Not Afraid.

There are cowards everywhere, of course. In every industry.

You’d have perhaps thought there might be fewer in an industry that requires creative leadership.

But it turns out that this isn’t the case. Au contraire, in fact.

I once worked for a coward. He was a marketer, a ‘creative’ in fact, and he just couldn’t take decisions.

As a result, his agency became a festering pit of the juvenile politics of ego. A court, per Machiavelli’s Prince, but where everyone ends up playing the jester. This tedious situation was compounded by the fact that, disgracefully, it was all so obvious to both the agency’s junior staff and clients.

Not cool. But, more to the point, not necessary either.

Taking decisions as a leader, perhaps especially a marketing leader, is the job.

That’s it.

If you can’t take decisions then you are in the wrong job. This is doubly so if that job is in marketing where someone, ultimately, needs to back an idea and then rally the world, internal and external, around it.

A chap called Marcus Buckingham, in his book, The One Thing You Need To Know, argues that the number one priority of leaders should be to offer clarity. For him, leaders have a duty to set out beyond a shadow of a doubt where they stand, and what they will or will not tolerate.

This duty of clarity is so acute, says Buckingham, because it is what those being led want. They want this, he asserts, more than they want anything else at all – including liking or agreeing with whatever is being said.

In this thinking, he is in good company. Earlier this year, I read Boris’ brilliant biography of Churchill.

One of the (many) striking things about our wartime Prime Minister was the extent to which he was ready to make decisions; especially the hard ones.

The Mayor of London rates this characteristic very highly: I remember some years ago, in a wide-ranging interview he gave to the Evening Standard, he himself was quoted as saying:

“People don’t care what decision you make, they just bloody well want a decision”

Take a second to consider the most effective leader you can think of – business, political, even social. Is that person clear?

Indeed, would you go so far as to say that being clear – even when that clarity drives you crazy – is one of their defining characteristics?

In making and implementing clear decisions, one way or another, leaders set the agenda. Especially when it comes to marketing. It may not be an agenda that others like, but at least it gives them something to react to.

Even die-hard opponents of an idea ultimately tend to want a clear decision: it gives them something tangible to be “against”. Take a decision, good or bad, and one way or another you set the agenda.

Dither, and watch others set your agenda for you.

Fear is leadership’s sworn enemy.

And creativity’s kryptonite.

Monticello LLP

– this piece first published by The Marketing Society

I’ve Got Hurt Feelings.

I’m offended.

I’m offended by all the people who keep saying they’re offended.

Actually, I’m just bored of it. Really bored of it.

‘Outraged’ and ‘offended’ are the mots de nos jours.

Hypertense, strangulated tones surround us. It’s like everyone in the country is engaging in their own equivalent of being the nutter at the bar; coiled springs goading you into spilling their pint so they can feign ‘offence’ and have a swing at you.

Being offended is the opposite of being tolerant.

And tolerance is the goose that lays the creative golden egg.

Tolerance is a precondition to novation; the willingness to think that little bit differently, to accept new ideas from new places. It’s what produces genuinely fresh thinking.

Orwell’s Big Brother knew that if he stifled freedom of speech, he ultimately stifled freedom of thought, which in turn would mean no creativity – just what he wanted. ISIL are trying to pull the same stunt, albeit more clumsily, barbarously and murderously.

Thankfully, the history of the world is pretty clear that murderously intolerant regimes like ISIL, whilst brutal and hugely damaging, just do not last over the long term.

The same is true of corporations run on an overzealous ‘command-and-control’ model. They ultimately break down.

This is because humans need something different.

We need to feel that they can thrive. Together, for sure, but also as individuals.

Smart leaders, political, religious and corporate, know this. And they create structures and cultures that enable and underpin tolerance.

Ironically, perhaps, given ISIL’s desire to recreate the ‘Caliphate’, the ‘Golden Age of Islam’ was one of the most tolerant civilisations ever. And it was because of this that muslims were able to dominate, over centuries, an empire that stretched from what is now Iraq in the east to Southern Europe in the west.

The Caliphs of the Golden Age deliberately filled their jasmine-scented, fountain-adorned courts with astronomers, doctors, mathematicians, physicists, philosophers and thinkers of all kindsl

They tolerated other ideas, other religions – not pointlessly, but because they recognised that the resultant technologies and truths that would emerge from such tolerance could be leveraged to ever-strengthen power and dominance.  They saw that progress, development and growth were good: good for individuals, and so good for society overall, and so good for its leaders too.

Historically, at least, we Brits have also been famous for our tolerance. And there can be little doubt of the extent to which this fuelled the success of our own empire too.

We Brits don’t like the state-knows-best dirigisme earnestly pursued by some of our European neighbours. We prefer instead to put our faith in the eccentric ingenuity of our (often odd, and quirky) people.

Tolerance is the Magna Carta; tolerance is John Stuart Mill, the Non-Conformists, the Suffragettes, Alan Turing, Quentin Crisp, Sid Vicious and Vivienne Westwood.

Tolerance is the creation, lauding and awarding of a TV spot that would never even get thought of in the US, let alone commissioned.

Tolerance is Britain and Britain is tolerance.

Tolerance is what makes cultures – national, tribal, corporate – truly sustainable.

So let’s stop ‘being offended’ and start ‘being tolerant’; reclaim it as our own.

Apart from anything else, tolerance makes the world a kinder, more fun and inextricably more creative place.

Nick Jefferson is a partner with advisory firm, Monticello LLP, and a curator of The Library of Progress.


I Don’t Like It, I Love It.

The Future of….Leadership
– by Ross Ashcroft, Filmmaker, Broadcaster, Strategist

The language we use is telling. We don’t ever ‘lead decline’ or ‘manage success’. We do the opposite – we ‘manage’ decline and ‘lead’ any success.

In business it’s binary – you’re doing one or the other. If you are in a corporate structure the likelihood is you are managing decline. If you have opted for the autonomy to write your own rules then you have more of a chance to lead a success.

We don’t have to go far to find terrible leadership. This is primarily due to people who find themselves in positions of power who confuse leadership with management. So we are clear about the difference let’s define both practices:

• Management is the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

• Leadership is the action of leading a group of people or an organisation.

The differentiator between the two is that one is a stipulated process whilst the other is a largely untested action. One is based on protocol the other is based on (timeless) principles and the present moment. Process is limited – action is limitless. And exciting. And creative.

The world is currently over-managed and under-led.

Sadly today some of the best leaders aren’t leading and tragically some of the best managers have been rewarded with leadership positions.

“We always lose our good people”

Humanity is now preoccupied with control, process and frameworks. We can all recall when we have been hired to do a specific job only to be waylaid by a manager who ‘reins you in’ so to ‘keep control of the process’. It’s a daily corporate occurrence and one of the reasons creative agencies and marketing teams are increasingly defunct. This is also why organisations reliably lose their best talent – many of them are reduced to mere operators.

The three fields where the leadership fail is most pronounced are ironically the three ‘industries’ that – according to psychologist Oliver James – attract the most dysfunctional personality types. They are media, banking and politics. We only have to look at the state of those fields or their practices and products to realise that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

The outcome? A media that has lost all credibility, a banking system that has reflated the biggest credit bubble in human history and a political class who have peddled institutional deceit to accommodate the media and the banks. An unholy trinity.

Many of these problems can be traced to putting management (and the diffuse responsibility that poor management often relies on) ahead of leadership. Proper leaders, for instance, embrace delegation but retain responsibility for the task. Poor management identifies scapegoats.

The lesson is simple: frameworks and control cannot – and do not – replace critical thinking, intuition, creativity and responsibility.

What happened To The Long Game?

Unfortunately business, like politics and banking, has embraced short termism to solve long-term issues. This has indoctrinated many into thinking in narrowly defined, self-interested silos. Thinking in silos instead of holistically breeds a mentality (and culture) of scarcity. It also means that in most meetings everyone feels they should know everything.

A necessary digression: the two most confining words in the English language are ‘I know’. This closed mindset does not allow new information to be converted into knowledge then into value and – only then – into money or results.

So here is a leadership idea: why not open the next presentation or meeting with this: “No-one really knows – but collectively we have the ability to discover a solution and create something to serve a real world need.”

Think about what you have just done with that statement…

You have just engaged the people who you’ll need to make good strategic leadership decisions. Why? Because the critical thinkers in the room will respond to that honesty and the implicit challenge to create something useful. These people want to be trusted and nurtured so they can solve difficult problems. If you are lucky enough to have them in your meeting – use them – do not manage them to fit your limiting expectations or a meaningless big data scrape.

Another digression: the words “I don’t know yet” – far from being an admission of weakness or naivety – are actually full of potential.

Brain Drain

Many organisations that demanded academic excellence for their people ‘to lead’ now, ironically, face a well-publicised ‘war for talent.’ This is because most of their ‘best people’ have been educated out of the leadership skills necessary to respond to an increasingly transparent world. When IBM recently surveyed 1,900 CEO’s they all cited creativity and adaptability as the two most important qualities future leaders must possess. Culturally most corporations aren’t configured to nurture or develop these skills.

If we want better leadership we have to go back to basics and work with raw talent that has not been trained out of their intuition so to fit an increasingly obsolete system. This cannot be done theoretically. You have to learn by doing and failing and winning daily.

At Ease With Uneasiness

If you are successfully leading the chances are you have hired people better than you at their jobs and you are holding a space in which they can thrive. If you are managing decline the chances are you’re inundated. You’ll have unconsciously created and politicised a chain of command. You’ll be making all the decisions and impeding the natural inclinations and talents of your team.

If the future is going to be better led, and therefore better managed, we need to accept that management is secondary. We also have to accept that we should all be working daily on our personal leadership and ourselves because no effort in in this area is ever wasted. This means rediscovering timeless leadership principles and being at ease with the natural uneasiness that leadership brings. This will begin to reinvigorate the art (not science) of leadership.

And with that art restored, everything else then becomes manageable.

– with thanks to the author, Ross Ashcroft of RenegadeInc

Let It Go. Let It Go. And I’ll Rise Like The Break Of Dawn.

One of our partners, Nick Jefferson, was recently invited to speak to a group of the world’s most powerful Chief Procurement Officers.

Here is the text of what he said…….

‘Tonight I’d like to talk to you a little about the ‘3Cs’:

  • Culture
  • Creativity
  • Communication

Continue reading “Let It Go. Let It Go. And I’ll Rise Like The Break Of Dawn.”

Everything Changes. But You?

This was a talk that we were invited to give to a group of emerging leaders.

It’s rough and ready, but we had a lot of fun.

We were invited to speak about ‘Adapting To A New Environment’……..
Continue reading “Everything Changes. But You?”