3 traits of a creative leader

50486506 I recently had to say goodbye to a very dear friend. 

Al owned an advertising agency in New Hampshire and we’d been a part of each other’s unofficial advisory boards (I wrote about my posse awhile back) for almost 10 years.  I loved him with all my heart and I’ll miss his humor, straight talk and business smarts.

But…over the years, I learned a great deal from him and I’d like to honor his memory by sharing some of that with you. 

Al was from the northeast and he always reminded me of a crusty old sea dawg.  But underneath the curmudgeon facade, there was a very savvy business man and one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known. 

So without further ado, here are my lessons from Al on how to lead a creative team. 

Love your people:  Surround yourself with talent and then make sure they always know how much you appreciate that talent.  Celebrate their wins.  Help them grow.  Push them, but push them knowing you won’t let them free fall.  When one of your team stumbles or makes a mistake — acknowledge it first.  Use it as a teachable moment but never let them leave the situation feeling bad. 

And last but certainly not least…know their aspirations and help them chase their dreams.

Success is no excuse for not staying out front:  No matter how successful your team or agency is, you need to stay current and lead the way.  Your clients expect you to ahead of the curve.  It’s also a very powerful argument for retaining your best employees.

Al was always one of the first to be trying something untested or listening to the latest book.   Sometimes he didn’t get it or see the value in it.  But that wasn’t the point. He knew he was setting an example for his team and his clients.

Only work with clients who appreciate your smarts and skills:  Al’s belief was that life was too short to work with jerks, know it alls, or people who didn’t have the manners to say thank you now and then.  He understood that sometimes good clients had unreasonable deadlines, or had to please an ungrateful CEO, or dropped the ball on their end.  He didn’t mind that — it’s just a part of the business. 

But he wouldn’t tolerate clients who berated, brow beat or were demanding in their tone.  His employees didn’t deserve to be treated like that and he made sure they knew he felt that way.  As a result, most of his agency’s client relationships were 20+ years or longer. They weren’t just clients, they were respected friends.

Al had figured out the formula for success in this crazy business.  Surround yourself with people who had oodles of talent and heart.  Only work with clients who appreciate and value those people.  And keep everything fresh by always being willing to explore something new.  He led by example and with his heart.

He’ll be missed by many of us.  But, each of us — client, employee, peer, friend — carry a bit of Al with us.  And we’re the better for it.

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