What Being A Fearless Leader Really Means

Anyone who’s ever worked in an office where fear is the motivational tool of choice (in other words, anyone who works in Advertising) will appreciate this interview with Paul Venables from Sunday’s New York Times. Specifically his observation that when it comes to motivating creative people, “What generally doesn’t work, or only works for a short time, is the fear-based motivation, the overt competition.”

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He goes on to recommend other management approaches that go against the ad industry grain too, like “making people feel you believe in them” and “not looking over their shoulders, waiting for them to fail.”

Respect, what a concept, right?

Personally, I’ve never understood the fear approach. Seems like the only ones who ascribe to it are those who live and/or work in a state of fear themselves. Be it a fear of failure, the wrath of an angry God, or just good, old-fashioned Daddy issues, they assume that what motivates them will motivate the rest of us. Never mind that one of the hallmarks of true creative talent is a fearlessness that rejects the known for the unknown. Or that the best creative folks are self-motivated to begin with, thank you very much. Of course, being the bad bosses that they are, they don’t see any of that. (Blinded by fear, perhaps?) Thus, the cycle of fear continues, proving that misery doesn’t just love company, it runs quite a few of them, too.

Of course, in an industry as perpetually insecure and routinely mis-managed as ours, the kind of consideration and common sense Venables espouses could easily be dismissed as crazy talk. But it’s exactly the kind of lunacy the industry needs if it ever hopes to return to attracting the best creative minds. The most creative agencies already know this, of course. Which explains why they’re never short on new recruits, many of whom are more than willing to work longer hours for lower salaries (something any self-respecting capitalist should appreciate). These agencies understand that when you’ve got talented people, simply providing a stable environment where they can do the kind of work they want to do is all the motivation they need.

About Wade Sturdivant

Creative Director/Copywriter at The Richards Group, Wade spent his formative years in Chicago (DDB, Leo Burnett) and has worked on accounts as diverse as BMW, Firestone, Bud Light, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and the U.S. Army.