Episode 100: Crisis Leadership and the Art of Being Flexible

In a world where readiness for unexpected challenges is crucial, how can leaders foster resilience, inclusivity, and creativity within their teams? This episode explores the importance of putting people first, embracing diversity in the creative sector, and leveraging collaboration during difficult times. You'll also discover insights on finding growth opportunities amid disaster, managing mental health as a leader, and practical lessons on being resilient and flexible in tumultuous times.

James Burstall is CEO of Argonon, one of the UK’s top international independent production groups. The group is headquartered in London with hubs in New York, Los Angeles, Oklahoma, Liverpool and Glasgow. The group produces shows ranging from The Masked Singer through to iconic current affairs program Dispatches, critically-acclaimed BBC One series Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard to much-loved BBC drama Worzel Gummidge.

His book The Flexible Method – Prepare to Prosper In The Next Global Crisis offers a practical guide to preparing for a crisis, with unique insights from leaders across the board – including media, health, hospitality, travel and non-profit.

James has worked as an executive producer and producer-director for broadcasters all over the world. Prior to his television career, he was a journalist, working as a writer and editor in Paris, London and New York for Vanity Fair, Condé Nast Traveler, HG, Vogue, The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard.

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Episode Highlights

  • How James’ background as a journalist shaped his values and decision-making as a leader.
  • Making tough decisions that aligned with personal principles even when they conflicted with his organization’s.
  • Promoting diversity not just internally but also in how Argonon’s business is run.
  • Why promoting diversity matters to James
  • Making the decision to prioritize the health and morale of employees over commercial interests.
  • How managers can insulate employees from common stressors in the creative sector.
  • How Argonon orchestrated the transition of a global workforce from in-office to remote in 48 hours.
  • How creating “cobra teams” helped Argonon navigate the early days of the pandemic.
  • Embodying kindness as a CEO.
  • Striking a balance between being vulnerable and oversharing with employees.
  • Tapping into personal support networks during times of crisis.
  • How the pandemic has shaped and transformed James’ leadership style.

James’ view on the greatest unmet wellbeing need at work today

"Mental health is probably the biggest concern. I think that stress and mental wellbeing is now more acute than ever. And I'm pleased that, for example, Prince Harry has talked about mental health among young men. I think that's a really healthy move in the right direction. Because the truth is that it's completely normal and human sometimes not to feel great, or even to get depressed. It happens to us. It's not nice, but it does happen. There are many tools available, and we made those tools available to all our people.

We need to make sure that we are listening to our people, that people have a proper recourse, whether it's through HR or through their managers to speak about what they're really feeling. And if they're struggling, we want people to tell us about it, because then we can do something about it together."

What “working with humans” means to James

“I loved it when you approached me to have this conversation. Because working with humans is exactly what we do. And that's who we are as an organization.

We are all about people. We're all about talent. Argonon wouldn't exist without our people. We don't have loads of machinery…What we have is amazingly creative individuals. And it's when those individuals come together, they create magic. And we create amazing programs, whether it's drama with documentary or reality or entertainment. We've won more than 125 international awards. We entertain millions of people all over the world.

And how has that happened? It was because of people coming together in a very supportive, inclusive environment. And when you do that, they create incredible work.”

Michael Glazer is the creator and host of Humans At Work. His purpose in life is to make well-being at work a globally-accepted, basic human right. Learn more about Michael here.