Positive leadership: Looking back at the past decade

Article by Cathy Hayward, Founder and Chairman of Magenta Associates

LeadershipThis year marks 10 years since I went it alone and set up my own business.

As a journalist working in the niche facilities management industry, I’d spotted a gap in the market for a PR agency which specialised in the built environment ­– specifically facilities management at the beginning – and knew their clients really well but also had a wider range of skills and more capacity than a freelance PR. The idea for Magenta Associates was born.

Over the following decade, I’ve learned seven lessons about being the sort of leader I wanted to work for.

  1. Treat others how you want to be treated Over the course of my career, I’ve worked for good bosses and bad bosses, great companies and ones that could do with a bit of a shake-up. I loved the idea of creating a business with the sort of culture that I wanted to work in – one that genuinely cared about its people and its wider community. I hope I’ve never asked anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t be happy doing and I always try to treat people how I want to be treated. That includes a great range of benefits and treats like quarterly team days to an annual team trip abroad.
  2. Don’t be a control freak – delegate more: We have a brilliant team now at Magenta but in the early years we weren’t always able to attract experienced people. I found myself let down a few times which meant I became something of a control freak. I didn’t take a holiday for the first six years as I was convinced it would all fall down if I wasn’t always on emails. That had a detrimental effect as I didn’t always trust people to do the job properly and tended to either micro manage or hold onto tasks I should have delegated. But growth and development only comes when you delegate and let people make their own mistakes. Our company has grown exponentially since I started letting go.
  3. Know when to walk away from a client: We have a brilliant group of clients who are all proud to be part of Magenta’s journey but not all client relationships work out. It’s important to know when to walk away. We’ve only had to do that occasionally in our decade in business but the first time we did that was a powerful moment. The client was treating our people badly and kept changing the goal posts. We tried to make it work but when we gave notice it was the most amazing feeling – and showed our people that we will never put profit above them.
  4. A crisis really shows you what sort of leader you are. It’s easy(ish) to be a good leader in good times, but when a pandemic hits and you’re worried for the future, it’s much harder. Those first few weeks of Covid were nail-biting stuff. Our MD Jo and I would look at each other on Zoom like rabbits in headlights wondering what the next day would bring, while trying to present a calm exterior to our colleagues. But the pandemic brought us closer to our colleagues and clients – we’d gone through a life-changing experience together and people showed their vulnerable side.
  5. The person who set up the business is not always the right person to take it to its next stage: in the early years of Magenta it felt like something new happened every day. I made loads of decisions on the hop and rushed through every day. One day I looked up and the business was eight years old and we employed ten people. I didn’t really have a plan on where to go next. Fortunately, my fellow director Jo, who had joined the business a few years before, did. Watching her take Magenta to the next level has been hugely exciting. I don’t think it’s something I could have done myself.
  6. Running a business and being a Mum would be good for my kids: every working parent knows the guilt from not being able to always be the best parent you can be because of work pressures. There have been times when I’ve missed sports days, not been able to hand make a last-minute Viking costume or forgotten packed lunches. But overall, setting up Magenta has been great for my children. When my son was studying for his GCSE business studies, I talked him through a P&L using Magenta’s live example and he’s done valuable work experience in the business. My girls have loved having being part of a business. Magenta has shown my children what hard work and a bit of luck can achieve. And of course it’s given them an endless supply of ‘free’ stationery.

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