Agency Doctor: actions speak louder than words

The launch of the PRWeek Power Book 2015 is the perfect time to review your leadership style.

Richard Houghton: associate partner at Agency People
Richard Houghton: associate partner at Agency People

The publication of this year’s PRWeek Power Book in this issue got me thinking about what connects all those selected to be in it. They have all been very successful at the art of public relations, some have made a lot of money and some have contributed to raising the profile and reputation of the sector.

But it strikes me that one thing they all have in common is the ability to provide leadership. With people at the heart of a successful agency, the ability to provide consistent and motivating leadership must be one of the most important attributes of managers at all levels. So it’s worth giving some consideration to what a good agency leader does.

Millions of words have been written on the topic, but I believe Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner hit it on the head with their Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. They kicked off with "model the way", because actions really do speak louder than words. Good leaders think about how they want people to behave and demonstrate it. This is particularly important during periods of change or uncertainty. So you really do need to do your time sheets and expenses on time.

"Inspire a shared vision" is the second, and in my view the most important, leadership attribute. All of us want to believe that we are not just turning the handle and that we are part of a team working towards a clear vision or destination. Once the vision has been developed, communicated and progress  tracked, you will be amazed at how the team is motivated by a single direction of travel.

In a changing sector the most successful agencies are innovating their structures, services and charging methods, so "challenging the process" is a critical leadership attribute. Driving change requires clear thinking and consistency, and the ability to bring those less eager team members with you. It’s not always easy, but it’s unlikely that your vision requires your agency not to change.

The final two leadership attributes – "enable others to act" and "encourage the heart" – get down to nuts and bolts of good leadership: they help develop new leaders.

We’ve all worked for micro managers, but if you don’t provide a framework and freedom to act within it your team is not going to develop. Of course, good leaders accept that ­mistakes will  be made and rather than chastise the culprit look for ways to learn from it.

Agency life can be a bit of rollercoaster, so being a resilient leader who understands how to motivate the team and individuals is a valuable attribute. "Encouraging the heart" can be seen as a soft skill, but when the IT is down, the pitch is due tomorrow and the creative idea doesn’t match the strategy, the leaders who can get people to do things they didn’t think they could will win out.

Whatever your personal leadership style, take a few minutes to check you’re covering Kouzes and Posner’s five points. If not, make them part of your leadership approach. They work.

Richard Houghton is an associate partner at Agency People

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