From follower to leader: three small lessons that make a big difference
Written by Nguyen Ai Quynh Duyen – s3360656
We all know what a great leader looks and sounds like, but here are three easily overlooked factors that will actually assist you in becoming one, especially in the communication industry.
Becoming a great leader is a painstaking process. It is not some whimsical moment that “you just know you can lead”. Any book or article can pin down exactly attributes needed for leadership, but many fail to mention when exactly you know you can gain that highly respectable position in an agency. And on a crispy January morning, this question of mine was satisfyingly answered by Tran Thi Xuan Tho, co-founder and CEO of Perfect Triangle, a local agency specialized in strategic planning.
As follower: Best agencies are not always the best (at least for you).
Leadership, just like any other skill, starts with learning. And where else can you learn better than high-profile international or multinational or whatever-national agencies? Truth is, as Ms. Tho emphasized with one big imaginary underline in the air, your passion and enthusiasm for this industry alone is not enough to render you all cut-out-for any professional environment. Your creativity and productivity can only flourish in certain circumstances and it’d better to be that way. This is a lesson she had to learn in the hard way.
As a veteran of 8 years of experience, Ms. Tho had worked for many renowned agencies, including JWT, Dentsu, Ogilvy and Samsung’s in-house communication department, before taking a big leap by running her own agency with a trusted partner. After giving birth to two beautiful child, the young and ambitious account manager decided to get back to work, this time at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. “Dentsu was professional, creative and all. But I couldn’t stand being meticulously watched like in George Orwell’s 1984”, Tho said with a chuckle.
At that time, the agency had a huge white board for a supervisor to write any excuse employees use to be present after 9AM, pretty much like a Hall of Shame. Thus a frightful flee after only two weeks of continuous shaming. Tho was not so proud about it, but from that moment on she was determined that talent can only be developed as long as an individual is allowed to stay true to his/her personality without being wrongly judged.
The turning point: Be bilingual. But Vietnamese and English are not enough.
Being bilingual here means neither being able to swiftly write up a 25-page proposal in English in a night nor being the interpreter for your Vietnamese client and foreign creative director. “You know you can be a leader when you can persuade people by speaking their own language,” Ms. Tho insisted. Tho’s bachelor degree in business administration did not help her much when she first joined the advertising industry as an account executive. Apparently, she was lost in a myriad of communications technical terms and phrases. However, it proved to benefit in the long run.
Clients will always talk business. And while it is necessary to show you are a communication expert, it is way more important to be able to translate precisely their business goals into communication goals. That can only be done when you equip yourself with further knowledge of their business and talk to them as a business partner. As such, they will feel like completely understood and will continue to seek your consultation in the future.
Figure 3. Reproduced from someecards.com n.d.
As leader: Be honest about your incompetence.
A true leader does not need to be the best person in town. After that many years of experience, Tho still does not consider herself as a communication guru. However, she is more than willing to teach her new employees everything she knows about this giant wheel of communication industry. No holding back.
“Many leaders out there are magnificent in their skills, you know, wildly creative and innovative, but they keep all the good to themselves. That does nothing to sustain this industry,” said Tho with a slight smirk.
It is natural for anyone to cover up their incompetence, especially those with power. Tho’s philosophy of leadership, nevertheless, is based entirely on trust. She is not afraid to tell her employees what she knows not. In fact, being honest about her incompetence encourages her to learn more every day, which in turn encourages her employees to follow suit. In the end, it is not about who is better and can lead who. It is about creating the best that is yet to come. Or at least it should come before the Apocalypse.
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Cartoonstock.com nd, ‘Italian Language Cartoons and Comics’, image, Cartoon Stock, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/i/italian_language.asp>
Someecards.com nd, ‘Breakup/ Divorce Ecards’, image, viewed on 10 January 2014 <http://www.someecards.com/invitations/related-cards/its-not-me-its-you>
Someecards.com nd, ‘User cards’, image viewed on 10 January 2014 <http://static.someecards.com/someecards/usercards/1348181562091_7042364.png>