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Great leaders inspire hope and recovery

Some leaders are forged and some are formed - and the industry needs to be better at nurturing more of them

By Jeremy Lee

If you Google the words "quotes about leadership" you'll receive over three billion results, ranging from the inspirational to the banal and everything in between (but mostly the banal). Equally, the shelves of bookshops ache with an ever-growing list of self-help books on this very subject.

Leadership takes many forms, of course, and sometimes - as recent global events have shown - it is forged in the most terrible of circumstances. In its own little way, leadership is a theme that also runs throughout this week's newsletter.

Leaders of companies are responding to the horrific war in Ukraine - from BT and EE waving tariffs on calls to the embattled nation to the lengthening list of brands and businesses, including WPP and Accenture, that are pulling their operations out of Russia.

At the moment this might just be causing an inconvenience to Russian citizens rather than delivering a decisive blow to its government, but each turn of the screw increases the economic and social pressure that could help shutter the Russian economy in the medium to long term. It also comes at a financial cost to the companies involved but their leaders know that it is the right thing to do. In times of devastation we need strong leaders like these more than ever.

It's difficult to focus on the day to day given the wider and more frightening events, but let's press on and look at leadership in our industry.

Ad agencies are not particularly adept at nurturing great leadership skills. All too often the best talent gets promoted upwards without having the opportunity to formally learn the art and science of leadership. And then agencies wonder why they find it so hard to earn a voice in their clients’ boardrooms.

The same is also true of marketing departments, where few executives break out into company leadership roles. Nevertheless, our industry still manages to attract talent with the charisma and innate skills to propel them to the top and succeed once they get there.

We celebrate some of them: from Essity's Tanja Grubner, who challenged taboos and legislation around period advertising, to Leo Burnett's Chaka Sobhani who is unashamedly leading the charge on creating advertising that resonates in popular culture and not just with award juries. Annette King, the chief executive of Publicis Groupe UK, also spoke to us about running a 5,000-strong network of 20-plus agencies and the importance of the carrot over the stick when it comes to talent management. And WPP's Mark Read has promised to make his company more supportive to menopausal women to prevent them from joining the brain drain.

Did they provide any natty and quotable soundbites that can glibly be appended to a mug or a tea towel or shared on social media? Possibly not. But the lessons in leadership they provide resonate far deeper than just that. They help prove the universal truth that that bravery in leadership is the only way forward towards a degree of hope and recovery.


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