In my professional career I have had 7 different jobs, not counting the one I have now, running my own communications consultancy. All of them were in advertising agencies and marketing companies of various types.
When I started planning a post on leadership I thought back to the various bosses that I had, and in almost every organization the leadership style was a little bit different. But in retrospect they really broke down into two separate types. I’ll call them The Invisible Leader and The Highly Visible Leader.
The Invisible Leader
These were the people who set themselves apart from the people who worked for them. They tended to have an Inner Circle and didn’t so much seek advice from them as tacit agreement to their ideas and overall way of thinking. These people were paid a lot of money to agree with their boss. And the only time that the employees really saw The Invisible Leader was either by chance in the elevator or at some rare company function or new account acquisition announcement.
In the agency business, these people tended to have risen up from account management or started their own shop and built it based on old school ties or political connections.
So what ended up happening in these jobs is that The President or CEO or whatever title they gave themselves, managed to isolate themselves from a lot of the day to day stuff and lower level employees, which creative people were considered to be. Therefore the leadership skills they may have had were really only on display for cronies or business prospects.
This created a very strange work environment. The level of empowerment that the employees felt was almost non-existent. Communication came in the form of dictums and memos. There were very few occasions when the whole company got together. And while nobody ever really came right out and said it, people really had no sense of where the company stood, how secure their employment was or even where the new business was coming from. These were very much ‘drone’ cultures for employees.
Needless to say these were working environments from which I was happy to escape.
Now out of the seven companies I worked for during my career, I only encountered these types of leaders twice. One was in a large established agency that did a ton of government work. The other was a boutique in which the owner was the creative director and had never really worked in any agency but his own. Both of these ‘leaders’ for various reasons demonstrated no leadership skills to their employees and lived very much like turtles inside a shell.
Lonely at the top? Oh yeah.
The Highly Visible Leader
Easily the best part of my agency career was working for these types of leaders. These are the people who taught me everything I know about advertising and marketing…all the stuff I use today to help the SMEs I work with.
The main characteristics of these individuals are the polar opposite of The Invisible Leader. Their agencies were laid out so that there was no real separation between the creative department, the account department and the management. Everybody’s door was always open. Everybody was on a first name basis. Everybody would gather from time to time, informally, in the leader’s office and listen to war stories, tell jokes, drink scotch or beer, (if we had those kinds of accounts), plot new business strategies, discuss internal issues and share ideas openly and freely.
The Qualities Of The Highly Visible Leader
These people led by example. If they came from account management they contributed to the strategies and shared their insights and experience. If they came from the creative side, they never offered anything but positive advice and constructive criticism.
One leader, whom I consider to be a friend to this day, and the best creative director I ever worked for, had a simple philosophy. Hire the best people you can afford to hire and let them do their thing. The only concern he ever had about the work we were planning to present was the firmness of our belief in it. He knew we were good. He knew we gave a shit. He knew we could sell just about anything. All he wanted to know was that we were 100% sure it was the right thing to do.
This was an amazing leadership skill. One of many he possessed. And I’m not even sure that he was aware of just how great a leader he was. It was simply in his character to be that way.
And I genuinely believe that these are the kinds of qualities that you invariably find in all great leaders, regardless of what or who they are leading. They lead by example. They lead with openness and honesty. They trust the people who work for them so they lead without the need to micromanage. They instinctively know how to inspire and make everyone around them better. They lead with genuine passion. And most importantly, they lead with real humanity.
Lonely at the top? No way not for these people.
Jim Murray is a communications strategist, blogger, writer,
art director and producer. He creates and implements
strategically focused branding, advertising & promotion
for companies in the SME sector who appreciate solid
creative thinking and value reasonable rates.
Jim Murray, Strategist & Creative Director
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