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Leave your ego at the door: Lessons in dual leadership


It’s been two years since we took the helm at Wavemaker UK, and it’s been quite the ride.

When people meet us, they always ask the same questions around how long we’ve known each other, how our partnership came to be, and most often, if we had a sense that it would be the single biggest factor in accelerating Wavemaker UK both commercially and culturally. And the truth is, we first met when one of us (Kelly) interviewed the other (Katie), so essentially, we were forced together, and honestly, we had absolutely no idea what would come from it.

At that time, we weren’t just getting to grips with our roles, but also this new agency life that had changed irrevocably. Legacy organisational structures and leadership models were no longer working for the current or future needs of talent or clients, and what was abundantly clear to us, was that hierarchical command and control of one single person at the top could not be the future of agency leadership. It’s simply not how people want to be led, and it’s certainly not our natural style either.

So, we actively chose to lean in and adopt a dual leadership approach, but not in the somewhat traditional way of joint-CEO or similar matching titles, because we knew success would be about dual leadership, not joint responsibility. There simply needs to be someone with the final say and with whom the buck stops. Otherwise, you could easily find yourselves in the thick of decision paralysis, and we don’t have time for that.

Of all the things we’ve learnt in the last two years, making dual leadership work has been fundamental.

Find your working cadence

Understanding how you both work doesn’t automatically happen when you sign on the dotted line. It certainly wasn’t immediate for us. But quarterly coaching has helped us get there and it’s been quite the revelation in all honesty – the time spent profiling and learning how we both react to different situations has ensured that we’re empathetic to one another’s approaches.

In fact, understanding our foibles has been vital in building such a strong bond. It’s also helped the agency to understand how best to work with us. One of us is an extroverted thinker who likes to talk everything through and needs a Coke Zero to function. The other is an introverted thinker who thrives (seriously) off pre-reads and does their best work with a fruit tea in hand. One of us nods when receiving information despite not necessarily agreeing with what’s being said, before going away to mull it over, and the other will verbally say what they’re thinking when they’re thinking it. Anyone who knows us will know exactly who’s who! 

Draw on your differences 

On paper, we’re quite different people. We have different skill sets, different backgrounds, and different experiences.

Individually, we have different leadership styles too. But that’s why it works. And actually, that’s probably how we’ve been able to positively provoke growth for the agency.

Because of this, we’re able to play to our strengths while unearthing the hidden talents of the other – unlocking both creative prowess and operational brilliance under one K2-branded umbrella.

This extends to our emotions too. One of the most joyful things about leading together is working as one energy source. We know one another well enough to instantly recognise who’s the drain and who’s the radiator each day, and we can use that to our advantage.

Drawing on our differences both professionally and emotionally means that between us we’re always able to show up and support no matter the situation. A yin and yang duo if you will, we feel lucky that our differences genuinely compliment one another’s.

Embrace boundaries

As with everything, there has to be an element of balance.

Our biggest success (and probably downfall) is that we are both incredibly hard working. Sometimes that means we unintentionally egg each other on to work beyond what’s healthy. But, to address this, we’ve put some simple boundaries in place.

For instance, we both get the train from Waterloo, so we walk in and out together to brief and debrief the day, which allows us a clear start and stop. And because we speak to each other more than our husbands during the week, we try not to talk at weekends, even about the fun stuff.

We’re genuinely good friends, so sometimes we’re bursting at the seams on a Monday morning to have a gossip about everything we’ve missed over the weekend and what’s been whirling around in our heads, but it’s this space that enables us to keep the momentum going.

Leave your ego at the door

Egoless leadership is hard.

However much anyone talks about being egoless in their approach to leadership, it’s nigh on impossible all the time. You don’t get to a senior position without having some ego (in the true sense of the term).

It’s about being honest when you’re feeling a bit bruised. Sometimes one of us gets invited to judge or to go to an event and the other doesn’t. And while we’ll always celebrate each other’s achievements, that can, in all honesty, feel worse than missing out on an award.

With dual leadership, you have to have trust, respect, and shared values. There will no doubt be days when tolerance is low and you might bicker like an old married couple. But that’s fine – at least it’s about driving the business forward and not taking the bins out. What matters is having each other’s backs.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride

Joint leadership, quite honestly, has made our working relationship easier and the job that bit more enjoyable.

We show up to work every day not just for the agency and our clients, but for each other.

We’re beyond proud of what we’ve achieved in the last two years. We’ve worked our socks off, we’ve celebrated the highs and navigated the lows, but we’ve had an absolute ball along the way. We cannot wait to see what we do together next.

There are lots of different types of leadership out there, but there’s magic and a fearlessness as a duo. Like any relationship, it needs to be nurtured to be effective. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s worth it!

Article published in The Media Leader.

Kelly Parker
Katie Lee

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