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Bossing It: Why Culture Is Everything with Oscar Erlandsson


B-Reel managing director on growing up as “the responsible one”, enjoying helping others grow and shine and feeling inspired

Bossing It: Why Culture Is Everything with Oscar Erlandsson

Oscar Erlandsson is managing director of global creative agency B-Reel. With over two decades experience, he has an exceptional track record in brand management, communications, and digital innovation strategies, successfully executing these strategies for a diverse global portfolio of brands such as Google, H&M, The LVMH Group and Storytel. Oscar leads the team in the delivery of impactful work. Under his leadership, B-Reel has delivered multiple award-winning campaigns that engage and captivate audiences, as well as generate measurable results for the agency's client partners.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Oscar> I grew up being “the responsible one”, oldest brother to two siblings, one of which with special needs, and I guess if I did go to therapy how this shaped me would be a rich topic of conversation. One thing is certain though, that I built a strong reflex of weighing options and pointing out the way forward.

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?

Oscar> I’m not sure what kind of leader I want to be, other than myself. I’ve consistently found that when I try to be lead in a certain way, I try to live up to some expectation of leadership that does not come naturally, it leads to bad outcomes. I like to think I’m analytical without being slow, level-headed, and have deep roots in the actual work after nearly 20 years in strategy.

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

Oscar> My responsibility became much more clear to me when I started assuming formal manager responsibility for people, including hiring. Hiring a bad fit (because of stress, pressure, or simply because you want to be nice), makes for painful aftermath when you have to undo things. On the flip side, building a team that works is incredibly rewarding. 

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?

Oscar> I didn’t, in fact I always thought I’d go for much more of a specialist/expert role. But then I started enjoying helping others grow and shine, and it was pointed out to me that this is in fact leadership. 

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?

Oscar> I don’t think there are “natural born leaders”, and I think there is a lot that can be learned. What it comes down to more than anything, is assuming the responsibility, and maybe not everyone has that in them.

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

Oscar> Owning other people’s mistakes and not flinching about it. It can get very personal when the individual on the losing end is someone I care about, such as a client or someone on the team. I’m not sure my way of working through it is perfect, but I try to remind myself that what I’m doing is the least bad option.   

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?

Oscar> Absolutely, especially so during this downturn that has affected so many in our industry, and that came quite abruptly. Fallout includes personal promises that I have been unable to come through on. I think the learnings from this include mapping out every possible outcome.

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?

Oscar> Full transparency requires that there is time to tell the whole story with all nuances and backstory, which tends to bore the person on the receiving end. My intent is to be honest and prepared to defend every decision, but not necessarily boring the people around me or coming across as defensive. It’s a very fine line. 

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?

Oscar> I didn’t and I keep telling myself I need one. I am available as a mentor. It requires trust and openness. I do listen to people close to me about work issues, and I try to make sure that they give me new angles that are different from my reflexive line of thinking. 

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?

Oscar> It has. I remind myself and everyone on the team of the progress we made leading up to the downturn, as well as how little we can affect the realities of our clients and the world around us. After all, we are making advertising. Reminding myself to zoom out and look at what we have achieved over the last few years really helps. 

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?

Oscar> As a middle-aged white guy I approach these issues with a large helping of self-awareness. It is of strategic importance for us as a business that we are at the forefront, and the single most important thing I can do is to push forward in hirings and promotions, as well as programmes internally or together with clients. Going forward, I am convinced organisations that lack representation and room for differing voices are going to be irrelevant.

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?

Oscar> The people are what this company is, and how well we work together is what we sell, so culture is everything. In fact, the pandemic was good to us, in that we consciously pushed to stay in touch and actively worked on keeping the vibe. 

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

Oscar> Talking to people in the organisation, and staying open to anything that catches my eye in the endless scroll that is today’s downtime. I like feeling inspired, and consistently feel that I make a difference when in that state of mind. Management literature rarely inspires me in the way that some random scientific finding about the history of mankind or a debate online about the latest show on HBO.

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B-Reel, Wed, 31 May 2023 13:37:00 GMT