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Career profile: Colin Hatfield, CEO, Visible Leaders

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Get to know your peers in the leadership community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Colin Hatfield, CEO of communications business Visible Leaders.

Basic details

Name: Colin Hatfield 
Job: Founder, Visible Leaders 
Current employer: Visible Leaders 

CV in brief:

2006 – 2012, Partner, The Leadership Agency 
2003 – 2006, Director, Bell Pottinger
1995 – 2002, Founder & Director, In Real Life 
1987 – 1995, Director, Imagination 

A day in the life

Tell us about your job and organisation.

I founded Visible Leaders in late 2012, based on the belief that most communication between leaders and their people relied too heavily on the delivery of information which led to rather transactional relationships. Where was the spark, the inspiration, the nuance? The idea was to introduce many of the techniques found in advertising communication to influence behaviour, and bring these into the world of leadership communication in order to make leaders more influential and engaging.

In 2014 we established a US office, and our consultants and coaches are located all over the world. They come from many diverse fields including journalism, corporate communications, change management and even a couple of barristers for good measure. 

My job is to lead the business – working with clients to identify problems and develop and deliver solutions building our team and developing our capabilities; and as an ambitious and growing business, we always want to keep an eye on business development.  

What's the most rewarding part of your role? 

Working with leaders and seeing their confidence increase as they make step changes in their ability to communicate effectively. 

What's the most challenging part of the role? 

Working globally, you have to be careful the job doesn’t become a 24/7 role. 

What does a typical day look like for you? 

Let’s say today is typical day – I’m starting with a 2-hour session with a client to help him develop his leadership narrative. I’m then going to see another client who is launching a new initiative in his organisation and having to deliver a consistent and compelling message across a complex set of stakeholders. Then it’s back to the office for an hour-long business review meeting with the team, then a quick check-in call with our US business and to finish the day, a meeting with one of our consultants who has a new business idea she wants to discuss.
 
Perks and downsides of your role?

I’m lucky to get to see the world and rack up lots of airmiles in the process. But when it’s at its most intense, the travel can be both exhausting and tough on family life.  

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

It helps to have some communication skills! I also have an innate interest in how influence works in organisations and what leaders can do to exercise it. I try to give a lot of feedback ‘in the moment’, so it’s good to be quick on your feet. You also have to be a quick learner in order to contextualise what a leader is saying to you. And a bit of left-field, lateral thought certainly doesn’t go amiss. 

Career path

How did you get to where you are now? 

I’ve never been phased by trying out new things; seeing what works and what doesn’t. What I do now is no more than an accumulation of things that seem to work and that I enjoy doing. 

What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?

French and economics were my favourites. I wanted to find a degree where I could combine both, which was a challenge back then. I was also desperate to live in France. I ended up at what is now Greenwich University, and had the year of my life working for Philips in Paris as part of my degree. 

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

I wanted to work in a creative agency from the very beginning. It turned out I wasn’t in the right  university to go the normal route into one of the well-known shops, so I started casting the net more widely. I found Imagination, and immediately knew that was where I wanted to be. I loved their work, the people I met, the cool office in Covent Garden. The problem was, just as I met them they’d posted an ad in the Sunday Times and so it was me and about 500 others going for the role. After about seven interviews, I got offered the job. Funnily enough, the client services director who first interviewed me is now my non-exec director at Visible Leaders. 

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

I never set out a career path, and never would (or could). For me, life is about opportunity, and I’m definitely an opportunist!

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

Building the team has been the hardest part. I am hugely proud of the team we’ve pulled together, but it’s incredibly hard finding people who fit the bill and who will excel in what we do. Sometimes we can be quite far down the track bringing someone on board when you realise that they’re not going to be right, and that leads to some tough conversations. 

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

Singing ‘Help’ in a karaoke bar in Tokyo at the request of the prospective client. I’m an appalling singer, and I think he actually took pity on me. 

What's been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Taking the germ of an idea and building it into the business that Visible Leaders has become. No question.
 
Do you have any career regrets?

I wish I’d had better, or at least some, careers advice at school. I could have got into a good university and didn’t realise at the time that the old polys were seen as very much second best. 

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Follow your instincts. 

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self? 

Work a bit harder than you party. 

Either/or:

  • Coffee or tea? There’s a time and a place where both are perfect.
  • Jam or marmalade? Either, so long as they’re made by my brother.
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Beatles (I’m from Liverpool).
  • Mac or PC? Mac. If you don’t know why, it’s impossible to explain. 
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Guardian. Agree with it or not, we need a liberal voice in our media. 
  • BBC or ITV? BBC...it used to be how we grew up. 
  • M&S or Waitrose? M&S...the dressed crab is my lunchtime favourite.
  • Morning or night? Morning...more energy, clarity and opportunities await.  
  • Rain or snow? Snow...with skis. 
  • Sweet or savoury? Just cheese. 

 

Favourites:

App: Loopimal, it brings complete joy to my 3 year old 
TV show: Narcos. Some very interesting leadership techniques displayed by Snr Escobar. 
Band: The Flaming Lips. At War with the Mystics deserves its own desert island. 
Song: Higher than the sun. Happy days..!
Book: A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry. An thought-provoking and shocking take on a beautiful and amazing country.  
Sports team: Liverpool FC. 'Nuff said. 
Thing to do on a Friday night: Family dinner in our local gastro-pub. 
Place to eat: The Lansdowne, Primrose Hill. Used to be my local, still the best pub in London in my book. 
Holiday spot: Majorca...mountains and road bike, what more do you need?
Piece of advice you’ve been given: Remember it’s tough finding a black cat in a dark room. Especially when there is no cat. 

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

Changeboard

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