Alex was not enjoying his first day as Chief Executive of DKNU – the struggling advertising agency that he’d been brought in to rescue.
He should have been feeling more confident, of course. Having just turned thirty, having graduated near the top of his class at business school, and having been offered a senior role at the consumer products company where he’d spent the last eight years, he had reason to feel more assured.
But he’d left behind the security of working with his former employer.
Lured by the prospect of casting off the shackles of large-company politics, he had jumped at the opportunity to run his own show. And as his friends all seemed to be starting their own Internet companies, Alex had felt this was the time to forsake security – in favour of adventure. He’d had enough of being managed by others, and now wanted to prove he could be a leader.
But now, as Doug – DKNU’s Director of Client Services – continued his onslaught, Alex was starting to realize the enormity of the challenges that lay ahead. The advertising world seemed far less genteel than the industry Alex had just left.
‘And you call this a plan?’ shouted Doug at last, waving the offending document. ‘It’s just an Excel spreadsheet wrapped up in fancy covers!
This kind of stuff might have helped you rescue a consumer goods company, but it won’t work in advertising. Advertising is a people business.’
Alex kept his cool. He held Doug’s defiant gaze, and resisted the temptation to glance at the turnaround plan that he, Alex, had put together in the month since accepting his new job.
It had been as a peace offering that Alex had given Doug an advance copy of the plan. He’d known that Doug had secretly hoped to be appointed chief executive – and Alex had hoped that his confiding in Doug would help to establish a truce. The only other copy of the plan was with Sandra, the creative director.
‘It’s just a bunch of numbers,’ insisted Doug, ‘targets, ratios and deadlines.
And nobody ever gave their heart and soul for a goddamn ratio. Painting by numbers might work, but not leading by numbers!’
‘I appreciate your … uuh … frankness,’ replied Alex, ‘and I’ll take on board your comments. But let’s get one thing straight,’ he continued firmly. ‘I don’t mind if you complain. I don’t even mind if you shout.
But next time you’d better have something constructive to add. We’ve got six months to make this agency viable. Six months at most! But I can’t do it by myself, and nor can you. We’re going to have to work together.
So let’s agree that we can both shout at each other, but only – only – if we’ve got something constructive to say.’
After Doug had left, Alex drummed his fingers on his desk and pondered.
He did expect trouble from his meeting later that afternoon with the wildly creative Sandra. But he hoped that Doug would be more receptive. Doug was in charge of the ‘suits’ – the account handlers who interacted directly with clients – and he was more used to the targets and management disciplines inherent in the turnaround plan.
Now, as Alex thought about the other directors, he wasn’t sure what to expect any longer. Terry was in charge of media – primarily buying airtime on TV and column-inches in magazines. Surely he’d be supportive when he saw the plan?
Frank was in charge of Planning – market analyses and consumer research.
Surely he’d be comfortable with the numbers and ratios? Luke was in charge of Traffic – ensuring that the various advertising campaigns wended their way through the other departments on time. How could he disagree?
But Alex was in for a surprise when he met with Sandra. ‘I suppose it might work,’ she said vaguely, after Alex had asked her about his plan.
‘Really?’ asked Alex, hardly daring to believe that he’d won the support of an influential director of the agency so quickly. ‘So you think we can achieve these targets?’
‘Oh I don’t know about the targets,’ she replied. ‘We always leave these targets and numbers to the guys in finance. After all, digit stuff’s for widget buffs.’
‘But this is a plan to rescue the entire agency,’ exclaimed Alex. ‘And you’re one of the most important people here. We can’t do this without you. Surely you’ve got some view on whether we can achieve these specific objectives?’
‘Sorry, Alex – I’m really not sure. That plan is all about numbers, but the only way to really rescue this agency is with a breakthrough. A really creative campaign. One that will win some awards. In fact we need more resources, not less.’
Alex eventually gave up on the conversation, and returned to his office.
He fished out his Palm Pilot and found the phone number for his former colleague and mentor, Michael.
Perhaps this plan does need more work, thought Alex, as he reached for the phone to seek Michael’s advice. Perhaps this plan is too much about numbers. Too much about managing, and not enough about leading. Not enough that’s visionary and inspiring.
But the phone rang before he could pick it up.
It was Steve, the Finance Director, on the line. ‘The bankers just called.
They want to meet with us. They want their loans repaid, even if it means closing us down.’
Next week, we examine charisma
– The Tools of Leadership by Max Landsberg was published this week by HarperCollins. It is available to Accountancy Age readers direct at the special price of #12.99 (#14.99 RRP) including p&p by ringing 0870 900 2050 and quoting Dept 829K.
THE ESSENCE OF LEADERSHIP
The essence of leadership is the ability to create vision, inspiration and momentum in a group of people. People are not led by plans and analysis.
Rather, they are led by this trinity of other things. And the truly effective leader focuses nearly all his actions on creating them – using different skills for each element of the trinity.
The vision Is a positive image of what the organisation could become, and the path towards that destination. To create a shared vision, the leader is always hungry for novel ideas that fit with the organisation’s strategy, and is smart enough to spot the good ones.
But crucially, he is also artistic enough to fashion those ideas into images and stories that are intriguing, meaningful and realizable.
Within the individuals that comprise the organisation, is what moves people to action. The leader uses his interpersonal skills to excite his people, and helps them to see how they may themselves benefit from both the journey and the arrival. He helps them to see ‘the word made flesh’.
Of the organisation’s projects and initiatives, is what carries the organisation to its destination. Using his own energy and problem-solving skills, the leader keeps the mission on course. It is on all three of these dimensions that the true leaders deliver strongly. The visionary is not a leader if he cannot also inspire. The momentum-sustainer is not a leader if he cannot create a shared vision.
Leadership = Vision x Inspiration x Momentum
Of all this trinity, it is the leaders ability to create a shared vision and to inspire the organisation that sets him apart from the ‘manager’ as we shall see.
– Max Landsberg, formerly a partner at McKinsey & Company, is an executive coach and best-selling author.
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