Simple Solutions within the Complex

Last year I posted several Leadership Minutes about Proficiency and Competence in which I spoke of a leader’s need to work to the point where one knows their craft so well that their proficiency is based in the subconscious, that is, that they are unconsciously competent (a UC). You can review those videos online or at curtis.net [ Video 1 ] [ Video 2 ]

That being said, I recently heard a story that ties into this same idea of so deeply knowing what you do that the answers come quickly and easily, at time bewildering your direct reports. Simple answers come to the proficient leader that is always practicing, studying, and thinking about her craft.

The story was widely circulated in the early 2000s. It appeared online and in emails in many different versions. It goes something like this.

A philosophy professor gave an unusual test to his class. As they watched him, he lifted his chair onto his desk and wrote on the board: “Prove to me that this chair does not exist.” The class went to work, composing long complex explanations related to perception, existentialism, epistemology and the like. However, there was one student who took less than thirty seconds to answer and handed in his paper before many of the students even began to write. This obviously attracting surprised glances from his classmates as well as his professor. The following week the class received their grades for the test. The student who took less than thirty seconds to answer the test received the only “A” grade in the class. His answer was simply, “What chair?”

 
The story is one of a multitude of similar urban myths which poke fun of high-minded academia, in which an apparently very difficult or impossible question is destroyed by a terse comprehensive answer.

As a leader, proficiency in your craft comes only with long term, repeated exposure to the decisions, the systems and the circumstances with which you deal. The highly proficient leader can see the simple, encompassing answer within the complex. For the committed leader, proficiency — that is being an unconscious competent — is attainable if he or she is willing to put in the time.

I made a quick video related to this post. You can view it HERE. If you like it, please share it.

The Davenport

The Historic Davenport Hotel was one of the most opulent, incredible hotels in the world. When it opened in 1914 it hosted and entertained presidents, Hollywood A-listers and the business elite. But in 1985 it had fallen into disrepair and the last guess left and the doors were closed. The grand Davenport went dark.

Losing relevance is the death of any organization, especially the Church. One day the demographics shift, the Gospel wanes, or the leaders fail to pursue the spiritual needs of their people. Or worse yet, the leaders fail to realize that everything has changed around them… and soon, the doors close.

But all is not lost.

In 2000 a great restoration of this Historic Davenport Hotel began. The heart and soul of the building, the plumbing, electrical, and all the inner workings needed to be ripped out and replaced, but, the beauty that was found there, like the ornate hand gilded beams, the statuary, the furniture and ceilings had to be painstakingly and tenderly, restored.

Knowing what to rip out and what to painstakingly restore is the key to organizational restoration and it’s sometimes an art, not a science.

What a huge lesson for the Replanting Church Planter to learn. To rebirth a church, you literally may have to rip out and replace the antiquated systems that allowed it to die, Opening it up and examining the inner structures is just the first step. As the leader, you must do so without harming the beauty of what was once there. Remember, there was once excellence in her DNA. Find it. Then, painstakingly restore the hidden greatness of what the organization once was.

If you can restore the beauty of what once was, and modernize the systems without changing the gospel message, your Replant can once again be grand and more importantly God Pleasing.

Here’s a quick video I shot in the second-floor showcase of the Historic Davenport Hotel in Spokane Washington.

THE VIDEO

Driving Solutions

Pulling a group of diverse individuals is hard enough. Driving them to overcome obstacles is all the more difficult. However, it’s imperative. You need to tap the creative thinking that a team can provide. Your leadership will be shown in steering the solution, implementing the correct approach, assigning the action items and rewarding the team members that make it happen.

Here are some tactics that may help you motivate and direct the team response.

1. Share as much information as possible. People do not work well in the dark.

2. Work with the willing. Even with an “A” team assembled, not everyone on the team will be the star player at any given time.

3. Provide the right amount of guidance. People who are more capable than you will still look to you for your leadership.

4. Work side by side when necessary. In the noise of confusion, your presence in the midst of doubt will do more to help clarify thoughts than anything else.

5. Stretch your people beyond their current talents and abilities. You will be amazed at how effectively they will work when they see growth in their own skillset.

6. Make it fun, actionable, and highly visible. Most of us grew up and enjoyed a puzzle or a challenge. Redesign the solution as a challenge that will be fun to discover. Bring a picture of my mouse to the meeting.

7. Let them feel the weight of the challenge. Fun is… well, fun. It can help us to motivate. However, at the end of the day, the task is serious. Let them see what rests on a favorable solution.

8. Reward them. When the wall has been scaled, get them together, and do something special. Recognize the one(s) who drove the solution. Our drivers are our most important assets. Empower them for the next time around.

Harmony in the Universe and Bob the Destroyer

Until a recent remodel at Los Angeles International Airport, adjacent to American Airlines Terminal 44 was a Burger King. Sequestered in the corner of that restaurant was a small stainless steel shelf with an even less obvious label affixed upon it. It read Coffee Lids. I wrote this one morning as I was seated no more than 100 feet from that very label – and I was thinking about the strategic implementation of processes.

What follows were my observations on that morning.

If you are reading this you are a member of the small percentage of people who care, people who are driven to refine the less than efficient processes in their lives. You are a leader. Most, however, are not. Most do as they are told and in fact, are somewhat content to exist and live in the status quo.

You are not.

You want to make a difference. You understand that things can be improved. You abide by principles of excellence and streamlining of the process.

Let me tell you about Bob. The first fact you need to know about Bob is that Bob is not his real name. I am watching Bob right now. Early 50’s, probably a great father, a hard worker and dedicated to the task that provides for his family. Bob works right there, next to Terminal 44 at the Burger King. I know he is a hard working man because I am observing him as I write. Besides, it’s just after five in the morning and only Bob knows what time he had to get up this morning to be here on time. Though I only just rubbed shoulders with him ten minutes ago, I like Bob… Now back to you.

You understand that the tasks of the day can be draining. You engage in the tactical events of the day without complaint because your eyes are on the process and you are always looking for strategic opportunities to better the system. You realized that the tactical responses yesterday have a common thread with ones that you performed last week and that those correspond to what you will be doing this afternoon. Deep in your mind, you are already thinking about the commonalities of the tasks and how they can be combined into a streamlined effort to produce a better, simplified, process. You see, that’s what you do! You streamline systems by finding simple solutions to common problems. You identify a bottleneck or repetitive tasks and you streamline them by revising the process. And it works.

So, let me tell you how I rubbed shoulders with Bob. To properly convey this, I need to give you the layout of our infamous Burger King, its drink station and the little tiny label marked Coffee Lids. You see, there are actually two drink stations about 10 feet apart there at Terminal 44. Both stations serve customers with a soda machine and a coffee dispenser. Both have both! However, the soda cup lids are on the stainless steel shelf over the leftmost drink station, and the coffee lids are over the right. So, regardless of which station you get coffee at, you have to force your way into a crowded corner of the restaurant to get your lid. The process is broken. While I am trying to get to my lids, I am swimming upstream against the flow of people who just filled their sodas and are coming my way to get their soda lids. I ask myself, how many years has this bottleneck been here and why can I see it so quickly and no one in all these years, not even management, has noticed? Then I realized, it’s the label: “Coffee Lids.” This mayhem has been created by a misaligned attempt at organization.

I still have not met Bob.

So here you sit. Surrounded by process. Have you asked yourself what bottlenecks you live in? Just look for the confusion. You’ll see it. Then look deeper, into the bottleneck. If you cannot see it, ask someone in your organization. Ask them about those things that, to them, do not make sense. Bring in an outside observer to see what you don’t see. Unlike Bob and his managers, there are those who are gifted to see logistical problems and less than ideal systems. Strive to be such a person. Identify and remove the misaligned attempts at organization. Remove the labels.

Ok, so I just met Bob. I pushed and shoved my way to the coffee lids. I grabbed one of the lids and placed it on my cup, but before leaving, I grabbed a handful and carried them to the stainless steel shelf above the leftmost drink station, the one without the label. FINALLY, for one (and only one) millisecond, the multi-year dysfunctional process of cup lid gathering at Terminal 44 was solved. The masses, as if they were a school of fish, naturally flowed under my power in directions that for the first time in perhaps years made sense. The sky opened, rose petals fell at my feet and a choir of angels sang the hallelujah chorus (though I was the only one who could hear it). I smiled. I had changed my world. I was responsible for happier people, less missed flights, pleasant flight attendants and passengers. In that moment, I was the center of the universe! Then, over my bumped shoulder (this is where Bob and I are acquainted), I see Bob pick up my stack of coffee lids and return them to the place of origin. Back to where they were supposed to be. Back above the label! Good Ol’ Bob was doing what he knew to do, and in his hard-working diligence destroyed the peace and harmony of my new universe. Back to square one.

The point? Look past the label! See beyond the way things are “supposed” to be…

Great!!! I got so inspired by this whole thing that my coffee is now cold. Here I go, back into the mayhem that Bob has unknowingly recreated…

Flying Elvis

Tension leads to Release

There is something very powerful about a release, whether it be edifying or destructive. There is that moment when all the harnessed energy comes to the point where inaction is no longer possible, it releases, and the tension is gone. Even if it is destructive, this flash of release is gratifying. However, the moments that follow are what determine whether or not the release causes additional stress or bliss.

Like the archer in slow motion who grasps her bow. She grips it in her support hand in just the right position. She knows as soon as she picks it up whether or not it will need adjustment. Even though her eyes are fixed on the bow, the mind is fixed on the target, the distance, the trajectory, the wind, crowd, competition, results, consequences, muscle response, pain, equipment, pull, tension and ultimately, release. A flurry of senses, thoughts, calculations all happen at a subconscious level and the bow has not even been raised. Eventually, it is, and muscle memory brings extreme tension, calculated mental action, and reaction, and then release. If all is well accomplished the arrow will strike center.

A few years ago I was in Orlando Florida, and as I so often find myself, I was sitting at the desk in my hotel room rummaging through the paperwork of the day and the tension demanded release. I jumped up with a start and remember murmuring to myself; “I am so out of here!” You see, there comes a time as a leader when the fog of data and systems clouds the creative response. Hear me! In those moments it is time for your creative pause, it is time to check out. It is time to let the subconscious go to work and you need to go and play. It is not an option.

Drive… No Direction

Thrust into action with only one thought–getting on the highway and seeing where it would lead–I found myself in Kissimmee. I turned off the highway and began driving small gravel roads as if pushed forward by the tension of the hotel room and the earlier meetings of the day. There I was, glancing side to side, looking for a yard sale, a flea or farmers market, something brainless. That’s when it happened. As I rounded a long sweeping turn between small homes on large parcels, I broke through the trees and my eyes and mind were drawn to it like a moth to a flame. I was on an airstrip of beautiful green grass. “Oh yeah!” I muttered underneath my breath, “Play Time!” There was definitely fun to be found here.

Walking into a glorified shed with a sign above the door that identified its offering as “Glider Rides,” and after reading the necessary disclaimers and a release of liability, I took my pen and signed my life away to an old friend named New Experiences. Little did I realize the adventure would reflect the events of the day so closely.

Systems Birth Stress

The tension began to increase as I signed the release of liability. Basically, I was putting my life into the hands of a bearded Neanderthal of a man I had just met, and if I die, says the release, it’s on me.

Cool! No tension there!?!

With a grunt, he leads me out into a field and to his glider which looks like it was built back when Elvis was overweight, sweaty, dressed in white leather with red stripes and could barely walk the stage. In fact, this antique reminded me of the king, flipped up collar and gasping for breath between songs. No composites here only aluminum and rivets, and yes, painted white with red stripes. This thing was vintage.

Much to my surprise, he dragged Elvis into place with one hand as he walked this wannabe retired airplane to where the “real” airplane was going to hook on for the ride. I remember thinking; I am 6′-4″ and 215 pounds and I am going to sit in something that can be dragged onto the airfield with one hand by a man whom I am sure just smirked at me through the side of his face as if to say, suckerrr.

Our eyes meet, and he says, “Get in!” He then begins to put me in a five point harness and pulls it really tight. At this point, I am feeling the panic of claustrophobia and the canopy is still up. He leans over and points to the release lever. “When I yell ‘Now!’ pull it.” It was in that moment that I realized my head is sticking way out of the natural body lines of this glider, and I say, “I don’t think I’m going to fit.” He proceeds to try to close the canopy. I cock my head as far as possible sideways and it was still not close to closing. His next words; “Get out!” Our man of many words now begins to rip the seat out of the glider. No joke! And in some sick replay of other dumb decisions I’ve made in life, I actually go along with this. I climb in and sit on bare aluminum in the cockpit and Mr. Wax Eloquent checks the canopy and starts strapping me in again. Each of the five points of the harness seems to gauge my increasing tension. Meanwhile, the real airplane has appeared and connected itself to me without my noticing. In a nonverbal acknowledgment that everything was a go, my new friend slaps his hand on the canopy as if to say… Well, I’m not really sure what it said. Good luck perhaps?

The next thing I know, I am experiencing a very rough rush of forward acceleration as the real airplane takes off down the runway. “Um, what do I do now?” “Wait for me to say ‘Now!’ and pull the release handle.” came the reply. I remember thinking to myself, he actually speaks in sentences? It brought small comfort. We continued to climb. Tense and stressed, I was absorbed by the chaos and found it very difficult to focus on the beauty around me with the constant noise, bumps, drops and clatter of being dragged–by a rope–where I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go. Then, piercing all the mayhem and propelling me from the fog to hard reality came the cry, “NOW!” I reached out and pulled…

Silence

As if God Himself had reached into my reality and turned the volume knob from eleven to one, everything became clear. My mind which had been trying to process the inundation around me had cleared. My ears heard little but the wisp of outside air. My eyes focused on the tow plane as it seemed to fall tragically from the sky, leaving me behind, then to the breathtaking beauty of my seat in the sky. My hands were no longer shaking but steady and sure on a now smooth (previously vibrating) control stick. It was bliss.

For forty-five minutes I swept through the sky like a bird without reservation, smooth and fluid, embracing positive and negative gravitational forces alike. Even the discomfort of sitting on the aluminum structure of the glider ebbed away. Tension had given way to release and the experience was, well… Clear. It’s the only word that describes it. I had traded the stresses of the procedure and systems for the joy of flight. I felt inspired.

As leaders we each must learn the lesson that I was privileged to learn that day, that is: Clarity comes after the systems and procedures are necessarily worked, and unless you are willing to subject yourself to the tensions they create, you will never see the fulfillment of your dream. Altitude is gained through struggle and if the struggle scares you, and you stay on the ground, you lose. Leadership is not like the third grade where everyone receives a ribbon. Some win, most do not. I had traded the tension of a hotel room surrounded by paperwork for the tension of a seat-less cockpit in pursuit of my creative aha! I found it, and clarity, at 5000 feet.

Postscript

Could I have found that moment alone? No! It took a pilot, a plane, and a landing strip. Skilled people had to assist me in getting there. I had a team. Without them, I would have never had the experience, or I would have tried it alone and killed myself in the attempt.

If you are a leader/church planter, you want to fly. I get that. Remember that you cannot fly without partners that can actually get you airborne. A mentor to strap you in, to train you, challenge you, grunt at you. Prayer partners who provide the airstrip to launch you into the exciting unknown. Financial partners that will attach themselves to you, provide the horsepower, and empower you to a higher level and are willing to yell “Now!” Ultimately, the ride of your own leadership begins when you respond and pull the release. Then, and only then will you soar.

Being Great

There are those times in life when you encounter greatness. It takes your breath away. It’s one of those things when everything comes together in perfect harmony and you find yourself in the midst of something that just feels right… and you are inspired.

I had such an experience when I was called to do a business seminar for the leaders in an organization that hires me from time to time. I had worked as a freelance marketing adviser for this company in the late ’80’s but it had been years since I had been there to consult. I remember telling the then-owner (after our first meeting) that I would not advise on their ad campaign. He was shocked, and then I clarified.

It was early in my career and I had left an art director position for a company in Los Angeles to strike out on my own. I knew what it meant to represent the company which I had worked for and was greatly successful in driving campaigns to increase market share and product awareness, however, I knew little of this new company.

Back to the story. He was shocked. This “Ad Guy” whom he had paid travel expenses to come and advise him said that he would not. I could see his discomfort. Then I clarified. I would not advise because I knew little about their product. So he suggested that I spend the afternoon in the conference room with his in-house marketing staff and they could show me their product, advise me on how it worked, and show me the previous ad campaigns they had run.

I shocked them again. During that meeting, I refused to see any earlier campaigns (standard practice for me) because I did not want to be influenced by their previous attempts. Nor did I want to see the trade magazines they placed before me because the reason they were hiring me is that they wanted an outside evaluation of their product. Frustrated, the marketing team asked me; “So, what do you want?” My reply was simple.

I want to build it!
I scheduled an appointment (the next Monday morning) to work on the factory floor and actually build the product on the assembly line. I needed to know the nuts and bolts. Shock again!

Hear me on this. While I worked on that line, I understood the product deeper than most of the executives in that conference room. In fact, when it came time to advise on the ad campaign, I also advised on several product enhancements and a very small but beneficial change to the assembly line workflow that would save a small, but not insignificant amount of money every year. But I had to get under the hood to see those potential improvements. Their shock gave way to excitement.

Now I started this piece talking about greatness. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about that company.

Returning years later to hold a seminar for their leaders, I walked into a completely different environment. The greasy carpet in the lobby, the smell of a factory, the noise and the unprofessional receptionist had all been replaced. Instead, I encountered what amounted to a professionally decorated sanctuary of a waiting room and an attentive and extremely professional host. Furthermore, the noise and smell of the factory had given way to a gentle classical masterpiece playing during my very short wait. In fact, as I walked in I was surprised to see an LCD screen that welcomed me (and a short list of other scheduled appointments) by name. Something had changed. Someone had gone under the hood. Someone had entered the business with the eyes of a first-timer, and it was the new owner.

Before any employee knew who he was, he scheduled an appointment to meet with the staff, posing as a prospective new client. What he saw and experienced shook the company to its foundation, but also to greatness. He trained, fired and hired employees to mold the organization to his vision of excellence. He modeled it from the top and it showed. From the office of the CEO to the receptionist who offered me a bottle of water during my short wait, everything was harmonious. Their corporate culture had changed. It had been defined. Now, they had asked me to come back to train his lead staff. He had heard of my day “on the line” and years later told his key people to get me back.

Today, he leads a company of excellence… And yes, he still calls me to advise from time to time. He did for the company what I had done for the product so many years before.

Connected

I just accomplished in four minutes and fifty-three seconds what ten years ago would have taken days. Why, because I am connected. You see, the information that I needed for this afternoon’s meeting was easily found with a web search and a few clicks. The system that we call the internet has transformed culture, increased efficiency, and made me a much better researcher. That’s what efficient systems do.

Consider the bigger question: How would you develop such a system? Imagine it’s you in 1969, sitting at the table, and someone posits the question: How can we put the entire corpus of human understanding into one place, and access anything we want in under five minutes? Every needed component was there in 1969, but to conceive of, articulate and begin to build the system would have been quite impossible. Systems as transformational as the internet build with time. I would hope that if I had been in that meeting in 1969, I would not have tried to envision the modern understanding of the internet. Rather, I hope my response would have been smaller; something like, “Hey John, you have a computer at Stanford right? I do too, let’s see if we can get those things connected over a wire!” That’s exactly what happened. On October 29, 1969 Stanford and UCLA connected computers for the very first time. It was the “great first connection” known as Arpanet.

The internet sprang from that first connection, and as powerful a force as the internet has become, if we all turned off our computers at 12:01 GMT tomorrow, the internet would instantly cease to exist. It is only alive because of connections.

We have all taken part in the increased dialog about church planting. We have heard that the church planter is the top of the food chain and that all of our organizational structures exist to support them. However, let us suspend all thoughts about the church planter for now, and consider the system that we hope to create. Systems cannot exist in a vacuum, and the more focused a system is the greater chance it has for success. If we look at the entire system, like the discussion of the internet, it is overwhelming and non-realistic to think we can grasp its scope. However, if we search for the “great first connection” the system will form itself and it will be healthy and stable.

Back to the church planter…

Many of you are vested in church planting. Some of you have the ability to arrange funding for those church planters. Think before you act, it may not be the healthiest option to open the financial dialog first. The healthier path may be to formulate the connections. Many of you have heard my soapbox schpeel already, but for those who haven’t, here it is:

The church planter out there, although you may never meet them, they are top priority and we exist for them. This philosophy must carry through in all that we do. It is our responsibility to care for him and his family, perhaps not directly, but in our actions and systems. We have fooled ourselves into thinking that throwing money at something means that we care. On the contrary, it seems disingenuous. If we care we must move deeper into building connectedness. Ask questions like:

• In what local supporting pastor does this family find their spiritual covering and accountability?

• Does that same church support them financially?

• Does this family have the skills or connections for some level of self generated support?
(If a planter cannot raise some support for himself, do we really think he can plant a church?)

• Does he have financial support from other local churches, the association or state convention?

If the local field, friends, and sending church do not support him, why should you? He may be a risk.

Now, don’t misinterpret my thoughts. If the end goal is health and longevity of the planter and his family, we undermine the work of the church planter if we fail to ask these questions. Think resolutely on this: If you provide funding without the connectedness, helping the church planter formulate those connections will be more difficult. If you fund immediately, other partners will abdicate their responsibility. However, if you walk with him through the other connections, your funding can be icing on the cake. The healthiest churches in America will be those that another church has connected with and planted. If our state and national agencies can work to support the local partners, the church planter and his family will be protected.

One final note: You are key to his success. If in your thinking, planting a church means filing paperwork to get funding for a church planter, you are derelict in your duties. Invest yourself in that family, walk them into their first great connection, make it a local one, and watch as other partners connect into the great system that is a church plant. That system will transform the culture, increase efficiency, and make that man a better church planter.

Ogilvy

I am sure this has happened to you. You hear a name, and drawing deep into the haze of distant memory you ask yourself, “How is it that I know that name?” Sometimes the name is forgotten as quickly as remembered, but occasionally the name will stick until you decide it is worth parsing. Such was the case three weeks ago as I was winding up my vacation. It’s amazing that I was able to remember anything at all, my brain still a mess from the blur of far too many points of interest in far too little time. Drawing from the depths of the well, I remembered the man. At least what I had learned of him. And, with a little research I was able to relearn some timeless truths from a genius. The name, David Ogilvy.

As an undergraduate, studying marketing and communications, David Ogilvy was boilerplate. Considered by many the greatest “ad-man” who ever lived, Ogilvy was the founding partner of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, one of the greatest foundational advertising agencies of the 1950’s and 60’s. Far more that his achievements in the ad world, he was a powerful force in creating one of the most power workplace cultures corporate America has ever seen. His leadership style was said by many to be greater than his skills as an ad-man.

Ogilvy was a master communicator. He communicated effectively to the outside world, enabling his agency to sell product for the client, but his ability to communicate internally is what made the organization such a success. Ogilvy was famous for creating a finely polished culture within the organization, something so few leaders achieve today. His culture was based on excellence, treating people like human beings and encouraging (and usually paying for) personal development of his people on all levels.

How did he do it?

He set standards and encouraged his people to achieve even greater than his expectations. He also empowered them to accomplish it, whatever “it” was. His recruitment brochure read; “We are looking for gentlemen with ideas in their head and fire in their bellies. If you join Ogilvy and Mather, we shall teach you everything we know about advertising. We shall pay you well, and do our damnedest to make you succeed. If you show promise, we shall load responsibility on you—fast. Life in our agency can be very exciting. You will never be bored. It’s tough, but it’s fun.”

Once upon a board meeting at Ogilvy & Mather, the board members each entered to find Russian matryoshka dolls on each of their seats. As each member of the board opened the still smaller dolls, each found the same message within the inner doll: “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants. Hire big people, people who are better than you, pay them more than yourself if necessary.” From that day forward the Russian dolls became a symbol of the corporate culture he had built.

We could learn from another of Ogilvy’s maxims: “Great hospitals do two things, they look after patients and they train young doctors. Ogilvy and Mather does two things: We look after clients, and we teach young advertising people.”

Ogilvy understood the importance of having great people who were greatly equipped. As a leader, you must understand this more than anything else. At Ogilvy and Mather there was training available at every level of the company. However, while mandatory at the early employment stage—to instill the culture and corporate values—the training was positioned as a privilege rather than a duty at each higher level. Again, this played to the master plan of creating a culture of constant improvement and self improvement. Those who progressed were invested in all the more, those who had not were (in Ogilvy’s words) “barnacles” which were regularly scraped off of the hull to keep the ship moving.

Ogilvy’s constant goal was to make the organization more professional and create a timeless institution. This was evident in the professionalism of all who were employed. In fact, everyone in the industry knew that anyone who worked at Ogilvy & Mather was gifted at writing. In fact, the ability to write well was at the core of Ogilvy & Mather’s corporate culture. Ogilvy was equally critical of himself in that area and placed his vulnerability before his people. He would frequently send copies of his writings into the company pool with his familiar note attached: “Please improve.”

His desire to treat people as equals and at the same time extract every bit of positive energy they contained for the improvement of the company was unique, especially because it worked. He demanded much, but never forgot that people need to feel pride. He did all he could to improve the individual, understanding that the growing man has more to give and gives his all—willingly—for a team that moves positively. He never lost site of the fact that individuals need to be respected and empowered.

He wrote: “We treat our people like human beings. We help them when they are in trouble—with their jobs, with illnesses, and so on. We help our people make the best of their talents. We invest an awful lot of time and money in training—perhaps more than any of our competitors. Our system of management is singularly democratic. We don’t like hierarchical bureaucracy or rigid pecking orders. We abhor ruthlessness. We like our people with gentle manners. We like people who are honest: honest in argument, honest with clients, honest with suppliers, and honest with the company. We admire people who work hard. Objectivity and toughness are admired. Superficiality is not. We despise and detest office politicians, toadies, bullies, and pompous asses. The way up the ladder is open to everyone. We detest favoritism, nepotism, and prejudice. In promoting for top jobs, we are influenced by character as by anything else.”

What more need a leader say.