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.

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