Chris Hirst is global CEO of Havas Creative, so he’s got a thing or two to say about leadership. His preference is for the “No Bullsh*t” kind, which provides the title for his new book.
The launch party at Havas’ Kings Cross office was packed with acolytes, keen to find out the secret of Hirst’s success. He argues that leadership is difficult but it isn’t as complicated as the business gurus would have us believe — it’s something we can all do, if we buy the book and follow his advice on how to get there.
Plenty of buzzwords were thrown around, with “nimble” and “agile” high up the list. In Hirst’s view, the only way to be agile is to decentralise decision-making. He was recently surprised by a decision taken close to home: he returned to the London office after a trip to New York, only to find that: “Where the café was there’s a f***ing gym. People were benching. Great. Crack On.”
Culture is another piece of the leadership jigsaw that Hirst unpicked. He talked about being promoted to CEO of Grey when it was “a shitty business” and acknowledged: “I’d actually worked at that shitty business in a leadership position for about eight years, so I was well and truly part of the problem.”
His solution was to change the culture which, he said: “Isn’t about matcha tea and pilates at lunchtime – although we do have that here.” Culture is defined by the behaviour of the management, and in the size of the gap between what you do and what you say.
Hirst’s other lesson for leadership was that it’s all about action. Quoting former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, he said leaders have to learn to live with uncertainty. You can’t wait for a magic bullet, you have to make a choice and get on with it, because it’s more damaging to take no decisions than to get the odd decision wrong.
So there you have it. A potted version of Hirst’s “No Bullsh*t Leadership,” from someone who hasn’t read the book.