The 5 Commandments For Leading People In A Digital World

The evidence is clear that the leadership landscape is changing: Founders of startups are being replaced to have new people at the helm to lead in different ways. WeWork and Luminary are recent examples.

The focus on mental health in the workplace is intensifying, so that workplace as a force for good in people’s life is now becoming an expectation, rather than a nice to have.

The NBA recently announced it was forcing every franchise to employ a psychologist or behavioural health specialist for the season that is just underway.

John Lewis, Next, ASOS and M&S recently announced a joint mental health initiative for retail workers, and people are focusing more on the purpose of their work so are seeking greater meaning in their careers as well as day-to-day contributions to their businesses.

All of this means that leaders are needing to sharpen their ability to help the people they lead be "fit for purpose." For many, the obsessive relationship with KPI’s has been at the heart of how leadership has worked for a long time. The shifting field of play means it is time for leadership to have new obsession. 

At a recent event hosted by Google Premier Partner, RocketMill, the shift in leadership requirement was crystal clear. RocketMill has shifted their entire way of working to ensure they “Put People First” in their company and with all of their client work. The way they have done this can be summed up as five commandments.

Commandment 1 - Thou shalt not confuse Performance with Results

First, if you’re going to be a great leader in a digital world that is becoming swamped with data, KPIs and dashboards, you have to understand the difference between Performance and Results, and be ready to lead people on their performance first. In this way, you have to become as skilled as an Olympic Coach at having huge amounts of data, a huge desire to win and the need to know how to have your performers control the data (so it doesn’t control them!)

Performance is "doing the things you need to do to get the results you want or need." So effective leaders are constantly seeking to create an environment where everybody feels as ready as possible to do the things that need to be done, as well as possible, every day. If you know you’re skilled enough to "coach" the people you lead to be ready to "play the game" in the right way, every day, you will trust that scoreboards will truly be Performance Indicators, and not just a whole host of things that can be measured.

Commandment 2 - Thou shalt be forensic in your definitions of Success

So what is the specific success you’re coaching your people to be ready to achieve? Are you passionate about HOW your results are achieved? Are there specific qualities that you want your marketing offer to be associated with? Are you equally passionate about reporting on HOW you’ve performed when compared to WHAT’s been delivered? 

When you know the "HOW" is valued at least as highly as WHAT is achieved, then you’ll be really putting people first in your digital world. Knowing HOW you want to engage with your customers will also give you as a leader much more clarity over which measures truly are the KPIs that you want to focus on.

Given the level of competitiveness in the Digital Advertising world, being absolutely clear about your brand proposition and promise to your customers becomes ever more important. Living this promise through the way you lead your people to be ready to "play" the way that will make you proud is therefore something that can’t be ignored.

 Commandment 3 - Thou shalt not ignore the Conditions 

If you think about how things have moved on in the Digital Advertising world in the last 10, 5, 2 and 1 years, it’s clear to see that conditions have changed enormously, customer sophistication and expectations have changed, and the world around us all has changed.

Given the existing expertise in the advertising world of understanding and influence the zeitgeist, it’s critical to turn this expertise inwardly so that the people you’re leading are supported to be fit for purpose in the reality of now and the near future.

World-class sprinters don’t expect to run their fastest time in strong headwinds, but they know someone will still win the race they are about to run. Similarly, advertising leaders have to be experts in understanding the conditions of play so that they are able to manage the nature of success appropriately, and support people to be ready for what’s required in those specific conditions with great care.

Ignoring the conditions as a leader is not an option if you want to make sure that you’re constantly focused on delivering Commandments 1 and 2 with great skill.

Regularly checking your conditions, making sure that definitions of success are being updated accordingly and then supporting everyone to be ready to play there part becomes the rhythm of high performance within your agency.

Commandment 4 - Thou shalt have a high boredom threshold

If you want to have a true, High Performance Culture within your agency, it’s worthwhile asking yourselves how often you’re using your expert communication skills to ensure that everyone is constantly seeing the connection between WHAT you achieve and HOW you achieve it.

The greatest coaches in the world of sport have incredibly high boredom thresholds when it comes to staying focused on the non-negotiables of performance. They constantly coach around their core ingredients of success. After every competition, they call out the connections between playing "our way" and the level of success achieved.

Have you got an ongoing campaign for yourself to keep the drum beat around your performance values beating loud and clear -- providing guidance and confidence at all times; in the build up to key moments and then after the results are in?

Leaders in the advertising world have little excuse for not being superb at getting this element of their leadership spot on. With Commandments 1 to 3 in great shape, then 4 is all about your personal commitment to being the catalyst of a people and performance obsessed culture.

Commandment 5 - Thou shalt love the Challenge!

You can supercharge the human element of your agency by harnessing the power of a Challenge Mindset through your leadership. Research shows that when people feel they are in control, fully confident and curious to learn from pressured situations, then mind and body have a much healthier set of ingredients present.

This contrasts with a Threat Mindset, where conditions are controlling you, confidence is fragile or diminishing, and you are focused only on goals that have to be achieved. When in the threat state, mind and body aren’t in a healthy union! 

So this final commandment is all about you being ready to lead by example, through your choices to focus on what you’re in control of, why you’re fully confident through a focus on performance and what specific learnings you want to get out of every opportunity (beyond just results). When you’re leading by example and helping everyone you lead have the same focus through the questions you ask, the coaching you provide and the feedback you give, then you will truly be setting new standards in advertising leadership.

The first four Commandments give you all that you need to become highly skilled at Commandment 5 and you’ll be able to combine all of these together to help your existing strengths as an agency be tapped into with even greater focus and collaboration.

If you feel you’re on the money with each of the commandments yourself, then it’s time to start helping everyone that you lead focus on stepping into this mindset for themselves. It’s one thing having the leader of an agency obsessing about the right things, it’s another when you’ve supported and challenged every member of the team to put themselves first in the digital equation through the use of this essential rebalancing of the equation for themselves.

In an ever more digital world, you can’t afford not to be obsessed with how good you are at leading people. Your only KPI from now on should be how effectively you’re leading everyone to be fit for purpose. Simple, not easy, but definitely worth the effort.


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