By Paul Hutchings, founder of fox&cat.

Passionate leaders go far. But clip their wings, fail to recognise their skills or respect their passions, and you’re set for uproar. Especially with Gen Z now established in the workforce.

In this article we’ll look at:

  • Where leadership in comms is today
  • How it’s evolving
  • What you as a leader can do to keep up with the change and see your agency flourish

Leadership in comms agencies today

Leadership is about maximising the efforts of others towards the achievement of a common goal. But while this definition has stood the test of time, leadership style has changed dramatically.

There’s been a clear shift over the last 20-25 years with a move away from authority and control (and arduous boardroom meetings) towards the much needed, more relaxed approach. We Gen Y’s do love an informal chat.

Today’s agency leaders are often casual, cool-headed, intelligent people with a shared purpose. They collaborate to discuss topics that will help everyone move in the right direction. Together.

But what about the future?

With Gen Z’s now established in entry-level roles – being digital natives, more outspoken and with a very different outlook on what being ‘at work’ means – we’ve already started the next big shift.

Our leaders of tomorrow are here – so take note

While Gen Z’s are more educated and well-behaved than previous generations, they tend to be lonelier, more stressed and more depressed.[1] Mental ill-health is a rising concern and set to grow further due to the specific needs of our newest workforce members.

On top of this, there are the ‘business-as-usual’ pressures of agency life. High staff turn-over, client and brief unpredictability and the practical pressures of continual change across digital, social and traditional channels, to name a few. And then there’s the pressure brought on by how we, as comms folk, deal with this change.

All this can cause stress and pressure that can travel through a business in no time, affecting individuals, teams or whole agencies. (Read more here).

Addressing these ever-evolving issues is the biggest challenge that faces agency leadership teams.

And the answer, we believe, lies in objectivity and respect.

Rapid change highlights the importance of people-led leadership

Chances are you’ve already had to rethink some leadership strategies to address new-found pressures on your team due to COVID-19. In many ways it’s acted as a catalyst for inevitable structural and organisational change.

But if you think you’ve ticked the box, think again. You may have stuck a suitably-sized plaster on the wound for now but that doesn’t mean it is healing. Be careful not to reveal the wound too soon – employee wellbeing and ‘cultural health’ need long-term maintenance.

Here’s why:

  • We live in a ‘traumatised’ world and trauma cannot be fixed quickly. You only have to look around to see it and, as with a traumatised individual, there’s no overnight solution. By accepting this you’ll be of the right mindset to improve your agency’s cultural health, but it will still take commitment.
  • Change happens swiftly in comms and to keep up you must adapt. Current perspectives and situations are often old before they’re new, but by creating a culture of change you and your workforce will be able to manage the associated pressure effectively. (Read more here.)

Prioritise cultural health in your organisation

Keeping cultural health top and centre to your leadership discussions is paramount, and it requires objectivity…

  • Leadership teams don’t know all the answers: As we become more senior and set in our ways objectivity often takes a hit. So include different people to normal in your discussions, get some ad hoc feedback. Chances are you already have a good idea what your senior peers will say, and by listening to the views of others you’re automatically a more open-minded leader.
  • All individuals have equally valid insight: Don’t forget your newest workforce members. Ask for fresh insights and opinions, ask your entry-level staff what they want, think and feel. Everyone’s views are important and by appreciating this you’ll receive open and honest insights you can act on quickly, with confidence.
  • All insights can be considered objectively: You might be leading but that doesn’t make you the decision maker. The best leaders are excellent at interpreting what the insights have told them, reaching a consensus with the team, and then being confident mouthpieces. They are objective decision navigators.

Encourage the budding micro-leaders

To truly evolve team dynamics to meet the changing world and appease the Gen Z workforce, remember, the view of a newly recruited 21-year-old is as valuable as that of the MD who’s been in post for 21 years. Anyone, at any level, can provide objectivity and perspective, giving insights that bear a part in how decisions should be made. We’re all micro-leaders in something.

By recognising the unique skills, experiences and perspectives of Gen Z now, respecting their views and considering their ideas objectively, they’ll build confidence, learn to fly and become the passionate leaders of tomorrow. You’ll see improved respect for your company values, commitment and a happy team.

At fox&cat we’ll believe in assessing objectively what’s causing pressure in your agency, meaning your better equipped to make the right decisions under pressure.

We believe that a combined effort of improved client service, training around managing pressure, leadership support and wellbeing is the only way to truly manage the pressure of agency life. Holistically and for the long term. There’s more information on our website.

[1] The Economist. Generation Z is stressed, depressed and exam-obsessed. Cited at: [Last Accessed: April 2021]