Laugh, Lead, Learn

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.

Barista Leadership

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.



Who’s your sniper?




Have you ever been watching TV when someone else has the remote? Just as soon as you’re getting into something [tschht]. That’s what it was like. Just as I was starting to nod my head – [tschht] – A new voice – [tschht] – A new topic – [tschht] – A new [tschht].

But this wasn’t TV. These were presentations in the AAF’s National Student Advertising Competition. The thinking from the students was better than lots of stuff I’ve seen from ‘real world’ shops—which made me feel pretty good about the future. The presentations on the other hand were eye-opening. Not because they were necessarily terrible. I’d just never sat on the client side of the table in a creative presentation before. The over choreographed and awkward handoffs were very similar to ‘real word’ presentations I’ve seen from big-time agencies.

I don’t understand why, but when it comes to presenting all of the sacred ‘less is more’ rules seem to get thrown out the window—and they shouldn’t. More bells, whistles, visual aids, and presenters—does not make for a better presentation.

It was interesting to note that every single team presenting chose to use the maximum number of presenters. I scrambled to write down names of everyone as they introduced themselves—but no-one can write as fast as 5 nervous, over-caffeinated college student can speak. Don’t even try it.

After the idea packed presentations it was time for a deep breath—(ahh) and a little Q & A. I asked the students the following:

1. “Did you have fun?” — (It was pretty obvious to see that they had).

2. “In your opinion, who is the best presenter on your team?” 

This is where things got interesting. Each team pointed to one or two teammates that they felt was the best. On one team, a guy actually stood up and said: “I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but I’m probably the best presenter.” It was great to see the entire team nod in agreement. So why? Why did every team choose to use 5 people when they all agreed one or two were the best?

This led me to the following: If you only get one shot… do you use a firing squad? or a sniper? My advice. Use a sniper. Kill it.



Hug Your Copywriter

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.

Of course I’m not talking to myself


Just about everyday on my way to work I partake in a lively conversation with an unseen passenger in my car. We’re usually chatting about what’s in store for the day. Sometimes we work together to find a more articulate way to present an idea. For the most part, we get along fine but on occasion we’ve been known to argue. I’m sure that makes for a very interesting scene for passers by.

When I catch myself in one of these debates I flash back to a childhood memory if a woman sitting alone in a booth at McDonnald’s. She was in the middle of a very heated discussion with the empty yellow booth across from her. Back then I wrote her off as crazy. Today, I wonder if she was a writer.

A lot of writers I know are well… different. Many of us can’t spell and the details of proper grammar remains a mystery. We screw up the basics time and time again and for that we have no excuse. It’s not that we don’t think it’s important. It’s just that our minds wonder away from the details which is arguably what frees us to come up with the great crazy things clients are after.

My first memory of writing, really writing, was in 3rd grade. I wrote a story called Hootchi-ga-ga: the story of a surfing Hawaiian squirrle stranded in Michigan and his heroic intercontinental adventure to get back to his native Hawaii (I know… right!?). It was written in crayon—so I didn’t have spellcheck. The grammar was horrible but the story was awesome. It was weird, imaginative, and it cracked people up.

In high school I was an accomplished theatre dork. I learned more about writing from Improv and acting than any English textbook could ever teach me. Acting taught me to create characters and to write for the ear. I memorized lines by reading aloud, and re-wrote clunky copy that sounded weird when I said it. I still read most things aloud before sending them on—something every writer should make a habit of.

Most agencies aren’t set up for writers like me. The sea of cubes makes the process of writing for the ear awkward. In my first job I had an office. I could shut the door and talk out a TV script till it sounded right. In cube land there is no private space where you can really talk to yourself. I do it anyway but it’s awkward.

Last week I found a temporary solution that seems to work. I started acting again. More accurately, I started acting like I’m on the phone. It’s pretty childish but it works. Using the voice memos app on my iPhone I’m able to take dictation without getting sideways looks from co-workers. Because I’m talking into my phone, people just assume that I’m in the middle of a conversation.

The best part is that by some Pavlovian reflex I tend to end each voice note by saying ‘talk to ya later’ or some other conversational sign-off. Personally I find this reflex pretty hilarious. What can I say. Writers are weird.