Facebook's Nicola Mendelsohn reveals the first question leaders should always ask
A view from Nicola Mendelsohn

Facebook's Nicola Mendelsohn reveals the first question leaders should always ask

Facebook's EMEA vice-president, one of Campaign's Power 100 marketers, shares the five leadership principles that she holds onto in the face of major digital disruption.

Recently I asked my first boss, the legendary Sir John Hegarty, what lessons we should keep in mind during this time of rapid change in our industry. He told me that even as technology accelerated the pace of business and increased demands on leaders, "Practices change, but principles remain." 

I believe the same is true of leadership. Our industry faces serious disruption in this new digital era. To lead the way forward, we have to stay true to our principles. These are mine. 

People matter

The acceleration of workplace productivity produces more stress, anxiety and burnout than ever. Leaders have to take notice and take action. 

In the UK in 2016, work-related stress, depression and anxiety caused 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost – some 11.7 million days. A new study by the European Heart Journal found that people who worked long hours were at the risk of stroke, heart failure and dementia. 

Which is why, as a leader, the first question you should ask yourself is: are you doing enough to invest in your people? Are you giving them the resources they need to invest in themselves? Great leaders treat people as people, look after them, and encourage them to bring their whole self to work, draw lines around their personal time, take their holidays, be conscious of burnout and take time to recharge and refuel.

Face your fears

It’s important to take risks, to do things you're afraid of, and get outside your comfort zone. As you grow more comfortable, you grow less flexible. At Facebook, we have a poster on our walls in offices across the world which reads, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" It's our way of inspiring people to consider the role fear plays in limiting their vision and not to let failure silences their ambition.

Stay interesting and interested

Sometimes, it's best to put the phone down and look up at the world around you. Your natural curiosity is your greatest advantage. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Most discoveries come from combining disparate experiences into a new, coherent framework. I'm privileged to travel – and I always take the time to be mindful and interested in the lived stories of the new people I meet and places I go. Keep reading; try new things. Pursue your interests. 

Unequal is unacceptable

When I once told a boss I was pregnant for the third time, his response was, "How many more times must we have this conversation?" Thankfully times have changed, but we still have a lot of work to do. Workplaces need to address persistent, unequal treatment. And it's up to every one of us to challenge bias, whether gendered, racial, sexual orientation-related, conscious or unconscious. I want the workplace my children enter to be better, with more equality of opportunity for everyone, than the one I first found when I started working, and even the one that exists today. 

Embrace creativity

When I was growing up in Manchester in the 1970s, I didn't know anyone who worked in the creative industries. Now, it's one of the fastest growing sectors of the UK economy. As our industry evolves, new times will require creative solutions. Mobile is more than a new creative canvas, it’s an entirely new medium, much like TV was to radio. And great work that will come to define this medium is being done right now. New times will require creative solutions. And it’s the responsibility of leaders to create an environment that liberates creativity from the fear of failure and the face of judgement. When people are free to pursue their ideas, businesses are freed from the burden of old models, adapted to the past but not the future. 

My parting advice is, in changing times like these, real progress requires action. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in her 1960 book, You Learn by Living: "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do." 

Nicola Mendelsohn is vice-president EMEA at Facebook, a role she has held since 2013. She was previously executive chairman at agency Karmarama.