Working at an agency means you get to hang out with smart, creative people all day long. It also means you’re dealing with a lot of strong personalities — imaginative, outspoken, and sometimes a bit too confident. When you step into agency leadership, you have to transition from collaborating with these personalities to managing them. Outspoken team members are always difficult to lead, but they present a special challenge in an agency environment, where you rely on their original thinking and courageous attitudes. When thinking about how to run an ad agency, reining in these personalities without breaking their spirits requires a delicate leadership balance.
As an agency owner for more than 20 years, I’ve had the chance to work with outstanding talent, and I’ve seen my fair share of strong personalities. I’ve learned that nurturing creative thinkers requires a special approach. But with smart management and clear communication, both your strong personalities and your agency can flourish.
Here are four ways to maintain control of your outspoken team members without dampening their creativity:
1) Invest in leadership training.
A lot of agency leaders came up in the industry. Many landed their positions because of their creative and technical expertise — not their interpersonal skills — and have never had formal leadership training.
This problem is magnified for young leaders. They’ve been praised throughout their careers for being outspoken and unafraid to take risks, so they may not handle disagreements as respectfully as they should. If the people below them are older, they may feel intimidated and project a false bravado to appear more confident.
Sound familiar? Even if you’re a natural-born leader, invest in leadership training for yourself and your entire team. Communication and teamwork programs such as Crucial Conversations can help you mentor team members while fostering their creativity and tenacity.
2) Set an example.
You and your leadership team should model the behavior you want to see in junior employees. Explain to senior leaders that disrespect among strong personalities is contagious, so you won’t tolerate backbiting, bitterness, or bad manners from anyone in a leadership position. If people lower on the totem pole see bad behavior from those higher up, it’s certain to infect the whole team.
3) Create a mentoring culture.
As a leader and mentor, it’s your responsibility to proactively nurture your staff’s personal and professional growth. Schedule regular one-on-ones with anyone who answers directly to you to discuss good techniques for handling conflict and provide opportunities for them to air concerns. Ask them to do the same with their juniors. This culture of mentorship and open communication will help you head off problems before they begin.
4) Proactively address problems.
Many agency leaders feel uncomfortable having frank conversations with strong personalities, so they ignore problems rather than address them — then fire employees when conflicts arise. This is a bad response to behavioral problems. Not only do you lose good workers and spend time looking for replacements, but you also create an atmosphere of fear among employees.
Managing Personalities Properly is Key When Learning How to Run an Ad Agency
Rather than let employees go, address problems in private as soon as they appear. Calling out bad behaviors in a group meeting can make employees defensive or cause them to shift the blame to someone else.
Be firm and direct, but avoid sounding like an angry parent (e.g., “Until you can be respectful, you’re off the team”). Give employees a chance to respond and explain situations you might not be aware of, then show them how they can improve their behavior. Follow up with them later, and thank them for the progress you see.
Strong personalities are assets to your agency. These are the people who have big ideas and the energy to put plans into action. Once you learn to manage your spunky and strong-willed staff, you’ll have a dynamic, unstoppable team.
This article was written by Drew McLellan and first published on HubSpot.
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