Who is media's leader of tomorrow?

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Are chromosomes destiny? (Photo courtesy  Mehmet Pinarci via Flickr.)
Are chromosomes destiny? (Photo courtesy Mehmet Pinarci via Flickr.)

When leading creative teams, gender and leadership style are two different propositions says the new worlwide CEO of Maxus

A question I’m inevitably asked — a lot — as I step up to the honor of worlwide CEO for Maxus is how significant my gender is. Well, my gender is an irrefutable fact — according to my chromosomes, I am 100 percent female. Another fact is that I am the first female global chief executive within the GroupM network. Whether that says more about me or the glass ceilings that still exist in our industry is one to ponder. So, in response to that much-asked question, yes — I do feel my gender is significant.

I’m proud to be following in the footsteps of some incredibly inspiring trailblazers — Charlotte Beers and Shelley Lazarus to mention but two within WPP, a group resoundingly aware of the importance of pushing female talent up the executive ladder. In fact, Charlotte Beers leads "X-Factor," a brilliant WPP senior leadership and mentoring program solely for women executives.

Of the media chiefs I am most inspired by in terms of leadership style, two happen to be male. Within months since joining as chief executive of Maxus North America, Steve Williams has introduced a radical rethinking of the town-hall-forum structure, a traditionally "top-down" form of communication.

Steve’s "speakeasies" place upmost emphasis on sharing and transparency among individuals, right across the business. Everyone from junior to senior levels and everywhere in between is invited to step up and talk about their ideas and passion points, and it is already proving a fantastic means of making the intangible tangible, of ensuring the traditionally unheard voice is valued. I have no doubt that this melding of diverse minds will generate brilliant ideas from across the business.

Another superb media leader, Kelly Clark (first global CEO of Maxus, now CEO, North America, at GroupM), was renowned at Mindshare UK for knowing literally everybody’s name throughout the agency. That level of individual attention and recognition makes a profound and lasting impact; you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would say a bad word about Kelly.

Certain characteristics of leadership styles have perhaps unfairly been labeled over time as "more female." The traits that I and others value so highly in leaders like Kelly and Steve — their empathetic and personal qualities — would be regarded by some as more "female." Conversely, Hillary Clinton is just one example of a female leader who has been chastised and praised in equal measure for her drive and ambition — commonly perceived as "male" traits.

I’ve been dwelling lots on leadership recently, as you can probably tell. Moving from a dual local and global role to a fully global one is an exciting, daunting, thrilling prospect. As a local chief, you have a tight handle on all the critical conditions — P&L, the team, the environment. In a global position, leadership takes a more nuanced, visionary role; it becomes less about control and micromanagement, more about influence, persuasion and inspiration.

And more than ever, the media leaders of today and tomorrow need to speak to the values of millennials, the digital natives who make up an invaluable majority of our workforce. If they don’t feel that they are being included in the company vision and communication, they will vote with their feet and find a company that treats them as a name, not a number.

In a fantastic article documenting the rise of the "fierce, fearless and female" modern creative, Nils Leonard of Grey London sparked a heated debate over whether the future creative will be female, or perhaps he was alluding to creatives possessing more feminine traits.

Applying this notion to a leadership context, I believe that as an industry we are moving to embrace a different type of leader. More women in top positions can only be a positive thing. More important still, irrespective of gender, is an evolution from the suited, booted, briefcase-wielding, boardroom machismo of old to leadership qualities that value individuality, nurture rising talent and reward brilliance where it shines.

Are these softer, essentially female qualities? Absolutely not. They are essential qualities for a media business that is all about people — for those who work in it and everybody who consumes it.

Lindsay Pattison is worldwide CEO of Maxus.

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