Do we need to redefine leadership?

Just how effective the leadership styles of Steve Jobs and Sir Alex Ferguson might have been had they been running a communications group is an intriguing question. Not very, perhaps. Apple’s founder was neither consultative nor a consensus-builder and could be bluntly critical of his staff.

Nor could the former Manchester United manager, who promises to "analyse the pivotal leadership decisions of an astonishing career" in his new book, Leading, have been called a team player. His capacity for grudges was almost as famous as his "hairdryer" treatment on underperforming players. So has leading from the front and brooking no dissent become passé in marcoms management?

Ije Nwokorie, the Wolff Olins global chief executive, is one who believes the time has come to redefine leadership in the industry. His view, which he discussed at last week’s Omniwomen conference, is that the traditional pyramid structure should be abandoned and roles split, with more people leading different parts of the business. So can democratised leadership work or does the industry still need its dictators?

Agency head

David Kershaw, chief executive, M&C Saatchi

"Our experience in having four leaders running the group shows that a collegiate partnership can work, provided everybody has the same vision. It means things don’t get permanently trapped inside somebody’s ego. Also, it’s more fun and less lonely. Agencies have become so much more diverse in their offering that people have to work in a much more collaborative way that has broken down old levels of seniority. A single tier of hierarchy is no longer sufficient. It’s now all about what you can bring to the table, not where you sit in the chain."

Agency head

Cilla Snowball, group chairman, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

"In one sense, we have to redefine leadership because we need better gender balance at the top of the agency business. This is a commercial imperative, not a political nicety, because balanced management teams get better business results. Great leaders identify future leaders early and train them hard in the key leadership roles. It’s not ‘devolved’ leadership. Every business needs a strong leader backed by a strong and united leadership team. But, in great businesses, the leader is surrounded and supported by a formidable succession squad, training as future leaders for their huge roles ahead."


Bob Willott, editor, Marketing Services Financial Intelligence

"Leadership is a balancing act, particularly if you’re in charge of a public company and reporting to shareholders. That tempts you to be much more controlling. It’s the only way leaders such as Maurice Lévy and Sir Martin Sorrell can work. However, I’m very much in favour of empowering leadership within the operating companies to allow them to give clients advertising they will value without strong control or influence by a big global group. That said, it takes a very bold chief executive to allow their juniors enough power to flourish. It comes down to your ability to judge and motivate your people."

Agency head

Debbie Klein, chief executive, Engine

"We have definitely moved away from the age of the enlightened despot towards a more egalitarian style of leadership. Setting the vision and strategy and culture of an organisation is crucial and can be powerfully embodied in one person. Having a leadership team around them, who all believe in the same values and can motivate teams to deliver that vision, is just as crucial. Both of these are necessary to build a sustainable business. Especially in the digital age, when millennials want less hierarchy and more access but still want clarity on the purpose and direction of the business."