Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out




Jonny Tooze, Founder & CEO at digital agency Lab, on Channelling Ambition

Jonny Tooze, Founder & CEO at Lab talks to Sally Henderson, Executive Change Mentor, for The Leadership Series Podcast on having ambition from a young age and how he’s channelled that ambition into running a successful agency.

What led to the start-up of Lab?

Hungry to stand on his own two feet, Jonny was ambitious from a young age with his entrepreneurial spirit made obvious before he was old enough to write. Starting his first business aged just 17, which ended pretty brutally after his business partner was shot, Jonny then began working for an internet café during the dotcom bubble and immersed himself in the world of programming. Inspired, Jonny moved to an agency and had a stint at Panasonic, before setting up his highly successful digital agency Lab.

How do you define your leadership style?

There are leaders that use their power to control instances, to assert their authority, and then there are leaders that are more progressive and visionary, leading by succeeding through others and having the ability to support from underneath rather than just on top.

The insight here is the difference between those two; the almost villainous ruler, that steals from the future to be able to get all they want done now, in comparison to the more authentic leaders that are investing in the future. Jonny learnt that he was a visionary leader, but was flipping between this and being a ruler when things were going down the wrong path, leading to confusion for his team. How did he reboot his leadership style? Jonny found that it’s great to be a visionary leader and come up with great ideas, but to do this fully it’s vital to properly brief the team around you with your vision, including a clear roadmap to achieve this.  

Finally, you’ve got to have a growth mindset inside you. ‘If you don’t have that growth mindset, you will be archived off in to the old school leader of whatever corporation. There will always be a need for leadership, because as human beings, we are organic creatures, so whilst the world of work will change, and while technology changes, at a rapid pace, fundamentally, our biology is not evolving at the same pace!’

What has been the key initiative you’ve implemented to help channel the ambitions of your team and keep motivation levels high?

The four-day week. The four-day week has affected ambition. It has affected the things that the team are working on outside the day job.

Jonny has heard of his team using their day off to propose, to work with charities and to help with road safety outside schools, to name a few. It’s just been absolutely incredible what people have actually done with their free time and I understand why other businesses are quickly following suit.

Although it hasn’t all been plain sailing, the agency is getting better as a result of making the change. In some ways it’s reduced stress, because that three days off creates an amazing amount of time to be able to forget work, and relax, and have that long weekend feeling every single weekend.

‘The key mantra is that people come in to the agency, ding ding the bus stops, someone gets on, and it might be a year, two years, five years, whatever it might be, but ding ding they get off…are they a better person than when they got on? For us that’s our measure of success in terms of our people stuff…how we’re treating people, how much they grow as a person and have we actually helped them to realise those ambitions? That’s how we judge ourselves, really.’

Key pieces of advice in how you meet your own needs and ambitions as well as the needs and ambitions of your team?

1.       Ambition can be supportive, but also oppressive. Learn how to keep your ambition under control, too much and you can make crazy decisions, too little and nothing is achieved. How to stop ambition becoming an untameable beast? Get rid of the cortisol in your body. Make sure you’re well rested. Sleep is key.

2.       Give yourself feedback. If you find your ambition is getting too much and your leadership style is challenged by a change in emotion, ask yourself ‘why did I do that?’

3.       Surround yourself by mentors that can give you good feedback to broaden your perspectives and sense check your ambitions.

4.       The only way to truly succeed as a team and to be an authentic leader is to understand what people’s ambitions are, where burning desires lie and what journey they’re on. Take the time to get to know each member of your team. At Lab, this is being reinforced with a quarterly reviews process whereby we can check in with each team member to ensure objectives are aligned and we’re making sure this process is disciplined. It’s great if your teams’ entire ambitions are a hundred percent aligned with what you want to do as a business, but understanding how you can help people in other ways is really key.

5.       Helping your employees grow in terms of their self-awareness and understanding is fundamentally important. Knowing who they are as a person, what triggers them, what doesn’t trigger them and how they respond to certain things. Understanding this is really important to support fulfilling ambitions.

6.       With the modern way of working, objectives can easily drift in different directions away from each other, so having a regular touch point is critical to make sure goals remain aligned. At Lab, the leadership team meets once a week and this is very rarely missed.

 You can find the full recording with Jonny on iTunes and Acast by searching for ‘The Leadership Series Podcast’ from the 20th February 2019

The Leadership Series Podcast is a weekly podcast, based around inspiring, honest conversations with interesting people in senior leadership roles, to help fellow leaders join in making the modern world of work, work.  Find out more here.

Do you have a talented leader who is creating heat rather than light? Or maybe you are one yourself? The ambition, the skill-set and the results are there, but it’s not adding up and it’s causing problems with the rest of the leadership team? Drop me a line to see how I can help.

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