Paul Bellows, Yellow Pencil's agency leader

Scouting out the future and leading clients through the zig-zag changing world. Paul Bellows of Yellow Pencil is our guest, talking about how he's done that while leading his agency for so long and how he gets external viewpoints and learning to develop the strategy and evolve his leadership.
The agency business model is to help client organisations interface with the world. Clients present a flat square edge. The world is zig-zag.

Steve and Joe talk through the challenges that agencies have to scout out, navigate and lead clients through in this zig-zag world, and yet still present another edge to clients that is solid and dependable. What challenges does this present for agency leaders?

Many factors are creating the change and causing the zigs and the zags now - technology, society, politics, economics. It's a time of enormous flux in the world.

As leaders we have to take proper time and a mindful approach to stepping back from the day to day of the business to look further ahead.

Our guest on this episode is Paul Bellows, founder and CEO of Yellow Pencil, a public sector digital agency in Edmonton and Vancouver, Canada. Paul talks about:
  • Grew ad hoc up to nearly 40 people in the early days of the web, focused on publishing at scale.
  • Partnered with one CMS platform in particular, with all the agency's work coming from that partner.
  • Suddenly the partner end of life's that platform.
  • Paul had to reinvent the business while still paying 37 people. Stopped paying himself and thought about what sort of business they wanted to be, put in place the structure and tools rather than running ad hoc.
  • Joined agency community bureau of digital And found like minds and peer mentors.
  • Over the years he saw a few key stages of growth, inflection points.
  • First the company moved from a small group of people into being a company - and he moved from being one of the team to being the leader of the team.
  • At the next inflection point you need a certain amount of overhead, someone looking after hr, finance etc - and he became the leader of the leadership team.
  • Around this time what becomes key as a leader is being able to encode your values and the purpose into the business.
  • Paul's undergoing his next big inflection point now.
  • You need clarity, recipes to get consistent results.
  • His role as leader is to give clarity and direction.
  • In this growth they grew through crises and Paul realised he needed to reinvent himself as well as the business. You're still yourself, and need to stay true to yourself, but you change how you show up.
  • You need external input - an advisory board, a peer group.
  • Supporting and mentoring others is also helpful because you hear yourself giving good advice and realising that perhaps you should do that yourself!
  • Has a leadership team with key roles.
  • Don't have an external board right now. Used to have one but haven't for a few years. Looking to reestablish it.
  • Paul's in a peer coaching group with CEO peers.

Steve and Joe discuss some of the insights from Paul's interview, and they mention three agency leaders communities.

The Convivio Agency Leaders Podcast is presented by Steve Parks and Dr Joe Baker.

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