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Bossing It: Jason Davey on Learning From Good Role Models


The chief experience officer for Ogilvy ANZ shares why the best leaders are transparent and share information, whether it’s good or bad

Bossing It: Jason Davey on Learning From Good Role Models

Jason Davey’s career spans more than 25 years in the digital industry. He co-founded digital agency Bullseye in 2000, which was later acquired by Ogilvy in 2014 where he is now a member of the leadership team in Australia & New Zealand, serving as chief experience officer.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Jason> I was school captain and sports captain in Year 6 at age 12. I didn’t really know what leadership was but figured out pretty quickly that I was representing my cohort and needed to set a good example. Plus, I got to wear a badge! (I still have it somewhere).

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Jason> When I was 15, I worked part-time at the local supermarket chain packing shelves after school. I had two bosses who covered different shifts. Both were women doing the exact same job leading the same teams, on different days – with very different styles of leadership. I saw how hard we all worked for the ‘good boss’ and how miserable we all were around the ‘bad boss’. The ‘good boss’ treated everyone fairly, had empathy and humour, was clear in her instructions and expectations, was customer-focused, and ALWAYS thanked and recognised people for doing a good job. The ’bad boss’ did none of those things. Great lessons for my future self – I saw that good leaders get the most out of people by creating a fun environment where everyone thrives, including the bottom line.

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Jason> Starting my own agency with a couple of partners where we had to create a culture from scratch. Seeing the impact of our decisions - how they can influence the soft and hard measures of business success – was a great lesson in leadership.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so, how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Jason> I’ve never aspired to be a leader, it’s just something that has happened naturally. When I was a young designer, I also figured out I was more naturally talented at leading a team than doing design, so I felt more useful harnessing and developing the talent in others.

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Jason> Most aspects of leadership can be taught and learnt (especially through observing a good leader in action); however, I believe authenticity is a critical aspect of leadership and that’s something that comes naturally to some more than others. 

Good leaders are always learning, so being open to self-reflection and continuous improvement comes naturally to good leaders.

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Jason> Like a lot of leaders, sometimes self-doubt can creep into your mindset and imposter syndrome kicks-in. I tackle this by consciously reminding myself what I have achieved from humble beginnings and that I’m at this point for a reason; that other people believe in me and so I should believe in myself. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ has been a motto of mine throughout life.

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Jason> All the time! I have extremely high expectations of myself so this feeling is common. However, failure should always be framed as a step in the process of continuous improvement, reflecting on how things could be done better, and it’s also important to be kind to yourself. Recognise that taking action, or being decisive, even at the risk of failure often delivers greater velocity of progress than being paralysed by fear.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Jason> I firmly believe in authenticity and openness, because people rally around a cause when they understand it, and its implications for themselves and others. However, information can also be a burden, so it’s important that leaders share information at the right time and not burden others with problems that they can’t do anything with – that’s just offloading. The best leaders share information (good or bad) with a point of view and a plan of action, so everyone is clear. When you need to share a problem and seek advice, that’s best done with your leadership team so you can get a cross-section of viewpoints on it.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Jason> I’ve never had a formal mentor but have definitely learnt leadership through observation of others. When I started an agency, our founding investor became the chairman of the business and I learnt a lot from him over the 10+ years we worked together. I learnt that leadership styles evolve, and it’s important to stay in-step with the leadership style needed at the time by the culture you are leading (or creating). When I joined Ogilvy eight years ago, David Fox (Foxy) was a great mentor on the importance of culture and setting a collective ambition.

I’d like to think I mentor my team leaders every day, despite not having a formal mentor programme in place, but in reality I learn as much from them as (I hope) they do from me!

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Jason> Keep it real, have a laugh, and remember which industry we’re in. I’m glad I’m not leading a hospital or health department!

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Jason> I’m lucky enough to work for an agency that is a leader in DE&I, however there is always more we can do. We’ve rolled out unconscious bias training across our national leadership team to ensure everyone understands themselves well and have actively recruited for diversity - hiring people from different industries, cultures and backgrounds. We pivoted our ‘changing the face’ industry initiative internally to make sure we are changing the face of our business to reflect the diversity of the world around us.

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Jason> Culture is critical. It’s everything. We’ve evolved much of our business rhythms to cater for the ‘new normal’ but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that comes with certain challenges for culture. For young people starting out in the industry, so much of what they learn is observed when working with others who have more experience. So we now offer more internal training, share more case studies and create occasions on which to connect, regularly. Given we won 'Employer of Choice' by the Australian Business Awards for the fifth year in a row, I think we’re doing OK! 

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Jason> If you haven’t seen it, the ‘Call to Courage’ Netflix special from Brené Brown is highly recommended. Other inspirational authors/speakers on leadership are Adam Grant, Simon Sinek, Frances Frei and Amy Edmonson. Look them up, you won’t be disappointed!

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Ogilvy Australia, Mon, 13 Feb 2023 23:20:28 GMT