9 traits of a top agency leader

In order to be considered a leader, having a wealth of experience and producing top quality work simply isn’t enough anymore. In a creative, digital, advertising or public relations agency, the people in charge are required to be Jack of all trades - a trend setter and a globally-aware (yet locally-focused) driving force for the business.

It’s fair to say agency leaders have their work cut out for them. It’s a cutthroat, dog eat dog world, and the belief that something happens because “it’s always been done that way” is well and truly outdated.

Instead, to really be a top agency leader - rather than just someone who’s good at pointing everyone in the right direction - there are a few characteristics you need to embody.

  1. Good leaders set the tone for the agency every day

It doesn’t matter how positive your team is, a strong agency leader makes it his or her job to ensure all members of staff are on the same page, and have the same drive and desire to achieve their goals on a daily basis. A high degree of emotional intelligence is required for leaders to be aware of their own emotions, and how those emotions impact their team.

  1. Good leaders know people come first

Nothing happens without people, and things might as well not happen if led by unhappy, unmotivated, angry people. Cultivating an environment of mutual respect is something that can often be overlooked in agency life – no one wants to put up with a leader who talks crap, is arrogant and stamps his feet.

Many skills are necessary as a leader, but none are as important as being able to retain and develop talent by treating people well and giving them what they need to succeed individually. This will ultimately be reflected in your turnover, and it will quickly become apparent which agencies are leading from the front.

  1. Good leaders give feedback, as well as seek it

The ‘open door policy’ is a cliché, but with good reason. Feedback is necessary from all angles to ensure your agency runs at an optimal level at all times.

While good leaders will constructively explain to employees how they think they can improve, great leaders will ask for the employees’ opinion on how they can become better bosses, too. This 360-degree feedback can take a while to filter through – particularly in Asia where staff are often a bit more reluctant to give their boss advice – but trust me, it’s worth it.

  1. Good leaders implement work-life balance in the context of their agency

Work-life balance ultimately means different things to different people, and also to different businesses. Organisations with mostly part-time staff aren’t going to prioritise this in the same way an office of predominantly mothers will, and the sooner you recognise what works for your employees, the better.

At some agencies, it might mean the flexibility to work from home on certain days; at others, it could be the freedom to come in at 8am once the kids have gone to school and leave by 4pm to greet them afterwards. Some businesses might opt to give all staff one day a week to dedicate to extracurricular activities, such as charity work or volunteering.

Whatever you decide, lead by example and make your agency staff feel they can take you up on your policies.

  1. Good leaders genuinely enjoy their job

The best agencies, in my opinion, are the ones that feel fun. People work hard, but they enjoy themselves, and the fun factor doesn’t feel forced. They chat, joke and don’t shy away from banter, all while being passionate about what they are doing. This culture stems directly from the top, and if the boss is okay having a laugh in the office, everyone else will be, too.

  1. Good leaders encourage diversity of opinion

Groupthink is a dangerous thing. When people start agreeing on courses of action simply because there’s no one challenging the status quo, you have a problem. Often you can fix this by focusing on how you recruit, but even when you do have a workforce made up of different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds, you can still struggle with people falling into one line of thinking.

Great leaders will not only recognise groupthink when it happens, but will actively encourage different ideas to be brought to the table.

  1. Good leaders roll up their sleeves

The best agency leaders know how to do their dirty work themselves, and will still lend a hand to help out. These leaders aren’t precious about getting involved and they don’t value their own time above everyone else’s. They simply know that rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in will gain them respect from their employees.

  1. Good leaders are change agents

Good leaders understand their broader work environment is changing; change agents actively analyse these changes to use them to further their goals. In an industry filled with employee engagement issues and fickle customers and clients, leaders must be able to identify ever-changing areas of opportunity for its people and the business.

In the creative, digital and advertising space things become outdated fast – including you.

  1. Good leaders do things perfectly… the second time

Being a brilliant leader is not about getting things right the first time. A good leader might do something very well – but a great leader looks back and asks, “How can I still improve on that?”

We always say the best employees learn from their mistakes, and this is true of the best leaders, too. Not only are they not afraid to make mistakes, they provide an environment that allows their staff to feel safe to experiment, suggest out-of-the-box ideas and make a few mistakes along the way.

The writer is Priya Bala, regional director at font.