Amelia Torode on creating a business that not only works for her but answers a growing need to do things differently, as well as overcoming isolation within a company formed of independent workers
Amelia, founder of The Fawnbrake Collective, shares her thoughts on isolation within a company formed of a collective of independent workers, whether isolation differs between businesses and how companies can work together to overcome this hindering emotion.
Amelia founded The Fawnbrake Collective after experiencing the struggles of larger firms adapting to changing organisational structures, and more significantly, after spending time with her terminally ill mother, realising that she needed to think very clearly about how she wanted to live and what she needed to do to achieve her own personal success.
Believing that brands weren’t going to get what they needed from larger agencies, due to the layered teams and rigid structures making client work time inefficient and costly, it struck Amelia that clients wanted to work in different, more agile ways to achieve their objectives. Amelia wanted to form a company that provided this agility to clients whilst allowing the talent to work independently in a way that suits them, and allows clients to get straight to the kind of strategic advice they require.
Now, just over a year old and with a collective of over 200 people, Amelia is well placed to talk about her experiences of senior leadership both in traditional companies and within a rapidly growing business.
What are the biggest learnings you’ve taken from your career so far?
1. The fear of doing something is much harder than actually doing it. A past boss of mine, the athlete Seb Coe, used to talk about fear at the beginning of his races, and how he used it to run faster. It’s not a sign of failure to be scared, but it is a failure not to use the energy it creates.
2. The day-to-day of business operations – for example, tax! Whilst I love the solving of client’s problems, I didn’t have experience in the operations side, so I very quickly brought on a co-founder, a previous CEO who had much more of a business skillset.
3. People aren’t neat and tidy. Being a people business, it’s not always easy managing people’s different needs and emotions.
4. You have to work out what you really enjoy doing. What you want to focus on rather than getting carried away with what you think people expect of you.
5. People are kind. Most people aren’t dicks!
6. A professional coach is a huge benefit.
7. Having a trusted group of 3-5 people, whose opinions you value, to act as your soundboard, can be crucial.
8. Ensure you’re always learning. No one will spoon feed you the knowledge about new technologies or new trends. Make sure you’re always educating yourself as to how things work in order to remain ahead.
Have you ever experienced isolation during your career? Do you think people see your seniority first and then Amelia?
I think isolation in any senior role is applicable to any industry. There’s the worry of who you can trust, who you can confide in and how to lead authentically, without showing your vulnerabilities and appearing weak. Leadership is not an Excel spreadsheet, where things either add up or they don’t. I once worked with a CEO who was fantastically tough and adopted the wings of steel approach to leadership, which, as a result, the senior team fell like skittles.
What advice would you give to yourself, earlier in your career, or to fellow leaders, in coping with isolation and helping to feel more connected?
1. You need to listen to your gut feel. Trust yourself to identify when something is wrong and have the confidence to work out what this is.
2. I used to think that when I thought a senior peer wasn’t very good at their job, or I didn’t like them, I still needed to respect and trust them. Now I know that unless your peers tick all three boxes of likeability, trustworthiness and respect, you either need to move or resolve the situation.
3. Someone said to me, three years ago, ‘no one cares as much about your career as you do’. Whilst this sounds negative, it helped me realise that you’ve got to work out what you want your career to bring.
Isolation can be a real killjoy. What do you think isolation and loneliness is like in the independent market and whether this has a negative impact on business?
We try to think about the structure of Fawnbrake and ensure that, as a collection of independent freelancers, isolation doesn’t creep in. We have a term called ‘professional pacers’, it’s not about role models, because you can be paced by someone much younger than you who helps you improve, it’s about the sense that when it all works together, you become better at your job. We want to make the best of being in a crew without the usual office politics, so we set out to find horizontal social capital.
Within our virtual community, held together by Slack but punctuated by real world events, we do three things.
1. Strat Hacks. These are night time strategy hackathons for charities. Following these sessions, charities get their brief cracked, with a group of people they’d never usually have worked with or afforded to bring together due to the sheer number of people in the room.
2. Socials. Events which we run at Brunswick House, this beautiful, crumbling old mansion I love.
3. Field trips. Including attending lectures, trips to theatres and visiting galleries.
We want to encompass all the best bits about being part of a collective, a crew, because it can be lonely. It can also be hard to keep ‘match fit’ and know who you’re pacing yourself against so regular socials are important.
Do you think isolation is a growing problem within the workplace, in today’s modern world of work, or have you come across situations whereby you think it’s working and not a growing concern?
Answering your question in a more tangential way, I read a book called ‘A Year of Living Danishly’, in which a British woman deconstructed what it was about Danish culture that grants them the label of being the happiest nation in the world. One of the many things she identified was the involvement of people with clubs, societies and groups. It’s abnormal if you’re not in a choir, coaching a football team or in a fishing club! From a psychological perspective, those passions you may have bring you connections.
Therefore, it’s important to find a balance between work and life, whereby you have time to do your hobbies, join teams and form connections, to avoid life becoming purely your work and not knowing who you are outside of your professional life.
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 on the website and listen to the full interview here.
Are you, or your senior team, dealing with feelings of isolation and/or loneliness and you’re unsure of how to channel these into successfully owning and loving your senior role? Drop Sally a line to see how she can help!