Mind the leadership gap

Mind the leadership gap

Thursday, 21 September  2017

Andy PontinI was 31 when I abruptly became a CEO when my boss got sick (Jon Clark, a wonderful man). Obviously it was unexpected, so I had no training, no succession plan, no support network, and NFI what I was doing. Predictably I failed miserably over the course of two increasingly desperate years (apologies to all involved).

Guess what? My experience is par for the course; turns out pretty much everyone in our industry is woefully unprepared when they get promoted to an agency leader position. We’re just not very good at getting people ready for the leap from manager to leader.
Recently, I was lucky enough to chair the Communications Council/IPA Business & Agency Leadership course in Sydney. It’s a course for agency folks on the cusp of a big job. The course was a great learning experience for me, and hopefully the delegates got something out of it as well.

What quickly became apparent is that our next generation of leaders, our industry’s ‘best and brightest’, have had very little exposure to the demands of leadership, and very little help in understanding how they’ll need to change their mindset, focus and behaviours to successfully make the leap. This isn’t their fault, it’s ours.

So, what heads-up could we be giving these stars that might set them up for success?

1. What got you here won’t get you there.
The skills that got you to your current job – skills that have served you well to this point in your career – are not the skills that you’ll need to be successful in your next job. So going into the big job thinking that you just need to work twice as hard at the things you already excel at is not going end well. You need to develop new skills to deliver to new objectives, objectives that will be far more intangible, long-term and subtle than the ones you’ve used to benchmark your success so far.
 
2. Everyone is going to want more of everything from you.

Clients, peers, shareholders, bosses, staff: Everyone will want more of your time, more of your focus, more of your energy. And everything you do gets noticed and has an exponential impact on the people around you, so you’ll be ‘on point’ all the time, in every circumstance. How you behave, how you turn up, how you interact becomes more important than what you do, because it sets the tone for your whole organisation.

3. You’ll wonder whether it’s worth it. It is.

Regardless of how well prepared you are, the first year or two will be hard. Hard to the point that you’ll question whether it’s what you want and whether you’re actually any good at it. To realise that this is natural and is experienced by everyone is incredibly reassuring; a bit like when you have your first kid, meet-up with other first-time parents, and realise that no-one else knows what they’re doing either.
One of the most startling presentations we saw a few weeks ago came from Commander Christopher Sheehan, who runs the Australian Federal Police in NSW.

Chris leads over a 1,000 officers, often asking them to do tasks that most of us would run a million miles from (including codifying the severity of child pornography evidence). Now that’s a proper leadership job when you consider that we face a daily mutiny getting agency people to do time sheets.

Chris reminded us all of something fundamental: ‘Leadership is voluntary’.

So as hard as his job sometimes is, he still recognises that leadership is incredibly rewarding and incredibly fulfilling.?So bravo to Chris and all the other successful leaders out there. The main task now is to help the next generation to step up with a bit of timely advice and a clear understanding of what lies ahead.

Oh, and let’s make it look like it’s worth it too. No-one aspires to an MD role when all the agency heads they see are frazzled workaholics. Compared to running the AFP, running an agency is the most fun job on the planet, and it should look like it.

Andy Pontin is CEO of Clemenger Sydney. This article first appeared in Ad News.