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Bossing It: Taking the Frank, Fair & Fun Approach with Joanna Trippett


DEPT® managing director on playing team sports, adapting to new environments and podcasts

Bossing It: Taking the Frank, Fair & Fun Approach with Joanna Trippett

Joanna Trippett is managing director of marketing/technology agency DEPT® and was recently named as one of Management Today’s ‘35 under 35’. Joanna’s clients include businesses such as eBay, Just Eat Takeaway, Twitch, ASOS, and Amazon Prime. 

As managing director of DEPT® in the UK, Joanna works closely with the wider management team to design and implement the business strategy that enables the 500-strong team to deliver pioneering work across the four core disciplines; Creative, Engineering, Experience, and Growth. 

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Joanna> I joined a company called Byte that was five people - and over a period of six years, it grew to 150 people. As we grew, my career grew in line with the business. 

That meant that I would be consistently leading groups of people that got larger each time - sometimes through things I had never done before, and often through things that had never been done before.

I think the best thing you can do as a leader is lean-in into people’s strengths and design teams that work well together, call out behaviour that’s not conducive to productivity, and show humility. 

No person knows everything, but everybody can listen and learn from each other - and work together to achieve a common goal. 

Before my working career, I attribute a lot of my leadership skills and the ability to navigate a team through good and bad to playing team sports at a young age - that’s why I believe it’s critical to encourage young people, particularly young girls into sport. 

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?

Joanna> We all know that businesses perform better with diverse backgrounds and points of view. 

To do that, we need people to show up as their authentic selves, and feel comfortable in sharing their opinions and ideas but to also act a bit goofy every now and again if it shakes the good ideas out - that applies to me too. 

My three principles of leadership are to be frank, fair & fun - I want people to know where they stand, to feel like their efforts are valued, and to have a nice time while they’re at it. 

At the end of the day, we’re all human. 

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

Joanna> It has to be covid. 

As an agency, our revenue is hugely reactive to the businesses that we serve - and of course, no business was immune to this crisis. That meant we had to totally re-evaluate our business from the ground up; what work we had, and what people we needed - trying to be as open and transparent with our team while simultaneously lacking the firm information to know the right decisions. 

We had to do what we thought was right for our people, our clients, and our business - at all times. It was hard to strike the right equilibrium. 

Gratefully, we made it through, had a more robust business on the other side and were able to retroactively compensate our team for their efforts. It was a huge learning to make the hard decisions and have the hard conversations as quickly as possible because it gave us options in the end. Our people and clients valued our transparency and reactiveness too. 

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?

Joanna> Honestly, it just sort of happened - I’ve always been the organiser or decision-maker in my groups of friends. Generally, my strategy is to surround myself with people and leaders who inspire me - and like osmosis, I learn from them. 

We humans are very good at adapting to new environments - I’m a huge believer that you get out what you put into your brain - be that information or people you spend time with. 

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

Joanna> I think it’s 50/50. 

To be a good leader you have to be able to stand behind your own point of view confidently - but also to take onboard feedback, recognise when ideas are better than yours, and to know when you are wrong. You have to have a decent amount of self-esteem and confidence to do that - and unfortunately, that doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people and can be hard to learn/unlearn. 

Intelligence comes in many forms - and I believe leadership truly comes down to emotional intelligence and being able to use this strategically to support and challenge people in the right ways - like Goldilocks, you’ve got to get it just right to get the best out of people. 

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

Joanna> I put a lot of pressure on myself to not disappoint people - or myself. 

I read an amazing book once by Susan Jeffries called ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’ - this has encouraged me to take little leaps of faith throughout my career.

At the end of the day, you don’t grow if you keep yourself in your comfort zone. 

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?

Joanna> There are definitely things I would change in hindsight - but I’m pretty good at not seeing things as failures but as learning experiences. I’m hardwired to not get bogged down when things don’t pan out - but only if I know we tried our best. 

Where I struggle is when I know we didn’t try hard enough - or I wasn’t prepared enough. That’s when it’s frustrating. Preparation is key.

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

Joanna> I think there is a fine line between being open and oversharing - while I’d like to say I get it right all the time, I’m sure I don’t. The reality is - to be an authentic leader you have to accept you’re not going to get it right 100% of the time - and know that you have enough credit in the bank for people to give you the freedom to get it wrong sometimes. 

It’s okay to share more if it provides context as to why you’re making a decision, as it is really important to make sure people are invested in the ‘why’. 

Sharing your process with your team can unlock so much. Here’s an example - the other day I did a presentation to 200 people and someone in my team came up to me and said “Wow, you made that look so easy”. I told them that on Sunday I came into the office and created a mini makeshift stage out of a bench and a stool so that I was prepared. They were confused because they thought I could just waltz on stage and perform - that’s almost impossible for a normal human to do.

Most of us are normal humans and it’s nice to remind people of that. 

I think that’s how to be an authentic leader - not pretending you’re perfect. 

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?

Joanna> The best advice I’ve ever received has been from people I’d consider mentors:

“Sleep on it” - my dad’s best advice when you’re not sure, when something doesn’t feel right or you are a little frustrated. You always wake up with a different view of the situation! 

“Don’t change” - this was the advice I was given by my previous bosses after I’d received 360 feedback that sometimes I was a little blunt or direct. This was important to me - because I’m not sure it’s the feedback I would have received if I was a man. So to hear two men who valued my style tell me not to change - has hugely impacted the way I operate. 

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?

Joanna> It’s important to have a vision. If people are on board with your vision - whether it’s a straight line or a squiggly path to get there, they see the end goal. 

A vision helps us stay on track, make decisions for the long term, and clarifies what’s important.

Bringing your team on board with this means they can also support you in remembering the vision when you might falter yourself! 

I also try my best to lead by example - setting boundaries between life and work - no notifications on my phone, no messaging out of hours. There is nothing worse than a leader that doesn’t follow their own advice. 

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?

Joanna> I challenge myself and my team to be better. 

If we haven’t had a diverse set of applicants to review for a role - or if a team is skewing one way or another, we’ll challenge the hiring managers and recruitment team to work harder/better on their strategies for sourcing. 

If we have a team working on a project or a client that lacks diversity - I’ll call it out. 

Diversity of thought & experience creates better work. 

I try to acknowledge that while we have pretty solid gender statistics at DEPT® in the UK, that intersectionality is the biggest barrier - and that we need to be supportive of this. 

We have introduced employee resource groups that speak to different communities - with self-selected leaders that represent these within the business and the initiatives that run alongside it.

We also host PRIDE parties to support our LGBTQIA+ employees along with their allies. 

But we’re also always open to feedback on how we improve and be a better business. 

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?

Joanna> Company culture is critical - I want to lead a business people want to work in and feel proud to work in - somewhere people can create the best work of their careers. 

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


1. Podcasts - a useful ‘walk to work’ way of ingesting info, I think it’s important to have a good mix of high/low-brow content: 

  • The McKinsey Podcast 
  • Harvard Business Review’s ‘Women at Work’
  • The High-Performance Podcast with Jake Humphries 
  • How to Fail with Elizabeth Day 

2. Reading or audio books

  • ‘Feel The Fear & Do It anyway’, Susan Jeffries
  • The ‘Do Lectures’ series of books covering leading, disrupting, and scaling.
  • ‘Radical Candour’, Kim Scott
  • ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear 

3. Working with & following leaders that I find inspiring for example Sharmadean Reid, MBE - founder & CEO of StackWorld and Alex Mahon, CEO of Channel 4

4. Understanding the Brain - I watch a lot of documentaries on how the brain works, for example, most recently I enjoyed ‘Stutz’ on Netflix which shows actor Jonah Hill exploring his early life experiences with leading psychiatrist Phil Stutz using visual models of therapy. 

Most importantly - having a leadership team that is supportive that we’re all human and we need to support each other in the highs and lows of business and life! 

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DEPT®, Thu, 20 Apr 2023 16:40:00 GMT