If you consume news, it’s likely you’ve seen some of the following questions related to the financial markets over the last year: Is the Fed going to continue cutting interest rates? How long will the trade wars drag on? Is the recession that everyone anticipated in 2019 going to hit in 2020?
Answers to these questions and many more can drastically impact business operations—marketing and PR professionals know this better than most. When the economy is going good, most of our clients’ businesses are doing well. When the economy is down, companies often go into cost-cutting mode where our services become closely reviewed and are sometimes eliminated.
New and organic business development—the lifeblood of any agency—hinges largely on economic factors out of our control, yet we keep a watchful eye because everything from staffing to revenue projections and growth prospects is impacted. But agencies often lose sight of what separates superior firms from good ones and even excellent ones: great leadership.
I was fortunate to attend the PR Council’s Harvard Business School (HBS) Executive Leadership Program (thanks Bliss!) in October, led by HBS professor Ashish Nanda. To say effective leadership is paramount to organizational success would be a drastic understatement, yet it’s typically front of mind only when things go wrong. Did a client partnership end or are employees leaving the firm? Let’s take a closer look at our leadership team…
Conversely, leadership is often overlooked in times of financial prosperity. When a company’s thriving, it’s often assumed strong leadership is a primary reason, which isn’t necessarily the case. So, what formula produces successful leaders? Here are some key factors to consider:
- They want to lead – Leading (or managing) isn’t for everyone and that’s OK—there’s plenty of room for those who want to do their day-to-day tasks and move onto the next deliverable. But every organization needs leaders—they are the glue between employees and management who uphold a commitment to maintaining a healthy company culture while also keeping company performance at the forefront. And most importantly…they want to lead, they’re not told that they have to.
- They lead by example – Many times when people become formal leaders in a managerial role, they forget the importance (and need) to continue producing client work. But most times, they want to stay involved and clients want to maintain their usual points of contact. Doing so inherently allows leaders to stay up to date on market trends. Not to mention, leaders who stay involved with client work maintain credibility within their firms and those they manage.
- They’re trained and incentivized to lead – If you read the first two points, you know that leaders have a lot on their plates. Though it’s a responsibility they (hopefully) embrace, it’s important that firms both train leaders and reward them for success. That could be making it a part of their performance review so it’s discussed frequently or something that becomes more formally necessary for career advancement.
Firms that don’t focus on developing leaders may enjoy short-term financial prosperity, but it’s likely that long term, company culture and the overall relationship between employees and leadership will be tenuous. It requires much more time to invest in leaders, yet the payoff is huge: an engaged, fulfilled group that has the best interest of the firm, its people and clients at hand. Start by finding the people who want to lead and then give them the tools to be successful.
What do you think produces successful leaders at your firm?
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