Leadership: The importance of daring to be different

LeadershipAlicja Lloyd is the newly appointed CEO at Feed, a digital marketing agency with clients including eBay, Ancestry.com, and Gumtree.

A veteran of the digital industries working with household names like O2, Adidas, Jaguar, and Nokia, she joined Feed in 2018 and has rapidly risen through the ranks. As she takes the reins, Lloyd reflects on her leadership journey and the importance of daring to be different.

As leaders, we all need reminders that we can do things differently. It was actually those closest to me who helped shape my perspective on this – specifically my sister and my son.

During my early career, I emulated the leadership principles of the male-dominated environments I was working in. These were at times aggressive and uber-competitive spaces where you worked until you dropped and were shown little empathy. The ethos was “work work work.” It was just what everybody did.  As the phrase goes, “You have to see it to be it,” and if all you’re seeing is workaholic, alpha behaviours, it’s fairly predictable that you will follow suit.

But then real life interjects and makes you question your norms. I was working late one night, as always, and my sister called me. She asked, “Alicja, are you actually any good at your job, because you always seem to be working late?

I laughed and thought, “Oh, what does she know? This is London. This is agency life. This is what you do. This is how it works.” But the seed of change had been planted.

Leadership journeys are rarely linear. You absorb lessons from what’s around you. And, as you develop, you realise “that’s just the way things are done” doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do things. It takes time to reach that understanding and acquire a sense of your authentic self, rather than just mirroring other people.

My next interjection of real-life reminders came when I became a mum. I simply could not do the long-hours culture, and I didn’t want to. My priorities had changed, and it was a complete eye-opener. I was actually told not to talk about my son, because “you’re at work now.” Today, I’d be outraged if anyone said that to someone in my team.

Having my son gave me so much perspective, as well as the ability to be relentlessly efficient and get the job done within the time I had available. I could suddenly take a step back and think, “I’m actually going to do things a bit differently.”

The benefit of a long career and the self-reflection that comes with each step of your journey is the opportunity to take a step towards being the most authentic you. Bolstered by confidence and experience, you can take what you’ve learnt and put it into practice to become a better version of yourself and a better, more considered leader.

I was also very fortunate to meet Matt Lynch (former CEO, now Executive Chair of Feed) at the point in my career when these realisations were starting to dawn. From day one, he encouraged and supported me to lead by example. He continuously enabled me to play to my strengths and help build the type of agency and working culture I could be truly proud of.

My leadership style is not the only way or right way, but I am confident it’s what the younger me could have benefitted from when I was starting out.  I think being a good leader is being able to recognise people’s talent and allow them to develop in their own ways. I don’t think leaders should be carbon copies of each other. You need to let leaders have their own authentic style.

Also, a leader shouldn’t be an island. It is always important for them to work in tight partnership with other people in the organisation. That said, I do think there are some core principles that all leaders should consider:

BE CONSISTENT: Whatever your leadership style – firm and directive or empathetic and coaching – you should be consistent. There is nothing worse than having your leader flip flop around, leaving you unsure of who they are going to be that day and unclear of what is expected of you.

BE AN ACTIVE LISTENER: It is incredibly important to think about the how and why, as well as what, is being said. Leaders need to understand employees at all levels, so conversation isn’t just a functional exchange.

TAKE ACCOUNTABILITY: If things go wrong or something bad has happened, a leader should step in and take ownership, even if they weren’t directly involved. It’s your role to help the team through challenges and encourage them to learn from mistakes rather than host a blame-game post-mortem.

GIVE CLARITY: Setting expectations is so important, as it reduces stress and confusion. It sounds simple, but letting people know clearly what you want makes the world go ‘round a bit easier. Employees should also feel confident asking for clarity if what their leader wants is at all ambiguous. It’s essential to create an open environment where questions are welcome.

EMBRACE FLEXIBILITY: As a leader, it’s important that you set the direction, but it is also important to listen and be moveable. It’s not a weakness to be persuaded to a different approach from the one you set – it’s a real strength to be able to say, “You’re right, let’s do it that way.”

BE HUMAN AND ADMIT MISTAKES: I’ve seen leaders rigidly stick to the wrong idea, because they prefer it to admitting that they were wrong. But it’s not about right or wrong  – it’s about realising when someone has a better idea and embracing it.

Your role is to help people get to the right answer by setting the direction and giving them the space and freedom to say, “Oh actually, it should be like this.” And if you do make a mistake, it’s really important to hold your hands up and admit you got it wrong.

PROMOTE DIVERSITY: I mean diversity in its broadest sense –  gender, sexuality, race, personality types. The strongest teams are the most diverse teams, and no leader should surround themselves with carbon-copy people with the same approaches and outlooks.

LEAD WITH EMPATHY: This is perhaps the most important point of all. Thankfully, empathy is spoken of more often these days. It’s about thinking of people as a whole human being, not as a machine that just keeps going. It’s also understanding and appreciating that no two employees’ circumstances are the same. Working with them individually to ensure they feel the right level of support is key. It isn’t about keeping tabs on anyone – it’s about building trust with your team and being visible and available when they reach out for support.

About the author

Alicja LloydFeed is a digital agency that helps hungry brands stand out at speed and sell at scale; helping deliver conversion with heart.

With 21 years’ experience in the digital industry, Alicja joined Feed as client services director in March 2018 and was quickly promoted to Managing Director of Europe, with an expanded remit to lead and grow client accounts and internal teams across the region.

Prior to her role at Feed, Alicja was client director at Digitas where she ran the Dunlop account and was responsible for launching their global website. Before this, she worked at various agencies in the digital space including Critical Mass, Grand Union and Agency Republic. Her career has seen her work across a broad range of clients including Adidas, Belmond, O2, Jaguar, Nokia and Citi Bank.

Alicja has vast experience and expertise in brand and communication, working with strategists on consumer insight and advertising and experiential website development. Alicja is passionate about creating diversity in the workplace, particularly when it comes to working woman, female leadership and working mothers.

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