• Caleb Clark

Managing with an Open Mind, Balance & Humility

If you work in advertising, you know the work can be stressful, filled with last minute changes, long hours and strong egos. There are risks in managing creative projects that are unique to this business. Having spent my formative years in production, the pressure always seemed amplified. If you throw in a hierarchy of creative approvals that extends up the chain at both the agency and the client, managing outside production and ever changing technology needs, you find yourself constantly facing and managing the unknown.

I think keeping an open mind has helped me to not only to manage the unknown and become a better leader, but also aids tremendously when things go wrong.

It is inevitable, missteps, mistakes and all sorts of risks are going to happen, no matter how great you are as a project manager, team or agency. How you face things as a leader, when things go wrong, can make a big difference. When the proverbial poo hits the fan, it helps to have a clear head in order to deal not only with the immediate problem, but to ensure things don't cascade into even larger problems.

Things move fast in creative land. When things go wrong, I immediately look to gain insight into the problem by having the full picture and try to establish context. This means that I need to work with the entire team, now is not the time for confrontation. Being informed allows for clarity and tests assumptions. I need the most current information in order to set a path to get back on track.

It's also about trust and values. I need the team to trust me and in each other, in order to pull together to meet this challenge and the next. I may need people to go the extra mile in order to correct mistakes or to help support a weakened area when things go awry. Besides, we may not always be able to control others' actions, but we can always control our own. Yelling or going over board is going to do little to help the goal of setting things right. It's also going to limit how hard others are going to work with you to take up the shared challenge of getting back on track.

Ultimately, my goal is keeping communication open and respectful on all levels. These are values I feel pretty strong about. I believe the health of a company's culture is often reflected in the health of it's conversations. Besides, while I'm resourceful, I may be in a situation where I may not have all the answers and I'm not above admitting it. If communication is open I can get the answers that I need – fast, and then we can move on.

I also think yelling is counter-productive (and not very ethical). If you have kids, you probably know already yelling doesn't work, it just makes things worse. Not yelling and being a calming influence, makes everyone else calmer. Diffusing the situation lets people think rationally and gives people the opportunity to provide viewpoints and discussion that may lead to not only solving the problem, but perhaps set a whole new course of action. This is a much faster way of getting things on track. When people feel confident that they will be heard, they can help resolve the problem. If you berate them, then they can lack the confidence to speak up and then the chance to move forward is greatly diminished.

If you want people to treat each other with respect, then you need to model appropriate behavior. People who respect others will be respected by others. People remember what you are like under difficult situations and your audience is not just your internal team or boss, but also your clients and peers. How you resolve the situation can go a long way in restoring trust on many levels. In general, being open about things goes a long way to gain mutual trust in an organization.

I believe that being open minded allows for perspective taking so it can help provide a clearer course of action. If something goes wrong, I prioritize solving the problem first. However, I don't forget the people involved.

Very soon after things get on track, I have an offline meeting with the individual(s) involved in the situation. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. But it is very important that when things do go wrong, we should engage people so that we correct for future behavior. This may mean talking one-on-one. I look at one-on-one engagements very positively, this means not only do I get to hear an individual's perspective on the problem, I can give perspective back, so individuals as well as the group can benefit from any shared learnings.

With this approach, I think I also gain a very clear perspective of possible staff short-comings. I think it helps to identify where I may need to take immediate action if someone is not the right fit for the company.

Being even headed and open-minded not only helps in managing and resolving conflict, but helps us to lead every day. Advertising is the land of big personalities. One of the great things about working in advertising means working with a bunch of very smart and talented people. However, smart people can also be very strong-willed people that are often more inclined to believe in the strength of their own ideas rather than others. And in this business of selling ideas this friction can be amplified.

Having a coach-like mentality I think is important, especially when consensus can be hard to achieve in a place where everyone may not be team oriented. Just like a coach, you may need to call upon a wide range of management styles to coax the entire team to work together. I think we all know that star athletes don't continue to make goals without the entire team coming together as one. A creative idea without combined sound strategy, crafted execution and the right media thinking is going to miss the goal every time.

As a coach, your job is to get everyone together to tackle a problem. The great thing I think about working with smart people, is when they are challenged and feel trusted, they maintain motivation. When the entire team feels motivated, I think the results wind up more achievement-oriented and become less about the individual and more about the idea and its execution.

While my management style might not be right for you. I rely on a coach-like approach to management. It means I’m able to practice balance and stay open-minded (even when I’m very passionate at times). I’m always ready to listen, adapt my style of leadership, with the goal of increasing my learnings so I can make the best possible informed decisions.

At the end of the day, I think by staying curious and interested in others, you gain a wider multi-dimensional understanding of the issues at hand. There is always more than one perspective or viewpoint. But by having the trust of your staff, you can get to the big picture faster. This allows for real discussion and debate to take place, which facilitates the progress required of the team to temporarily suspend what we think is best for us so we can consider the best interests of the business. In the end, I think, this makes for better and faster decision making, so the organization can move quickly to the next challenge.

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