Julietta Dexter founded The Communications Store in 1995 with £600 and two clients. Since then, TCS has grown into one of the most respected communications and PR companies around – working with some of the world’s best fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands. It has offices in London and New York and was named as one of The Sunday Times Top 100 Small Companies to Work For in 2017.
In her new book, Good Company, How To Build A Business Without Losing Your Values, Dexter reveals what she has learned along the way on her extraordinary career path – tackling issues like communication, culture , money and crisis management in her no-nonsense, refreshingly upfront style. In the following extract Dexter has some strong words about bad bosses, bullies and how to make sure you don't become one...
As the saying goes, ‘People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.’
Bully bosses might believe that yelling and threatening is the best way to motivate employees, but according to research, being an abusive supervisor does not lead to greater employee productivity. It makes no sense for a leader to rule by cruelty and fear. Why undermine and rattle the very people you need to get the job done?
There is a big discussion going on in brands and in business about the value of kindness. Traditional competitive-style leaders might think kindness is a kind of weakness, but it costs nothing and adds so much value to every interaction. Even when I have to do tough stuff, I have always tried to be kind.
A good leader practises kindness and patience to gently encourage workers to do their best work. I’ve used these same tools to defuse bullies who might’ve taken a look at me and decided I was an easy target. On one occasion, a client, the CEO of an apparel company, was trying to bully me into doing more work for less money, and he was relentless. It got to the point where I struggled not to show my frustration whenever I was in his presence. You know that feeling when you have a lump in your throat or you think you might cry, but bite it back because you’ve been told you should never show vulnerability? Bursting into tears in a meeting is not deemed to be professional. I got it in my head that if I cried in front of him, particularly as a female, I’d lose my dignity, my upper hand and reveal my weakness.
While struggling to stay in the discussion and not break down, I realised that I could never make my case in an emotional state. I had to separate myself from my immediate emotional reaction in order to find my wiser, more rational self.
The next time this client started to berate me, I said in a perfectly calm, quiet voice, ‘Excuse me, I’m going to take myself out of this conversation. I don’t accept or appreciate the way you’re speaking to me, and I think I’m about to cry.’ Then I got up and left the room. No drama, no emotion, just fact. The reprieve gave me a chance to collect myself before I went in.
When I returned a few minutes later, he was chagrined and begged me to forgive him. Then he opened up about the pressures he was under and how he might have been trying to transfer some of that to me. Because I showed my honest vulnerability, he then showed me his stresses and strains. He felt horrible and wanted to know what he could do to make it up to me. Suddenly, he was the vulnerable person at the table. I’m not saying it was like magic… but, actually, it was. Truth and honesty prevailed. Once we’d both expressed ourselves, we could work together with a new understanding and trust.
Leaders are not impervious to emotion. They’re not made of stone. A wise leader is brave enough to express their feelings to reclaim authority over them. To be human.
A no BS leader is a guide who gives information and instruction to their staff so they have every opportunity to do well.
It doesn’t matter how famous, important and amazing someone is, people should never lord so-called importance over others they perceive as beneath them.
A boss is an authority figure, but they are human too. A leader can and should make appropriate jokes at work, especially if they are at their own expense.
A secure leader recognises the great work their staff do and doesn’t believe expressing gratitude makes them any less of an authority figure.
A good boss respects boundaries. If a boss crosses lines by calling constantly or demanding workers to be the in office at unreasonable hours they are not valuing care and kindness.
A leader must be brave enough to take risks and encourage staff to try new ideas and approaches.
Feedback from staff can be brutal – but it makes us better at what we do and who we are.
Good Company: How to Build a Business Without Losing Your Values by Julietta Dexter is out now, published by Atlantic Books.