Bossing It: Eric Descombes on His First Experience in Leadership
Eric Descombes joined FCB in January 2016 as head of the FCB Mexico office. His goals have been for the agency to have exponential growth, he has led FCB Mexico to be the International Agency of the Year twice.
He developed the first artificial intelligence platform in Mexico as an advertising model with new tools: FCB Cognitive Cloud, FCB Behavioral Lab and FCB Dynamic Creative.
The first time I had to think strategically was when I found the perfect hiding spot inside a freezer to hide my stack of candy from my five brothers. Growing up in such a large family meant constant movement: arguments, debates, discussions, and what felt like an important age gaps between kids. Looking back, I now realise those moments seemed like the first steps towards finding my leadership style and learning to delegate.
Many years later I started working as an entrepreneur in my own company. Having little to no experience in the corporate world, my leadership style was based solely on what I knew and who I was - my gut instinct. I can now say that the way to inspire others is not through personal knacks or improvisation but through disciplined experience and training. Adding to that, I also discovered that self-awareness and seeking constant challenges were two factors that pushed me towards real growth.
A good leader knows how to communicate with others. After selling my first company to a large corporation and entering the global corporate world, I received official training as leader for the first time and understood the limitations and differences of my way of thinking. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test opened my eyes to how other people think, do, and perceive, even pointed me to which values and obstacles each one could have. Knowing this, the ways of being more productive and understanding as a team became clearer and more flexible.
The best type of professional is a leader who can identify talented individuals and nurture their potential towards a shared vision. Conflict and obstacles are inevitable, and all of us have faulty traits to overcome. I used to avoid confrontation to spare me of family trouble, and only through my experience in leadership was I able to address it through assertiveness training and through active listening to my coworkers’ feedback. Receiving feedback requires maturity, humility, and the realisation that even though it can be cutting, a true heat-honest one can only lead to personal growth. As a leader, I have learned that feedback needs to be cautious as everybody has a different way of communicating effectively, something only experience can teach you after trial and error.
So, in that sense the discussion around born leaders or created leaders is clearly faulty. Being a leader needs learning, clearing your biases, understanding about equality, differences, new ways of thinking and many new perspectives that will help you appreciate your teams.
As an example, what we have done at FCB Mexico in terms of inclusion and diversity comes from listening, learning, measuring, and including external experts. With the results we were able to quickly implement actions that led us to be the first advertising agency certified in gender equality in LATAM. As a leader my role is to continue inspiring FCB as the most diverse and inclusive place in Mexico, with the single vision of making the equality topic not to ever be a matter.
For me it is simple: all changes need leadership. The year 2020 is what I imagine living during war time would be like– people dying all around the world, everybody hiding from each other, restrictions dictating our daily activities through curfews, fake news turning into facts and loved ones becoming anxious to the point of losing themselves. The world needed transforming leadership with people first and business second. People needed a sense of security, support, closeness, and structure within the unavoidable changes, while business needed a new vision for what was coming after this pandemic.
Leadership only becomes real through the times in which success seems unlikely and when holding the line feels nearly impossible.
The strategy of most was to make people feel safe, and our tactic was built through a leadership team who devoted their time into observing what was working, what wasn’t, and what would keep us growing even more than the old normal. Our answer was the new mix of a higher quality of life with productiveness – a 'people first' approach that builds a distributed first-class business.
This mix is our new normal. There is a myriad of new tactics and ways of working that prioritize the big learning from the pandemic, such as the beauty of skipping the two-hour commute and having no need to stay at work long hours just to appear productive and instead, enjoying your home, cooking a homemade meal, and having the certainty of taking care of yourself.
Without training, experience and feedback, leadership is non-existent - you are just improvising.