Leadership: Be Driven. Be Smart. Be Human.

I have been thinking about ‘Leadership’ as a topic for this post. What a nightmare.

The thought occurred with wry amusement that the ‘Leadership for a Better Britain’ theme at the Conservative Party Conference was followed, within days, by the biggest back-bench rebellion Cameron has faced as Prime Minister.

Then I started researching Leadership as a topic.

How naïve was that?

Leadership is all over the place, especially online.

There is so much Leadership on Twitter that it becomes impossible to follow. There are Leadership Quotes and Arts of Leadership and The Leadership Mystique and, for all I know, Leadership of Leadership.

I entered ‘Leadership’ into an Amazon Book Search and 71,064 results appeared. That is a big readership and a lot of Leadership!

Where is all this Leadership leading?

How much Leadership can we take?

How much Leadership do we need?

I don’t want to write the 71,065th book on Leadership so here are my Insights on Leadership based on my own commercial experience.

The Leaders I have met fall into three categories:

1. Driven

Driven Leaders are a force of nature. They accomplish more in a day than most people do in a week. They never stop. You can reach them any time of day or night, year after year. They are relentless.

Their sheer drive and energy makes it impossible to argue with them or divert them from their own chosen path. You do what they want you to do because otherwise you would not be working with them. There is no other way.

You are comfortable to work with them because, inside yourself, whatever you think and whatever you feel about these Leaders, you know you could never keep up. Secretly, you so admire their sheer drive and energy that you accept your role is to follow in their wake.

I am not naming names but I guess anyone who is anyone in marketing and marketing services can think of one outstanding example of this type.

2. Smart

Smart Leaders are hard to define. It is unlikely they are academic achievers. They may not even think much about what they do, but they have instinct.

I met Felix Dennis. I can’t link you to the Sunday Times Rich List because of their perverse paywall, but here is the Birmingham Post version. He’s worth £550million.

The first time I met Felix, he said: ‘You’re not going to show me a presentation are you? I don’t want it. Have a cup of tea. Sit down. You know your business. Tell me about it. Talk to me’.

So I did. Then he proceeded to dissect our business and the market sector with such insight and precision that everything he said has emerged to be true two years later. It would be inappropriate to reveal the details.

But I can share one great anecdote. Felix Dennis said words to this effect:

“You see these magazines on the shelf behind me? They have made me very rich. But I can tell you that all the kids leaving university these days want to go into digital. They think that is the future. But do you know how the richest man in Britain, the sixth richest man in the world made his money? Steel. F*****G STEEL!”

Forbes says Lakshmi Mittal is worth $431.1billion. Made of steel. I think that’s funny.

Earlier in his career, maybe Felix was driven as well as smart. Not now. He lives in Mustique, is planting a forest in Warwickshire and lives a balanced life. That’s smart.

It is possible to be Driven and Smart. If so, you are really rocking. From what I have read, Steve Jobs was like this. RIP.

But, the question has been asked, was he a kind person?

3. Human

Human Leaders are different. They are not necessarily driven or smart (but it helps).

What sets them apart is that they can somehow touch people on a human basis. Choose your own. Martin Luther King? JFK? Lennon?

Let me tell you a story about such a Leader in my career. His name is Michael Baulk. Years ago, he was Managing Director of Ogilvy & Mather London. I was a young Graduate Trainee. In those days, Ogilvy recruited five grads a year. We weren’t paid much, but we were very privileged.

A year into his career, one of my contemporaries approached Baulk. He had fallen in love with a girl and wanted to take her on a romantic holiday to Africa – a holiday he knew he could not afford. He asked Baulk if Ogilvy would advance him some salary to pay for this holiday. “Come back tomorrow”, was the reply.

The next day, Baulk got this young guy into his office and said: “I have checked with HR. I am sorry. They cannot do it. It would set a dangerous precedent. If they did it for you, they would have to do it for anyone else. I am sorry.”

But guess what he did next? He got his cheque book out of his pocket and said: “But don’t worry. I’ll lend you the money myself. How much do you need? You have a successful career ahead of you. Have a great holiday. Pay me back when you can.”

My friend (because, in those days, at Ogilvy, we were all friends) reminded me of this story 25 years later. He said he would always do anything for Michael Baulk. He has never forgotten him. And neither have I.

So there you go. Leadership with A Different Hat.

Be Driven. Be Smart. Be Human.

Better still, be all three.

Bet you can’t.

  • Chris Arnold

    Thanks Sarah. AardVarK was developed in association with a top management consultancy and has been proven to dramatically improve communication effectiveness and sales.

  • SARAH JAMES

    I get frustrated sitting in meetings listening to analysts trying to explain consumer behaviour when you know they have missed the point. Data often ignores one key factor – the creativity. It’s the Spock of marketing, all logic and no emotion. John Lewis’ Christmas ad was the most talked about, and loved ad, of 2012. It was NOT a product of data but understanding human emotions (psychology). Same can be said about Gorilla. It’s also what makes most of the top virals work. Data can be very useful, it can help improve media channels and placement but 95% of what makes a piece of communication work is the creative. And data can’t make a bad idea work better. Marketers need to refocus back to WHAT actually engages consumers not just on the WHERE and WHEN. My fera is that big data is pushing many further up the ivory tower.

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