Allen, who left school at 16 years old with no qualifications, carved out a successful name in Belfast’s local property market before the crash in 2008 left him bankrupt. He then started web design agency 3SIXTY Create in 2009. The business grew to almost £300k in turnover with six staff within a couple of years. 3SIXTY merged with The Tomorrow Lab in 2016 – still one of the most-significant mergers known to the marketing industry in Northern Ireland – creating a sizeable business with a secure foothold of 13 staff, turnover of £750,000 and over 300 clients.
Under what conditions do you get your best work done?
Always minimal distractions with just a bit of music playing in the background so I can focus on the task at hand.
As organisations get larger there’s often a tendency toward dampening inspiration. How do you encourage creative thinking within you or your client’s organisations?
For me, this is simply about getting the right people in the room at the right time and mixing things up every now and again to ensure contribution from different people and supporting people to think differently.
Have you had a mentor and if so, how did this person impact you?
Yes, and I value them enormously. Good mentors can bring clarity and perspective which is often easily lost when you’re in the forest chopping down the trees.
What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
I suppose it would be only seeing things through their own paradigm and not understanding what’s actually happening in the room.
Have you ever been professionally stuck? How did you become unstuck?
Well I’ve been in many situations before where I should have ended things quicker which would have saved me from pain and anguish in the long term. We’re hardwired not to give up for fear of failure, but many of my most important lessons have come from letting go of things.
What advice would you give your younger self? What’s the worst that could happen? What qualities do you believe are the most important to be a leader? If not all these qualities come naturally, do you have any tips on how to cultivate them?
I think it is vital to understand what motivates individuals. To always be a finisher, To follow your gut. For me, these aren’t traits that are cultivated, they’re learned by doing.
If you were designing a leadership program for schools what would you focus on?
I’m not sure that it would be about leadership at all, but I would focus their attention on truly understanding themselves and finding out what they are great at.
If you had to name three characteristics of great leaders what would they be?
Resilience, tenacity and belligerence.
What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
I absolutely recommend these three books. Simon Sinek’s ‘Leaders Eat Last’, Stephen Covey’s ‘7 Habits’ and Viktor Frankl ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’.