Otherboard: Leaders are not alone

Otherboard is a company that champions creativity, providing creative management advice for people running creative organisations, based on the wealth of knowledge and experience of its founder and CEO, IOEE Member Louisa Pau. Louisa has ‘been there and done that’, forming Otherboard so she could pass on everything she learnt from setting up her own successful advertising agency. Otherboard prides itself on being able to deliver a bespoke sounding board, being the ‘wise and supportive best friend’ who will always give you honest answers from a clear-headed point of view, and who understands exactly what you’re going through. This month we chatted to Louisa talk about how serious stress led to new beginnings, and why it’s so important to take the loneliness out of leadership.

Louisa Pau founded an advertising agency in 1993, sold it in 2007, and stayed in the business for several years before she left it behind and launched her new venture, Otherboard. However, whilst there are many parallels in going it alone and setting up her two businesses, the motivation and inspiration behind each venture was very different.

Louisa says: “When I think about what drove me to make the transition from working for other people to working for myself and launching the ad agency back in the day… I left a good job and a company car and a nice office and a lovely salary… so it was probably naivety! I was very idealistic, and just thought, ‘well, if other people can do this, then so can I!’ But that idealistic can-do attitude is probably what got me through, along with my amazing business partner, because it can be a very lonely place being a leader. However, when I set up Otherboard my motivation was very different.”

After Louisa sold her advertising agency in 2007 she faced an unexpected health scare, and it was this that helped to shape the future of her career.

Louisa says: “I realise now that I probably got so ill due to the stress I had been under, and having a health scare gave me a very different perspective on life. I understand how important self-development is, something I hadn’t made time for in my previous career, and it’s especially important in smaller businesses. In a big corporate company there are support systems in place, coaching and courses and mentoring, but in a smaller business the leaders still need it; they’re under the same amount of stress, sometimes more as they have the weight of the company resting on their shoulders, and I feel passionately that we all have a responsibility to take the loneliness out of leadership.

“Leaving the ad agency gave me time for reflection and I found myself in a very different position to when I’d started it. I’d sold the business and had some finances behind me, and my kids were grown up and I no longer needed to factor in things like the school run. It was time for a new venture, and what I was most interested in was being able to impact on other businesses, who could benefit from my experience.

Five years ago I set up Otherboard, and my methodology is all around positive psychology. If you focus on people’s strengths they feel great about what they can achieve. Self-developments sits right next to business development.”Think Enterprise | 13

Otherboard delivers practical management advice for people running creative organisations, helping senior people deal with the sorts of issues they see every day, from developing a business strategy to managing conflict. Its service is built around a relationship with an individual – ‘a bit like having your own non-exec; not someone you have to answer to, but someone you can find answers with’ – and ordinarily includes one or all of Otherboard’s three principle methods of delivery: Business Guidance, One on One Coaching and Workshops. Louisa says:

“Whatever approach we take, it’s not formulaic. Creative organisations often don’t want to sit around in a boring board meeting; they’ll want a more unique and visionary approach, so I honour that. Otherboard offers structure and support to keep people focussed and on-track, but in a style that acknowledges and understands the importance of creative companies staying true to their approach and identity. What gives me the credibility and confidence is that I’ve ran my own business and I can empathise. I’ve faced the challenges and endured the set-backs, and I know how hard it is.

“Whilst there can be a message out there that glorifies being busy and stressed, I’ve always been fierce about employees leaving work on time and taking holiday – as a boss I’d say, ‘if you’re not getting your work done then you’re either inefficient or under-resourced – both of which I need to know about!’ People are frightened of being away from their business, but I tell them that if they take a week off here and there then they’ll be fine, and working outside and inside of the business are equally as valuable in enabling it to grow.”

This outside-inside approach is channelled in a literal sense through Otherboard’s Vision Intensive Day, which takes people outside and away from their business to access fresh thinking around important issues and ideas, such as identifying or refreshing your vision for yourself as a leader. The day is held at Burgh House, a picturesque setting near Hampstead Health, and the course makes the most of its location with a series of exercises taking place on the Heath and a lunch where people can exchange stories and ideas and build new relationships. Louisa says:

“I don’t strictly call it a networking experience, but the Vision Intensive Day opens the door for creative entrepreneurs to find a sense of community and belonging, combating the loneliness of leadership and opening doors to new people and experiences, and this is invaluable. It is also why I decided to become a Member of the IOEE, because I need this sense of community as well as my clients, and it is an opportunity to join a big network of established and budding entrepreneurs. After five years of helping other people’s businesses, now feels like the right time to start scaling up and growing my own business too, and I’m looking forward to seeing who I will meet and where this membership will take me and my business in the future.”