Your Leadership is Desperately Needed

I have all these relevant business topics I want to write about, but they seem a little trite given what's probably going on in your head. Plus, as you've probably noticed, I needed a six week break from writing you publicly.

I suspect you're suffering from trauma about the last year and anxiety about the year to come. Some of you have experienced really tragic things, but most of you are just flat out tired of the uncertainty. Working from home--with fewer of the normal work/life boundaries--makes time pass without the usual markers that help us measure progress and meaning.

So days blend into weeks that blend into weekends that don't look all that different from whenever it was that something happened, as best as you can tell. You just remember a year ago (when it started) and the rest is a blur. The present seems unending and you don't even have a clear picture of next month.

Hundreds of you, very kindly, have told me how much you appreciated the calm voice behind my content last year. I guess I fooled you pretty well, because I wasn't feeling that way all the time. I worked too hard, let myself get dragged off into arguments I'd never win, and fantasized about watching The Walking Dead a second time, but this time taking some notes.

What drives me is a sense of looking as far ahead as possible...while being aware of the present. That's how you see things in context and anticipate change with as much advance notice as possible. Skilled drivers on a race track look far ahead and are ready to brake before the car right in front of them even thinks about it.

Looking far ahead keeps you from overreacting, too. Seldom are your circumstances as bad as they seem, or even as good as they seem! Living through 2001, 2008/09, and now 2020/21 should count for something. It should tell us that:

  • Most anything can happen, and quickly.
  • Pressure sorts through things to show us what's most important: people, service offerings, clients, contractor relationships, etc.
  • Real leaders rise to the occasion when others are losing their heads.

Speaking of leadership, a leader's duty is to tell the truth in a way that minimizes defensiveness. That relationship between leader and follower comes down to that: how does the leader determine what is true, and how does s/he communicate that truth to minimize offense.

When you "follow" someone who is "leading," you are always endorsing their perspective on truth. But the very best leader/follower bonds account for some degree of endorsing how that person leads, too. Grace, space, and context require long periods of time to allow for (unfortunate) failure and (hopeful) correction. There are no short-term leaders; only leaders in the making who have demonstrated seasonal appropriateness.

Because authenticity requires verification (i.e., proximity), the truest and most faithful leaders are often parents, unelected "swayers" in groups of acquaintances, and small manager/managed subgroups. Which means that some of the most authentic, should-be-celebrated leaders often receive very little acclaim. Leadership (as parents and managers find from time to time) is thankless and difficult and wonderful as a force for good. It's one of those things that's always worth doing well.

I've said this a lot, but your biggest win right now is what people see in you during the uncertainty. How you keep plowing ahead and leading, in your family, your group of friends, your team, and your community.

You probably need to defer some of the ambitious goals, be a litlte easier on yourself, and huddle in those places where you regenerate your vision. For me, that's around the fireplace at the cabin, building new trails in the back woods, reading the latest Gray Man novel, organizing for a new year, or checking in on someone I haven't talked to in a bit. That was me the last six weeks.

About 22,000 words of insight were added to the website last year, and there are a lot of fantastic episodes of 2Bobs to explore (see a few below) too, so I'll leave it at that for now. Coming up I'll be doing a whole new series of fresh webinars. Like last year, these are capped at 1,000 participants and are all free. (All are at 1:00p CT on Thursdays.) Follow the links to register:

  • February 11, 1:00p CT: What Did 2020 Teach the Small, Private Marketing Firm World? I’m not sure we’ve learned all the lessons yet, but we’ve certainly learned some. Other than the obvious ones, there are some hidden gems that are worth exploring. Let’s look back at 2020 and see where I got things wrong and where I was right, and let’s fine tune 2021 so that it’s better than ever.
  • March 4, 1:00p CT: What Can You Do Now to Prepare Your Firm for an Eventual Sale? After leading 160+ transactions on both the sell- and buy-side, there are very clear patterns for what someone across the table that you are negotiating with cares about, and what they don’t. Let’s strip away the myths so that you can spend the next six months…or six years…getting your firm ready. No, the fact that you are a project to project shop will not scare someone away. I’ll walk you through what matters and what doesn’t. Some things have indeed changed.
  • March 25, 1:00p CT: How to Develop a Comprehensive Compensation Strategy for Your Firm: If you don’t have guidelines and a process, you’ll make bad individual decisions, which will add up to a bigger mess. Compensation deserves a strategy, from its role to how it’s communicated, adjusted, supplemented, and tied to a firm’s performance. Similar to how an NFL team needs to balance the draft and free agency to stay within the cap, there are some ways that keep keep you out of cap hell and provide a more consistent path forward.

Some Recent 2Bobs Episodes

How Our Deepest Fears Shape Our Approach to Business: David articulates five fears that tend to shape management style and impact decisions principals make for their firms.

Let's Talk About Money: David lists eight truths about money that he's identified in his efforts to help entrepreneurs make better business decisions.

The Enemy Within: Blair addresses the internal struggle for margin that happens in many firms between delivery teams and business development teams due to their lack of distinction between cost and price.

Holding Opposite Perspectives in a Healthy Tension: David wants entrepreneurs to live with tension in various aspects of their business, using it to their advantage in making important decisions instead of just worrying about resolving the tension itself.

Slapping Down Your Childlike Glee: Blair offers some ways to help prevent over-excited new business people and principals from giving away the shop and appearing unprofessional.

Myth of "I Just Need More Opportunities to Get in Front of Prospects": David draws a picture for Blair about the implications of this statement he hears almost all of his clients and prospects say about being able to close new business.

Big Clients vs. Small Clients: Blair shares the tradeoffs creative firms have to deal with when pursuing firms of a particular size, and David gets Blair riled up again about procurement.

Foibles of an Executive Leadership Team: David thinks firms have too many meetings and offers some solutions, and Blair pushes back.

Transcending Timesheets: David torches Blair's highfalutin notions of timekeeping and offers four instances when timekeeping can actually be used without polluting your pricing.

Recent Unsolicited Testimonial

Hi David,

I hope all is well in your world. I remember you telling us when you visited for our "agency colonoscopy" two years ago that clients will occasionally reach out with updates, and you were never sure why. Well, this is one of those updates. I'm not really sure why either, so I'll keep it quick.

We're going to be closing out the year with AGI up ~60% over prior year at $3.7M (!!). We're feeling some minor growing pains, and plan on slowing that growth down to 25-30% in 2021. More excitingly, we'll close the year out with ~25% in profit, even before accounting for PPP funds. In my decade plus years of being with the agency, I think we've only cracked double digit profitability maybe once.

We're at about an 80 / 20 split of our new sub-brand and the original undifferentiated brand by AGI. With more people now, we have a solid and competent second layer of management, all gelling together on our Leadership Team.

I've told you this in the past, but I'd like to emphasize that I really appreciate all of the content that you write, the 2Bobs podcast, your direct consulting work with us, the peer group you've established and invited us to, and everything else that you do. Over the years, it's like you've conferred a Masters Degree in Agency Management upon me.

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