Leadership Apocalypse: Oystercatchers Club examines the evidence

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Last week we hosted our September Club evening– the last in our run up to Christmas. And what better top topic to tap into than leadership, which seems to be failing on several fronts at the moment.

Forbes recently listed three key skills for great leadership: Honesty and integrity; confidence; and an ability to inspire others. Many of which, it could be argued, are missing today.

Our Club members jumped into conversation at Covent Garden’s Ham Yard Hotel. Amongst many we welcomed Marketing Directors from Ascot Racecourse, Benefit Cosmetics, BAT; Virgin Atlantic, Mr & Mrs Smith and Kimberly-Clark. Agencies chiefs joined us from Wieden & Kennedy, Lucky Generals, Uncommon, Mindshare, Leagas Delaney, AML, agenda21, We Are Social and Proximity.

As ever, the panel line-up drew a dream-team, beautifully and deftly moderated by Suki Thompson. Joining Suki on stage were Sarah Harbon, General Manager, Benefit Cosmetics UK & Ireland; James Hawes, award-winning Director; Chris Hirst, Global CEO, Havas Creative.

So, what did we learn from these three outstanding leaders?

The leadership role

  • Sarah: My job is to create a strategy that the business can follow. Translate the US parent strategy, break it apart and reconstruct for the UK market while staying true to the values of the global brand. I also make certain everyone knows the role they play to help the business to win.
  • Chris: Once you run an international business – you have to work out how to lead from a distance, what you can do and what you can’t do. Decipher which parts of the business are the most viable, and, with limited resources, decide where can you make a difference.
  • James: I interpret the written word. Hire key creatives. Communicate an ephemeral idea to casting directors, director of photography, graphic designers, costume designers, location scouts. I have to flex my style to communicate and be relevant to each one.

Leadership style

  • James: On the floor with bags of energy. Find and feel with diplomacy – nuancing communication to persuade creatives from a raft of different backgrounds – from the RSA, to Swedish art houses, to street-wise players.
  • Sarah: Engage with everyone. Create an environment where people feel connected and committed to each other – rather than just to the boss.  Shield your teams. Be forgiving of people when you encourage individual decision-making.
  • Chris: Make sure there is no gap between culture and action. Walk the talk.

Are leaders made or born?

  • Chris: Everyone who has people depending on them are leaders – inside and outside business. Most people already are leaders.
  • Sarah: Some people are more natural leaders than others. Success comes from placing the right people in the right roles.
  • James: I’m not sure everyone can lead. And why should they? There are many who try it out and then fall happily back to be great in a supporting role.

How do deal with conflict with your vision

  • Sarah: I’m both a fixer and a people-pleaser and conflict is difficult for me. I stay clear about what we need to achieve.
  • Chris. Be able to disagree without falling out – otherwise it becomes political. Pick your battles fast.
  • James. Try to defuse – keep the team together. Know when to let go.

Leadership advice for millennials

  • Sarah: Turn up and contribute. Be unapologetic about what you want.
  • Chris: Have your own philosophy of what a great leader brings to the business and hold fast to that view.
  • James: Stay true to your original aim.

The one thing I believe about leadership

  • Sarah: Work hard and be nice to people. Be a great communicator.
  • Chris: Leadership is not complicated.
  • James: Flex communications according to the individual: flirt, cajole, entreat.


Wrapping up the conversation, Suki observed: “It’s clear that leadership is more important and more complex than ever before. But whatever business we lead there are similarities we all need to have: clear purpose, the requirement to empower teams to take decisions; the ability to simplify and focus. Then, everyone can get on with the job they do best in a culture of openness with clear direction and measurable outcomes.”

Once again, a huge thank you to our guest panelists, and to our guests. Please look out for our Club Awards Evening on Wednesday 27th November












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