Practical Leadership by Personal Experience

The key to leading people is not found in books or seminars, but in the relationships we build with them in shared experiences.

The demand for real leaders in the business world is at an all-time high. I say “real” because there is a literal sea of conferences, webinars, books and articles on “leadership” that people are flocking to, searching for that magic set of ingredients that is going to make them successful leaders. They promote attributes like “emotional intelligence” or “infectious optimism" in order to give you more “confidence in your corporate relationships,” and promise if you practice this specific variety of go-getter attitudes and maxims, you will be a conducive candidate for leadership roles.

But leading people isn’t like making pea soup. There is no cache of easy fixes or techniques. People are different, unique, and tend to resist when someone tries to squeeze them into a mold. Clients and colleagues have needs and preferences that are going to affect how they interact with others, how they perform their tasks, and how they respond under pressure. You do, too. You can’t control every aspect of their work or all areas of their professional life, but you can control your own.

My role at Beck & Stone is a client-facing one. I receive input from the client and distribute it to the internal team. I then receive output from the team and manage the presentation of it to the client. Account directors and project managers are the traffic cops in the agency world. We stand at the busy intersection of people rushing to get their viewpoint heard, their work done first, their objectives prioritized, and we make sure there are no accidents. We keep things moving.

There are two tangible expectations that come with such a leadership role. First and foremost, the client and agency expect me to communicate. Second, that I will properly plan. An adroit leader will not waste their words or their time.

Concise communication does away with wordsmithing to inflate your worth or flattery to curry favor undeservedly. People should respect and reward you for your results and your responsibleness. This is business, not a beauty contest. And in business, promptly responding to issues, succinctly wording explanations, and gently interacting with others who might be struggling to understand or even hostile towards you is a challenge. Disciplining yourself to communicate in such a manner shows respect for the client, the rest of the team, and yourself.

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Relationships built on mutual respect are much easier to manage, and will inevitably grow.

Properly plan your own day, making allowances for unexpected changes. I would never expect someone who couldn’t plan their own work day to be responsible for planning the strategy for an entire organization. Planning is not rigidness of schedule, however. Often times it is being able to reshuffle and react based on new events that arise. Plan on being interrupted. I’ve had a client call me on a Sunday night to make an emergency edit to a project before it went live at midnight. I was not ultimately responsible for that project, but the client knew that I would be up, that I would respond, and that I would not be upset by their asking. Millennials are all about “work / life balance.” To hell with your balance. If you are going to lead, you will need relationships where people respect and trust you because they know they can depend on you.

Fostering a relationship with intelligence, foresight, and empathy is leading. If a client needs you to solve a problem, you will see their problem from their point of view and approach it from different perspectives before coming up with a solution.  When you present the solution, you ensure they are able to object and voice their opinions. You eventually guide them through your objective thought process and get them to see what you’re seeing. You lead by building a relationship where your vision and goals are accessible for others to follow, not by pushing your views on (or through) them. I’ve never met a successful leader who prioritizes their ego over the collaboration of a group. There are senior professionals who attempt to lead by assuming their opinions are inevitably superior simply because of their title. But I believe if you are confident in your vision, you can abide having others contribute. They will not be able to sway you if you know you are right, but you also understand that you cannot see everything, and thus you can remain open to being wrong without your pride being wounded.

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Leadership isn’t about you. A leader is a servant, even from behind a CEO’s desk.

We don’t like to hear that simple truth, but the fact is that you are seen by those around you as a leader by what you do. The doers, not the talkers, are the true leaders in the world. If you do well, serving the needs of clients and empowering those you are responsible for (and are not insufferable doing it), their estimation of you is raised. You gain gravity by delivering results. Period.

No amount of leadership training can give you what you can learn by exercising self-control and responsibility, through relationships of solidarity and insightfulness. Your experience with building those relationships will teach you first-hand what it means to be a leader others will confidently follow. &