"Those 8 weeks away from work freed me to be a better leader"

A career tip from Havas Creative CEO Chris Hirst.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 11 Jun 2019

There are defining moments in every leader’s life which shape their career trajectory and management style. Sometimes you can only appreciate the significance of these events when you look back.

For Havas Creative global CEO Chris Hirst, the pivotal moment came away from the office. In 2008, as MD of ad agency Grey London, he spent eight weeks stateside attending Harvard’s Advanced Management Programme.

He says this was a defining moment, not for the obvious networking opportunities or access to first class leadership coaching, but because it allowed him to disconnect with his past.

"On the first day I walked into this classroom of 180 new people and throughout those eight weeks, I came to realise that I could be whoever I wanted to be. I was no longer just seen as that guy who works in advertising. Taking that step away was really liberating for how I thought about my career because it freed me from my past and my future.  

"Without doubt that changed my life and the timing, just before I became CEO, was right for me. I'm not saying that I had this huge negative legacy to get rid of, but we've all got a past right, we're all experiences to this point.

"I’m an ambitious person and like to think about what direction my career is going next, what I’d like to achieve and how to get there, but up until that point I’d found it difficult to think about that without looking through the lens of my past. Either thinking that ‘I can’t do this because I’m this person or because this is where my skill set is’.

"Those eight weeks allowed me to disconnect from that and that allows you to look at all sorts of situations differently. I had never really thought about leadership, about what it really meant, but just the act of actually asking yourself the question, outside the bubble of your day-to-day job is a really useful and important thing for any leader to do.

"My advice isn’t that everyone should go to business school - that is just the situation I found myself in - but instead try every day to disconnect yourself from the past because the past is just a story you tell yourself - it's happened, it's gone.

"I think if we could all do that we'd all be happier people."

Image credit: milkroman6/Getty images



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