Leaders

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Katie Lee on leading from the centre of a circle

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What makes a great leader?

Some believe leadership is about having the best ideas, but we've already busted that myth. CEO of Lucky Generals Katie Lee believes the best leaders guide a team from the centre of a circle, learning just as much from their team as their team learns from them.

Today we are Getting to Know an entrepreneurial spirit and one of the most ambitious women in the industry, who should have been a doctor according to some. Seeing how much she's enjoying her current job, we're so glad she went the creative way instead.

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Tell us about your current role!

As Lucky General's CEO I'm responsible for how the company is running: that we're making money, making great work, that our clients are happy and that everyone is fulfilled in what they're doing so they can be their most productive. This year is slightly different in that there's also a lot of health and safety thrown into the mix. 

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

A lot of hard work and a bit of a strategy (although I certainly never thought that I'd make it to CEO). I made sure I worked at a variety of interesting and different shaped companies and that I also had a long new business stint under my belt, which I think is an absolutely vital grounding for leadership.

The biggest challenge was the impact it's had on my family. My husband and I never wanted both of us in big jobs and he was generous enough to take the back seat and spend more time with the kids. I think that's been a challenge for both of us in different ways, I miss the kids and he is viewed as a museum exhibit at the school gates - there's still a traditional outlook and we're often looked at with curiosity, sometimes bordering on suspicion. Maybe it's from living in the burbs?

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I have a degree in biochemistry and physiology so I certainly never thought I'd be doing this and my dad still ruefully comments "We thought you'd have a proper job like a doctor."

A friend of mine got a job in advertising and I was lucky enough to be offered work experience and that was that. I thought I'd do it for a few years and then retrain as a physiotherapist but that was 21 years ago, so I think I've found my calling. I always thought I got where I did through sheer graft and hard work but looking back, especially through my slightly more educated lens, I see how much the trappings of my privilege have played a big role in getting me into the industry and helping my progression.

What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?

Legacy leadership leads from the top of a triangle, I try to lead from the centre of a circle so it's very two-way. I gain as much guidance from my team as they do from me (maybe more, you'd have to ask them!). I try to give a huge amount of space and trust to the team and be as open as possible, sharing the decision-making process wherever I can. There's a great HBR article on the leader as a coach and that's stuck with me. It is something I try to emulate. 

How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

In every way: there have been extraordinarily important decisions to make that affect people's well being, and decisions where there's no precedence that you can look to for guidance. I've had to deal with the big and the minutiae. I've also had to change my leadership style: working remotely has often made me question my impact as a leader and that's led to me changing a variety of ways in which I lead, more 'little and often' which is time consuming but I'm finding is working better.

How do you recharge away from the office?

I'm no Margaret Thatcher, I can't really cope without about 8 hours sleep a night. Most of my recharging is done asleep. Otherwise, walking the dog and running (not with  the  dog as it has tiny legs and can't keep up). 

If you weren't in your current industry, what would you be doing?

To my dad's sadness, I still wouldn't be a doctor as I am a bit squeamish. Maybe I would have made it as a physio but if I had to go and do something else tomorrow, I have no idea. I've been institutionalised into the wonderful madness of this industry.

What's your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?

Never stop learning or diversifying your talents so you are equally brilliant across all media channels but keep the craft and idea at the centre of everything you do - don't resort to tactics.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

Equity.

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