M&C Saatchi London
10 months ago
Lessons don’t always appear to us fully formed. This was the case with my biggest lesson.
At the time, it didn’t feel like learning. But some of the words (and moments linked to them) that hurt me the most, became my biggest lesson.
It started with the word ‘too’.
‘She is too much…
… too weak.’
It continued with the phrase: ‘a bit’. Two words designed to make you feel both small and overbearing in the same breath.
‘You are being a bit emotional…
… a bit dramatic…
… a bit sensitive…’
For the past 15 years (and until not too long ago), I felt as if being ‘emotional’ was my biggest weakness as a professional. I felt this because I was told this.
I felt the issue lied with me and not with those that triggered these emotions by being bullish, derogatory, rude or patronising towards me in meetings. Every day that I faced this made me feel lost, alone, inadequate.
After a while, you just stop wanting to be the way you are and wonder if you’d be better off behaving like those displaying the “strong leadership” which makes you feel awful.
I mistakenly felt the only way to be heard (without being talked over or discredited), was to become the very type of leader that made me shrink and feel so inadequate in my years in advertising. Because that was what the world and our industry wrongly perceived as strong leadership.
The truth is these people have a serious empathy deficit. They lacked the deep understanding of emotions as well as the imagination and confidence to conceive that anyone who thought and behaved differently from them might have good ideas.
I was losing hope and nearly left the industry. Being ‘too emotional’ meant I didn’t fit-in but it also meant I had fire in my belly and ruthless determination. I never give up.
In good time, the world around me began to change, the faces and genders at the top started to reflect the real world a bit more. Neurodiversity became A THING in business - the idea that businesses are made better and stronger if there isn’t a ‘norm’ in people, thinking and behaviour. The truth that different people think different thoughts and behave in different ways, and as such, leadership must shift from monochromatic to the wonder of technicolour.
With this seismic change, I started to have a proper voice in the agency and industry, by being just as I am, emotions and all. And I looked to surround myself with difference in the people I hired.
I learnt that people who feel more deeply and intensely than others are more aware of subtleties, more perceptive in and out of the meeting room, care and reflect on things more deeply. This can only be a good thing. Baring your soul is not a weakness but a strength. It takes courage and smarts to do so with great empathy.
My biggest lesson, therefore, was to embrace the gift of being emotional; to courageously move through my emotions and recognise them, properly and proudly, as a gift (even when others don’t see it as such).M&C Saatchi London, 10 months ago