David Ogilvy once said that “managing an advertising agency isn’t all beer and skittles.” He had only one expectation from his agency leaders – to provide an atmosphere in which creative mavericks could produce useful work.
To come up to Ogilvy’s expectations, we need leaders with two equally well balanced sides – Invisible and Highly Visible. I call these super leaders ‘Twopermen’.
To be a great leader and not just someone who is good at pointing the team in the right direction one needs to be nothing less than a Twoperman, someone who possesses two superpowers – the Power of I (a great internalist) and the Power of E (a great externalist). Both powers hold equal importance and are not alternatives.
The Power of I
The Power of Internal Greatness is mostly not given the recognition it deserves. There has never been a great agency which did not have an exceptional internal leader. Great Internalists are seamlessly effective, but never bureaucratic. They have a reputation for being fair in all circumstances, affording equal treatment to all team members. Although they may have their favourites, they make sure that others too have their moments to shine; they know that a great agency can only be great, and stay great, if it has passionate, disciplined, enthusiastic and happy backstage professionals who know beyond doubt that their value is recognised by the top man.
Great Internalists set the tone for the agency every day. No matter how positive the team is, a strong agency leader will make sure that all members are not only on the same page but have the same drive and aspirations to achieve their goal on a daily basis.
They believe people always come first and they show it in their daily actions and decisions. They know that nothing happens without people and that people are the only asset they have. They believe that only happy people can produce great work and therefore always treat people with respect and provide them with the atmosphere, tools and opportunities they need to succeed. This then works for them in retaining talent and preparing them for the future challenges. They maintain a two-way relationship with their employees and give feedback, as well as seek it. They not only constructively explain to them how they think they can improve, they will also ask for their opinion on how they can become better bosses.
A great leader who acknowledges the importance of culture and creativity in attracting and retaining talent and driving innovation, considers the term ‘work-life balance’ obsolete because it assumes that when you are at work you are not living, which is not the case within the agency they lead. They create an environment where it is not only about work but about life; where you play, have fun, exercise, socialise. These leaders know that great agencies are the ones that feel the fun.
They are always willing to listen to the challenges faced by the team and ready to change policies and show flexibility in the interest of the team, so that all hurdles (personal or professional) are removed and they are able to produce great work.
They lead by example and never shy away from rolling up their sleeves to do the hard work themselves; they are always willing to lend a helping hand. They understand that a key part of their job is to take the knocks and set the tone whenever disappointments arise. When people are struggling, they make sure that they are always there to inspire them.
They have a completely different view about developing and mentoring; they believe in hiring talented people in their raw form and not trying to reshape them in their own image, but allow them to be what they are, so that they are able to create crazy, insane ideas. They never force new talent to work within the confines of conventional agency models because they believe that there is no point in playing the same great hits of the band even when the band gets new band members.
The Power of E
Power of External Greatness is the most visible side of a great agency leader. Great Externalists symbolise the agency; they stand for the brand. They love what it does and what it produces. They love winning – and they win a lot. They maintain high standards. They do not depend on their title for their authority, rather they add lustre to the title. They just enjoy being – and their enjoyment is contagious. They are very good company. Talented people want to join the agency because they want to be in the same building.
Their clients trust them. When they inform the client about a change in the team or ask for a deadline extension or for help on a specific business challenge, they don’t make up stories – they tell it straight, at the right time and in the right order. With them there are no surprises and they emanate absolute integrity in all matters related to money. They are professional, principled, selfless and with infinitesimally small egos.
A great leader who acknowledges the importance of culture and creativity in attracting and retaining talent and driving innovation, considers the term ‘work-life balance’ obsolete because it assumes that when you are at work you are not living, which is not the case within the agency they lead.
They keep their clients businesses and interests at the centre of their internal strategies and decisions. They keep on looking for ways to grow their client’s business because they know that their agency’s growth is directly linked to it. They are in constant contact with their clients at all levels so that they are always updated on all that is happening, and can therefore contribute at the right time. They take proactive action and every possible measure to find unique solutions for clients’ business challenges.
They are always willing to learn – both from their team and their clients. Their willingness to improve every day sets them apart from other leaders. Their urge for self improvement burns like a fire in them. They are not afraid to make mistakes or take brave decisions, which is why they encourage their team to experiment with and develop crazy ideas, even if it sometimes means making mistakes. They have the right attitude; they are hungry, curious, determined and committed to the cause. Acting quickly, decisively and intelligently comes naturally to them.
They not afraid of challenges, a crisis or change. Instead of passing the buck, they face them and resolve them. They know that taking prompt action and making difficult decisions is not an option but a must in order to move the business forward.
They always look at the big picture and make decisions after evaluating and understanding the wider context of their business, whether it is about acquisitions, vendor partnerships, going for a new business pitch or hiring people in key roles.
They have a clear point of view and a vision not only for their own agency but for the industry; they are respected for their wisdom and passion for the profession. They not only think about the future of their agency, but also think about the future of the industry as a whole.
Ogilvy, who has been known as one of the greatest agency leaders in the world, said:
“Great leaders almost always exude self-confidence. They are never petty. They are never buck-passers. They pick themselves up after defeat… They do not suffer from a crippling need to be universally loved… The great leaders I have known have been curiously complicated men.”
Asim Naqvi is CEO, Ogilvy & Mather, Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org