Left to right: Thithi Nteta and Thabang Skwambane
Among the change-makers and respected industry leaders were FCB Joburg’s group managing director Thabang Skwambane and FCB Joburg deputy managing director Thithi Nteta reflecting on the reality of previous years in a session called “Finding Inspiration and Creativity in a Time of Crisis”.
The pair sat down to retrace what work life was like during the height of the global pandemic in South Africa and how, as a group, FCB Joburg used unity as a valuable point to maintain stability during a time of crisis. Skwambane recounted how he lent on authentic leadership to guide his team in the most honest manner; he shared a genuine account of his fears and aspirations to his staff, displaying courage with vulnerability in a companywide letter to staff from the directors’ desk. This communication proved effective in building an attitude of unity and caused the team to rally together.
“I remember certainly not wanting to talk about or expose my feelings because I felt guilty that other people were experiencing greater grief and were going through more challenges. There were so many decisive moments within the organisation where we confronted our shame, and gave the agency the opportunity to create a safe space for people to feel and be a certain way. This allowed for a deeper connection amongst the team, colleagues, partners and clients – who fuelled us to do the work that we needed to do,” stated Skwambane.
As he continued, it became clear that being vulnerable was the very reason for inspiration that propelled the organisation and its leadership to recognise the powerful phenomenon that lies in openly discussing individual and collective fragility when confronted by unfamiliar situations like those brought on by the pandemic.
Navigating the crisis together whilst still being apart, informed the group’s reimagined vision for themselves in that extraordinary things happen among people that genuinely connect with each other. The power of this newfound connection saw us coin a new phrase or team credo - “we are never finished making extraordinary happen every day.”
In unpacking vulnerability, Nteta confessed to the challenges she faced in asking for help in contradiction to her enduring nature especially after falling ill during that period. “Allowing and letting people on my team know that I was struggling was very hard. However, this led to a breakthrough and new rapport with team members. I do believe that it is important for leaders to show emotions, it allows others to exercise empathy. It sets a tone I believe, for how we then communicate and treat each other.”
This attitude of empathy guided us through tough business discussions at the height of hard lockdown, when some of our clients felt the financial pinch and were looking to instate cost cutting measures. Through discussion we were able to place ourselves in their shoes – and collaborate for a solve, and remain deeply connected partners and, once hard lockdown was over, we were able to work with one another, rebuild and navigate the current normal together.
During the toughest times of last year, FCB Joburg instituted numerous initiatives internally to offer support to staff and clients. This saw, the birth of initiatives and programmes to tackle issues that came out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Other initiatives included the sending of care packages to those in need, providing telephonic counselling and professional services to those staff members and creating platforms that offered a safe space for members of the organisation to engage in issues that deeply affected people.
Notwithstanding the societal shifts brought about by the challenging global pandemic, there have been various developments in the industry, particularly now as the remote working trend continues. It is of paramount importance to remain courageous and forge an openness and willingness to tackle every brief that leads to different perspectives and that leaves ourselves, clients and their stakeholders inspired – striving to continue to “never finish making extraordinary happen every day.”