Should leaders shield employees from bad news?

People work at their best when the office is joyful, says Leo Burnett and Fallon London CEO Charlie Rudd.

by Charlie Rudd
Last Updated: 11 Sep 2019

In my industry, advertising, agencies are nothing without the people we employ, and we sell nothing else to our clients. The most talented among them have choices - which country to work in, which office environment and which employer. For the very best, it’s a seller’s market, and just like any other sane human being, talented people will generally choose to work somewhere they enjoy. 

As employers, we also know that our best people will do their best work when they are feeling happy. Yes, we’ll all have stories of great work done against all odds, with the proverbial ‘gun to the head’, but I’ve never seen the best people consistently do their best work under this kind of negative pressure. 

Breakthrough creative thinking requires us to feel confident, ambitious and daring and we don’t tend to do this when we’re not feeling good about ourselves, our environment or our bosses. 

So I believe the most important skill of a CEO in the creative industries at least is to engender positivity and, yes, even joy at work - not only to attract, retain and motivate the best people but also because joy connects people more powerfully than almost any other experience. 

Of course it’s normally pretty easy to do this when things are going well. It’s much more interesting when there are problems and huge pressures on the business.

I’ve learned that my job and the job of my leadership team is to soak up the pressure and not to transfer it. We’re paid the money to worry about the latest forecast, the latest client threat or the 3 or 5-year plan. It’s very rarely helpful to communicate much about this when times are tough. It simply causes anxiety. 

Positivity and ambition evaporate from every meeting and interaction in the company and are replaced with small, incremental, defensive thinking which, ironically, will probably compound the business problems you were facing.

I’ve also learned about the enormous power leaders have in mood-setting. In every minute of the working day, as a leader you are being read by the people who work for you. Gentle sighs, furrowed brows and cynical asides are amplified massively because of your job title. And as CEO you can spread this negativity far more quickly than anyone else in the office.

The reverse is of course the case. Turn up positive, creative and fun and guess what happens to the mood in the meeting room? So it’s in all our business interests to foster a positive, joyful environment, even if that means sometimes soaking up the pressure yourself.

Image credit: Leo Burnett

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