Anyone who has experienced a level of sustainable success within an advertising agency has more than likely identified one simple, humbling truth: In an agency, everyone is as smart as you are. More to the point, they probably smarter than you are about things that are outside your training. In an environment filled with entrepreneurial thinkers and Type A personalities, it takes a different approach to truly make a difference.
I’ve found that the answer often lies in my EQ rather my IQ.
EQ, or emotional quotient, measures how good we are at self-awareness, empathy, and dealing sensitively with other people. The Institute of Health and Human Potential tells us “EQ counts for twice as much as IQ and technical skills combined in determining who will be a star performer.”
I’ve found that this rings true more in the agency environment than any other. It translates into our ability to listen, navigate and empathize with a smorgasbord of personalities, all of whom tend to be right at some level or another at a given time. It guides us through tough choices and gives us a keen understanding of the ripple effects of our decisions.
We’ve all worked with someone with a low EQ. They rely on fear tactics or barrel through each issue with arrogance and disregard for other opinions or needs. They often come into an organization, make a few big moves, rankle those above and below, then ultimately burn out and take their massive IQ to their next target. Is that their destiny? It doesn’t have to be. Focusing on building their EQ can help balance their over-developed intellect and help them better achieve their goals. The fact is, they can’t win a team sport like advertising on their own, no matter how smart they are.
Personally, I wasn’t always tuned in to my emotional intelligence. It wasn’t until I started leading larger teams that I realized people don’t follow taskmasters, no matter how smart I (think) I was. Further, once I became comfortable enough with the simple truth of advertising – that everyone is really fucking smart, and that’s how it’s supposed to be – I began to come into my own as a leader.
Leading with your EQ
First, accept that your EQ may be the best way to make an impression on any given day, be it managing down or up. Because of how fast business changes, knowledge alone becomes irrelevant quickly. Some smart idea that worked last week is not likely to be next month’s winning concept.
Listen with your eyes and ears. Get beyond what people are saying and think about why they are saying it. Put yourself in their shoes. Be in tune to other people’s reactions and note what’s not being said. Then navigate all those egos and show empathy as you seek to move toward consensus. Your goal is to create buy-in and build confidence – after all, big egos often mask big insecurities. You’ve not succeeded if a decision was made solely on empirical evidence.
Know Your Limits, But Remain Firm
Having a strong EQ doesn’t directly equate to success, nor does it equare to soft leadership. Just look beyond our industry to two high EQ leaders, World Series managers Joe Maddon and Terry Francona. Neither worried about being liked, yet both were quite likeable. And it wasn’t because they were pushovers. They made tough personnel calls yet kept morale high while under enormous pressure.
In our industry, it’s easy to become attached to one of your big hitters through your personal connection or a long-ago success. But if you are reliant on those feelings alone it can cloud your business judgement. An over-indexed EQ can make you loyal to a fault, promoting people beyond their effectiveness and ultimately losing the respect of others. Striking a balance is key.
Motivate with EQ, Lead with Common Sense and Experience
This balance is what makes leadership so difficult. While you need to empathize with each individual, you can’t do so at the expense expense of output and results.
Recognize that no decision will make everyone happy and learn to navigate those who don’t respond well. The tough part is not personalizing their displeasure. You see it – others won’t. Internalize, understand shortcomings, navigate around them and recognize everybody can’t be everything. Above all, create an environment where you can support and motivate. You see their vision and they get yours.
Build a strong fulcrum that will keep you from swinging too high or low in any direction. Get emotionally invested in your team, but not too emotionally invested to risk losing sight of what’s best to service the business. Become chummy with the client, but don’t be afraid to make them uncomfortable and hold them accountable. We can’t shy away from putting ourselves in our client’s shoes professionally and emotionally. Finding ways to demonstrate that we see the challenges from their point of view will help gain a trust that help us challenge them in a non-threatening way.
Succeeding in the agency world is a team sport, and while ego, stubbornness, and defensiveness run amuck, so too does the joy of collaborative success, and the necessity of leaning on your partners to help you get the job done. In no other environment are the highs of successes this high or the lows this low. An appreciation and understanding of the efforts of each individual around you will make that unpredictable ride more productive and rewarding.