I’ll be honest: managerial speak and leadership culture gives me the heebie-jeebies.
And that’s not because I feel management is an illegitimate skill. On the contrary, it sets the tone for a business and the way it interacts with stakeholders from the head down. I think the internetz has much to answer for when it comes to my dislike of inspiring managerial shlock.
Too often being a boss manager is associated with type-a personality behaviours which are routinely identified as ruthlessness, ‘it’s just business, it’s not personal’ mantras, and images of Leonardo DiCaprio sucking down a huge cigar. It’s not really my vibe. Working alongside corporates both big and small over the past 20-odd years, I’ve been in the presence of both exceptional, intuitive leadership EQ and also glaringly poor interpersonal management.
Whilst I don’t have any formal managerial education, I’ve been managing relationships in a professional context for some time. Here’s the core things I’ve learned about leadership and what works for my values in an organisation. You’ll note one theme runs throughout these factoids; I take my business relationships as relationships first and foremost. This is the compass that guides my decision-making when it comes to working with both colleagues and clients.
- Being On Your Colleague’s Team
A client has complained about service. You feel disappointed, and they’ve criticised the performance of a team member. When resolving this relationship impasse, it’s of the highest value to let your colleague know that you are advocating for them. Of course you want your client to have a positive experience, and to receive the outcome they’ve invested in. But it’s important not to approach a tricky situation involving mismatched expectations with a ‘throw the employee under the bus’ attitude.
I’ve seen this happen time and again; it’s awful for business morale. One of the best things you can do as a leader is empathise with your colleague and let them know that when push comes to shove, they are your priority. Of course, underperformance and subsequent performance management is a real thing. But you know when a team member is a good egg and doing their darndest, and you need to let them know that it’s OK to make mistakes. And that you’ll be there to attempt to repair a relationship with a client that is recoverable, or to move on a client that doesn’t match your business culture.
Recruitment, training, relationship building… it all costs in energy, time and resources. Feeling shitty about your job or wondering about your capability because a client is treating you with disrespect is not psychologically good for anyone, and especially not your employee. Take the pressure down by showing your support, strategy and allegiance.
- Dignity in Beginnings and Endings
Whether you’re farewelling a team member or a client, end your relationship with the goodwill that began it. This can occasionally be difficult, but in most cases is not.
In a smaller business like Ruby Assembly, it can be very emotional and difficult for employees to leave. They’re often upset at the impact they understand it might have on me, as they will have a close relationship with me formed over some time. Whilst I may be disappointed when an employee resigns to go onto another journey, it is my responsibility to be supportive, accepting and above all grateful. It is unreasonable to expect anyone to work for you ad infinitum. Coming together is a season, and when it comes to an end do all you can to end that professional relationship with dignity and kindness. I saw this in action recently at my wedding, where nearly 10 prior members of my organisation were in attendance and squashing in around me in the photobooth. It was bloody beautiful to see!
Dignity in endings with clients is also important. It can be tricky if the relationship is ending because of a difference in values and behaviour, but nonetheless; be kind and frank on the way out.
- Debriefing on business decisions
It’s not relevant (or fair) to expose your colleagues to all the nitty gritty involved in your business dealings. But it is valuable that you share opinions and insights about why you’re making strategic decisions with your team; it helps them to understand your values and to have the confidence to live those out in their work for you. One of the biggest areas of concern in a creative agency is integrating client feedback, and managing client relationships in a productive way. Some relationships take more fine-tuning than others. By problem solving interpersonal and creative issues as a team, everyone feels more supported. There’s nothing worse than a grievance hidden in a business.
These are the three most important aspects I engage with as a leader regularly; I wouldn’t say they’re strategically implemented, but they are ways of behaving and supporting I have learned after 13 years as an agency Director. I hope you resonate with some of these notions, and work to improve your business holistically by leading from the top.