Perhaps a hangover from the days of command-and-control leadership styles, we’ve often been guilty of continuing a culture where the greatest source of knowledge is assumed to cascade from the top. As Libby De Lana recently wrote, there are certain skills that can only ever come with time: success and failure in equal droves, a holistic approach to craft, wisdom via vulnerability – and the gravitas that follows in each of their footsteps.
Such foundations have often provided the context for conversations between senior talent and those coming up through the ranks. But as we look to stamp out ageism in agencies and greater connect with today’s talent, how can we edge towards a culture where "soft skills" reign and conversations are increasingly two-way?
As an industry, we’ve made strides over the past few years in shifting our approach to wellness and ways of working – a reflection of greater support needed for the parents among us, the values of a younger workforce and all sorts of side-hustle pursuits. But while we’ve begun to introduce a realm of structural changes, our commitment to those of an interpersonal nature have been slower to evolve.
The role of senior mentors has long been a survival kit of sorts for talent: an insight into unknown waters, tales from the top and at times a push in a direction they weren’t confident enough to venture alone. For those coming into the workforce, navigating the ever-evolving media landscape can feel less daunting when mankind’s answer to a search engine is on hand to shed light on the unknowns.
In the context of craft, those who have spent years honing it through tech, cultural and generational changes understandably possess a holistic understanding of their practice – it’s the pay-off for years of hard graft. And when this experience is shared, I’ve always found it to be welcomed by those across the wider team.
On a human level, talent draws comfort and courage from the knowledge that even the most successful leaders have managed to near derail projects or struggled to manage the demands of their personal and professional lives along the way; it’s a vulnerability that has become crucial in forging real connections. This set of "soft skills" – awareness, the ability to connect and an authentic curiosity – have become the holy grail of leadership qualities that are now impossible to ignore.
The value exchange that comes from this transparency is evidence enough that there are big lessons to be taken from this group of talent by those at the top. Often referred to as the most informed and digitally native generations, Generation Y and Z come equally armed with an affection and ease for emotional intelligence. Their expectation for work/life balance to exist across the business, transparency from leaders and a flexible approach to ways of working has helped to shift the modern-day workplace in a direction better for us all.
Outside of work, they’re driving cultural trends that are born in the digital world and evolve across social media, allowing them to live and breathe brands in a language they created. As born sharers and curators, their willingness to pass on knowledge – albeit different to the wisdom fed from the top – is an opportunity for leaders to drive the two-way context of these conversations.
Our business thrives on creating human connection, drawing insight from observation, understanding data and solving problems off the back of this – and all steered by the power of conversation. Talking is an art we pride ourselves on as an industry and, just as we do with our clients, we need to open up the conversations among us to usher in a value exchange for us as individuals and for our business.
It’s time to sweat the softer stuff.
Sarah Shilling is chief marketing officer at Unlimited Group