Leadership Lessons from my Teenage Kids
Something big happened in the life of my daughter the other week. Something she will remember for the rest of her life. It wasn’t her first word or her first walk, not even her first kiss. It was her first big disappointment. Let me explain.
As a family we’ve always loved football and she perhaps more than all of us. She supported, she cheered, she battled, she competed, and she embraced the emotion of the team. And then she lost in the most dramatic of fashions. It’s hard to be winning; to see the other team equalise in the final minutes of normal time; to be deadlocked throughout extra-time; and then to lose on penalties. And to lose despite – as the team’s goalkeeper – making one of the greatest saves of your sporting career. She cried. They all cried.
You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this. Well, because, although she is – in my mind – a hero, she ultimately failed. And I see analogies in this failure that are pertinent to the corporate world. And to the advertising world in particular.
Firstly, you live and die by the team, even if you produce an individually fantastic performance. If the team doesn’t deliver, you too will ultimately fail. And there’s nothing wrong with failure. Embrace it, learn from it, draw inspiration, and come back stronger. You are only as good as the list of the failings you have bounced back from.
But the value of teamwork can never be understated, and nowhere is this proved more so than in sport. We see teams made up of ‘superstar’ players outperformed by teams with players who are – on an individual basis at least – deemed to be less talented. Why and how does this happen? The answer lies in the value of teamwork – that oil that ensures an engine runs to its greatest capacity.
Too often agencies fail to work as a team. They are a mishmash of creative egos and frustrated self-expression. ‘Superstars’ are everywhere. But divas and superstars do not belong in an office if they refuse to work as part of a team. Nor does the concept of the creative director as a God-like figure. Anyone who believes themselves to be better than all others will only hamper our creative collective.
And then there’s the idea of never giving up, even if you do ultimately lose. Only by fighting against the odds can you achieve your greatest success. We saw an example of this just last week. The New England Patriots were trailing 28-3 with a little over a quarter to play in the Super Bowl. It looked like the game had been sewn up by the Atlanta Falcons. But in an incredible final quarter Tom Brady’s men produced an astonishing comeback, overcoming a 25-point deficit – the biggest in Super Bowl history – to win 34-28. Great teamwork, coupled with inspirational leadership, can overcome anything.
It is one of my greatest sporting pleasures to see the underdog prevail. It’s the same with the advertising industry. This idea of never giving up despite the odds is romantic. It only happens in fairytales and in the lives of others, they tell me. But the New England Patriots’ victory proved this belief to be a fallacy. Sure, it’s rare, but does that mean we shouldn’t always fight to the very end?
Management shouldn’t be the dull mundanity of timesheets and ticking boxes. It is an emotional experience too. Leadership is messy, leadership is emotional, but if your heart is in it to the fullest extent, and if your head is clear, you can achieve anything. I firmly believe this.
Agencies should seek to hire those who have attitude, but train for skill. It’s too easy to hire people with the right skills but the wrong attitude towards the collective cause. Who you are as a person counts for as much as what you know.
Watching your team perform, watching them do well, watching them compete at the highest possible level gives you a sense of pride. And it’s not just about those who are actively involved in any given task either.
When my daughter was playing the game of her life, my son – who had been watching on the sidelines throughout – went to the school’s music room, picked up a few trumpets, and went back outside. Then, along with a few of his friends, he began to make loudest amount of noise possible. It was incredible. Some things you can never buy. Positive encouragement is one of them. And that only comes when everyone believes in the team.
Too often agencies fail to work as a team. They are a mishmash of creative egos and frustrated self-expression.