I love year-end holidays. It starts around Thanksgiving when everyone tries to squeeze in their remaining vacation days, and continues through New Year’s Day. Offices are virtually deserted. Yesterday morning, while manning my post in the office like a good soldier, I received two emails, both from co-workers informing me they were going to work from home. Perfect. Continue reading “Time to Plan The Perfect Plan”
There is much discussion about how Millennials challenge many of today’s traditional business practices, so it’s not surprising that they are also challenging traditional, autocratic leadership. Challenging autocratic leadership is not new, and is not the private reserve of the Millennial generation. Read any ancient Roman manuscript, and you will quickly learn every established leadership hierarchy has been challenged by a younger generation.
The year was 1974. My first day on a new job as a brand new graphic designer fresh out of the DAA Program at the University of Cincinnati. DAA because the ‘Planning” part of DAAP had yet to be added.
My coworkers and I gathered in the Art Department at a mid-sized ad agency, and awaited the appearance of our leader. The Art Director was a grizzled veteran of the agency business, one who could show us the ropes. Finally, I was in, ready to re-design the world. I will never forget his inspiring words that day:
“Gentlemen, consider today a race, and the winner keeps his job.”
What? No welcome to the team, here’s Bob who you can shadow for a couple days to get squared away, not even directions to the rest rooms.
Despite this warm welcome, I did manage to carve out a career, eventually founding and owning a 16-person Marketing and PR firm for 26 years. I also learned how to be an effective leader, not by emulating others, but by observing what worked, and what did not.
There is much discussion about how Millennials challenge many of today’s traditional business practices, so it’s not surprising that they are also challenging traditional, autocratic leadership. Challenging autocratic leadership is not new, and is not the private reserve of the Millennial generation. Read any ancient Roman manuscript, and you will quickly learn every established leadership hierarchy has been challenged by a younger generation. And yet, the world still hasn’t gone to hell in a handcart like my father predicted.
There are no rules to follow to become a good leader. Instead, there are principles that can guide you.
Inspire, don’t command
What are we trying to accomplish as a team, a tribe, or a business, and why is it important to each of us as individuals and the community? Your team will be comprised of individuals, each with different aspirations, ambitions, experiences and ideas. Embrace this synergy. Mentor collaboration.
Teach financial literacy
The millennial generation isn’t attracted to the money or recognition associated with leadership positions. Rather, they want to make a difference in the world and be a part of companies that care about more than the bottom line by supporting worthy causes in the community. This can only be accomplished if the company’s bottom line is firmly in the black.
Business decisions are made from necessity, not based on dreams. Educating your team on the financial aspects of business will help them understand why their participation is important. If you want to save the world, help earn the money that will enable it.
Teach your team to be resilient
The skills I learned earning a five-year degree stood me in good stead for the first twenty years of my career. Then, almost overnight, they became obsolete. Technology changed the world. Today, the speed of technology transforming business has accelerated to the point, the skills a student entering a four-year degree program will learn will be obsolete by the time they graduate. Whole industries will disappear, and others will emerge. It is as exciting as it is terrifying. The ability to handle the curve ball, embrace rapid change and thrive will depend upon a resilient mindset.
Embrace work-life balance in practice
Recently, we adopted a policy of unlimited vacation for all team members. I know, it sounds crazy. In point of fact, it empowers our team to self-govern themselves. I’m not following people around to see that they arrived ten minutes late or left ten minutes early. I’m not tracking who took off two hours to see a doctor, or who worked from home today. I am likewise not concerned with who worked until the wee hours of the night to meet a client deadline. I am demonstrating my confidence in the team to accomplish their work responsibly, and perform at the highest level. In so doing, it will also reveal those who do not.
Copying someone else’s leadership style doesn’t work. Being an effective leader requires both soft skills to inspire people, and hard skills to manage the business. Both require frequent examination.
Recently, O’Keeffe relocated to newer, shared office space in Over-the-Rhine. In a word, our new space is way cool. That’s two words, but you get it. The space is an open-floorplan renovation of a turn of the century weigh station serving the canal freight traffic that once sailed what is now Central Parkway. The giant scales are still here. Like I said, way cool.
The first week in new space shared with another creative group, we all gathered for lunch in the central meeting area to introduce ourselves, and get to know each other. The other folks are a creative group comprised entirely of very talented and successful Millenials. I’m thrilled to be among so much energy.
While I am not a shy person, I found myself conversing with professionals young enough to be my grandchildren, as we all shared our backgrounds, schools attended, degrees, and experiences. Yes, it’s still Cincinnati, and high schools were mentioned before universities.
Needless to say, my curriculum vitae is significantly longer than theirs simply because I have been doing this 40 years longer than they have. I was quite surprised that, to a person, they all showed a great deal of interest in my agency experience, and asked very interesting and probing questions. As lunch came to a close, a young lady said, “Wow. I wish you had been here when we first started the company. We were all fresh out of college, and didn’t know how to do anything or how the business world works.”
What an amazing statement. Consider its implications. What is the balance between the way things were done in the good old days, versus today’s digitally connected world? Are the principles of marketing communications somehow different today than yesteryear? Is the late David Olgilvy, hailed as the Father of Advertising, and his seminal work that became the textbook on the fundamentals of good communication still valid today?
The short answer, yes, now more than ever. The only difference is that we have more channels available than ever before to communicate with our audience. As content marketers, we can learn a lot from the legendary Mr. Ogilvy, whom I had the pleasure to meet in person in 1972. Here are a few of his guiding principles:
He was one of the pioneers of information-rich, what he called “soft sell” that didn’t insult the intelligence of the prospect.
Ogilvy believed cleverness doesn’t sell products and services. Original thinking in marketing is great, but not just for the sake of being witty or clever. If you aren’t thinking about connecting with your audience, building trust and selling your products or services when you sit down to create content, you need to reexamine your motivations. Don’t just create content to get credit for being clever — create content that will be helpful, insightful, interesting and connects with your target audience.
Learn the language of your audience, and write in their vernacular.
It is vitally important to research and understand how your audience thinks, speaks, and searches, so that we can use that language in our headlines, blog posts, sales letters, and e-books. The better we understand how our readers think, the better we’ll be able to connect with them.
Anyone who is a fan of the TV series, Mad Men, can conjure a mental picture of what the ad business looked like in the late 60’s and 70’s. I’m here to tell you Mad Men is accurate in their depiction of the social interactions of that era.
The principles of modern marketing communications were also created during that time, and remain the same today. Great marketing is a direct communication between your brand, and your customer. You will learn what your customer is looking for in your product or service, what makes an emotional connection and what doesn’t, and the language that will resonate with that customer if you take the time to listen. We simply distribute these messages through exciting, new digital channels.