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Bossing It: Being Tuned in to Team Dynamics with Kira MacKnight


One Thousand Birds' managing director and EP on solid foundations, genuinely caring and making sure no one feels like they're in the dark

Bossing It: Being Tuned in to Team Dynamics with Kira MacKnight

Kira MacKnight has been part of the One Thousand Birds team for over seven years. She started out as a sound designer/producer in the NYC office, and now is managing director/EP of the company which has since expanded across four offices around the globe. She’s produced sound for projects that range from award-winning films, to Super Bowl commercials, to VR at the Whitney. Kira also spearheaded the creation of Hii Magazine, a biannual print magazine and interactive audio-first site offering inclusive stories aimed at making concepts of audio accessible and connecting our global community.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Kira> I feel like my leadership role isn't cut and dry, to the point where I can pinpoint exactly where it started. The experience is constantly evolving and happening in different iterations. I’ve realised that being a leader is more about the people around you and how they view you. It's an ongoing journey, and something I'm working on all the time.


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?

Kira> I have had an amazing example; [One Thousand Birds founders] Laura and Andrew put so much trust in me from the start and really believed in me, and were always there for support and questions. They didn't lead with ego or panic or hierarchy. Having that solid foundation at the beginning of my career was monumental to where I am today.


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

Kira> We've grown almost four times since I started working here and we're still small, but that growth in this amount of time is kind of crazy; especially in the last two years, we’ve exploded. I’ve been growing in this leadership capacity in tandem, and a big lesson has been realising that I need to constantly re-evaluate how we work since things are so different from a year ago, two years ago, five years ago. We had a moment earlier this year where everyone was kind of struggling with burnout and looking back, it was because we just needed to change some things.


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?

Kira> I never had leadership as a concrete goal. I'm thriving in this capacity currently, but I think a huge part of that is the team dynamics. This environment lends itself well to me being a leader, but it’s not something I need to do for the rest of my career.

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?

Kira> I think it has roots in personality, but there are definitely leadership skills that can be taught and learned and mentored. People with a natural inclination to be a leader will seek those roles out, but leadership doesn’t necessarily need to be something that everyone strives for. 

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

Kira> For me, it’s such a hard balance between genuinely caring about your team and not becoming emotionally incapacitated. I have to work really hard to create boundaries, because it's easy for me to accidentally spend a lot of my emotional bandwidth on work related stuff; I struggle with it constantly, because it’s also good to care a lot!


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?

Kira> I feel like I'm constantly failing, honestly. But again, genuinely caring will inform how things ultimately play out. If I do something in the wrong way, I fix it because I care enough to. I think it's really important to take responsibility, admit when something went wrong, and apologise if it’s necessary, which is so much easier when there’s no culture of fear and punishment surrounding mistakes. Leadership is more of a circle than a chain, because how you address your own failures is going to tie directly to how the team addresses theirs, and then in turn how they respond to yours.


LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Kira> I don't consider the two mutually exclusive. It’s definitely important to be careful and considered navigating situations or problems, but being intentional doesn’t mean that you can’t be honest and transparent with people. People respond really well to honesty and transparency, because nobody likes to feel like they're in the dark.

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?

Kira> Again, Andrew and Laura have had a huge role in shaping me in terms of leadership and I think I approach work relationships in similar ways. Hopefully I've emphasised leadership in a natural and tangible way, simply by being there, working closely with people, and always being in communication.

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?

Kira> Being as tuned in as possible to internal dynamics of the team, understanding when to be serious, when to let people goof off and blow off steam, when to be a cheerleader. That's the key to it. Flexibility to know what approach is going to be the most effective.


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?

Kira> This shift is hugely necessary. It’s something to actively work on improving when fostering an internal culture and overall ecosystem of the company; you can't just hire a bunch of people for optics, and then be like, “Okay, here you go, fail.” We back up our hiring practices with the resources and dedication to train them. We don't focus on hierarchy, internally or client facing, which lends itself to more frequent and expanding opportunities for the whole team.

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?

Kira> It’s the most important thing. We had a really strong, positive company culture going into covid which helped us through those remote days. We all genuinely wanted to stay in touch and talk to each other. The small size of our team at that time was crucial, because there was a lot of opportunity for spontaneous full team check-ins, whereas now that we’re bigger we would be more limited in that capacity. 


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

Kira> This is such a cop out answer, but honestly everyone at OTB. All the amazing brains that are around me all the time, and that's it.

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One Thousand Birds, Mon, 05 Dec 2022 11:25:44 GMT