Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Management 101

Years ago, I found myself in an upper management position. Today, with clear hindsight, I find myself asking, "What were they thinking putting me in charge of so many people?"

The truth is, I had no management training whatsoever. None. I barely managed to shave three times a week. And yet here I was managing teams, going to brass meetings, and filling out bi-annual performance reviews.

BTW, I never met a human resources document that I didn't feel deserved a good defiling.

Briefly describe Jeff's weaknesses and what he can do to improve upon them.

Jeff has some very bad halitosis. He should invest in a different toothpaste and look into flossing.

(That is verbatim, BTW)

The other truth is, most Associate Creative Directors, Creative Directors, Group Creative Directors and Executive Creative Directors, also have had no formal background in management. Go ahead, ask them to describe Six Sigma and watch the color drain from their uninformed face.

So how did I, and others, make the ascent up the corporate ladder? The answer is quite simple. And it shouldn't shock anybody. It's about money. Ad agencies, in fact most companies, don't want to part with it. So, in lieu of giving out actually cash money, they hand out unremunerated titles.

"Hey great work on that campaign, here's a meaningless title that may eventually lead to a bigger more meaningless title. Congratulations."

And that's how it happens. That's how creative folk get sucked into a vortex of bureaucracy, status meetings and org. charts.

These days, I can't tell you how many jealous Creative Directors I hear from who yearn to get away from their current management responsibilities just to sit down and art direct or write again.

Which is ironic because I never hear myself saying, "I wish I could sit in on some committee meetings to discuss furniture expenditures or the agency picnic plans."

This is not to suggest that I was completely ill-suited for management.

A couple of years ago I received an email from a young writer who used to work for me.

He wrote to express his appreciation. Explaining that years ago I called him lazy (see illustration above). I said he had enormous talent but lacked the follow through on his work. I was more a General Patton than a Tony Robbins type motivator. He resented the blunt criticism at first, but later thought long and hard about it.

And then, long after I had left the company, it was as if a light switch had gone off. He began working harder. And smarter. He started winning awards. Then hopped from one agency to the next. Getting better assignments. More responsibility. And, you guessed it, better titles. Today he is a Group Creative Director at one of the top shops in Southern California.

In the email, he offered me his thanks.
In my reply, I offered him my condolences.

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