Tim Clyde on Inspiring Leadership

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Thinking | 0 comments

Our Co-founder Tim Clyde was interviewed by LBB Online on his leadership style and his advice on being an inspiring leader.

What was your first experience of leadership?

Tim> A couple of different experiences spring to mind here. Firstly, before I got into the amazing world of advertising I was hugely into music and played drums in a couple of bands around Scotland. I found myself leading a couple of R&B / rock bands on tour around Europe in my late teens. It was quite an experience blagging gigs in six different countries and languages (which is a load of other stories). My first proper career leadership role was managing director of an ad agency at 28 years old. I was confident, ambitious and keen to challenge the agency model around then, but because we were owned by a large network agency our freedom and decisions were somewhat limited (yet I don’t complain as it was also the motivation to set up on my own).

How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Tim> To be honest, I don’t think I ever defined this and am definitely still working it out. But I knew I didn’t want to be a dictator  – ‘my way or the highway’ type leader. I wanted to be more of a team leader, inspiring confidence and happiness around me rather than fear. More Robin Hood than Winston Churchill, if that makes sense. I took inspiration (both good and bad) from various advertising leaders I worked with in the early days. I worked with some incredible, inspiring leaders whose passion and creativity were madly infectious but also some highly respected advertising leaders who ruled by fear and ego – I knew this didn’t motivate me working with them and it wasn’t me or how I wanted to be.

What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Tim> I won’t name this person here, but someone I hugely respected as a leader in one of my first jobs had an extra-ordinary aura of confidence about themselves – incredibly confident with clients, almost arrogant but just not quite, alongside a hugely sharp intelligence. This person was in full control of everything and seemed bullet proof. So, I couldn’t help but ask him one day in the pub what his secret was to such confident leadership. The answer I got took me by surprise when he confessed in confidence that he actually lived “in a state of constant paranoia”. He was constantly terrified about losing clients, losing good members of his team and so on. It blew me away that this confidence was hiding such deep caring and concern. I realised then how important it is in good leadership to show that you are in control (when it might not always be true).

Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Tim> I strangely always wanted to have my own agency and remember feeling it a bit when I did very early placements with the likes of AMV and BBH –  thinking how amazing it must be to be one of those letters – a partner in an agency. I always wanted it not because I wanted to lead people, but because I wanted to have control over my destiny – succeed or fail in my own terms.

When it comes to ‘leadership’ as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Tim> We have been doing a lot of work in the agency to understand character traits and personalities both at individual level and collectively in teams / businesses with our KultureLab tool. This is not just a plug here, but focusing on this has really helped us understand how different character traits show up in a workplace and how they interact with other people. There are predictably some character traits which lend themselves to leadership, such as people skills found in naturally people-oriented (green) personalities. But different personalities can lead in different ways. Most classically being goals / results-oriented traits (red) is where a lot of leaders reside, but that is not to say that more details oriented, introverted (blue) people also don’t make great leaders too.

What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Tim> I like to think of myself as being flexible and a good listener (two ears, one mouth and so on), although I know if my wife reads this will be laughing hysterically as I have sadly come to realise I am not as flexible as I thought. I can get fixated on a goal or objective and see it only succeeding one way. I need to listen to others more carefully to see things other ways. I also love to dive on what seems like exciting new ideas and lack a bit of caution at times, but I am very lucky to have a business partner who is patient with me and helps me see a bit more important logic at times.

Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Tim> A few times, yes. I have made promises to my team which have later turned out to be harder to deliver than I realised. This has led to disappointment, reduced motivation and a degree of trust lost. I have learned to be more careful about how we announce planned changes or ambitions to the business so that this can be avoided.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Tim> It would be easy to say good leadership is all about utter transparency, but the truth is if we all led this way – sharing every challenge transparently with everyone around us, we simply wouldn’t be leading. There are times when keeping some developments or aspects from my team or clients has been the right approach, there are a few challenges my team simply don’t need to know at the second they arise and will not help them do their jobs knowing. If I can solve those problems or at least find a solution to them before I share the information, then the less I rock the boat and distract my team from doing their best work.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Tim> Yes, I have been lucky enough to have had a few good mentors along the way and am always looking for more. I don’t think we ever stop learning and the older we get, the more important it is we keep learning from others. One of the most helpful was Terry Mansfield CBE, former president and CEO of Hearst who sadly passed away during Covid. Terry was a delight to go and see for some advice. He would always look at a problem from a completely different angle and always ask my business partner and I ‘what mischief have you got up to recently’? He would inspire us with some of the bold and unexpected ways he achieved some similar challenges in his colourful career. And I try to do what I can to mentor and enrergise up and coming aspiring leaders by offering some time to people that ask me for help. I try to be like Terry and provide a different angle to their problems and share some learnings from our experience running an agency.

LBB> In continually changing market circumstances, how do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through difficult waters?

Tim> Advertising is definitely a challenging business. My friends and family in other industries don’t understand why we work so incredibly hard on pitching with such large odds of not getting paid at all. But I tell them that this is the best bit – the higher the challenge, the higher the enjoyment of winning. And in the same vein, the harder the losses / tough times, the more satisfying the wins or good times are. You can’t have it both ways – and advertising attracts people that take the rough with the smooth and challenge the status quo.

LBB> As a leader, what are some of the ways in which you’ve prioritised diversity and inclusion within your workforce?

Tim> Two simple things come to mind, but I still think there is so much more we can do as an industry here. On the issue of gender pay gaps, we have ensured that we pay consistently at all levels in all departments of the business. And on encouraging diversity in hiring, we brief all our recruiters to provide a culturally appropriate diverse mix of candidates. This is often a challenge for them as we still don’t encourage enough diversity of candidates into the industry – something that we need to address.

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with increases in remote and hybrid working patterns?

Tim> Culture is absolutely fundamental to Kitchen and has been what has kept us successfully in business for 20 years. Not only in ourselves (our people, culture, personality as a business…) but also in how we work with our clients by understanding their culture as a brand and business. We have regular cultural workshops within the agency to better understand how we work together and how to improve it, we have regular cultural surveys around the team collecting feelings from every member of the team.

When we first came out of lockdown, we were hugely sensitive to how people felt about the balance between office and remote working. We wanted to keep the team as motivated as possible as they progressed from remote back to a collective working (I still even struggle myself to say the word office), so we began by meeting around London in different hot desking shared facilities to make it as varied and interesting as possible when we met up. Now, we are creating a coffee shop for our office moving forwards to maximise the cultural positivity our team will feel about being together in an ‘office’ (which we will be proud to say is actually a coffee shop).

Long gone are the days of relying on the good old ‘annual appraisal’ – keeping people happy and engaged together now requires ongoing support, training and cultural assessment and we are dedicated to it. Our people remain our most important asset as an agency and we never forget it.

LBB> What are the most useful and inspiring resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Tim> I find myself reading business and management books now and then (like 30 Day MBA by Colin Barrow) and these are useful to take a different perspective. I am also very lucky to have an amazing business partner in Ed – over the last 20 years we have genuinely supported each other through the good and bad times and helped each other make the difficult decisions together.

About Tim:

After drumming in various bands, Tim gave up the drumming dream and began his proper career at M&C Saatchi where he spent eight years creating and leading campaigns across a wide range of brands. He then became managing director of youth marketing agency Magic Hat where he met Ed Chilcott. Driven by the want to be their own bosses and with the aim of making strategy, creation and execution of advertising more cost effective and efficient for clients without compromising on creativity, Ed and Tim set up Kitchen which led to 20 years of creating great work for lots of lovely brands.

Tim is a member of the IPA Council and Membership Committee. He also drums in his cover bands – Jam Sandwich and Booze Brothers – you can hire them for weddings, birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs.