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Profile: Cindy Gallop’s Rules on Leadership

Words don’t really do Cindy Gallop justice. Her mission, as she would say, is to “blow shit up. I am the Michael Bay of business.” Beyond ballistics, Gallop, through her successful endeavours across myriad industries, is indeed a force of nature, shape-shifter and a pioneer. With unmatchable eloquence Cindy can speak to numerous topics that pertain to the world of business: life as a refugee of the advertising world, personal branding or how to get a self-funded start up (#makelovenotporn) thriving in a still-prudish world. With her signature perspicacity Cindy discussed with us the business of leadership.

What is leadership to you?

If you were to ask me what is the single most important thing about being a true leader it’s simply, always put your people ahead of yourself. That’s absolutely fundamental to being a great leader. in that context, with regards to my employees over the years, it’s better to be respected and not necessarily liked. When times are tough and it comes to the crunch, leadership is the ability to make tough choices when tough choices need to be made. I once read in a Harvard Business Document that leadership is about holding two opposing thoughts in your mind at the one time. It’s about absolutely keeping the long term vision in mind while also doing exactly what you need to do to achieve your goal. I’m a great believer in planning for success; one should always operate on the presumption that you will be successful. At the same time, be clear in your own mind what the obstacles are.

You’re so charismatic and I’m sure people are dying to work with you by dint of your persona. Do leadership and friendship go hand in hand?

I’m very much about business first; I live my own philosophies. The best thing you can do for your people is to make sure your business is in really good shape. You must make damn sure the business is doing well and  [exude] a feeling of positivity about what you’re all doing together.

You possess a very international perspective as you’ve worked all over the world. What challenges and benefits has that played in your career. 

I’m half english and my mother is Malaysian Chinese. I went to boarding school and I went to Oxford. I regard myself as a global citizen. My upbringing and everything I’ve done means that I approach things with a very international perspective and I think that’s very important. I think it’s essential that you are not operating from a parochial mindset. In my childhood I encountered quite a bit of racism, that has undoubtedly informed the way I champion diversity and inclusion. Also being female as well, drives my desire to see a completely inclusive world.

On Authenticity:

I do a lot of speaking and every one of the topics that I speak on I am experiencing myself. I try, I fail. I am trying again. I am living every day all the principles I espouse regarding doing business in a global context.

The M Word:

I encourage people, especially women, to drop the world mentor from their vocabulary and replace it with the world champion. Because champions are people who make shit happen. Mentor comes across very touchy feely. Women need champions; people who make shit happen for us. Women need what men get all the time – that is people who are willing to go out on a limb for them.

What makes a bad leader:

I can’t even begin to form a response to that. Bad leaders are all around us. I would recommend Why do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. The bigger issue is the total lack of barriers for men to step into these roles.

Is a bad leader a bad person?

Not necessarily. [As a leader] you should take very very seriously the fact that you’re responsible for a whole group of other people. And quite frankly, you’re not a good person if you don’t put those people first. If you’re somebody who couldn’t care less about the people that work for you, then you are a bad person quite frankly.

How do you become a leader in 2020?

The business of the future is a high trust working environment. The entire nature of the corporate hierarchical structure is predicated on not trusting the people beneath them. The business of the future is created very simply by trusting. When you demonstrate belief with your people then they rise to that belief. I’ve been saying this for years: you cannot do new world order business from an old world order place. I say to people you have to redesign the way you do business because it’s astonishing how much of the old world order hierarchical structure of the past remains.

If we are not intrinsically blessed with strong skills, how can we each become better leaders?

It’s very simple: first of all be clear about the business you’re in and where you want to take your team. And then sit down with every member of your company and ask them what they want to achieve within the business. And then give them the opportunity to do that.

So, there’s a formula for securing talent?

There is absolutely is a formula for business success. It’s very simple, if you seek out, identify and hire the very best talent and then give them a very compelling and inspirational vision of what you want them to achieve for that business. And enable and empower that talent to achieve that goal by using their own individual skills and talent. If you enable that talent to share in the profit they create, you’ll be successful. It’s that simple. It must be a high trust environment.

On People Management:

The key thing is always fire fast. There were plenty of people I didn’t fire fast enough. There was one gentleman who I fired after four weeks. Some years ago, in the space of about six months three different people wrote to me and each one of them thanked me for firing them; they expressed their gratitude for me letting them go. Firing is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.

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