Episode 292

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You’ve heard me say it a million times. Most agency owners are accidental business owners. Whatever your agency’s origin story, most of us can remember the moment when we looked around and realized, “This is so much harder than I thought it would be and if I’m being honest – I am winging this.” In the beginning, we’re nervous about admitting our uncertainty but at some point, most agency owners are hungry to learn and willing to admit don’t always have the answer. But what if embracing the doubts we all have is actually a sign of great leadership?

Author and executive coach Marc Pitman has spent several decades building his knowledge base around growing strong leaders. His insights not only help agency and business owners become better leaders themselves, but he also shares ways to grow, build, and nurture future leaders throughout an organization.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Marc and I explore a variety of topics surrounding leadership and the need to make peace with your doubts. We discuss changes in leadership brought about by the adaptations required to weather the pandemic. We also discuss different kinds of leaders, ways to assess and clarify the kind of leader you are and want to become, and ways to inspire others as they work on their own leadership.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

Agency Leadership

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • The changes in the leadership created by the pandemic
  • Four quadrants of agency leadership
  • What it means to be a focused leader
  • Some available assessments to offer insights into what kind of leader you are
  • The best ways to encourage others to grow into their leadership
“There’s not a lot of good leadership training going on, and we often don’t give ourselves permission to take it if there is.” @marcapitman Click To Tweet “The higher you move up, the lonelier you get. The loneliness is similar across the board, but people are so siloed that they think they are the only ones experiencing it.” @marcapitman Click To Tweet “There’s a confidence building in a team and a leader when they say, ‘we’re really good at these three things and these are things that are going to be a compass for us as we move this rough patch of water.’” @marcapitman Click To Tweet “Doubt could be the invitation to look to the internal stuff, to look at the things that make you unique and different, your hardwiring, and the stories that you are telling as a person and as an organization.” @marcapitman Click To Tweet “The armor that you build to go through the world can become a shell that traps you in and restricts your growth.” @marcapitman Click To Tweet “The only safe leaders that exist are the ones that can be good followers.” @marcapitman Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Marc Pitman:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of an agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. The Build A Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ, will show you how to make more money and keep more of what you make. Let us help you build an agency that is sustainable, scalable, and if you want down the road, sellable. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host Drew McLellan. 

Drew McLellan:

Hey everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. Thank you so much for making the time to hang out with me today. You are going to be glad that you did because I am super excited to introduce you to our guest, and talk to you a little bit about the premise of his new book and how it can help all of us, not only be better leaders, but build better leaders inside our organization. 

Before I talk any more about that, though, of course you know there’s something I want to tell you about. So many of you are wrestling with how do you define your niche, should you niche, which niche should you choose. I was actually working with an agency leadership team on this issue and I ended up creating a very simple Excel spreadsheet that helps you evaluate if you have multiple possible niches that you could lean into, and you’re not really sure which one makes the most sense. I’ve built, basically, a criteria report card where you identify the two, or three, or four, or up to five niches that you could pursue as an agency, or areas of specialty. And then, I ask you a series of questions and you give each question a letter grade as how it pertains to each of the potential criteria. Basically, the spreadsheet does the math for you, and shows you which of the niches you are most teed up to pursue and to really focus on. 

If you would like that report card, or spreadsheet, or whatever you want to call it, here’s what you’ve got to do. You need to go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/nichecriteria, all one word. Again, agencymanagementinstitute.com/nichecriteria. You can download, it’s an Excel document, you can download it and use it to beat the bands. I hope it’s super helpful and helps give you some clarity. Hopefully, you can find that useful and valuable. 

All right, let’s talk a little bit about our topic today. I’ve owned my own agency for now 26 years, I was in a leadership position prior to owning my own agency inside another agency. And of course, I’ve run AMI now for what feels like decades and decades. I have a lot of experience in being the predetermined leader because of my position, but I certainly haven’t always been a great leader and I certainly have plenty of room to grow even today as a leader. But, when I think about my own leadership journey, it absolutely was an evolution. I don’t know about you, but when I first was put into a leadership role, I got the title, I didn’t get any training and I was expected then to lead a department. And, I assumed that I was going to be good at it because they gave me the job, but honestly, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. So I think that’s for most of us, that’s been our leadership journey is that we have discovered it and figured it out as we have gone along. 

My friend Marc Pitman, who I have known through social media and other things for a long time, has written a great new book called The Surprising Gift of Doubt. And it’s all about how doubt is part of leadership that we don’t really talk about very much, and we think we shouldn’t doubt our own leadership skills, or talents, or insights. Or, instincts maybe. But, we do and then we think, “Maybe I’m not as great a leader as I think I am, because I’m doubting myself.” So Marc has done a lot of work over the last several decades, building up his knowledge base around leadership, and how we develop into better leaders, and this book really unpacks that. So I have four hours worth of questions for Marc, obviously we won’t get to them all, but I’ll get to as many of them as I can so I want to get right to it. 

But I want you to listen to this episode with one ear attuned to your own leadership, and the other ear attuned to the other role we have as agency owners, or even agency leaders if you sit on the leadership team, is we have to grow other leaders inside our organization. I want one ear to be listening in terms of how do you become a better leader, and I want your other ear to be listening in terms of how do we as leaders grow, build, support, nurture leaders inside our organization. All right, let’s get right to it because I have a lot of questions. 

Marc, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us. 

Marc Pitman:

It’s a privilege to be here, thanks so much for having me. 

Drew McLellan:

You bet. As I was telling folks in the intro, your new book has just released, The Surprising Gift of Doubt. Talk to us a little bit about the over-arching premise of the book, and why you felt compelled to write it. 

Marc Pitman:

Part of the reason I felt compelled to write it is people would ask me, “So what do you do?” And I’d say, “Well, I’m an executive coach,” and they’d have this, “Oh okay, cool.” And then, they’d sit with that, and their head would tilt a little and they’d scrunch their face a little. And they’d ask me again, “So, what do you do?”

Drew McLellan:

Right. 

Marc Pitman:

It took me about 18 years of being an executive coach to finally create a format that explains the way I approach coaching leaders, so that was the compelling reason to release this book. 

I think so many of us that are in leadership, or running organizations, have gotten there almost without a lot of study. So there’s not a lot of good leadership training going on, and we often don’t give ourselves permission to take it if there is. I’m pleased with the way that this is helping people to see that they’re not alone on this journey, and to also, I don’t know, give them some tangible, real life, time-tested tools that can help them articulate why they’re different, why their agency maybe is responding to the same situation in a unique way, and that may be their unique proposition as opposed to a deficit on their part. 

Drew McLellan:

One of the takeaways that I took from the book was this one-two punch of when you get the title, whatever the title is that suggests you’re a leader, there’s this assumption that you have to actually know what you’re doing all the time. Number one, that you feel that obligation. And number two, that it doesn’t feel safe to acknowledge that sometimes you’re doing this by the seat of your pants. 

Marc Pitman:

Yeah, that’s very accurate. In my experience of coaching leaders and leading myself, that’s been it. If you’ve been with a bunch of peers and you’re promoted to lead the department or the team, there’s almost like they’re leaning back, “All right, do it. You’ve got the title, you should know what to do.” 

Drew McLellan:

Right. 

Marc Pitman:

And, then you look around you and you don’t see a lot of other leaders … It’s not really appropriate or safe for other leaders to be just not knowing what they’re doing, or not looking like they have it together, so you just assume that they do. Yeah, it becomes this really vicious circle of not knowing, not having answers and not knowing that … I guess the good news of trying to look like you have it together, there is an aspect of that that’s important, but not knowing that there are places that you can go to find your answers, it can be all-consuming and really [crosstalk 00:08:36]. 

Drew McLellan:

And lonely. 

Marc Pitman:

Yeah, incredibly isolating. Isn’t that weird? I don’t know why it is in our organizations, I don’t know what other models could be. But yeah, the higher you move up the more lonely you get. What is shocking, and you probably see this working with agencies, too, is that the loneliness is similar across the board but people are so siloed that they think they’re the only ones experiencing it. 

Drew McLellan:

Right. Well you know, we talk a lot at AMI about how agency owners are often accidental business owners. So they were really good at some level of their craft, and either they got laid off because everybody loses a job in advertising, they either got laid off, or they just decided they wanted to run their own shop. But, all of a sudden they look around and they go, “I have 10 employees, and I don’t know how to read a P&L, or whatever it is.” But, they’ve fallen into this leadership role by some choices they’ve made. And all of a sudden, I think they do get super lonely. It’s one of the reasons why our peer groups are so popular is because they get to hang out with other people just like them, and whisper what’s hard because the other people are like, “Oh my God, that’s hard for me, too.” 

Marc Pitman:

Yeah. 

Drew McLellan:

That was the reaction I had as I was reading the book, is as you were giving different examples of different people that you’d work with I’d be like, “Oh, I remember feeling like that.” Or, “I feel like that right now.” 

Marc Pitman:

Right? Yeah. 

Drew McLellan:

I think a lot of times, we don’t think anybody feels like we do.

Marc Pitman:

What was amazing to me, pre-pandemic, was I had people come into where I live in Greenville, South Carolina, for-profit and non-profit, which you don’t normally see together, but I had mixed groups and we did what I called Quadrant Three Leadership Intensives, which was going over the stuff in the book. And it was so fun to see that level of, “Oh my goodness, I’m not alone.” And, it palpably changed the atmosphere of the room really quickly. There’s an openness and authenticity that showed, but also the reflection in between the different exercises of, “What, you experience that? I thought it would be different in a for-profit, I thought you’d just have it all together.” 

Drew McLellan:

Or, a big company versus a small company. 

Marc Pitman:

Yeah. Or, “Non-profits, I thought people would just be throwing money at you because you’re the do-gooders, you struggle with that, too.” 

I really resonate, too, with what you said about the accidental business owner. I think a lot of us, the people that tend to run businesses the way you’re describing it, tend to be so good at something, two things. One, getting something done, but also communicating in a way that develops a team. I don’t know if you find this in agencies, but what I see in the organizational leaders that I coach, is a lack of appreciating the fact that there are three things that they need to do now. There’s the clients that they need to take care, which they get. They understand that, that’s what they want to do. But, there’s now a team to take care of. And then, there’s themselves to take care of, too. 

So some of them are good at the clients and good at, at least understanding that the team thing is there so they’re saying, “Take your time off, or do yourself self care or whatever,” but they’re not modeling it themselves. So they’re creating an unsafe environment for their employees, because if they’re sending that midnight email, just because it’s when they get a chance to, it’s not trying to set any norms, not trying to set any expectations, but the employees see that and they’re like, “Oh crap, I’ve got to do that now. I’ve got to start.” 

I don’t know if you did this, but I remember at an early job in my career, I would do that. At 11:30 at night on certain nights, partly because I traveled so that made it a little more natural, but there were times where I would choose to respond to an email knowing that it might get me a few more merit points. 

Drew McLellan:

My boss would see it, right. Exactly, yeah. 

Marc Pitman:

“Oh look, he’s working on the weekend.” 

Drew McLellan:

Right, of course. And now with technology, our employees can time them so they go to bed at nine o’clock, but it still sends the email at 11:30. 

Marc Pitman:

That’s brilliant. So everybody listening, there’s a free tip. 

Drew McLellan:

We’re probably being gamed, right now. 

Marc Pitman:

I am so nervous about those things, because I always am afraid that if I try to post it for the weekend, like if I respond on a Saturday but I don’t want my clients thinking that that’s okay so I want to respond on Monday, I’ve gotten so nervous about them actually replying in between. 

Drew McLellan:

Getting it, right. 

Marc Pitman:

And my timed response is out of date, yeah. I use something called followupthen.com.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, it’s a great tool. 

Marc Pitman:

Yeah, so that I can type what I want to do and then send it to myself Monday, at followupthen.com, then it comes back in my box, I cut and paste it. Technology’s cool. 

Drew McLellan:

Technology is a beautiful thing. But, I think all of this, again, part of leadership is, I think, as you talk about in the book, the acknowledgment that you don’t always have the answers. But, it’s also I think there’s this fear of today our pace is so fast, what if I don’t know about that tool? Or, what if I don’t know about this or that? So I think there’s incredible pressure on leaders today to have it all. And certainly, we’ve seen in the last year, we’re recording this on April 1st 2021, so we’re just coming out of the pandemic. I often have said to my agency owners, “You’ve earned an MBA in leadership in this last year.” 

Marc Pitman:

That’s good. 

Drew McLellan:

“And trying to navigate this world that we have no idea what’s coming next, because we’ve never seen it, done it.”

Marc Pitman:

That’s what makes me so excited about … The pandemic is horrific and awful, I’m not trying to gild a lily or anything. 

Drew McLellan:

Right. 

Marc Pitman:

I have been told that I am, whenever they say is the glass half full or half empty I say, “Well, it’s always full. It’s got air or liquid,” so I tend to be overly optimistic. 

One of the things I’m hoping that we’ll see out of this is there has been an almost near global experience of leaders literally not knowing what they’re doing because we’ve not been this way before, there’s no benchmarks. Recessions, we can figure out, there’s been benchmarks. Health scares, there may be in some, depending on your niche. But the global pandemic with forced lockdowns, what I’m afraid of is people will not embrace that level of unsureness. Not insecurity, but not having it all together and they’ll start falling back into that habitual trying to fake it til you make it, which as a business owner, can be really good at times. 

There are times where your clients are calling you into things that you don’t know that you can do, that’s totally legitimate. When you have three, or four, or five paying clients that want you to do something that’s not listed in your services …

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, you figure it out.

Marc Pitman:

To me, that’s a tell that okay, maybe they’re seeing something in me, so that fake it til you make it works. But, it’s the one where you’re totally lying, and you’ve got this hubris and fake, I don’t know, it’s totally inauthentic. Hopefully, we’re not going to fall back into that because we’ve all been through a time where we really didn’t know what was going on, and some people chose different ways of trying to address that.

Drew McLellan:

Well, I’ve certainly seen that amongst our clients, a softness in their leadership. Of being able to say, “You know what, you guys? We’re going to try this for a month and see how it works. I don’t know if this is going to be permanent,” especially with some of the work from home stuff. “I don’t know when we’re going back to the office, I know I want us to go back to the office but I’m not sure when, or I’m not sure how we’re going to do that. But for this month, we’re going to try this, and then we’re going to see how that worked.” That transparency of, “I don’t really know,” I don’t think has been that prevalent in agency owners, as much as it has been in this last year. 

So I think, I’m hoping, what they are discovering is that their employees actually responded to that, and appreciated the fact that the owner wasn’t faking it. 

Marc Pitman: