Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out



How to turn a fixed ‘stuck in the day to day’ mindset into the growth mindset of a senior leader

Phil Burgess, Chief People and Operations Officer at C Space, talks to Sally Henderson, Executive Change Mentor, for The Leadership Series Podcast on his experience of growing his leadership within a dynamic ambitious company. What has this taught him about the difference between the mindset of doing and cultivating, to becoming comfortable with the mindset of leading?

Having recently relocated to Boston from running the London office as joint MD EMEA, Phil looks after the culture, people and operations of the American offices across Boston, New York and San Francisco. Having started his career in a more unusual fashion by selling encyclopaedias door to door in America, Phil developed his career in the agency world, starting at FreshMinds, followed by Promise, which was acquired by Omnicom, merged with Communispace and later evolved into C Space.

What would you say has aided your personal drive behind your motivation as a leader?

Phil attributes much of his leadership style to the experiences he had whilst selling encyclopaedias in his early career; ‘I was knocking on doors for 13 hours a day, being rejected by people who didn’t really want to talk or buy anything from me. It’s where I learnt about the principle of self-talk’. Struggling through each summer, he started to recruit and train others into the role, giving him a taste of what is was like to build teams and support through adversity.

Becoming a joint MD helped to further Phil’s leadership development. Phil had a three-week-old son and three-year-old daughter when he was appointed as C Space’s joint MD EMEA with Felix Koch. Drawing up a list of principles they would try to lead by helped both Phil and Felix to navigate the role successfully.

‘We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we threw ourselves into it and learnt a whole lot of stuff in the process. That was a principle that we decided to live by and certainly in the early days, we were diligent about meeting at least once a week to sit down and provide a safe space for each other to vent about what was on our minds’.

This gave Phil the confidence to go out into business and be vulnerable, sticking by his strong beliefs of what the business stood for. 

What tips would you give to coach yourself to keep your leadership mindset positive?

1.       Being a leader can be lonely and exposing. When you’ve given someone some tough feedback, or when you’ve had a good day at work, keep reminding yourself that you’re doing a good job. There’s a reason you’ve been put in this position.

2.       In day-to-day business, whilst racing from task-to-task, celebrating achievements is often neglected. Spend time each year rewriting your CV. This helps to reflect on what you’ve achieved and what has been moved forward.

3.       Keep a folder in your inbox whereby you file positive feedback. On a bad day you’ll then have reminders to help control your own attitude.

4.       Stop investing your time and energy in situations you can’t control. Focus on the work that you can change. This can help avoid becoming stuck into a rut and feeling like nothing substantial is being achieved.

5.       Recognise when your perspective has been knocked. On the days where you find yourself spiralling downwards, think, Okay, this doesn’t help. ‘When I was selling books door to door, if my head was in a negative space, my sales would go down, and if I was in a positive mindset, my sales would go up. Your attitude is contagious and when you’re in a leadership position if you’re in a bad place, your people will be in a bad place, and if you’re in a good place you can lift them up’.

How would you change a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

Encourage a culture where it’s safe to fail, where people innovate, where people find it okay to get outside their lane’. C Space ran a day last summer whereby the whole team met and spent the day evaluating growth mindsets.

As leaders, we don’t always model the growth mindset, because there’s this idea that you need to know all the answers. ‘When I think of leaders who I really value, I respect them more for saying they don’t know’.

You can’t look like you’re struggling, but by asking for help and showing a little vulnerability, your team will work with you on a solution rather than expecting you to just give the answer. 

What would be your key tips to other senior leaders to help them inspire their teams and themselves?

1.       Spend time getting to know your team. Show you care and take them aside to get to know their motivations. This helps to build trust and enjoyment in the role, encouraging members to do more without you asking.

2.       ‘I find our mission as a company, is to make business more human for our clients and help the team understand how human and messy the lives of their customers are. Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about we embrace the idea of the messiness of being human within our business, and as leaders. We should be more vulnerable, we should embrace the messiness, we should embrace the ambiguity, we should let people bring themselves to work’.

3.       Have a ‘go to’ method of relaxing.  Phil committed to reading 50 books last year, swapping his daily habit of reading his emails on his commute to reading a fictional book, psychology books or an HBR article.

You can find the full recording with Phil on iTunes and acast by searching for ‘The Leadership Series Podcast’ from the 27th 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.

Are you or do you have a talented leader who is stuck in the mindset of doing rather than leading? Drop me a line to see how I can help.

Do you know a high-performer that strives to grow their leadership & make a difference? Forward them this blog post by copying this link.



sally henderson