All of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with have all had one thing in common. A great sense of humor. Over the years it’s become pretty clear to me that a good sense of humor is a huge part of being a great leader.
I sat down with two friends and former coworkers Jeff Kosloski and Suz Keen to discuss leadership in the digital age — and why funny is so important. Enjoy.
Laughter + Leadership from Wade Campbell on Vimeo.
The other day I found myself at one of the 424 Starbucks coffee shops in Seattle. I was reading Charlene Li’s Open Leadership when a young man walked into the store with a back-pack and a skateboard. I like people with skateboards as a general rule—but this one disappointed me.
He ordered a coffee and the Barista, pleasantly filled his order. This is when things got weird. The man complained that his coffee wasn’t hot enough. He was actually disappointed that the coffee ‘didn’t even burn his tongue’ as if that was the measure of appropriately hot coffee.
The Barista explained the pot was recently brewed. She apologized and offered to brew him a fresh pot right then and there. It would take about 5 minutes but she was happy to oblige. He wasn’t having it and suggested she give him an Americano and they could call it even.
“No problem, but you’ll have to pay the difference” she told him. From the measured debate that followed—his motive was clear. He was trying to get a more expensive coffee for the regular price. Overhearing the debate was fascinating. The rational of the customer quickly became ridiculous—and I found myself in awe of the Barista’s patience and fortitude. After the customer left in a huff—the other Barista reassured her co-worker that she had done the right thing.
So what does this exchange teach us about leadership? A lot. First, that the employee cared enough not to be bullied. It would have been easier for her to just give him what he wanted. Put in her shoes I may have done just that. However, she had too much respect for herself or the company to give in. She stood up for what she believed was right—even if it meant having a customer leave in frustration.
This also got me thinking about social media and the court of public opinion. Like Charlene Li illustrates through her book: Openness to complaints can lead to clarification of what a company stands for. It’s the heat of conflict through which true colors are revealed. As a fly on the wall it was clear to see that the Starbucks employee was operating from sound principles and the customer was not. If this exchange had taken place in the social media sphere—the pushy customer is quickly revealed for what he was: Untruthful and manipulative.
This exchange also provides informative insight into how Sr. Leadership works to empower Starbucks employees. Had this been at McDonalds, it would have gone down much differently. The underpowered employee—afraid for their job would likely have given the customer what they wanted. Who cares anyway?
In conclusion: it’s easy to see the importance that leadership plays every level of every organization. We are a product of the leaders we follow. They empower us to be empowered.
As an ACD I spend a lot of time on conference calls, so it wasn’t a big surprise that I found myself on one the other day. What was surprising was the energy on this one. Everyone was leaning in. People seemed more excited then usual. There was an unsaid understanding in the room and on the other end of the phone. It was like everyone suddenly remembered why they got into this business in the first place.
On the monitor was the topic conversation: One word—and a picture that added up to one huge idea. When I realized that the guy responsible for the concept was nowhere to be seen I started tallying up the titles in the room: Creative Director, Account Director, Associate Creative Director, Regional Account Director, Sr. Art Director, Creative Technologist, Planner—not to mention the clients and partner agencies on speaker-phone. Everyone was buzzing to bring an idea to life. I couldn’t help but think to myself: “all these people finally have something worthwhile to do thanks to a imaginative, articulate copywriter.” Thank god.
People don’t work for people as much as they work for ideas. Nothing motivates or inspires us like a well-articulated thought. Technology doesn’t drive business—ideas do, which is something that is easy to forget. As an industry we tend to value the flashy and new—over the tried and true, which is a big mistake. From my experience, no one is a more efficient generator of the ideas that drive our industry than a good-old copywriter. A good writer can articulate a vision for an ad, an agency, or a brand. A good writer shows us what it could be—what it should be, and can even outline a plan to get there.
For me it all boils down to this: If you’re doing boring work it’s probably because you have a boring writer. If you have a good one—love them, nurture them, and please excuse them for being a little weird.
Great presentation questioning work and the role of the workplace.
I’m putting this book on my wish-list too. Rework
Question: Where do you go when you really have to get something done?
I went to the grocery store to pick up a list of things I needed: milk, eggs, bread—the usual. While I was going down the checklist I came across a clip strip in the cereal aisle loaded with 6-shooter confetti guns. It was exactly what I didn’t know I needed. I bought six of them, one for each member of my team. It was the perfect tool to communicate the importance of celebrating small victories. I walked into the store get the usual line up—and walked out something awesome.
When I think about this trip I can’t help but think about the opportunities we have as creatives to sell our clients something awesome. In my experience, clients don’t go shopping for the next big thing. They shop for the essentials. The list of things they’ve been told they need: OOH, print, TV, point-of-sale. Their job is to check these things off the list and move on. The standard line-up has made client agency interaction about as exciting as a trip to Safeway. They make the list. We fill the basket. Everyone is satisfied. Yawn.
The checklist of elements is a dangerous trap that I’ve seen a lot of teams fall into it. The thinking goes like this: “I did what they asked for—so I’m done.” What good creatives realize is that finishing the checklist marks the beginning of the fun part. You’ve been a good boy and done as you were told. The bell just rang—It’s creative recess. You owe it to yourself to enjoy this part.
The completion of the check-list marks the beginning of creative freedom from conventional thinking. This is your opportunity to create the assignment you want to do. Have you been looking for a project to experiment with social media? Make it. Looking for an opportunity to create an app? Design it. Got a cool idea for a mobile video game? Write it. All of these are confetti gun ideas. Things that aren’t on the shopping list simply because your client doesn’t know they exist.
Your next assignment is your next opportunity to create a confetti gun. Then all you have to do is lead them down the cereal isle.
I re-tweeted this eariler this week but felt it deserved a permanent home on the Ra-Ra-Rant. Thanks to Philip Su for providing a lot of random/brilliant insight and Seth Weisfeld for helping it find it’s way to me.
12 Years of Randomness, Ended
Philip Su, Sept. 3, 2010
Microsoft has been an awesome place to work over the past twelve years. Today is my last day.
I’ve always been somewhat random, so I’d like to end this whole adventure true to form: quirky, controversial, optimistic, seat-of-the-pants, with rarely a satisfying explanation.
Don’t look for coherence below – you won’t find it. And if parts of this offend you, it’s probably because you don’t know me well enough – I offend people inadvertently all the time, almost as a rule.
Thanks for everything.
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In college, I never thought I’d work for Microsoft. Then I interned in 1997 and fell in love: free sodas, individual offices (with doors!), Pentium 66’s – what more could a coder ask? Years later, my manager from the internship quit suddenly when his hard drive crashed, erasing weeks of code that hadn’t been checked in. He said it was a sign from God. I have no idea what he’s doing these days.