Ken Jacobs fills in for Gini Dietrich as Chip Griffin’s co-host on this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast.
As an executive coach, agency consultant, and trainer, Ken has a passion for leadership issues, so he and Chip share three lessons that each has learned over many decades of management and leadership roles.
Some of the topics covered include:
- The importance of listening
- The value of servant leadership
- The need to customize your leadership style
- The requirement to show (and not just tell)
- The understanding that how you climb the leadership ladder is how you descend it one day
- The significance of the “Washington Post test”
- Chip: “A fantastic lesson is the importance of a leader understanding that when they listen and when they speak can impact the outcome of a meeting. Because if you’re not listening, and instead, as a leader, you’re coming out too soon and sharing your views, you may inadvertently stifle creative thought, you may stifle useful opinions and insights that your team has.”
- Ken: “When you put money in the stock market or the bank or wherever, you don’t expect to just get the same thing back, you expect to get more back, you expect to get great ROI. And I know if leaders out there work on their leadership, get trained, get coached, they will get that time back. And, more than that, they’ll have a more impassioned, inspired follower, who is really helping you achieve organizational goals.”
- Chip: “In the PR and marketing community, it is a small world. So your employee today could very well be your client or prospective client tomorrow, your coworker today could be your boss tomorrow, or could be managing that account that you just won last year, but you need to now get through a renewal process. There’s all sorts of ways in which relationships change over time. So you want to make sure that you are generating that kind of respect over time, “
- Ken: “And this, I think, is one of the differences between managing and leading, because we manage programs, projects, budgets, calendars, production schedules, etc. Those are things. But when we’re ready to step up, and step into leadership, and want to have inspired, motivated followers, it is about the human dynamic.”
About Ken Jacobs
Ken Jacobs, a certified coach and experienced leadership consultant and trainer, is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. For more than 12 years, he has helped senior leaders and executives in public relations and integrated communications achieve and surpass their goals by becoming more inspired and inspiring leaders.
Jacobs has also helped nearly 50 agencies grow and manage business, improve client service and relationships, and enhance staff performance, communications and leadership skills.
Prior to launching his consultancy, Jacobs spent 25 years in management and leadership positions with a number of firms, including Ogilvy & Mather PR; Marina Maher Communications (MMC); and Maloney & Fox. (read more of Ken’s bio)
CHIP: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin. And this is where normally Gini would jump in and say, I’m Gini Dietrich, but Gini is not with us. She has a scheduling conflict. So I am very happy to have with me a guest co host, who will ably fill Gini’s shoes, although hopefully not her actual shoes. And that is Ken Jacobs. He is an executive coach and agency consultant and trainer. Welcome, Ken.
KEN: Good morning. Thank you for having me. And these Gini heels really pinch, they really hurt. Can I? Can I take them off now? Please?
CHIP: Yes, but only if you give us some photos that we can put into the show notes. Because I’m sure that will help, well, everybody.
KEN: You’ll just have to imagine, you’ll just have to imagine.
CHIP: We’ll just we’ll just imagine that as we go forward. Ken, why don’t you share a little bit more about what it is that you do? And then we’ll jump into the topic of the day?
KEN: Yeah, well, so as you know, we do executive coaching, mostly for agency owners, CEOs, senior level execs and managers, we do agency consulting on some critical topics like business development, managing the agency for profitability, client service, and client relationships, and improving team performance and communications and leadership skills. And in all those areas in which we consult, we also do training. Prior to founding my businesses, now 12 years ago, I spent 25 plus years in the New York consumer PR agency business, and had the fortune and sometimes misfortune of rising through the ranks rather quickly into management and then leadership.
CHIP: And that is a perfect segue into the topic today, because we’re going to talk about lessons that you and I have learned about leadership along the way. And, you know, we’ve we’ve learned some, some good lessons, some of them out of positive experiences, some of them out of negative, but out of it, hopefully all comes useful insights that the listeners can apply to their own agencies. Great. So let’s, let’s jump right in, because people want to hear about that. So what is the first lesson that you have to share?
KEN: You know, I think it’s about the importance of listening. Because I coach, so many agency leaders, I have a sense of various leadership and mostly communication styles, there’s a lot of talking, we do need to change that ratio. Not to be – when I think about typical communication styles, I sense it 60 talking/40 listening, or 70 talking/30% listening. And if you want to have success as a leader, I believe flip that, you know, go a little Southern Baptist on you. But you know, the good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. And I think we should remember that. It’s listening, that allows you to become a more effective leader, it’s listening that allows you to go deep, it’s listening, that allows you to really understand what’s going on, for your followers for those you lead, or even your clients and your peers. And if you’ve got someone above you leading up listening is everything. And I think – So number one, change that ratio number two, really study up and learn about active listening, you know, leaning in when you listen. And when you’re about to speak, hold back just a bit, ask one more question. Because it’s often in that follow up question or going deep question that you really understand what’s going on for that follower, that peer, that client, and then you can give some good consulting or good coaching.
CHIP: So I paused a moment there to demonstrate that I was listening, I would jump in with it with a question but I want to manage our time a little bit. So the one thing I would add to that because I think that’s a fantastic lesson, is the importance of a leader understanding that when they listen and when they speak can impact the outcome of a meeting. Because if you’re not listening, and instead, as a leader, you’re coming out too soon and sharing your views, you may inadvertently stifle creative thought, you may stifle useful opinions and insights that your team has. So you know, the timing of that listening and speaking also matters, right?
KEN: What a great insight. Absolutely. You know, we all say we want input from our teams, and we want input from others. But if we’re always speaking, how are you possibly communicating that and I think as leaders, we do want that input. So silence is good, just being quiet. Sometimes that’s what someone needs to ponder something, consider something and then coming up, you know, with an answer or an insight, and they’re not going to do that while you’re talking, especially if you are the leader, because they don’t, you know, want to disrespect you. So listening, you know, as a leader, you’re always going to have the opportunity to weigh in, hold back just a little bit. And that will encourage those in our lives to speak up more. And as I said, Give us those insights.
CHIP: Right, because as a leader, if you share your perspective, too early in a meeting or a conversation, even if you say you’re soliciting someone’s individual opinion, what you’re really doing is soliciting them to either agree or disagree with you. And it’s a lot easier for someone to share an idea before they know what your perspective is, as opposed to challenging an idea that you’ve already put on the table.
KEN: Well, I mean, to the point you raised earlier, it’s saying it really is a signal. Do I want to hear from from you? Do I want your input? Do I want your contribution to this agency vision, and how we’ll get there. If you know, if you want it, you’ve got to ask for it and ask for it and ask for it. And really, listen. Now, that does not mean you need to do everything that your follower or your followers tell you, that’s okay. And followers will understand why you don’t always do it their way. That’s perfectly fine. I think a great dialogue to have is thank you for your input and your insights, I’m not going in that direction this time, here’s where I believe we need to go. And I’d like you in the boat with me. And keep coming back with your ideas. Next time, we might just do it your way. That’s very empowering to a team member, I believe.
CHIP: Absolutely. So. So we start with listening. And my first lesson to share next will be show, don’t tell. And this is one of those things where it’s typically you become a leader, because you’ve managed to stand out in some way, you have demonstrated your expertise. But now that you, you feel like you have this expertise, you feel like you need to share it with everybody, you feel like you know best, you’re going to tell everybody but at the same time, because you know best maybe you’ll cut corners from time to time. And so my lesson is that I’ve learned over the years, it’s important for you to not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk because employees are much more likely to look at what you’re doing as a leader, as an owner, and emulate that, as opposed to necessarily following the rules and guidance that you’ve given them. So, and this is in all walks, this can be you know, as far as demonstrating work ethic, it can be demonstrating actual ethics, it can be in demonstrating the approach that you take to meetings or problem solving. So make sure that you’re not just telling people what to do and how to do it, but that they’re seeing you do those things, so that they can learn from that behavior.
KEN: Well, that that’s such an important point. And I’m going to probably mangle a quote right here. But there is I think, a quote allegedly from Emerson or Thoreau, one of those guys, something like, you know what you do speaks so loudly that I can’t hear your words. I mean, what you do your action trumps your words, every time and your followers and your peers have a very high BS meter. If they see if there’s some dissonance between what you say and what you do, they will follow what you do. And if your actions are not living up to your stated values, you know, what you say or the agency stated values, they don’t choose to follow someone like that. They just don’t, so your actions from your words every time. And can I add something here? Even beyond show, don’t tell, you know, leaders, even if they’re not studied, you know, even if they haven’t been trained in coaching or certified in coaching, they can bring elements of coaching into their leadership style, right? There’s training, there’s mentoring, and there’s coaching. And coaching is all about asking empowering questions. So again, it goes back to listening, when you’re about to say something, you know, ask another question. Questions are so powerful, because they’re going to light up the brain of your team member in a way that telling simply cannot. If you tell them what to do, they may say great, yes. Great idea. Yeah, I’m going to do it. How much engagement do they really have? How much skin in the game? But when you ask a question, and this has been proven, you know, they’ve seen MRIs, when we ask a question, the brain lights up in an entirely different way. And it leads to much more emotional connection, much greater engagement. And then they’ll really have skin in the game. So show, don’t tell. And don’t tell, ask.
CHIP: Well, I’m going to make your brain light up, hopefully, because I’m going to ask you a question, which is, Ken, what is your second lesson?
KEN: Oh, god, I’m all lit up. I’m all lit up. Well, you know, there’s all kinds of leadership styles. I’ve observed that the most effective, or one of the most effective is the notion of servant leadership, of serving others where you, you know, maybe have that pyramid, where you’re on the top, and then you flip that pyramid? And because yes, you’re on the top, your name might be on the door, on the paychecks. And yes, you decide. But you flip that over. And now you see that it’s you supporting everyone else on your team, bringing them to the greatest success possible. And so it’s part of that journey of you know, in the communications world of going from being a practitioner, then managing, and then truly leading and accepting that your success comes from their success. And you can drive great joy and fulfillment from that. And I believe that is the way to really achieve and surpass your organizational goals. And it’s really about, you know, have leaving behind a leadership legacy. And it’s never too early to think about what’s my leadership legacy, you know, it’s not going to be, you know, on your tombstone in the PR graveyard, it’s not going to be doubled that account in two years. That’s a great achievement. I’m not minimizing that. But it’s really about what did you leave behind for your followers? What, what did they think about you? What did they think about the lessons you taught them about leading people, that human dynamic? And I think servant leadership, is the approach that really aligns with that.
CHIP: Well, you know, in the agency world, we all always talk about how our people are differentiated, we’re all about our people. And if you’re, as a leader, not thinking about your people, and how you can lead them effectively, and that legacy that you talked about, I think you’re you’re missing the mark completely. So, you know, I would certainly embrace that. You know, when someone hears servant leadership, I think, you know, some of the folks that I’ve talked to with that term in the past have sort of perceived it, as there being a fine line between servant leadership and sort of being a pushover or someone who is lead from below right? And and so how do you, how would you explain the difference between servant leadership and sort of go along to get along, if you will?
KEN: Yeah. No, there’s a big difference between liked and being respected. That’s a lesson I wish I had learned. My agency days, if I’m being very honest, I focused more on being liked. My nickname was Uncle Ken. I think I was a bit of a pushover. One of my bosses says, Man, your team’s playing you like a mandolin. At many times, that was true. I didn’t understand that then. But true servant leadership. Don’t forget only one word is servant. The other word is leadership, right? You’re still establishing the values of the organization, you’re still creating the vision, where are we going to be? Where are we going to be two years from now? Or three years from now? How are we going to get there? And what’s everyone’s role in that? And what are you counting on people to do and being disciplined, and being courageous, you know, people follow brave leaders. This notion, I always visualize this sort of, I know, you’re from New England, this New England sea captain, on the deck of the boat, and everybody’s underneath, you know, and you’re guiding into the harbor. It’s storm tossed, and there’s rocks on the side, and there’s lightning, but that calm centered leadership fully knowing, fully embracing, I’m going to get my organization to where it needs to be, even during scary times, even during stormy times, that’s the kind of leader people follow. So I think focusing on other people’s success is not mutually exclusive. with being a bold, dynamic, confident leader.
CHIP: That’s a great way of describing it. I guess the fine line there is not being the bandleader on the Titanic, right, there’s a there’s a point where showing that calm maybe a bit much, and perhaps,
KEN: But let’s rearrange those deck chairs one last time.
CHIP: Maybe the orchestra can stop playing now. In any case, Alright, so my second lesson, and I did not intend to segue from the Titanic on this, but it’s sort of appropriate, how you go up is how you come down. And this is something that I was taught very early in my career when I was working in Washington, DC, which has a reputation for being sort of a cutthroat place. And having started in politics, you know, everybody sort of has their, their knives out for each other at various times. But as a leader, how you lead is how you rise but it’s also can be your downfall, and also will be the treatment that you receive on the back end. So if you look at leaders over the course of history, who have been ruthless, and have done whatever it takes to get up, typically, their falls are much harder. So and we all have our ups and downs. So you know, falls don’t have to be dramatic ala Richard Nixon or something like that. But they, you will have ebbs and flows in your career. And you want to make sure that you’re leading in such a way that people look to you, they, as you said before, respect you, that they are willing to, to work with you as you have those challenges down the road. And so you know, always think about that, and make sure that you’re exhibiting that kind of behavior as a leader that you can be proud of, even when times are tough.
KEN: Oh, yeah, I don’t know, it reminds me of a quote from Barri Rafferty, who’s the global CEO of Ketchum, one of the few women to lead a global PR organization at the very top. And she once said, People like leaders they like, but they follow leaders they respect. So that’s such an important attribute, and being willing to focus on being respected, rather than liked, but what you just said also reminded me, this is an entirely human business. And this, I think, is one of the differences between managing and leading, because you know, we manage programs, projects, budgets, calendars, production schedules, etc. Those are things. But when we’re ready to step up, and step into leadership, and want to have inspired, motivated followers, it is about the human dynamic, That, to me is one of the big differences. In going from manager to leader, I always say, you know, it’s a two part decision, it’s your conscious decision to be a leader and others’ conscious decision to follow you. And just because your name is on the door, or the paycheck, or they report to you in this diagram, does not necessarily mean they follow you. They may do their work, they may do the checklist. But that’s transactional. And every leader, leader in training, has the opportunity to be a transformative leader and not everyone is destined to be a leader, and that’s okay, if the kind of things we’re talking about, don’t excite someone, then Okay, then maybe they’re not meant to be a leader, and they can contribute to the agency in many other ways. That’s okay.
CHIP: Absolutely. And, you know, we are in the PR and marketing community, it is a small world. And so your employee today could very well be your client or prospective client tomorrow, you know, your coworker today, could be your boss tomorrow, or could be, you know, managing that account that you just won last year, but you need to now get through a renewal process. There’s all sorts of, you know, ways in which relationships change over time. So you want to make sure that you are generating that kind of respect over time, so that, you know, someone doesn’t come back and say, Well, you know, I don’t know why I’d want to work with Chip, you know, the way that he behaved as a leader is not, you know, the kind of agency leader that I want to have working for me. So it’s really important to think about those sorts of things.
KEN: What that makes me think of is that, you know, you can have the corner office, the title, paycheck, all that stuff, that doesn’t really mean you’re a leader. And I think in our business, unfortunately, we do promote some executives, from manager to leader, because they’re great at the business. They’re great practitioners nowadays, that includes you know, PR, social, digital, content, SEO, all that good stuff, all the peso stuff there, we’ve decided, they can be good at all that, but does that mean people want to follow them? And, you know, it’s it’s partly nature, and it’s partly we can nurture that. But I have seen many executives put in this leadership spot without the skills, without training, without coaching. The good news for me is well, that creates, you know, a second career for me, to help leaders. And the flip side of that is I’ve seen people who were leaders, true leaders, really have influence, people wanted to follow them, people went to them, and early in their careers, you know, senior account executives, or it’s like, future leader, leader in training. And I’ve seen that a few times in my career, you just you just know, they’ve got it, and they’ve embraced it. It’s, it’s really a beautiful thing to see my opinion.
CHIP: Absolutely. Alright, so what is your third lesson?
KEN: You know I’m sitting here looking at my list, debating the third and the fourth, so I’m just going to go in order. This notion of being willing to customize your leadership style to every staffer who you might want to follow you, including peers, including clients, including boss, when I train in leadership, I always say should you have a distinctive communications leadership style, and everyone says, raises their hand and I go, you know, wrong. But it is a trick question. You know, leadership is about investment. And if you are willing to invest the time to observe and think about, you know, I’m going to lead Chip differently than I’m going to lead Gini, because they are different people with different values, and different motivations and different worldviews of their careers, of themselves, of the agency and how that all fits in. And if I am willing to be a student of all that, and create a, you know, I’m going to start with a base of leadership, certain things that I bring as a leader, that’s part of my leadership legacy. But if I’m willing to customize, then I’m going to be more effective at leading, leading Gini, I’m going to be more effective at leading Chip. And they’re going to have even greater success. And there’s that, you know, servant leadership we talked about, and the organization will benefit. And everyone who follows Gini or Chip, I believe, will follow as well. So and but it you know, all these things that I talk about in my work, it does take time. But I but I really see it as an investment. When you put money in the stock market or the bank or wherever, you don’t expect to just get the same thing back, you expect to get more back, right, you expect to get great ROI. And I know if leaders out there work on their leadership, get trained, get coached, and what have you, they will get that time back. And, and more and more than that, you know, they’ll they’ll have a more impassioned inspired follower, who is really helping you achieve organizational goals. So to sum up, be willing to customize your leadership style for everyone you lead.
CHIP: And that’s advice I really could have used about a quarter century ago when I first started as a manager, because I, because I have to tell you that when I first started having people report to me 25 plus years ago, I was really, really bad at it. And the reason I was really bad at it was because I thought I was just managing mini me’s. And I thought about, you know, what, how would I want to be managed? And I didn’t think about how would my team want to be managed? And how would each individual member want to be managed? And so you know, that’s, that’s something that I learned the hard way that you really do need to make those adjustments, because people are different, people respond to different things, some people, you know, they they like a pat on the back, you know, on a regular basis, some people, you know, need that little bit of a nudge, and they’re okay, receiving it, some people are better at receiving constructive criticism than others, that you, you really just need to figure out how to communicate with them and, and make sure that you’re getting the most out of everybody who is part of your team.
KEN: Well what worked for you might not work for them, we have to understand that. And so we do some work in managing millennials. And now I’m going to have to learn to understand, you know, Gen Z, I’m, you know, I’m getting ready to understand that. But when I talk to either boomers or Gen Xers, and I say, Well, how did your leaders lead? Oh, they didn’t lead me, I just came in and did the work. I’m like, you know, if I could speak to the people who led you, they might have a different take on that. You know, all of us led, and all of us followed. And if we had what we perceive as good leaders or good managers or good bosses, they probably did more work in leading us than we might have realized, you know, might be a little bit behind the scenes, but what worked for you might not work for them, because you’re different than them, they’re different from you. And again, it’s, I think, a worthwhile investment, because everybody benefits. Everyone benefits.
CHIP: Right. Well and it’s not even just the person that you’re leading, it’s the entirety of the dynamic between the two of you, right? Because the way that Sally responds to my management and leadership may not be the same way that she would respond to yours. Because we all have different personalities, they perceive us differently, you know, I, over the years, I’ve I’ve tended to oversee a lot of people with, you know, more of a computer and technical background at times, because I have that skill set in my background. And so I could work with them in a way that someone who didn’t have that same background, couldn’t – doesn’t mean that if you don’t have that background, you can’t manage those people, but you have to do it differently. Because you know, you don’t have that same knowledge and understanding. And so you need to, to address the relationship in a different way.
KEN: And that’s the whole, you know, human side we talked about before. Can I do a brief riff on something you said, do we have time? So you talked about constructive critique, and I encourage leaders and managers to get away from that a little bit. Because the emphasis ends up becoming, critique, critique, critique, critique, critique. And that’s not always the way to lead someone into improved performance. So I call it no matter what it is constructive feedback. So it’s feedback that’s going to construct, that’s going to build, what is it going to build? And, you know, partly, it’s the work product, how do we make the work product better next time? Sure. But let’s focus on that word constructive, every time you go to give performance improvement, you know, feedback to someone who works for you, it’s an opportunity to construct and build on the relationship, to build on trust, to have them understand why you’re giving them this feedback about the work because, you know, they can do better next time. What does that do to their loyalty to you and the organization? So I would say anytime you’re going to have what we otherwise would call constructive critique, think of it is constructive feedback. And it’s an opportunity, not just to help them perform better next time, because you know they can, and we forget to communicate that sometimes.
CHIP: No, you’re absolutely right. And we could probably do a whole another show on this topic. Yeah, we’ll just we’ll just tell Gini, she’s gonna have to have another scheduling conflicts so that we can, we can do that. But, you know, because I, if you do a constructive feedback process well, you’re really guiding the individual to, to reach their own conclusions, and you’re drawing it out of them. So it’s not even you saying, you need to do this next time. Instead, it’s having a guided conversation where they can come to that conclusion themselves, which is, generally speaking a lot more comfortable for folks.
KEN: And that goes back to the power of the questions. What do you think we could have done differently?
CHIP: Right. Exactly
KEN: Where do you see client message three in here? Oh, I didn’t! Don’t worry, you’ll do it better next time. So you know, again, it’s, you know, if you focus on the relationship and constructive building them up, because it’s tough to have work critiqued, let’s face it, it’s really tough. And as leaders, we sometimes forget how tough that is. But if you can handle that the right way, again, what does that do to their loyalty to you, and to the organization and to its clients as they can have a big impact, I believe,
CHIP: Couldn’t agree more. So let me share my final lesson. And my final lesson is that whatever you’re doing, as a leader needs to pop past the Washington Post test, or New York Times fill in the blank, CNN, Fox News, what you know what every media outlet of favor that you would like to put it in that sentence. But again, this is something I learned very early on from my very first boss, and in Washington, DC. And you know, what he said was, you know, make sure that everything that you put down on paper, everything that you do behavior wise, make sure that you would be comfortable, if that appeared on the front page of The Washington Post. And, and this is not, you know, obviously, a lot of what you do is not going to appear on the front page of any newspaper or appear on CNN, but if you if you’re thinking about your behavior, particularly any written or recorded communications, but really everything else, just, you know, think about if if this behavior were to become broadly known, would you feel comfortable with it? And I think particularly as we’re creeping up on September here, which is PRSA ethics month, it is it is a good time to be thinking about how we all behave as individuals, as agencies, as communicators, and understand that it does matter. You know, we can’t just do whatever is convenient in the moment, we really do need to think about how that behavior reflects upon us, reflects upon our organizations and how it will be perceived down the road.
KEN: Oh, I agree completely. And at the end of the day, what do we have beyond our reputations? Right, that’s everything. And I think that goes a bit to this leadership legacy topic we discussed before. And it goes back to what you said about you know, how you act and showing, not telling. People, people, you know, people are watching leaders, and they are hoping for confidence and bravery and ethics, and doing things the right way. They’re also on high alert for fear. They are on high alert, high antenna for maybe not doing it the right way, lack of ethics, all those things, but most of our followers really want us to be inspiring leaders and motivating leaders, they want the best for us and of us, because deep down there’s a need, people want to follow. So I think that’s such an important, such an important part of it. And and I think also doing the right thing, and being ethical, following those guidelines, takes some courage, takes some courage to always do the right thing, no matter the consequences. And I think I’m quoting my dear friend, whom you may know Patrice Tanaka. In doing the right thing, no matter the consequences. That’s the number one way to build trust with your followers.
CHIP: Well, hopefully, we’ve built some trust with our listeners today. I don’t think we’ve done anything that we’d be embarrassed to see on the front page of The Washington Post. And, in fact, if you’re a Washington Post reporter and listening to this and you’d like to put us on the front page, I’m sure that we would be more than happy to accommodate.
KEN: I’m in with that. I look forward to seeing the headlines.
CHIP: Unfortunately, we we have reached the end of our available time today. I know Ken, you have some additional items on your list. So if someone wants to get more wisdom from you, where can they find you online?
KEN: Email would be [email protected] And at Twitter, I’m on Twitter. I’m @KensViews. And of course I’m also on LinkedIn.
CHIP: Excellent. Well, Ken, thank you for stepping in for Gini today. I really appreciate it. Hopefully those shoes are still comfortable.
KEN: Thank you, Gini for not being here. I really appreciate it.
CHIP: And on that note, that concludes this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast and always remember, it depends.