Lessons learned from leading an agency

8 Lessons I’ve Learned Leading a Creative Agency

Colin, Orange Element’s marketing intern, recently asked me to write a post on ten things that I’ve learned owning and leading a creative agency. No pressure. My first thought, having owned Orange Element for fourteen years, would suggest that each of these ten “things” would need to be big. Huge. Insightful.

The reality is that I show up each day and realize just how much more there is to learn. Also, that I’ve learned the most from my failures. There are the big moments and lessons, captured when we offer and accept new perspective, expertise and insight. And, as important, there are a million little observations that unfold as time moves forward.

I’ve outlined eight things about which I feel great, believing in each of them, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m reserving the ninth for what I might learn today and the tenth for the unknown.

1. Collaborate. Pencil and paper, idea generation, the trust in one another to suggest an idea can be pushed further, sitting in a room together, slowing down the process even if you only have 5 minutes to talk through ideas. We work best, producing our best work, when we see, hear and apply perspective to a problem. To gain perspective, force yourself to be collaborative, even when it’s hard.

2. State your business needs and expectations clearly. And if you need to reset, do so posthaste, state the reasons why, and apologize if it taxes the team.

3. Reserve the right to think. Reaction has led me to making both great and terrible decisions over the years. Our best decisions are typically made based on our experience and expertise, helping us to offer an informed reaction. But when a new request, need or unfamiliar problem is presented to us, we can sometimes react quickly to get it done. Unwinding a bad decision, by reacting quickly, is ten times harder than simply stating that you need a little time to think about it first.

4. Never blame others. If you are, the reality is that you are at fault. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way, guilty of passing blame from time to time, either passively or aggressively. And it has never ended well. Blaming others, throwing them under the bus, or seeking a scapegoat, fosters fear and recoil, and creates one of the largest barriers between collaboration and trust.

5. Act on ideas. Bring ideas to the table with intent and purpose. Deliver a plan and it will improve opportunity to receive support. We all have ideas—I love it when someone brings the idea and a plan to get it done! Also, if you have an impulsive idea with positive intent and outcome, you should always share it and try and act on it. Some of the best ideas come at the strangest times.

6. Be grateful, always. It is easy to get caught up in our personal mission, agenda and needs. Let’s not forget that we are in business to offer value to our peers and our partners. It doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be personal. If you act on the first five items from this list, being grateful will seem easy. And you won’t take opportunities for granted.

7. Invest in emotional intelligence. I can’t seem to get enough on the subject right now. Combining anthropology and psychology in the workplace is fascinating and I am glad it is now mainstream. I love most everything I have read and we are currently embracing these ideas in our own processes and day-to-day operations. If your managers and directors are not personally investing in EQ, please find ways to bring this information to them.

8. Breathe. Sure, take a deep breath—you have a lot of excitement in your life. But what I’m getting at here is the idea to let it breathe. Allow the culture around you to organically ebb and flow. You have space, time and human energy to manage. And the most important thing you can do is watch, listen and react calmly. Let it breathe and age. Remember that all ideas, if they have a plan, require time. And, remember that time is only relevant to what you are trying to achieve.


Want to read more from Aaron? Check out all of his posts here.

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