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Bossing It: Lessons in Leadership, What You Can Learn from “Anti-mentors” with Kim Le Gras


Kim Le Gras, managing partner at AnalogFolk Australia spoke to LBB about all things creative leadership

Bossing It: Lessons in Leadership, What You Can Learn from “Anti-mentors” with Kim Le Gras

Kim Le Gras is a seasoned advertising professional with extensive experience working with leading agencies. Starting her career as Project / Account Coordinator at Kastner & Partners and then moving to London to join a small brand and marketing agency where she quickly demonstrated her exceptional work ethic in developing innovative solutions to complex business challenges. earning a promotion to Account Manager and becoming 2iC to the founder and CEO.

As a Global Account Director at Grey London, Kim's leadership and strategic thinking helped increase market share and achieve record sales figures for GSK. She also played a significant role in crafting the comprehensive vision for the future alongside the Senior VP of Grey, the Strategic Global Planner, and Global Brand Director of GSK.

In her most recent role as Client Director at Hogarth, Kim provided strategic marketing advice and support to high-profile clients. She led her team to successfully onboard Suncorp's 7 brand transition into Hogarth within three months, streamlined Vodafone's marketing for efficiencies and effectiveness and helped her clients develop and execute successful campaigns to achieve their business objectives.

Kim is known for her strategic thinking, creative approach, and ability to build strong relationships with colleagues and clients. She is a highly skilled advertising and communications professional who is always seeking new challenges and opportunities to grow and learn.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Kim> My family life growing up was a bit messy! My first experience of leadership was when my grandad fell ill and realising that my older sister was estranged from the family for many years, my mum and uncle both suffered from mental illness and my dad (who had been divorced from my mum for years) was reluctant to take things on. There was really no decision to be made, I just stepped in because it was the right thing to do. 

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?

Kim> I have had some interesting mentors during my time, some good and some “anti-mentors”. They are both as important as each other, as watching what they do helps shape what you would and wouldn’t do in the same situation. I’m far from being perfect, but I have a more definite understanding of the types of behaviours that lead to “anti-mentors” and avoiding them at all costs. 

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

Kim> Watching my husband learn his footing as a new dad. It’s so easy to just want to take over and do things your way, but their journey and learning is just as much part of the process as yours. The moment that really hit home was about 2 weeks after getting home from the hospital and he was trying to get our son to sleep at 11 pm. “His way” wasn’t working so I came in to “advise” him on how to do it another way. It was during a slightly heated exchange at the top of our hushed voices that he exclaimed “I am not going to stand here and have you whisper shout at me all night!”. We looked at each other and fell about laughing. From that moment on, if he couldn’t get our son to sleep, we exchanged some thoughts and ideas and then I let him work it out. 

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?

Kim> Yes! At first, I listened to a bunch of people and read a lot of books that talked about “crystallising your vision” and “seeing the moment of success in your mind”. I found that after a while, I was getting frustrated because sometimes I didn’t see change fast enough, or I saw a misstep rather than a learning opportunity. I needed to work on what I wanted to achieve as a leader and not necessarily focus on the actual final destination. 
It also meant that I could have overlooked some wonderful opportunities in my quest for a specific role or position. 

Now, I realise that it really comes down to the right context for you to shine your very best as a leader. That could be in a place of 300 people or just 3. 

When people turn to you constantly as the voice of reason or the decision maker, that’s when it kinda dawns – oh right, that’s me they are looking to. 

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

Kim> Well, given I’m adopted, I’m probably the best case study of the nature vs. nurture debate! 

Do I think there is a blueprint of someone’s traits and innate behaviours at birth? Absolutely. 

Do I think that different environments shape and bend which of those traits come to the fore? Absolutely. 

It can’t be one or the other. No one is born a leader but equally, it isn’t just something you can pick up. You need the traits that define a good leader, and then you need those traits to be seen and allowed to grow in the right environment. 

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

Kim> When your leaders are challenging to work with, that can be draining. It’s all very well to dance when the client asks and be there for your team, but when the people above you act in ways that are hard to understand, that can be hard to deal with. 
I found that honesty is the best policy. Oftentimes, people are too afraid to give feedback to their leaders so they just don’t know the extent of their actions. Tell them in the right way and they may be grateful to you for being the first to speak up.  

Oh and put things in writing! 

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?

Kim>  All the time! When a client is unhappy (deeply unhappy not just because we weren’t happy with the colour of that image!) or there is some kind of unhappiness in the agency or team, I want to try and get to the heart of how to fix it. With a double degree and majors in Psychology and Philosophy, I am probably more navel-gazing than some people take me for. I tend to look at the psychology of people and try and work what other context is at play and then find the best solution.  

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?

The right information to the right people is probably my approach. I like to be open and transparent but there is no doubt there are some things that are better to keep under wraps for the sake of team morale or to avoid unnecessary conflict. Authenticity comes from being consistent with your approach and not just based on the level of transparency. 

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?

Kim>  Yes – I have been really lucky to have several amazing mentors during my time and I continue to look for mentors at different levels and points in my career. I have also talked about anti-mentors; they have helped forge an idea of what I don’t want to be and that is just as important. I tend to find a mix of people – some who think differently from me and show me another viewpoint that I might not otherwise be able to see. Other mentors are there to riff off, to share similar insights and inspire me. Some aren’t in the industry at all and at times they’re the best because they aren’t worn down by cynicism or knowing who I am talking about or other agendas. 

A few years back, I used to mentor a lot more both in the workplace and outside it. I haven’t had the chance to pick it up – would love the opportunity to get back into it! I love chatting with aspiring leaders and watching them grow, helping them find themselves in their way. 
LBB> It's been a challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Kim> For my team, it was about knowing what they wanted collectively and individually. It’s all very well to do online trivia games and singalongs and funny music videos but caring for the individual is just as important as the group. 

For me, it was about setting some boundaries for my own emotional and mental care. Being “on” all the time was draining and having to deal with a lot of different challenges (who knew internet speeds were going to become such a focus and topic of weekly LT conversations!?) and I made sure I carved out time for me so that I could face each challenge at my best. 

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?

Kim> LOL. As a female leader who is also a parent and born outside of Western society, I tick a few of the “traditional” diversity boxes right there!

There is no doubt there are still a lot of shadows from past eras that we can’t seem to shake. Old boys club is one. Lack of identity diversity is another. Low representation of Indigenous people. Inequality for working parents. But as an industry, we are trying. We really are and we need to continue the conversation every single day. 

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

Kim> There’s no silver bullet. Talk to people. Learn. Listen to advice. Ask questions. Attend courses - Adschool, leadership courses. Be a sponge. Be humble. Accept all the feedback, all the learnings, the lows and the highs equally. 

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AnalogFolk Australia, Mon, 17 Apr 2023 03:44:41 GMT