Bossing It: Meaningful Business Outcomes with David Easton
David Easton is the CEO and co-founder of the award-winning integrated advertising agency, REBORN.
With nearly 20 years of experience covers a wide range of disciplines including business strategy, integrated marketing and web development, but ultimately his focus is on creating meaningful business outcomes for customers.
LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
David> At the age of 22, I was managing a team member within a Digital Media Agency. I remember the stress of managing someone older than me at first but having grown up with a mum who went from high school teacher to small business owner, I modelled a leadership style that I saw worked for her with both students and adults alike, one that was based on learning, mutual respect and problem solving.
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?
David> I didn’t carve out the specific leader I wanted to become, but on reflection there were two teachers during my schooling whose qualities stood out to me as traits I tried to emulate as a leader. Their conversational and respectful engagement style had no hint of hierarchy or master/servant. I always felt invited to consider the purpose or outcome rather than be told and controlled. It created a feeling where we were working in the same direction under our own sense of responsibility, with a sense of safety to share and learn together. This had an impact against the stark contrast of classes run by overworked, overbearing or detached teachers.
As a leader, I believe my value comes from helping to bring out the best in the people by helping them to solve the problems they might be facing. From a young age, I always got a kick out of solving problems and understanding how things worked. Thankfully, I found a career in digital agencies where those two passions helped me progress and eventually start an agency and launch start-ups along the way.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
David> I often think about the stages of the business as chapters. After those first few years of growth, we jumped in size from 15 to 45 people which made some really big changes to the structure and agency model and created a lot of high pressure learning moments. We had just won one of the biggest clients in our history and a requirement of that win was to open an office in Melbourne. While this was exciting, it brought so many new challenges around people and processes that I had not experienced yet.
Within two months we’d set up a new office, hired 10 new team members and relocated part of the Sydney team (including my co-founder!) to Melbourne all while keeping the existing clients and team running.
Lessons were learnt quickly that high pressure situations require calm, consistent and supportive leadership to make it all happen.
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?
David> I was definitely one of those kids with issues with ‘authority’ and definitely left high school feeling like I needed to find my own way, but I never thought that would be a leadership role. I think it’s something that has grown organically around me as the opportunities have presented themselves.
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?
David> There is no doubt that some people are naturally good at it. They’ve got empathy, drive and skills in their chosen craft to match. But beyond the natural qualities that form your base personality, I believe the rest is built and sharpened by deliberate training and experience.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
David> After 15 years of being in business for myself, I'm truly proud of the amazing people that have worked at REBORN in the past and present. While it is a relatively small team, one of the things I find the most challenging is the personal goal of creating a business that has, and continues to leave a positive impact on the people and clients that work with it.
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?
David> Of course! Being a tad more introverted than I need to be can sometimes result in the harder conversations being left till the absolute last moment. I might tell myself that I'm waiting to see if things can correct themselves, but I try to remind myself that a conversation sooner could also help.
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?
David> Empathetic leadership, transparency and building shared experiences are crucial to create a business culture where people love working together. It’s something that I believe needs to be a big part of the employment process as well as our style of working together.
When there have been hard times, we’ve been transparent and open about them, when tough decisions have to be made, they’re not made lightly or without rationale and when there are wins, everyone celebrates equally.
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?
David> If you had asked me what I would tell my past self to do, it would have been to seek a mentor sooner. I’ve been very grateful to have had mentors over the years from various walks of life, through official and unofficial methods. It is one of the best things you can do to further your knowledge and decision making skills in life and business.
I’ve had the opportunity to mentor an aspiring entrepreneur through TedxSydney many years ago and I found the experience so rewarding and am now looking to repeat that through a few industry mentor/mentee networks.
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?
David> We are very lucky down here in Australia, probably some of the lowest numbers in the world. Coupled with that, I work in an industry that can adapt quickly and work from home without too much compromise. My view on the situation as an opportunity has helped me stay positive when the changes feel overwhelming and we’ve had to find new ways to work with distributed teams and clients.
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?
David> REBORN was created with founders of a mix of races and had the good fortune of attracting a diverse and global talent base. We have always strived to work with good people regardless of gender, age, nationality, religion or sexual orientation.
The atrocities that people still go through in this industry is an important reminder to celebrate and value all people.
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?
David> REBORN prides itself on a great work culture where people feel supported and love coming to work. No doubt working remotely has made it more difficult to develop the collective experience around an office but I'm very grateful for a team that has been able to adapt to the communication requirements of new ways of working.
Company culture is so important and as we’re starting to hire again in 2021 and bring on new team members, the onboarding and building of 100% remote culture has become a new challenge but technology certainly makes it more possible than ever before.
LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
David> While I enjoy listening to audiobooks and podcasts on leadership and strategy, I think the real ‘resource’ is the people around me. My team, my mentors, my wife and family, the people around me that I can trust to provide perspectives that can help shape or impact my decisions.