LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
Dave> Running a 5-a-side football team at the age of 16. It was a nightmare collecting fees, making sure the team turned up and keeping those that did happy with equal game rotation. Not too dissimilar to running a business.
LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
Dave> My first two ‘proper’ jobs I had female bosses in a mainly male dominate environment. They never shouted and remained calm when things weren’t going as planned, but when you did make an error, you had to take responsibility. I learnt some great leadership traits from both. Overall I’ve been very lucky to work with some great leaders with many different traits, the best ones being honest and open, knowing when to support, calling you out when you need a kick up backside and giving you just enough rope to flourish without fully hanging yourself.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Dave> Being called back from holiday because I’d made a huge mistake on a client’s business. From that moment on I knew that taking responsibility for my work had to be the way forward and I couldn’t expect my boss to bail me out.
LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?
Dave> I’m sure my school teachers would agree I’ve never been great at taking orders, hate being told off or put under pressure to deliver something I don’t believe in. For these reasons I decided early on that I need to lead if I want to build a career that I will be happy and fulfilled in.
LBB> When it comes to ‘leadership’ as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?
Dave> Up until recently I would have said it was mostly personality and instinct but having spent time on developing my leadership skills in a more structured learning environment it is a blend of both. As I get older and more accepting of the fact I don’t have all the answers learning and developing my skills is becoming more valuable.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Dave> For the first 10 years of being a co-owner an agency I certainly suffered from imposter syndrome, which really came to a head when I was appointed (not self-appointed!) to managing director. The title seemed to come with a greater responsibility than the task. Once I got my head around the fact that I was still doing the same day job with a different title, I became more settled. As the team has grown and december19 now hire people that are far smarter than I am, it’s having the confidence in myself to accept I don’t have to know the answer and let others in the business lead in their specialism. Running is also a secret weapon. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I’ve never felt worse for a run!
LBB> Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Dave> Learn and move on. I try not to dwell on failure (my own or others), we learn from it. We move on.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Dave> I am very open, maybe too open at times, but in general a collaborative and open approach to the issues I am facing tends to get better outcomes faster. This doesn’t mean that on occasion the leader must make the final call on a decision and take responsibility for the consequences.
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Dave> I’ve not had a dedicated mentor as such but certainly have lots of people around me that I lean on for certain stresses and scenarios. Learning to have a network of support and people you turn to is invaluable, especially during the days of thinking I’m an imposter in the role. I don’t have any one person I mentor, but hopefully seen as someone friends, peers and associates would turn to if needed on advice around starting and building a successful business.
LBB> It’s been a really challenging few years – and that’s an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Dave> Having a long and trusted business partner certainly helps in times of crisis. We both tend to pick the other up when things are getting on top. Being open and honest (without sharing too much to cause total panic!) and admitting that we didn’t have all the answers. I also ran an awful lot to keep my mind from imploding.
LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
Dave> Become more knowledgeable and accountable. We have taken the step of becoming a B-Corp Certified business making december19 accountable to an external organisation on our improvements in performance across many areas, including diversity and inclusion.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely?
Dave> When we started the business, company culture was very high on the agenda and 11 years later it remains a priority. We treat staff, partners, suppliers, and the world in general as human beings first and always remember ‘we are only human’. Remote working had its challenges, we learnt, adapted and moved things on. The first few weeks it was daily calls with the entire team, weekly quizzes and far too much video time. When we settled into a bit more of rhythm, we had various fun and educational sessions via video. They ranged from; How to use clippers and buzz cut men’s hair / cook along / origami / cocktail making and even an Easter bonnet parade!
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Dave> Reading lots of books (From Good to Great being a particular standout). I was also fortunate enough to be selected for the GSK10k Small Business programme. I cannot recommend the course highly enough for anyone in senior leadership role at an SMB.
Dave Barnett started in media sales for a Herts based regional newspaper group. He moved over to the media agency side and worked at various hard-hitting agencies including Universal McCann, Aegis and Initiative. Dave’s major client accounts have included British Gas, H&M, & Sky. In 2010 he created december19 with Dan Pimm.The original article can be found at https://www.lbbonline.com/news/bossing-it-facing-responsibility-with-dave-barnett