Illustration: Funda Çevik Dinsdale

Life Lessons #2: Farah Ramzan Golant

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 14 min read · August 19, 2020

9 leadership threads from Farah Ramzan Golant, CEO, kyu EMEA

Authors: Burcu Demirok, Kerem AlperEditors: Arda Kolukısa, Deniz Yazıcıoğlu, Melissa Clissold, Özgür ArslanContributing author: Farah Ramzan Golant In-text illustrations: Aleyna Tezer

In March of this year, with our new initiative ATÖLYE Academy, we launched an event series titled "Life Lessons" where we would host locally and globally renowned creative leaders from our network. On our previous Medium post, we shared a little more on this new event series along with our reflections from the first event in which we hosted IDEO's CEO Sandy Speicher. Feel free to take a peek.

On the second event of the series, our guest was Farah Ramzan Golant, the kyu Collective's CEO for EMEA. At the event, Farah shared her personal and professional story with a keen audience, focusing on the theme of "navigating through uncertainty," especially in times of crises. To our delight, Farah also introduced nine valuable learnings that she shared as "lived leadership experience" - which we will share in more detail below.

Farah's share awakened a strong urge to reflect on the invaluable experiences we go through at ATÖLYE that we often go without taking a moment to reflect upon as they deserve - both at an individual and an organizational level. This is why, at the end of this piece, we wanted to share the emergent feelings that came about after Farah's story, by looking for connections between her story and our purpose, our approach on community curation, and our stance against challenges. Reflecting upon what Farah uncovered, we stumbled upon a few new avenues to explore in our own thinking as we grow as a "Community," gravitating around the concepts of leadership and "leading each other."

A screenshot from the event

The event

Moving all of our events and programming to the virtual realm gave us an amazing reach of diversity and multidisciplinarity, which is perfectly aligned with ATÖLYE's philosophy on communities and the foundational values we place at the core of our thinking.

At this event, we hosted over 200 people from all over the world with a diverse set of skills, experiences, and backgrounds. There were people from the fields of design, entrepreneurship, gastronomy, engineering, data, art, education, and more who connected from cities spanning the world; San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Boston, London, Munich, Istanbul, Dubai, Tokyo to name a few.

Who is Farah Ramzan Golant?

Farah Ramzan Golant

Albeit through a Zoom window, we were lucky enough to listen to Farah's life story in amazingly vivid detail. Born in Nairobi to an Asian family, Farah moved to the UK at a very early age, and attended the University of Cambridge to study Modern Languages.

Following her graduation, she began her career at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, becoming their CEO after 15 years, and later moved on to CEO roles in a variety of creative and media companies. She served on the British Prime Minister's Business Advisory Group, served as the Chief Executive of All3Media, and she was commissioned by Nike to become the CEO of Girl Effect, a creative non-profit building youth brands and mobile platforms to empower girls to change their lives.

In 2018, Farah's story brought her to join the kyu Collective. kyu (pronounced "q") is a global collective of creatively-led organizations whose purpose is to use creativity as a source to propel the economy and the society forward. Currently, Farah is driving kyu's international expansion plans with a specific remit to look for new acquisition opportunities, as well as accelerating the collaboration efforts between member companies to deliver high impact outcomes for kyu's clients and for the world.

Farah is also the primary reason as to why and how ATÖLYE joined the kyu Collective and she has played a pivotal role in ATÖLYE's journey ever since. Under Farah's invaluable guidance since joining kyu, ATÖLYE has participated in numerous international projects, collaborating with other kyu member companies such as IDEO and SYPartners, expanded its operations to the Middle East and London, and has been energetically contributing to the global literature around how creative communities can be curated, engaged, and mobilized for positive impact through design.

9 Leadership Threads from Farah

Farah was kind enough to share her life journey with us very intimately. But, alongside her story, she put together a set of leadership "threads" which we believe will inspire anyone who has been exploring this subject.

Here is Farah's 9 leadership threads:

Know the difference between leading vs. managing

If we look at the etymology of the word "leader" from Old Norse to German, Dutch, and Old English, the root verb defines a leader as "the one who chooses the path." Whereas a "manager," deriving from the Latin "manus" (by hand, manually) is the "one who brings the horses down the path." In Farah's words, "There are times when you are choosing the path, and that is your responsibility. You must use all of your experience to choose a path. But, there are also times where the path is already chosen and where you need to lead by managing - leading the horses down the path. I think both roles need to be fulfilled at different times."

Recognize where you are in the challenge - whether you are leading or managing - because you are not always in the same place and you are expected to flex your skills.

Understand and embrace the purpose-profit spectrum

Enterprises need to grow, you need to make profit in order to invest back into people and platforms. Understand the spectrum and that you are constantly moving on that spectrum. In some cases, you'll need to focus on profit more concretely, and in others, you have to accent your purpose more intensely. There is an invaluable balance between purpose and profit. You cannot cherish one and deny the other. The balance is fragile but you have to find it in order to be authentic and successful.

This should not be a polarizing or a brutal paradox. Seek the optimum balance for your context and capability.

Constantly and restlessly, look and think ahead

In Farah's experience, in addition to the need for resilience and adaptability, you benefit from "restless development" energetically looking and planning ahead, even as you act in the now.

No matter how good or bad things look continuously ask questions to challenge the status quo. It helps you be grounded as well as lift your sights to the opportunities that are emerging.

Seek out plural perspectives over a monologue

The leader often thinks they have to have a fixed perspective - in the face of challenge. For Farah, the plurality of perspectives is what makes a stronger leader. Leaders go out of their way to hear the perspective of others around them at all levels.

No single voice is right all the time about everything. So, the value is holding multiple, competing, and often contradictory perspectives in a strong framework. You don't try to compress them or leave them in chaos, instead, you hold them "in a whole" so you can constantly have a rounded view of the world, and evaluate options and risks.

Resist the urge to solve every problem - right there, right then

The speed of response is undoubtedly important. If you're having a heart attack, the speed at which a healthcare practitioner gets to you will determine your survival.

But, when you're beset with shocks or challenges in the organization, there is value in resisting the urge to solve every single problem in the moment they come at you, with the information available at that one moment in time.

So, as opposed to the notion of solving a problem in the moment, as quickly as possible, there are times when pausing and creating a stillness will go a long way to determining and enacting the solution.

Know what the frontline is thinking and doing

By the frontline, Farah means the hard end of where the work is being done, the ones who work with clients to create and deliver in the real world.

Showing up meaningfully where great effort (and stress) is being experienced by the organization and the people who are delivering is crucial - along with seeking out the youngest, freshest, and the most unvarnished minds as a barometer and source of ideas.

Unless you know what the frontline is experiencing, you don't know how to empower and support them in real-time.

Consciously place women at the core of decision-making

This is vital and simple. Female voices, perspectives, and experience need to be explicitly elevated and valued, otherwise, the core strength of the organization will always be partially empty no matter how else you try to fill it. Diversity and inclusion priorities are a "must-do" not a "nice to have" in today's context.

Do not try to lead everyone the same way; enable gifted people to "fly"

Creative people are wired to resist being led if leadership is directive or commanding and controlling. Their true need is to be given the freedom to explore, invent, and create within reasonable parameters. They need conversations not KPI's, empathy not strategy, and oxygen not heat.

They will also always remember how you helped them fly or if you've clipped their wings.

Be careful not to get stuck in the old story

Most leaders are great storytellers. But once you've landed a beautiful story, it is really hard to come off it, re-craft and evolve it.

Be that as it may, stories need new characters, new chapters, and plot lines, new jeopardy. It's easy to get stuck in a story that once really worked, but is now way past its "sell by" date.


What does leadership mean for ATÖLYE?

Like most startups, navigating through uncertainty has been an existential part of ATÖLYE's journey since the day it was founded. In addition to this, being rooted in Turkey, a country where there is no shortage of crises, resilience and adaptability are in the epicenter of our DNA. Below, you'll find our reflections on what has emerged in us after hearing Farah's story and her nine leadership threads.

Embracing the purpose-profit spectrum

As a purpose driven organization, we have been conscious of the importance of navigating the "purpose-profit spectrum" in a balanced way. Our core value proposition lies in the power of curation. Constantly seeking to unlock the potential of positive impact in the world, we employ absolute diligence in curating our Community, our partners, and clients. As a result, we curate the type of projects and challenges we tackle. We believe in the value of scarcity - the scarcity of time, attention, and connections - to breed quality.

As an organization, ATÖLYE consists of multiple arms: A Creative Hub, an Academy, and a Strategic Design Studio. Among these, The Creative Hub is the place where we can bring impact-oriented opportunities to our wider Community. On top of this, most of our Creative Hub's explorations can be rendered non-profit initiatives that "aim to engage, nurture, and mobilize its members to create an environment where people can purposefully contribute to the world as their best selves." With our most recent exploration, ATÖLYE Academy, we aspire to facilitate people's transformational journeys by unleashing their true creative potentials. Lastly, the Strategic Design Studio offers a solid footing for this Community of changemakers to collaborate against the complex challenges at hand.

A snapshot from when ATÖLYE first joined the kyu Collective

From a larger perspective, the kyu Collective's purpose is "to be a source of creativity which propels the economy and society forward." kyu aspires to create a larger impact in societies around the world through harnessing the power of the creative collective it has got together. The Collective consists of diligently curated, cutting edge creative organizations with the aim of creating value through connecting seemingly disconnected dots by understanding, connecting, and exploring the edges of what our societies need now and what they'll need in the decades to come.

Since we joined kyu, we've strived to act as the connective tissue within the Collective aiming to explore novel ways to collaborate and connect with other kyu members.

Seeking out multiple perspectives

As emphasized by Farah, today's challenges require us to have a more pluralistic perspective, and our Community is the key component that enables us to embrace a pluralistic perspective rather than a monologic discourse. Our drive is to tackle complex problems that cannot be solved through a single discipline and voice, but instead through bringing our diverse Community and transdisciplinary teams together.

Within our Community, we believe in the untapped potential of both social and professional interactions that are formed through creative collisions.

Rather than managing our Community, we aim to embrace an approach focused on nourishing the talent.

This is never a one-way relationship; reciprocity lies at the heart of our Community, and we expect all members to contribute in a meaningful way.

On the other hand, our Community also allows us to curate more specialized teams to hone in on the more specific challenges our partners, clients, and stakeholders face. Each Community member brings a unique skill-set and experience to the table. While they pursue their individual goals, we collaborate in various engagements where we think we can discover niche areas together addressing the specific needs in our engagements.

At kyu, the creative organizations come together not only to create impact within their fields, but to also explore new territories through collaboration. If you take a glance at the select projects each kyu member has been tackling, it's hard not to notice how these cutting-edge organizations might form unconventional partnerships around impactful projects.

On this particular note, we've had the opportunity to collaborate with our "kyusins" (other kyu members) over the past year on various engagements, mostly in the UAE. By leveraging our global and local network of freelancers along with our team, we have formed ongoing collaborative relationships with IDEO and Palmwood in the creation and delivery of a curriculum aiming to equip UAE Government officials with Human Centered Design tools to tackle the nation's most significant challenges. This collaboration was a successful demonstration of how diverse teams, companies, and approaches can unlock new ways to collaborate on highly ambiguous fronts.

Not getting stuck in our old story

At ATÖLYE, our greatest nightmare is probably getting stuck in an "old story." We consider ourselves an organization that is constantly trying to evolve and reinvent itself. Thanks to Farah and other inspiring leaders within the kyu family (on top of the neverending inspiration we get from our Community), we are constantly in an exploratory spirit to find a better, fresher, and more relevant story. This is best demonstrated when we expose ourselves to any challenge, with the power of plurality and diversity within our community, we try to figure out what a novel way to design and implement a solution could be. We feel that this notion we carry is driven mostly by our appetite for learning and growth. This is why we embrace each challenge as a learning opportunity.

As a relatively young organization, we get our strength from our ever-growing community of creatives and our collectively accumulated know-how - which would not have been possible with a traditionally structured organizational model at this scale.

Where we stand today, we intend to write new stories on each new interaction we get into with our community, partners, or stakeholders. We are excited to be part of the kyu story that allows us to tackle bolder and bigger challenges in unison with other kyu members.

What does leadership mean to you?

It's an interesting exercise to think about how all these pieces fit together to form different pictures for each of us. We would love to hear your thoughts.

What do these learnings mean to you personally?

What do they mean for your organization?

Closing remarks

We would like to thank Farah once again for such an inspiring talk and for her personable presence that reached us through our screens. We would also like to extend our thanks to all participants for their time, thoughts, and contribution.

Also, please do check out the live harvesting visual below which was captured by ATÖLYE Academy's Learning Designer Zeynep Akyul Yavuz, to give you a sense of what emerged during the event.

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