Leading with a soft touch

28 June 2015 - 02:00 By Jeremy Maggs

Discovery fast-paced CEO, Adrian Gore, far too invigorated to be believed after the CEO sleep-out, reflected seriously on the essence of leadership at the inaugural Sunday Times Top 100 Companies Leaders on the Move programme. And among the standard items such as listening, engaging and a healthy respect for risk, he said his job was also to apply pressure on stress points in his company and sit back and wait for an instructed outcome. That might pay handsome dividends in the financial services industry, but leading an advertising agency requires a very different, empathetic approach.story_article_left1And no one more exemplifies this than Ogilvy & Mather chairwoman Nunu Ntshingila-Njeke, who is stepping down after 15 years. Just after the announcement was made this week, I was called by several staff members who, while respecting her decision, said a little bit of the soul of the agency group was being stripped away and that her powers of intense listening, lightness of spirit and quick decision-making would be missed.Ntshingila-Njeke became CEO of O&M South Africa in 2005. She spent the next seven years at the helm and oversaw the output of award-winning creative and effective work for clients.In an industry dominated by men, she is highly respected for her female promotion strategy and seeing the big African advertising picture long before many of her rivals.In 2012, she stepped down as CEO and assumed the role of chairwoman and was elected as the Africa representative to join O&M's worldwide board.story_article_right2Moss Mashishi, who takes over the chairman's role, said: "An exceptional individual, she has made countless contributions to the company's success, while her kind-hearted nature has attracted and inspired clients, employees and the industry at large. She will be missed for her unique insights, creativity and inspiration."I've known her for several years, and even during a period when she faced serious health challenges, she always had time to engage and had no problem extending a meeting if there was value for both parties. But when you interviewed her, best bring your A-game: she'd challenge your assumptions, dismiss a weak argument and not be shy to call if there was the slightest error in the final product.At the Leaders on the Move programme, marketing superhero Brand Pretorius spoke on his favourite topic, servant-leadership - being in a position of authority to better the lives and fortunes of your customers and staff. Ntshingila-Njeke brought much the same style to her leadership: while being a tough negotiator with the best interests of her agency at the core, she nonetheless thought deeply about the human side of the business. I sense Ogilvy will miss her touch, as will her clients.Maggs is a writer and broadcaster and edits the marketing website theredzone.co.za..

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