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Jonno White

7 Questions with Christopher Fox
7 Questions with Christopher Fox

Name: Christopher Fox

Current title: Managing Partner

Current organisation: Syncresis

As Managing Partner of Syncresis, a strategic communications firm focusing exclusively on financial services and fintech, I focus on thought leadership, content marketing, communication strategy, and online marketing program management. I help companies and their top thought leaders raise their public profile by putting their best thinking forward via effective messages, compelling stories, and transformational conversations. I have over two decades of professional experience in public relations and communications, marketing, branding, and project/program management. I am also the founder of Kindness Communication®, which focuses on improving the quality of interaction among colleagues, customers, and stakeholders.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?

Leading a small company makes you ultimately accountable for every aspect of the business. You can be in the middle of designing your next major service offering when a client calls with an urgent request. You can be doing your annual financials when you get an alert that your own company website has gone down. Especially if you have a very strong instinct to roll up your sleeves and solve problems, you can be tempted to take on everything as it comes up. Once you realize that you have to get beyond your own capacity and bandwidth to take your business to the next level, you have to become much more skillful in recognizing what to delegate, how to delegate it clearly, and how to lead people toward taking ownership of the projects you delegate rather than controlling their every step.

2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Earlier in my career, I worked as an employee at other SME consulting firms and agencies. As I matured professionally, I learned how to run and grow large-scale client relationships while managing project teams. In 2007, I took on a freelance assignment for a client that needed a multi-year digital communication strategy. There was so much trust in the relationship that it became clear to me and my client that I would be in the best position to help them execute that strategy. It was a perfect opportunity and I chose to take it. As much as I learned working for others, I always knew I had a strong point of view on communications and strategy, and this project offered a perfect jumping-off point for building a business around it. I set up Syncresis LLC and quickly built a project team to handle various aspects of this new client relationship. The structure and focus of my business have changed dramatically over time, but I have always kept it alive in some form. PS: I'm still working with that very first client.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I wake up when it starts getting light as often as possible. On a typical day, I get out of bed, feed our two cats, and make coffee. Then I sit down—not in my office—and write three pages in my journal. It's a technique I learned from Julia Cameron's work and I have been doing it for many years. I write about anything from personal hopes and challenges to values and beliefs to plans and aspirations for my business. Then I go into my office and take a quick inventory of what I plan to achieve for the day. I prefer to do this before checking emails or Slack so that I don't let other people's agendas skew my priorities for the day. Then I dig into the various messages I may have from clients and team members and figure out how to weave them into my day's priorities. The first half of my day is usually a mix of calls/video conferences and working on specific projects. Because most of my clients are in time zones a few hours ahead of me, my morning is the ideal time for interacting with them. Morning is also one of my most creative times for strategic thinking and writing. In the early afternoon, I get away from my desk for a couple of hours. I eat lunch and usually go for a walk on the beach. When I return to my office, I handle miscellaneous administrative and operational tasks and then come back to working on client projects. I get a second wave of creative energy in the last afternoon and early evening so I like working with my natural rhythms to make the most of it. I'm definitely the cook in my household so I also make dinner and spend a bit of time with my partner in the evening. After dinner, I write a short blog for my business almost daily and then spend the rest of the evening with my partner and our two cats.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should be doing it. It also doesn't mean that your way is the best or the only way to do something. Over time, I have developed a lot more discernment in the choices I make about how to use my time. I have learned which tasks and projects should be handled by people on my team and when it makes sense to add someone directly to my team with the ability to handle parts of the business. I have also gotten much better at deciding what to outsource as my company has grown— there are many skilled freelancers and companies out there who can take care of your bookkeeping, your company website, and anything else that is not part of the core value that your business offers. Finally, the hardest lesson of all was to learn to apply that discernment to my client relationships. Syncresis is a service business. In early days of the business, it was tempting to say yes to clients and projects that were not a great fit, even when I already knew they weren't. I had to learn when not to take on some clients, when to say "no" to existing clients' requests, and even when to put an amicable end to a client relationship if their needs diverged from what I offer. I guess to summarize it, I've learned that focus begets focus.

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?

By far the best leadership book I have ever read is Jerry Colonna's Reboot. I've read it several times. I even give it as a gift to clients from time to time. I love the way that it pushes you to look really deeply at the way your leadership comes from your childhood and continues through various experiences in your life. It offers you a way to bring your implicit assumptions to the surface and examine them. It asks you what you really believe about the world and what you are doing to act on those beliefs. It also makes you ask tough questions about the ways leaders are often complicit in the situations they struggle with the most. Best of all, it does not give you any kind of step-by-step leadership. Colonna makes no assumptions that what worked for him will work for everyone. Instead, he puts you to work to figure it out yourself with provocative questions and insights about the world. I wouldn't be the leader or the strategic consultant that I am today without this book.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?

If you want to build leadership in an SME you have to treat everyone like a leader within their own area of responsibility. It's harder than it sounds because it means dropping perfectionism and putting your ego to the side. It means you have to learn to trust people and give them autonomy, cultivate them and enable them to thrive. An SME becomes toxic when it becomes a cult of personality with people running around trying to cater to the CEO/founder, undermining true leadership development. If you want to build leadership, never let your charisma metastasize into narcissism.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?

When I first started my business, I was working out of my home office. It was winter in New Jersey. For days at a time, I had no particular reason to leave home. I started working more or less the moment I got out of bed and kept going until well into the evening. It wasn't even because of the amount of work I had to do. It simply seemed like that was the best way to handle myself as a new and independent founder. After a few weeks, I found myself feeling really off-kilter both physically and emotionally. I also began second-guessing the wisdom of my decision. I was worried that I was mistaken about my desire to work independently. One cold late February morning, I went up my front walk and realized I hadn't checked the mail in three days. No, actually, I hadn't left the house in three days. I hadn't even opened the door in three days. It hadn't even occurred to me. The reason why I was feeling so strange became crystal clear to me. I saw that I needed to figure out a much healthier and more sustainable way of working. I began making sure to get out for walks or even just a mid-day errand. I set some boundaries on my working time. While life is much different for me now (living in Southern California, in a long-term committed relationship), I still work from home. I dabbled with a WeWork office once a week but stopped because of the pandemic. But I still think back to myself sitting in that winter-bound home office for days at a time from pre-dawn well into the night as the best reminder to keep everything in balance, even now with much more on my plate.