Leadership Story: Jenny Burns made her mark in communications, branding and customer experience at large corporations. Purpose driven, she moved to leading a startup and becoming CEO of the scale up, Magnetic, where she is on a mission to design better futures.
What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach or style changed over time?
For me, leadership is about influencing and guiding others towards a shared goal. It entails having a clear vision, making decisions responsibly, and being accountable for both successes and failures. Effective leaders communicate well, act with integrity, and demonstrate empathy. They empower their team, adapt to change, and are resilient in the face of challenges. At its essence, leadership is not just about authority but about serving others and bringing out the best in them.
Over 26 years, I’ve undergone significant shifts in perspectives and methodologies, which have stemmed from personal growth and the accumulation of varied life experiences, which have helped me have a richer understanding of the world. The rapid technological advancements of recent decades have reshaped how I communicate, gather information, and tackle everyday tasks. Moreover, societal values and cultural norms have evolved, so for example I’ve placed an increasing emphasis on things like diversity and of course, inclusion and the importance of both in leadership and business success. Moving through different life stages, different career opportunities and different challenges also gives you a different perspective. I’ve always been empathetic in my approach, but now I can really put myself in people’s shoes having experienced so much and it really helps when supporting people to succeed and be their best.
What have been the biggest challenges and the biggest successes in your life, and what have you learned from them?
I’ve had a career of two unequal halves. The first in big corporate, often global, organisations and the second for the last 6 years as a CEO of a start-up to scale up. I rose the ranks of corporate life and became the Group Brand Director of a well-known insurer. I’d say this was my biggest success and biggest challenge. I’m a non-conformist often looking for how things can be improved and done better, I hate bureaucracy and hierarchy especially if they get in the way of getting things done, so it’s a miracle I ‘survived’ for so long in large companies. That said, I look back on that part of my career fondly because I learnt so much about how to navigate stakeholders, deal with politics and moreover, how to influence. Being able to influence senior people is critical in any walk of life and any level. A big part of being able to influence is to be able to tell impactful stories. We often say in the innovation industry that it’s not the best ideas that win, but the best stories.
What advice do you have for younger women aspiring to leadership roles?
Leading on from the above, my biggest piece of advice for anyone, but particularly women, is to learn the art of impactful and compelling storytelling. We know storytelling can move people. A good story, told well, can persuade people to act. Persuasion is the centrepiece of business activity. It can convince consumers to buy a product or service, employees to buy into a new programme, purpose, brand or strategic plan, investors to part with hard-earned cash, and a leader to invest in an initiative that’s going to bring value to a business.
The ability to share compelling and engaging stories is probably the most under-utilised business skill. At a time when things around us are dramatically changing fast, business leaders are in a prime position to lead the charge and help people navigate change.
You can read an article I wrote on this here.
A big part of being able to influence is to be able to tell impactful stories.