Two years of being a chief of a thing
November is historically my time of renewal / new starts. If you know me well, you know I’m a bit of a wanderer when it comes to my career. I’ve honestly loved most every moment of all the agencies I’ve been a part of in LA, taking along with me some of the most wonderful friendships and learning from some of the absolute best in the business. And for THAT I’m forever grateful to this industry.
But then a couple years ago, I got the opportunity to join a really interesting group of people at Omelet. Smaller, independent, and honestly just a crew of super nice folks that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join. They were experimenting with things like making their own full-length feature documentary on Los Angeles gang violence, had some really incredible long-lasting client relationships and an energy that I had not felt in an agency in a long time. It just felt different.
I’ve worked in advertising a long time and always looked up to all my CSO bosses that came before, but weirdly, I was never like “yup, that’s what I want to be!” Not that they weren’t inspiring, I just never saw my path going there — I truly have very little hunger for power or authority. I like coaching people and watching them become better versions of themselves, but the desire for power the way many see it in an agency was not at all desirable (in fact it kinda seemed not-so-much fun). I’m very comfortable in a leadership role, I was a preschool teacher for a spell of my life and a figure skating coach for nearly 10 years and as a result, my soft-skills are very different from a lot of people in our business. Yes, a stint in business school and over a decade in this business changes things, but at my core I’m a certain breed of person. And that breed wasn’t starving to scamper to the top of a totem pole or hierarchy. I’m fine with being in that role, but it’s never been a life’s ambition. I want to make great work, with great people and be wildly successful for all those around me. I like to win. But three letters never defined that.
Anyhow, here we are. Two years later. The agency I’m at today is dramatically different from the one I walked into. And I think that’s pretty special. I loved the thing I walked into. I love the thing it is today. But it’s two different things. Different people. New clients. New dynamics. Agencies are growing, organic, living and breathing systems. If everything stayed the same all the time, it would A) be boring, and B) not be truly optimizing for the future.
So a five things I’ve learned in these two years...
- Everyone is smarter than you, just learn to deal with it. In advertising (particularly strategy) your sweat equity is developed from being one of the sharper / quicker / punchier / pithier people in the room. The old school planning persona of equal parts academic and alchemist. But then one day, a magical thing happens and the most important thing is for you to ensure there are other more superb academics and alchemists in the room than yourself. 9.9 times out of 10 the folks around you (if you hire correctly) are already smarter than you — they just don’t know it yet. And you also realize, that most of the time, they just need to believe it first, and THAT is your job. To help other people find their magic.
2. So, while your job is creating an environment where others can thrive, it doesn’t mean you don’t still make charts and briefs every day. Here’s the thing I really do appreciate and love about where I’m at right now in my career: my main job is to create space where other people can be great and can do great work with our clients. But I still have to make charts and write decks in the evening, and I’m actually more than ok with that. I love the work. we all love to say we loathe the work, but I love the work.
Was watching an interview with Scooter Braun recently, where he talked a bit about his dad being a coach — and the analogy for a music manager, or ANY manager is quite the same.
“The thing about being a coach is the wins are yours, the losses are mine. I’m here to give you the win, but when we lose I’m here to take the blame.”
While I always say, “it’s not about blame” — in every case, someone needs to shoulder the burden. And that’s something I’m still getting used to. It’s really hard. And I’m not always good at it, because I just want to rush to fix a thing. But, sometimes un-fun things happen and you have to deal with it. That’s part of helping create a certain kind of safe environment for people to grow.
Advertising is the most insane rollercoaster of emotions. You’ll win an account and it’s glorious. You’ve never felt better. And then you lose two. And then an amazing lead comes your way, but the timing is ridiculous. This is an industry not for the weak of heart. And I love it for that (for now, while I can still handle it!) And I’ll keep shouldering the painful stuff if it means we can have a few of those wins. You know, for other people. ;)
3. Agencies are living, breathing ecosystems and you will never actually control it all. The harder you hold on, the less control you have. I’ve always been a strategist that’s very comfortable in the grey. It’s one thing I feel like I’m most blessed to be Canadian for. I grew up understanding multiple sides to every story and that a tapestry is always better than something binary. In our business right now, very few things are black and white. There is not one way to solve clients’ problems (never has been) but it’s not just about the thing we make, but HOW we make it. You cannot make a hundred rules to hope to bring rigor and structure to a thing that has to morph with the ebb and flow of your business. You have to adapt. You have to change. Or you die. Literally.
4. Nice isn’t a four letter word. I’m incredibly lucky that I work with some of the best human beings I could ever imagine. And “nice” at our organization is not code for “weak.” Being nice and good come as a package. No one wants to work with the opposite.
5. As you create a space for others to grow, help to build a business with really nice people, and all the other important work-related things, find time to build yourself. Here’s a thing we often overlook and not a lot of people talk about — making time and space for yourself to be a better person and leader. In the last year, probably closer to last 6 months, my biggest change has been to make time to actually take care of myself. Mediation, over-priced studio fitness, strolling around a garden, all that stuff. It’s an hour or two a day that’s for yourself where you’re not running to the next email or calendar invite or after-work work-related cocktail hour. We live in a culture of busy, which I respect and play a long with for most waking hours of the day. But by definition, it’s not a very smart way to live — when you’re that busy, you often forget to live or have the time to be grateful for the life you’re able to live. And sometimes we’re just busy to help drown out the things that we don’t feel great about in our lives. I’ve learned that being still and quiet is sometimes the most important thing we can do for ourselves (and our co-workers and other life inhabitants).
So that’s all for my long-ass diatribe on what I’ve learned in two years. Huge words of appreciation to the wonderful people I share my work life with. I’m literally not a thing without you, and thank you for having me for the last couple years. Here’s to two more years (and hopefully more) of living and learning stuff. And forcing you to read about it on Medium.