Mint Talent

Q&A on Leadership and Talent Development in the Advertising industry, with leading Organisational Psychologist, Debbie Sandy

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The fast-paced and evolving nature of the Advertising and Media industry often means that many young leaders are stepping up into leadership roles quite quickly, with little training or coaching in team management.

At Mint Talent, we work with a fantastic Talent and Leadership Development specialist and qualified Organisational Psychologist, Debbie Sandy, with 17 years experience working within Global Consulting firms. We managed to bribe Debbie, with a coffee and brunch, to answer a few of our burning questions around these ongoing leadership trends, and her advice on how to overcome these challenges.

Q. First off, how would you describe ‘Organisational Psychology’?

Organisational Psychology or Business Psychology is the application of what we know about human behaviour and how the brain works in the workplace. Although we are all unique in our own way, there are nonetheless fascinating trends in how humans function, and we can use this science to help people reach their full potential at work. We have a profound understanding of what makes people and teams tick – and can rapidly understand how best to support individuals to change. We use a variety of techniques, such as focusing on language patterns, questioning techniques to stimulate certain parts of the mind and utilising body language.

Q. Why did you get into the industry?

I am an avid people watcher and never really switch off the ‘psychologist’ part of my mind. I am a true advocate for how psychology can enable people to be happier, more fulfilled and achieve what they want from work. I love how my profession is constantly evolving as we understand more and more about the mysteries of the mind and human behaviour. Positive Psychology is also an intriguing field – I passionately believe (and research shows) that if organisations can cultivate this in their employees, they will prosper.

Q. What challenges do you think the young leaders of today will face, if they’re required to step up quickly into management roles?

I work with many new leaders in exactly this position. They tend to struggle with two areas in particular.
Firstly, leading past peers. Often new leaders have not yet ‘found their voice’ as a leader and tend to either be too ‘friendly’ – shying away from difficult conversations; or too ‘authoritative’ – exerting their positional power rather than truly winning hearts and minds. Both approaches can cause disruption to the team, loss of key team members and lower team performance, so it is really important that new leaders learn to get the balance right whilst also being authentic and true to themselves.

Secondly, delegation. If you have spent your life being rewarded and applauded for being great at something then it is a hard thing to give some of that up to focus on ‘conducting the orchestra rather than playing the violin’. In simple ‘brain’ terms, when you are rewarded for something your brain releases happy chemicals (serotonin, etc.) which your brain gets addicted too. When you then try and stop that behaviour to focus on something new (which you’re less good at), your brain doesn’t get the same reward so it sabotages your good intentions.

This is why so many people, as they move into leadership positions, end up getting dragged back into the ‘doing’ rather than the ‘steering’. It is a safe space and we get a nice buzz from doing what we are good at. Luckily psychologists know some good brain hacks to help get around this basic biological issue!

Q. What types of services and offerings would you suggest for young leaders who are looking for more training and guidance?

There are many leadership theories and books available to new leaders, but the most important lessons would be developing self-insight, being able to connect, influencing and engaging with anyone, having resilience and being flexible in your style to suit the situation/outcomes you desire. Programs that focus on core interpersonal skills, which involve observation and feedback, are critical to changing behaviours and embedding new ones.

Over the course of my career, I have developed and facilitated hundreds of different types of programs and have found that the best breakthrough, or ‘a-ha’ moments, tend to happen with group coaching and/or individual coaching, which lasts over a course of at least several months. This allows upcoming leaders to repeatedly practice new leadership styles until they become ingrained and habitual. A one-off theoretical course rarely changes behaviour – our brains just aren’t designed that way. Knowing is not ‘doing’.

Q. The other challenge I see the Advertising industry faced with, is the high staff churn rate. What can companies be doing to help solve this problem?

The old adage is ‘people leave managers, not companies’. I’ve worked for many years in career counselling and coaching and have definitely found this to be true. Poor leadership can create remarkable levels of stress for employees. Even something as seemingly simple as a manager not having a difficult conversation with someone regarding their performance can lead to feelings of unfairness and lack of engagement, which can lead to high turnover. If there is high turnover in a team, the root cause is almost always a leader who hasn’t been equipped with the skills and behaviours to manage effectively.

Companies need to focus on how their leaders are supported in creating an environment where great employees are able to grow, flourish and be creative in how they achieve results.
This will ensure they retain key talent – because they love coming to work! Take time to develop a strong team where differences are appreciated and feedback is part of the culture. Celebrate successes, but also develop team resilience for when things don’t go so well.

Also Read : A new type of leadership… Enterprise Leaders

A couple of quick fire Q&A’s to find out more about you!


Q. What’s something people may not know about you?

I survived being charged by a juvenile elephant when I was working at an elephant orphanage – it was really scary but I only ended up with a broken ankle. Pretty lucky!

Q. If you weren’t an Organisational Psychologist, what would you be?

A children’s tv presenter! I have 2 boys Henry 2 and Archie 3 and I just love being around them and their friends being silly, playing games and making things out of old egg boxes and sticky tape.

Q. What’s a quote or motto you live by?

‘ Be what you love’ because it has 2 meanings for me – 1 -we have agency over what happens to us in life and can grab happiness if we want and 2 – we need to love ourselves and our humanness with all the faults and failings that we have rather than holding ourselves up to an unattainable ideal.

Q. Tea or coffee?

Tea, tea, then coffee, then tea 🙂

Q. You’re an avid reader – what book would you recommend for leadership development?

Feel the fear and do it anyway by Susan Jeffers – it’s an oldie but a goodie. I often recommend it to my coaching clients as it helps to reframe the way you think about fear.

Debbie Sandy is a qualified Organisational Psychologist, having studied a Psychology degree, followed by her Masters. She then studied for a further 4 years to become a Chartered Psychologist. We thank Debbie for her insights into these topical challenges!

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