Sally Henderson
Powerful change from the inside out



Phil Bartlett, Managing Director of CDM London, on his honest approach to developing himself and his team, to become tomorrow’s leaders

Phil, a proud father of two boys, has worked in healthcare advertising for nearly twenty years. With previous experience at McCann and Saatchi, Phil now runs CDM London, the advertising agency with a healthcare focus, part of Omnicom.

With a personal definition of success built on being content and comfortable in his own skin, both in his professional and personal life, Phil is a ‘learning magpie’. A big thinker constantly striving to learn and improve though picking up on whatever learning and development, philosophy, alternative book and so on that catches his eye.

If you could time travel back, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself at the start of your career?

1.       Be genuine. Don’t play games. Be authentic, be real and be true to yourself.

2.       It’s going to be lonely sometimes. Embrace it. Don’t fight it, don’t run from it. Once you get to being ok with it, you’ll find it’s a source of strength.

3.       You don’t have to be everyone’s best mate.

4.       If people know that you’re trying, and trying to learn, trying to be a bit better tomorrow, than you were today, then they forgive you. They’ll forgive you your failings. We’ve all got them.

 What piece of advice would you share, to help people become more confident with their place in the future as a senior leader?

Modern leadership is about sharing leadership out. It’s no longer a pyramid structure with one person at the top. We all have a responsibility to people within our organisation and work has become more of a community that supports each other.

The best person to tell you whether something is working or not is the employees actually doing it, not the leader. Engage as many people as you can to help run the business, help build the business and help to make them feel part of the business itself. This feeling of involvement can lead to your team doing their best work.

What’s your approach, as a leader, to developing yourself, and your people?

1.       Assess how to make training and development specifically relevant to the leader in question. Investment in leadership can start early. You can get people at any level that show leadership potential – such as those that question to challenge the status quo.

2.       Ensure your team know their value. I’ve got some brilliant people that work for me, really brilliant, in very different ways, and I think that sometimes all of us in senior positions forget to remind the other senior leaders in our team of how well they’re doing.

3.       Act with humility. It’s okay to say ‘I’m not great at that, but I’ve got someone within my group who I can turn to who is really good at that’. This authenticity allows you to let go of the things that aren’t in your skillset and focus on the things that are.

4.       Make investment in leaders. For the last two years, I’ve attended a week-long leadership programme run by Harvard Professors just outside of Boston. It’s about leadership and philosophy and, despite being a huge investment, I have no doubt that it has made me a better leader and therefore benefited the whole agency.

5.       Allow yourself to be vulnerable. When I first joined CDM I tried to do the same things I had done in previous positions and realised quite early that it wasn’t working. My boss at the time (who is now a good friend) introduced me to the idea of vulnerability. Rather than trying to be the boss, the one in control that knows everything, have the self-confidence to say ‘Okay, I don’t know what I’m doing, could you help me with that?’

6.       Learn how to manage stress. Stress can come off as being snappy, dismissive or angry. In my experience it’s best to share your true emotions to avoid misunderstanding amongst your team, being honest when you’re feeling anxious or nervous and learning to take a step back. You can’t succeed if your resources are spread too thinly. You don’t need to be on every committee, every panel and in every meeting. Taking a step back and not overloading ourselves can lead to us becoming better connected as humans which helps with productivity!

Finally, where do you source your inspiration to embrace and enjoy challenges, rather than becoming overwhelmed by them?

I read an amazing book, called ‘Why Buddhism is True’, written by a guy from a psychology and psychiatry background. The book is based on how ancient Buddhist theory is now better aligned to what we now know about neuroscience than anything else. We’re strategically shaved monkeys (some of us better shaved than others!).

It’s being comfortable with impermanence. The incredible city we’re sat in could all turn to dust one day. It’s learning that we must be comfortable with the fact that we shouldn’t get too high with the highs, not get too low with the lows, but be content and comfortable with where we are and where we are going.

You can handle it!

You can listen to the full recording with Phil by going to iTunes, acast and Spotify and searching for ‘The Leadership Series’:

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 at

Are you a senior leader feeling like you’re stuck in the day to day doing but lack the resources or mindset you need to start leading?  Drop Sally a line to see how she can help.

sally henderson