Lindsey Clay's Leadership Tips

I am currently the Communications Director of a company called Thinkbox which is the marketing body for commercial TV. Our mission is to help advertisers make the most of TV.

I have been a Rank Fellow since about 1982. Although at the time, the fellowship didn't exist in its current form.

I have spent most of my career working in advertising which I have enjoyed enormously. I notice on Facebook that there's a group called "Don't tell my mum I work in advertising, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel! Advertising people tend to get put in the same low life bracket as spin doctors and tabloid journalists actually, we're nice people, honest!

I was asked to give you a talk about my particular story. Given the Rank Fellowship is all about helping develop leaders, I thought I'd give you my own top 10 leadership tips.

I'm from Cumbria - west coast, a pretty run down area. I'm one of 5 siblings. Because the local schools were so terrible my parents made the decision to send us all to the local private secondary school. We were all on bursaries and scholarships, second hand school uniform, never went on the school trips, Dad did lots of writing to supplement his day job. Mum went back to work aged 40 to help pay for it. I went as a day girl in a predominantly boys boarding school. In fact I was one of only 13 girls in a school of 400 boys when I went aged 11.

Before the 6th form, the headmaster told me that I had received a bursary from a mystery benefactor. In those days the Rank Foundation wanted their support to be anonymous ~ terribly exciting, a bit like Great Expectations.

It allowed me to board, become Captain of hockey and rounders team, athletics, cross country. I sang in the school choir and choral society, had lead parts in the school plays, learned the piano and guitar. I became the first female head of school in the school's 400 year history, I then got into Jesus College Cambridge.


1. The more you put in the more you'll get out.

I loved my time at school, I really enjoyed it and I think this was quite a formative lesson for me. It has given me a tendency to say yes to things. Just when I don't think I can take on any more, someone comes along and asks me to do something. Good things have tended to happen as a result.

Get involved in sport you haven't done or go on a trip, be a rep on the Arts club committee or volunteer for something. You meet different people, you get more life experience. It's all good.

Related tip to this one is also the importance of enjoying what you do. If you stop enjoying what you are doing, ask yourself some serious questions about why you're doing it and then get out and do something else.


2. Don't be put off by the fact that there will always be people better than you just about everything.

I arrived at Cambridge, having been a big fish in a very small pool, thinking I was pretty fantastic. They were lucky to have me. Went to my first supervision. Supervision partner was a guy who subsequently went on to become literary editor of the Guardian. He and my supervisor talked for an hour and I barely understood a word. I then went and did an audition for an operetta where I sang (very badly) so I got one of those letters that said "Dear Lindsey, thank you for auditioning but I'm afraid that the standard was extremely high this year" etc etc.  I then went for a trial for the college hockey team and only managed to scrape into the second 11.

I came from a small provincial northern school. I'd been out of Cumbria approximately 3 times in my life before. People at Cambridge were ridiculously over-endowed with talent. It took me about 3 years to get over my inferiority complex. For a while it prevented me from getting the most out of the experience because I became reluctant to try things for fear of embarrassing myself. Never get caught in that trap. You just have to go for it, if it's something you care about or want to do, if you persevere long enough you'll probably get somewhere. Put yourself out there occasionally. Take a risk, do something that scares you.

Anyway, the next year I then auditioned for the same operetta, got another letter "Dear Lindsey, thank you for auditioning. I'm sorry the standard was very high this year blah blah  BUT a week later someone dropped out and I got in. More importantly the guy who directed the opera I subsequently married. So, just think what would have happened if I'd given up! Anyway, I've never allowed him to forget the fact that he initially failed to cast me and I've been trying to get him to cast me in the lead in his productions ever since.

So in summary, aim high and always have a north star. I don't know where this quote comes from but I love it

"The greatest danger is not to aim too high. It's to aim lower and achieve it."


3. If you ever have any influence over it, always try and work for inspiring people

I read somewhere that the single most significant thing that influences your leadership style is the style of your first boss. Mine was a guy whom I'm still in touch with who was hard working, a perfectionist, a very talented writer and presenter, very supportive of me and enormous fun.

I don't know if I would have had been less successful if I'd first worked for a petty minded, lazy, untalented drip but who knows? I learned a lot from him and I'm grateful.

I've recently moved to a new job as the Communications Director of Thinkbox and one of the main attractions for me (other than the fact that I love TV) was that the CEO of Thinkbox is a woman called Tess Alps. Tess is reknowned throughout the media industry for being super smart, talented, a complete expert on TV and one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. So, if you ever find yourself working for someone who isn't inspiring then move. Life's just too short.

Has anyone ever heard of Nicola Horlick?

I was very struck by something that Nicola Horlick said when I heard her speak recently. For those of you that don't know her, she was famous in the 80s and branded superwoman by the tabloid press. She became symbolic of the "women having it all generation. She was a fund manager earning more than a million who also had 5 children".

She was relating a story about how she had got her first break at work. There was a very talented fund manager who was the elder statesman type figure within the bank whom everyone respected and revered. She was a young graduate in the bank. She walked past this older guy's desk one day and he asked her to go and get a particular form for him from the stationery cupboard. The stationery cupboard was 3 flights down so she ran down 3 flights, grabbed the piece of paper and then ran straight back up 3 flights again and so had it back on his desk in less than 5 minutes. He was utterly shocked by this and said "No one has ever done a simple job for me that quickly and enthusiastically before. You must come and work for me."

She believes it was an important factor in her success. Yes, she always had the potential to do well but she had a far better chance of realising her potential because of who she worked for.

Which brings me on to the next tip which is.


4.The importance of positivity.

In the same speech Nicola was asked what are the traits she particular looks for when recruiting people and she answered that the single most important thing she values more than anything else was positivity.

I completely agree with her on this and in my last company we used to talk about people in terms of being radiators or drains. A radiator is someone who radiates positive energy, who is enthusiastic, who says yes a lot, who removes obstacles to progress. Iâ€â„¢m sure you all know some drains, people for whom everything is too much trouble, who think they are too important for every task, who seem to drain the joy and energy out of you if you spend too much time with them.

Related to this, I would advise you to try not to get drawn into bitching and whinging about stuff and the organisation. There's a salutary lesson here which once happened at an advertising agency I heard about. One of the agency's biggest clients was based in Manchester. So teams of people used to go to and from there by train. One group had gone up there for a very early meeting to present some creative work. The meeting had gone very badly, the client had turned down the work and the team were soon on the train on the way home again. So they amused themselves on the journey home by bitching about everyone in the meeting, making jokes at their expense, complaining etc. When they got back to the agency they were immediately called into the CEO's office, given a dressing down and fired on the spot. Unbeknownst to them someone very senior in the client company had called the agency's CEO from the train.


5. Don't be too quick to put yourself down

Apologies for advance for this one but it's a tip which largely applies to women. Actually I won't apologise because you need it more.

Very interesting piece of research where they got a group of male and female leaders and set them each 2 individual tasks.

The first task was designed to be impossible to complete in the time available. Afterwards asked them each how they'd found it.

1st task Men almost universally said "That was a ridiculous task. No one could have completed it in the time available". Asked the women how they'd got on and the women generally said something like. "I'm really sorry, I've never been very good at that sort of task."

2nd task Then gave them each a second task which was designed to be fairly easy to complete within the time available and then asked them how they got on. They asked the men the same question and the men said "Yeah, I've always been pretty good at that kind of thing." The women generally said "That was a very easy task, anyone could have done it."

Women, don't be too self effacing. I'm not advising you to become obnoxious and arrogant. But you should remove from your vocabulary things like:

"Oh I'm rubbish at that."

"I don't know why they gave me this job"

"So and so is much better than me"

Has anyone heard of the phrase IMPOSTER SYNDROME? Entirely human condition that almost everyone suffers from. Means that everyone secretly believes at some point they're going to get found out, that you've been blagging your way to success so far and that it's all going to collapse at some point.

Everyone feels it but for some reason women feel the need to express it more. Men are fantastically good about expressing confidence even if they don't feel it so we should all learn from them.

OK so that was geared more towards women, this one is geared more towards the men and that is -


6. The importance of empathy and listening.
This tends to be something that women seem to find easier for some reason (although tha'ts not always the case).

Listening is not about being quiet and waiting for your opportunity to speak again. It means really listening.

It's all about getting on someone's wavelength, getting in sync with them. Putting yourself in their shoes, imagining how they feel about something. You're in a much better position to influence them if you have empathy. Can anyone tell me what percentage of communication is dependent on the words you say, the tone of voice you use and your body language?


The words 7%, tone of voice 15%, body language 78%


7. Work hard. Prepare well.

At JWT I was responsible for graduate recruitment for a number of years. For some reason advertising is very competitive to get into but once you're in it's very easy to move around.

Often struck that people who were good talented candidates often hadn't actually bothered to prepare at all for the company they were coming to.

So, I'd ask them a simple question like what is your favourite tv campaign that JWT has produced or what client would you like to work on if you worked here and they would look blankly at me with no idea what I was talking about.


8. Make it fun

This point and the previous one go hand in glove together.

When you're a leader of a team, your state of mind will transmit itself to everyone else and they take the lead from you. So, if you're relaxed and having fun, they will relax too. I have taken this to extremes at times.

I've found myself standing on a bar conducting carols, making a complete fool of myself doing Karaoke. Writing pantomimes, doing comedy awards. Always prioritise going out and letting my hair down with my team. You end up with a whole chest of war stories. These shared experiences are what bond you together and make you feel invincible.

I firmly believe that if people enjoy what they do, they will be more productive as a team. I'd much rather have a team of B players who are happy, highly motivated and having fun than a team of complete stars who are miserable; best of all I'd rather have happy, motivated A players but you see my point!


9. Build your network and your life experience

This sounds like a slightly cheesy American thing to say but be conscious all the time that everyone's life is a complex network of relationships both formal and informal which is building all the time.

Be interested in what other people are doing and make the effort to expand your network.

Don't be afraid to ask people for help. People are generally very sympathetic to young people starting out on any career path so ask to meet with them and ask their advice.

Keep in touch with people. With Facebook now it's the easiest thing in the world to keep in touch with people. Keeping in touch with people has helped me get jobs, win business, hire good people, find new opportunities.

Whatever you do whether it's volunteering in an old people's home, going travelling, working in a shop, it's all good stuff. You need to network all the time both formally and informally.

Finally and most importantly, I heard this from Rita Clifton who is the CEO of a company called Interbrand and it resonated with me.


10. If you don't plan the future you want, you get the future that shows up

It's a great myth that organisations do career management for individuals. They might help but no one else will manage your career other than you. You need to take responsibility for it.

Now that doesn't mean having a rigid plan of what you are going to do. No one really knows what they want to do at your age. It's really important to relax and have fun and enjoy this special time in your life.

But think about different possibilities, talk to people about what different careers are like. Have some kind of a plan which is bound to change and that's absolutely fine.

But remember, you are all in training now for whatever your future will be so make sure you use it wisely.

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