Name: Daniel Willis
Title: Chairman & CEO
Daniel is the Chairman and CEO of multi-award-winning advertising agency Claxon. A former finance industry CEO ,Daniel specialises in scaling companies within fast paced dynamic industries. In addition to Claxon he also has interests within alcohol, tech, consumer products, film production and venture capital.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Daniel's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
The answer to that question has changed quite significantly throughout my career. Early on it was simply the challenge of understanding what great leadership even looked like and what I should be striving for. In recent years its been dealing with both an industry talent shortage, combined with a huge shift in employee expectations. Any business is only as good as it's people and recent post covid changes have made it increasingly harder to balance the needs of both people and profit.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My first exposure to leadership came when I was thrust into the role of captain of my soccer team at the age of 7. From there I just always seemed to naturally want to lead people. I wasn't great with authority and always thought I could do a better job so I jumped at any opportunity I had to move up within my career. There's obviously a significant difference between being in a leadership role and being a true leader, and I don't believe that I really started to find my feet until my mid 30's in this regard.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Awake at 5am, up at 5:30am to go to an intense 1hr HIIT session or the gym, then back home, walk our 2 puppies with my amazing girlfriend, drop the kids at school and head into the office. I work my ass off while at work but deleted my work emails off of my phone a few years ago and don't take my laptop home. After what is largely a relaxing night I generally am asleep at around 9pm (I need 8 hours sleep) so I'm ready to smash the following day!
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
These are all probably more commercial lessons than leadership lessons but I'll share them anyway.
1) "Better people are better". This is in contrast to the misconception that "more people are better" in a company. 1 exceptional person can outperform 3 or 4 mediocre ones.
2) Best known will always outperform best product, best price or best service. Just think of McDonalds and ask yourself if they serve the best burgers.
3) Different is better than better. Stop trying to be an apple to everyones orange, be a chainsaw. You'll be impossible to compare against.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Losing my Virginity by Richard Branson. This book really taught me that leadership, and business is hard. Always. No business runs smoothly and there are always challenges. It was the lesson that relentlessness is the key ingredient in successful leaders, they simply don't stop and despite business being war, they never ever let their team see them sweat!
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Leadership is a skillset in the same way that playing the piano, or playing tennis is. Yes some people are naturally more suited to leadership roles, in the same way that some people are naturally better at some sports than others, however it can still be learnt effectively with enough practice. So invest time in yourself by reading books, listening to podcasts and taking courses on leadership and remember that true leadership is not a destination but a journey, and the journey of becoming a great leader is generally measured in decades.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
Covid was such a disruptive experience for every leader in business (and not just leaders). It did however quickly separate good from bad, and good from great leaders as I would argue that no greater forced test of leadership in a macro sense has occurred in the last 15 years (previously it was the GFC). Great leaders make their mark ensuring that despite the chaos and uncertainty they stay calm and centred, giving their teams and businesses the confidence and clear direction to move forward. A leaders ability to demonstrate this calmness under fire had a significant direct impact on how businesses performed and cultures thrived or died over this time.