Learning to Run Toward Fire 

When you see smoke, run toward it.

No, I’m not talking about a literal fire. Although we certainly hope that the leader of any organization would be the brave hero who puts out the occasional office fire caused by agency antics.

We’re talking about conflict.

Leaders do not shy away from the uncomfortable conversations, the awkwardness of holding a peer accountable, the challenge of adapting to new technology. Leaders scoff at the comfort of the warm, soft blanket that many hide under, often known as the status quo. Leaders are made from experience, application and training.

Recently, our Associate Creative Directors, Rob Mitchell and Maureen Boesen, attended a 4A’s leadership training on how to lead an agency.

A whole conference just to learn to run toward fire? No, they learned a few other things too. Check them out.

Leading the business

Know your organization’s vision and help execute it. An agency vision is hard to create. Even harder to get alignment around. And difficult, at best, to execute well. Figure out what yours is or, dare I say, help write it, then get on board with it.

When creating a new vision, it’s equally important to make sure the agency gets behind it. If individuals oppose it or have concerns, make sure you address them directly. They may either provide good feedback or you may help them understand the new direction. Either way, it can turn a skeptic into an ally.

Tip: Know as many case studies as you are years old. To know where you’re going, you need to know where others have been. Get reading.

Leading growth

Leading is selling. For many, this can be scary. But a consultative sales model isn’t your typical “cold calling” sales strategy. It is a relationship-based growth model that starts by building trust. And just because trust is established with a client, doesn’t mean the business will grow. It means you have the opportunity to find projects that will grow your business. One way to do this is by making opportunities to ask smart questions. Whether or not that’s through client meetings or client lunches, the right questions can lead to discussions about client pain points, which are areas where the agency can provide value.

Tip: Ask. Listen. The opportunities are out there.

Leading clients

First and foremost, it is crucial to understand what makes your agency indispensable to your client. Don’t just answer the question, “Why is your client working with you?” but also, “Why is your client staying with you?” Maybe it’s expertise. Maybe it is relationships. Or maybe it’s not what you think. Before the next meeting with your client, make sure you understand what you bring to the table and what your client needs from you. It is also important to always bring fresh thinking, new ideas, and strategies that the client would have never considered. This will help in leading versus falling into the rut of being just another vendor.

Tip: Give your clients a point of view. That’s why they hired you.

Leading people

Rather than thinking of managing people as leadership, think of it as inspiring followership. Your job as a leader is to get others to happily follow you. This is also thought of as “Servant Leadership” and it’s important to provide for their needs or you can lose followership very quickly. Part of this is understanding what motivates people. Ask them. And make sure they know what motivates you. Emotional intelligence can be just as important as a technical skill set. If you expect emotional intelligence, interview for emotional intelligence, not just the skill. Lastly, understand the difference between praise and feedback. Praise recognizes another person’s work. Feedback improves their work. Both are important. Knowing the difference is too. When you do give feedback, make sure it’s within 24 hours. Otherwise, it can do more damage than good.

Tip: Past performance is the biggest indicator of future success.

Leading profitability

What are the indicators of success in your business? Profitability is absolutely one of them. But what are the others and how are you helping your organization achieve them? Whether you’re a creative, an app developer or an account manager, you need to understand the financials and how they help the agency thrive.

Tip: Buy your CFO lunch and ask him/her about your agency’s profit margin target.

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