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Bossing It: Meagan Jackman on Why Company Culture Is the Secret Sauce of Success


The president of OH Partners and CMO of The Harkey Group speaks to LBB about empowering people and using "life work integration" to keep company spirit alive

Bossing It: Meagan Jackman on Why Company Culture Is the Secret Sauce of Success

With more than 20 years in marketing, branding, and public relations, Meagan Jackman, president of creative agency OH Partners and CMO of its newly formed independent holding company, The Harkey Group, has extensive experience with the development and implementation of marketing strategies in a variety of industries. In her current role at OH Partners, she oversees the agency’s organisational health, attracting top brand partners and the best-in-class talent. With The Harkey Group, she is helping to build a consumer-centric, performance-focused, and creatively-inspired collection of companies, built to meet the evolving needs of ambitious marketers. Speaking with LBB, she discusses the natural leadership ability that comes with being the eldest child of five, her journey from PR freelancer to president at OH Partners, and how she established a mentorship team to help elevate mid-level employees to leadership positions of their own.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Meagan> I don’t think of leadership as a position; I think of it as a character trait. I’m the oldest sibling of five, so I’ve taken on leadership roles since I was a child. In a work setting, I felt my first experience of leadership at my first job out of college. Even though it was a junior role, I felt the stewardship of the work that I did. I was managing up from the beginning, which meant that I was anticipating what my senior colleagues would need, making sure they were set up for success, and watching out for their blind spots. In my current role as president of OH Partners and CMO of The Harkey Group, that mentality carries through. I often remind my colleagues that leadership has nothing to do with title, but more importantly, it’s a character trait. I encourage team members to foster their leadership skills very early in their careers - and give them the space to do that.

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?

Meagan> I've had the privilege of having great leaders and terrible leaders. I've learned from both. As a leader, I have to be myself. If I try to take on a specific leadership style that doesn't align with my personal values, it falls flat. So for me, the best way I've learned what kind of leader I wanted to be was to better understand who I am. The more work I've done on myself, the better I show up for the people in my life. This will always be a work in progress.

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

Meagan> Very early on in my career, I had a boss named Bill. Our entire agency had benchmarks to reach a bonus goal, and we didn’t meet the requirements for it. Only the executives were cleared to receive a bonus. My team had no clue about the bonus until Bill sat us down and told us that he wouldn’t have qualified for the bonus without us and the work we did together. As a thank you to our core team, he shared his bonus with the five of us. This was 25 years ago, and to this day I remember how valued he made me feel. I knew that I wanted to be a leader like that. I strive to make my team feel valued each and every day and look back to Bill’s small, yet monumental gesture, that helped shape my leadership style today. 

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?

Meagan> I’ve never had a clearly defined career path - I just consistently look for opportunities to push myself. I tell myself that if I start feeling comfortable, then I’ve plateaued. I always aim to be a little uncomfortable in my career, because then I know I’m growing. Over the last two years specifically, our company has dealt with multiple leadership changes … on top of covid-19. I have an ability to stay calm under pressure, and people gravitate toward that clarity in times of stress. As I continue to progress my career with OH Partners, where I began as a PR freelancer and currently hold the role of president, my leadership trajectory has pushed me to the next level as CMO for The Harkey Group. Holding the dual role of president for OH Partners and the CMO of The Harkey Group was a natural step for me to continue pushing myself. 

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?

Meagan> The majority of 'leadership' is a natural personality trait. As you evolve as an individual and as a professional, you pick up lessons along the way. Those leadership lessons come from every level. I’ve learned just as much from a coordinator as I have from a CMO. The biggest thing I wish I could tell people is that you don’t have to wait for a title to become the leader that you want to be. You have permission to be that now.

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

Meagan> There are two aspects of leadership that can be challenging: Helping people not get in their own way; and identifying what strengths each individual has that could benefit the company. It’s all about how we fill each other’s gaps - 90% of my job is leveraging people’s strengths and encouraging them to use those strengths on behalf of our clients and colleagues. We’re a 'people business' and we sell intellectual property. The only way to do that is to get to know the people. I build the bench starting at the executive level, and then have my executive team build its benches. This approach has helped me help my team and overcome those challenges. 

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?

Meagan> Sure, all the time. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is how important it is to listen to my gut. To remedy it, I always aim to trust my instincts, and I empower my executive team to trust themselves (and their guts), too.

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?

Meagan> It’s a careful balance of both. For me, being authentic and conducting myself with integrity is non-negotiable. However, that doesn’t mean you have to overshare. As a leader, you have to discern what your team members need to know. That's a decision you have to make multiple times every day.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders? How do you approach that relationship?

Meagan> My first boss out of college taught me that team success is greater than individual success, and he and I have had a great relationship. As a part of mentoring aspiring leaders, I launched OH Partners’ 'Agency Leadership Team'. Designed to be a collaborative and mentorship-driven group within our agency, the Agency Leadership Team is aimed at helping mid-level employees get to the next level and hone their natural leadership skills. The group has tackled delegation, conflict resolution, budgeting, and presentation skills in a safe space that leaves no questions unanswered. It has been a powerful tool and platform for mentorship and growth. 

LBB> It's been a really challenging few years globally - how do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through difficult waters?

Meagan> The last two years have been the most difficult - and rewarding - of both my personal life and professional career. I have three small children, and helping them navigate school while leading a company has been both overwhelming and incredibly exciting. There was no playbook on how to handle the past two years. To cope with the responsibility, I had to trust myself and lean on my support group. When I’ve been right, I chalk it up as a win; but when I’m not, I fail fast and pivot quickly. 

LBB> Recently, the industry has been confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader, how have you dealt with this?

Meagan> I embrace my role as an agent of change; I do this by fostering education internally and activating programs externally. I have a pretty hard stance that we’re not going to make statements or posts unless there is action behind it. Words matter, but action makes a difference. One thing we’ve done at OH is create a 'Community Of Change' committee that improves our organisation in terms of diversity and inclusion. This team is made up of advocates within the company that make sure we’re educated and informed about DE&I topics, issues and community-wide challenges -  but more importantly, that our actions and the way we treat each other is reflective of that. 

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with remote working?

Meagan> Company culture is the secret sauce in the success of the business. Agency life is the best industry, and a big part of that is company culture. Employees want to work with companies that reflect their individual values, so it's important to keep that spirit alive, whether that be virtual or in-person. We’ve kept our culture alive by offering a hybrid workplace model - and by working to ensure our time together is intentional. When we're together, we are collaborating, celebrating and creating. I believe the term 'life-work balance' sets us up for failure as a business; it implies opposing factors that require equal balance. When we change our perspective to 'life work integration', it allows for the two to be symbiotic and support one another. The 'life work integration' culture we’ve fostered at OH has created an environment that has progressed our business. How? Because our team members have the space to thrive in their personal lives, driving symbiotic and mutually beneficial success (and results). 

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

Meagan> A therapist. If I’m not in a healthy space physically and emotionally, I can’t be a strong leader. I make sure I have time for self care and for personal development. I believe a strong leader is one who can stand in the midst of a storm and stay emotionally strong to help others navigate. That can be anything from sessions with a professional coach to quality time with friends and family. I’ve come to realise that nothing is ever final - being a leader is about making the best decision possible with the information you have, and if that information changes - which it almost always does - you make another decision.

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The Harkey Group, Tue, 31 Jan 2023 12:06:00 GMT