How to be tomorrow's most wanted leader

Charlotte Sundaker, the interim chief executive of the creative business school Hyper Island, looks at how execs can manage, inspire and retain talent in a competitive market.

Hyper Island
Hyper Island

It’s no secret that the traditional agency model has been flipped upside down. The days of nine-to-five, long lunch breaks and climbing the career ladder just one step at a time are gone.

Now workers expect quick promotions, flexible working hours, constant feedback and the freedom to work wherever there’s a Wi-Fi connection.

That presents a real challenge to leaders, who have to balance all these pressures to create an agency that draws the best out of today’s landscape. How do you incentivise senior staff while harnessing the heightened expectations of today’s young executives?

And what do you need to do to become a leader of tomorrow, able to attract, retain and inspire tomorrow’s talent?

Culture comes first

The creative industry is thriving, with the UK sector alone worth nearly £77 billion a year. While that makes for a dynamic environment to work in, it also means that there is plenty of opportunity for young talent.

If you don’t inspire as a leader, staff will have no problem looking elsewhere. A quarter of millennials have admitted they would leave their role for something else if given the chance.

Team is in our DNA. Leaders need to create an organisation that excels at networking talent and constantly motivates its people. One of the best ways to do that is to put personal responsibility at the core of your culture, as put forward in the Peter Smith model.

Setting clear company goals is essential for any organisation. But leaders of tomorrow don’t hammer home how these goals will be met through a series of formal processes and checklists. Instead, they empower the individuals in their team to take responsibility for how they go about hitting these targets.

By giving people the freedom to be creative and problem solve, they naturally become their own leaders, proud to be in their team, and automatically align their personal goals with the company goals.

Your high performers will thrive on the challenge, as every personal success becomes an organisational success and vice versa. 

Know who you are teaming up with

Unlike previous generations, millennials are as motivated by being part of a bigger purpose as they are by a paycheck. It’s important to understand your team.

Thanks to smartphones and laptops, the blur between work and leisure time is stronger than ever, something that can be tough for some.  But if your team is fully on-board with your organisation’s purpose, then you’ll have a group that will actually feed off the energy of always being connected and plugged in, rather than demotivated. 

With great responsibility comes great progress

Leaders should develop people, not direct them. Millennials want you to be there to support them and let them innovate, but not to smother them.

View yourself as a mentor, rather than a boss. Most importantly, show new hires you trust them and the company is invested in their future, gradually giving them more responsibility and freedom.

Fostering this kind of start-up mentality breeds creativity and works wonders for helping people mature.

Give them a seed, let them grow, and just be there from time to time to water when needed.

Be  authentic

Old school leadership was very much about authority and presenting the image of being an expert in all areas. If a leader didn’t know something, they would often bluff their way through. That’s not a practical approach anymore. Young talent, especially when it comes to tech, often enter the workforce with digital skills far above their superiors.

For the leaders of tomorrow transparency is key. Leaders should be enablers, allowing their team to be the rising stars. Good leaders empower individuals in a team to become experts in an area or topic and to bring that knowledge back and use it for the good of everyone. 

Helping team members to develop like this will not only get results, but also gain the respect of your team, motivating it further. 

Never stop developing

Learning is a lifelong process now, not something that ends with university or formal qualifications. Nowhere is this more true than in the creative industry, which requires individuals and organisations to continuously evolve and reinvent.

Modern leaders need to make "lifelong learning" a mantra, leading by example and actively encouraging everyone to stay on top of new trends, ideas and skills. Showing your team that no matter how experienced you are or what your job title is you must always keep learning, will further foster a culture of responsibility and self-leadership.

And if a leader can make others into leaders by setting an example, then they really are doing it right.

Charlotte Sundaker is the interim CEO of Hyper Island.