making sure we were constantly sharing stories and experiences with different people in different industries. We all really clicked. What became obvious was that whatever industry you’re in, often the key issues boil down to people issues.
Challenges of change
The session on organisational change really resonated. I realised that leaders, uncomfortable with the conflict and disruption that change entails, often declare failure too early. I‘d recently, with my CEO, led a three-year change transformation at Saatchi & Saatchi. We’d come out of it stronger and healthier, but if I’d known then what I learned on the programme, I’d have been clearer about what to prepare myself for, and would have kept my own morale up a bit more. If I was ever going to turn my business around again I’d go straight back to the Essentials of Leadership materials!
Learning from mistakes
After the programme I immediately upped my coaching and my availability to my team, and am encouraging them to think about and develop their own leadership skills. There’s been a lot more candour about how we interact not only with each other but also other disciplines within the agency and with clients. We’ve defined what success would look like for us as a team, and rather than taking the line (quite prevalent in advertising!) where if something doesn’t work you pretend it never happened, we’re building a culture almost of relishing mistakes – because that’s where the learning is. Hopefully we’re modelling that for the agency as a whole.
The confidence to lead
I was also inspired to apply my Essentials of Leadership learning to a wider strategy of change within the agency – specifically, we’re on the point of launching a whole new way of briefing that will be formalised next year. Perhaps the key thing I took away with me, though, was confidence. Leadership isn’t innate – it can be learned. It’s about finding your own style, and the confidence to be yourself. Leadership is about being your best self, but with better skills!