Rita Clifton CBE is a portfolio chair and non-executive director, as well as a speaker, writer and mentor. She has been called ‘the doyenne of branding’ by Campaign magazine. Her latest book, Love Your Imposter: Be Your Best Self, Flaws And All is published on 10th September 2020.
1. What are you looking at right now?
Strictly speaking, my laptop screen, but beyond that, the garden and views I’ve been looking at most days since those mad March days of lockdown. It’s been a nice magic bubble against Armageddon, but I like to be in touching distance of people (in addition to my husband and children). And we need to get out there and help sort the world out (and I need to get my ‘Love Your Imposter’ book launched!)
2. Based on what you actually do, honestly, what should your job title be?
Chief Therapy Officer. And I’m not complaining — I love helping people and organisations be better, and feel better. And I’m really nosey, so I love listening to people’s lives, hopes and dreams!
3. What’s your superpower: the one skill that makes you so successful at your job?
I’ve been told I have a good sixth sense about people and situations, and about what the priorities should be for them. I remember once getting a niggling feeling about my agency’s relationship with a major client; I had no real evidence for any problems, but something was bugging me. I arranged to have dinner with them to talk about their business, and they confessed that they had been thinking about re-pitching the account. I’m pleased to say we retained it! It’s good to follow your instinct sometimes…
4. What’s your Achilles heel?
How many can I fit in?! The sub-title of my book is ‘Be your best self, flaws and all’, which might give you a clue! I can be a real procrastinator. It’s been a nuisance in my academic and working life from time to time. I am told it’s a classic symptom of imposter syndrome — you worry that things aren’t going to be perfect or right, so you put them off until they absolutely have to be done. The adrenaline can be quite useful, though!
5. What’s on your to-do list right now that you’re putting off?
Clearing out my mailboxes! I get a lot of emails, and I store a lot of stuff I want to read, or admin I need to follow up. In a portfolio career, you can have demands coming from several different places, at differing levels of urgency and importance (and I have several email addresses!). I must, I must…
6. Introvert or extravert?
I get a lot of my energy from being with people, or speaking with people, and I’m a definite ‘E’ in Myers-Briggs. Having said all that, I have to ‘get away’ and be on my own from time to time. For example, I love the writing process, and the research and reflection it needs. I am also a strategist, and like the forensic stuff that goes into that.
7. Which one person has had the most profound impact on your career?
That’s really hard, because my career has had several stages, and I am grateful to so many. I’ll narrow it to two. Marilyn Baxter, who was my boss and career mentor at Saatchi & Saatchi. I learned a lot about strategic thinking, having the strength of your conviction and good management from her. And I’ve had a crush on Sir David Attenborough since I was 7; he’s the reason I’ve been involved with so many green organisations along the way.
8. What book, film or piece of music sums up your outlook on life?
I love Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton. It’s funny, wise, poignant and ultimately about love. And I’d like to live in her house! I’ll also listen to Firestone by Kygo any time. I’m an optimist and, sorry to be corny, but I do think that love can save the world.
9. Who would be at your fantasy dinner party?
Obviously, Sir David Attenborough, my lifelong hero (my husband is aware, and he can be there too!). Michelle Obama; Inspirational in every sense and so wise and funny. Jacinda Ardern (because she needs to be world president — strong and kind). My daughters, because I’m so proud of them, and I’d like them to tune into the conversation!
10. Early bird or night owl?
Oooh. Night, night. I HATE getting up early in the morning, even though I have had to make myself over the years. My brain also works ten times faster at night and I eat and work better then. I think it’s genetic. My older daughter bounces out of bed early like my husband. My younger daughter needs a crowbar, like me (sorry darling).
11. What has been your best ever day at work?
Making speeches or presentations that make a difference makes me happy and is addictive, and also seeing people that you have recruited and trained become brilliant is the best feeling. But it was difficult to beat the first time I saw a British Airways TV commercial in the Creative Director’s office (I had been the strategist behind it). It’s quite old now, but it was the one where lots of different people and nationalities come together to form a huge human face in the desert, with soaring operatic music. In 1990, it symbolised so much good that was happening in the world, with borders between nations coming down, and the end of a long cold war. I cried when I saw it. We need that feeling of collective hope again, but better and more substantial this time, for people and the planet.
12. When have you been at your least confident?
Again, spoiled for choice! The first time I did the ‘Any Questions’ programme, I thought I was going to die of fright. You can be asked any questions that are in the news that week, there’s a large, live and rowdy audience, and you aren’t warned which questions you’re going to be asked; it was way out of my subject comfort zone. I tried to prepare for a whole range of questions (including about the NHS!), but in the end, it was like any exam. You prepare for 20 questions, and you might get asked about 4 of them (and they’re probably not your best topic). It was terrifying, but I took Rescue Remedy, did deep breathing... and I survived.
13. What was your ‘Plan B’ career?
Being a lawyer or dance teacher! I would probably have hated the former (and it would have hated me), but my mum always had hopes that I would have my own dance school. No matter what my academic achievements, and any high-powered corporate success, she still mentioned it. I actually did an online teacher training course for a fabulous US-based dance programme early last year, and even qualified — so you never know! We’ll see if I can ever do it alongside the other stuff of life.
Rita’s book Love Your Imposter: Be Your Best Self, Flaws And All is available for pre-order.