Lessons from the Top: Jonny Tooze on digital leadership

Photo: Prof Alex Gerbasi of CLDM and Prof Annabelle Gawer of CoDE

CoDE was delighted to co-sponsor a fascinating talk by Jonny Tooze, Founder and MD of LAB, recently. We joined with Surrey Business School’s Centre for Leadership and Decision Making (CLDM) to foster our joint interest in equipping businesses and leaders for the volatile and uncertain Digital environment reaching into every aspect of modern life.

Guildford native Jonny is a natural entrepreneur, as well as a top digital strategist and innovator. Since his teen years, he’s left a trail of businesses in his wake – most recently LAB, a ‘digital agency’ before there was really any such thing, founded when Jonny was just 21. LAB brought together technology, creativity and marketing, and gave Jonny a taste for fast innovation, horizon-scanning, and success.

‘I had no idea what I was doing,’ he confessed to a packed house in the Business insights Lab. ‘I had no mentor, no business education, no training. So – the lessons I can offer are entirely from my own experience. But one thing I DID know: I hated mediocrity. I wanted to grab the world by the scruff of the neck and get the most out of it I could!’

So, we bring you Jonny’s top tips on leadership and success in a very competitive, very fast-paced, and extremely unforgiving sector:

  • Leadership is hard! People need consistency from a leader, and that’s difficult in an agency environment;
  • The only leadership style used to be ‘boss’ or ‘ruler’. Now, you can lead as a ‘visionary’ – BUT, if you live with your head in the future, you need a business partner who’s a ‘filter’ to keep you and your plans grounded;
  • Delegation is a massive part of leadership – BUT, trust your instincts, and don’t delegate to someone you sense is not up to the job;
  • ‘I’m the worst coach in the world’: a lack of patience makes leadership even more challenging;
  • ‘You learn better from mistakes’: they bring you organic, real, human feedback;
  • Make time to think – and more importantly, make time to LEAD, not DO. Many leaders forget where their real added value is, and get caught in the trap of trying to do the work for the team instead of leading the team;
  • Milennials need more leadership than most: they grew up getting medals for competing, not winning; plus, they are more used to having relationships online than in person. They struggle with reality, and with hard work’.
  • NIFO = ‘Nose In; Fingers Out’. Don’t meddle in the day to day!

Finally, what are Jonny’s top three ingredients for success? Tenacity (‘it’s infectious’); Confidence (‘it compels your clients very powerfully to ACT’); and Persuasiveness (‘I favour the Omega style of selling: removing the barriers that are preventing people from acting’).

CLDM Director Professor Alex Gerbasi had to gently but firmly wind up the evening, as Jonny’s engaging and approachable style meant the questions kept coming. Shining light on the challenges of business in a digital economy is what CoDE is all about; we look forward to seeing Jonny back on campus soon.

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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.