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Bossing It: Authenticity, Transparency and Openness with Claire Young


Girl&Bear's managing director on natural leadership skills, the need for good culture and why other people are the best resources

Bossing It: Authenticity, Transparency and Openness with Claire Young

Claire has over 20 years of experience working in production roles at some of the UK’s most renowned agencies including Exposure, Mother and JWT to name a few. In 2016, Claire joined VCCP as head of production and creative services, transforming the departments to enable much more integration across the creative teams and producers, making for a much smoother process from both an agency and client point of view. Last year, with a huge desire to create a dedicated home for the makers of VCCP, Claire launched Girl&Bear. Girl&Bear is VCCP’s new global content creation studio which promises to eliminate the compromise that clients are too often asked to make;- choosing between craft and scale. Girl&Bear has over 200+ makers across the world. They like to think of themselves as the ‘Makers of Everything’.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Claire> My first experience was in my second proper job, which was actually my first job working in production. I was a production assistant and my boss at the time went on unexpected, and what turned into long term leave. I initially stepped into her role to keep things moving. That went well and I remained in the position even when eventually my boss decided not to return. It was a big step, but it felt good and natural to me and I really loved the challenge.

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?

Claire> I am constantly working on being a better leader! I learn a huge amount from people around me and it’s safe to say that they're my biggest inspiration. Watching and listening to others is hugely influential, and truly helps shape how I can not only be better as an individual, but how best I can behave as a leader too! It’s an ever moving process that adapts with you as an individual but there is a consistent thread and that is that I always want to be someone who leads with kindness at the forefront of my focus.

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

Claire> Right now! 

Creating Girl&Bear, the makers at VCCP has been an incredible journey that has resulted in absolutely being my biggest lesson in leadership. In creating Girl&Bear we saw an opportunity to bring people together from all across the Group, to supercharge our making offering, enabling integration not just locally but on a global scale. In creating Girl&Bear, we’ve created a new business, a new brand, and as the leader of the business, it’s my responsibility to bring people together to believe in our vision and embrace our ambitious journey. In embracing all of this, it’s been a big change for a lot of our makers, and naturally change can be quite hard to adjust to. Change doesn’t come without its challenges and lessons, however as the leader of Girl&Bear, I feel that as a team we have worked together to overcome any demands that have come our way, and a year into our plan we’re a stronger team as a result of the lessons we’ve learnt. I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

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? 

Claire> No, looking back I never stopped and thought ‘I want to be a leader’! I have always been pretty ambitious and very keen to push myself to develop to the next step of my career. And as I grew and my experience broadened, leadership was something that I naturally ended up doing. 

So thanks to being trusted to take on brilliant positions by brilliant bosses throughout my career I started to realise that I had it in me! Then once you're in, and you’re helping guide teams to get to brilliant solutions, and celebrating the brilliant highs that that brings, well you don’t ever want to stop, it’s so rewarding! 

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?

Claire> I absolutely believe the foundation of a great leader is naturally part of the person. Sure, of course you have to be open minded to be taught and learn from others - a huge part of everyone’s every day is about listening and learning. But I truly feel the essence of a good leader is naturally given skill.

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

Claire> By far the hardest part for me is striking the balance between building trustful relationships so that people know you and believe in you ‘vs.’ making sometimes difficult decisions that those around won’t always be happy about, and then dealing with the consequences of that. And honestly, I am still learning about how best to deal with those occasions when they arise!

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?

Claire> Failure is a dramatic word isn’t it?! I think we have to be brave sometimes to make tough decisions, and those decisions are not always the right ones. So if that is failure then it can be a frequent occurrence!! What I believe is important is to lead the way (with confidence), make (sometimes tricky) decisions, fail (not always!), own the failure (fast), fix it (fast), make it better (fast), and lastly celebrate the successes, big and small! 

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?

Claire> I am all about authenticity, transparency and openness! In my opinion there is no other way. It’s so important to me that I gain people's respect and trust and that has to be achieved with an approach of togetherness, of honesty, and of openness. But they are not mutually exclusive and with that openness comes a big dose of care and consideration as to how you go about things, it’s vital to me that I think about how my actions will affect those around me. 

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?

Claire> I haven’t had official mentors as such. What I have been incredibly lucky to have throughout my career are champions. Brilliantly important people who inspire me, who believe in me, who encourage me to be me and help me to be my best. I have occasionally mentored people myself and try to take the same approach - I like to help people get better at doing something they love and to give them confidence to go forth and be great.

LBB> It's been a challenging couple of years with the pandemic etc. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Claire> VCCP were brilliantly supportive during the pandemic, this was the VCCP Group leadership team at their best and it’s a period of time that I am really proud of, despite how tough it was. We all took our collective responsibility to look after our teams incredibly seriously. But not just our teams, the leadership team looked after each other too - we found time to communicate and ensure we were all coping. Everyone looked out for each other, and we collectively shared the responsibility of navigating the business through the pandemic. 

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?

Claire> Firstly, whilst it is positive to see the changes that the industry has made over recent years, I believe that there is still so much to do to ensure the industry is a better place for all.

VCCP and Girl&Bear is proudly making steps in this area as a business and when we launched Girl&Bear it was imperative that we supported our Group wide commitment to challenging our industry’s approach to Diversity and Inclusion. We want Girl&Bear to live and breathe diversity through everything we do, challenging the stereotypes and legacies which exist in our industry in order to make this happen. Therefore when we launched Girl&Bear we also launched our ‘Be Nice’ policy - this is our commitment to being conscious makers. We’ve pledged to always make in a way that puts our people and our planet first. 

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? How do you manage remote working in terms of culture for your people? 

Claire> Good culture is everything! I honestly believe the health of your culture can make or break a team. We have a happy and successful business thanks largely to our brilliant people and the passion they put into Girl&Bear, therefore nurturing our Girl&Bear culture and enabling our people to thrive in a positive environment is a big focus for us.

In terms of managing remote working, as a global business that offers a borderless production it’s an important part of how we operate and something we feel at ease with - our work is made wherever we can deliver the best quality and that means we regularly connect with talent remotely be that someone in another city or another country.

In London specifically I think we’ve found a great balance with the introduction of our flexible working pledge that has hybrid working and trust at its core. We have enough days in the agency which enable those unique and ‘impossible to do over zoom’ corridor meetings to happen, and to help professional friendships and relationships to flourish. These hectic and fun days in the agency are coupled with the option to WFH for a portion of the week. I think it’s a great balance that enables the team the freedom to work in a way that works for them and is an approach which is working very well for us.

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

Claire> Other people are the best resources. Ask for advice, listen to advice. Ask for more advice, listen harder and always work as a team. 

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VCCP, Wed, 20 Jul 2022 07:47:26 GMT