The Leader is the person whom employees follow. This is not "the boss" (although this often can be the case), but rather it's the person whom individuals rally behind. It's the person who holds the compass for the individual, who gives that employee something to believe in.
Unfortunately, many people are leaderless. In the lack of such leadership, a large number of employees view their "leader" in an entirely different light: their paycheck. In larger client structures, that attitude is often tolerated. Those employees become The Acquiescers. The acquiescer will just go along with whatever someone wants because their heart is not in it. They are leaderless, because they don't really care who their leader is. Their job is their job, and not much more. They are the shy kid who often lights up when you invite them out to lunch. They are just happy to be included in the group. They don't care where you are going to eat. They don't really care about the project they are working on, either. They are just happy to have a project. It doesn't matter if they don't believe in it, they'll just do it. It's either all about the money, or about being included. You know them in your company.
But remember, your company needs them. Like worker bees, you get to point them in a direction and tell them "go," and then tell them "go" again, and again, and again. The problem is that you have to know where to point them and constantly monitor and correct them. They are a time-suck and do not produce great work, but they eventually get stuff done.
On the agency side, fewer people willingly work the crazy hours, cope with the insane work pressure, or put up with the abuse they get constantly without believing in someone they are following. Those who do survive the furnace of agency work are usually The Followers. The follower is actively engaged in the leader's direction, helps support their goals, helps reign in other employees, and moves the company forward. This is one of the reasons why agencies churn through new people who have this "idea" of what it's like to work in advertising: glamourous and fun. They quickly become disillusioned and drop out of the system. But the follower sticks with it. In this way, the agency system is vastly superior to that of the client. Agencies keep the top talent, and the detritus gets discarded. But it also means that there is a high turnover required to keep the ship moving. The disillusioned acquiescers need to constantly be replaced. Thank god for interns.
The client has an entirely different issue. On the client side, many of the systems are designed to support the employee, keep the employee, understand their concerns, help them grow. That's all nice and good, but when the employee views their leader as just the source of a paycheck, all the company is doing is keeping dead weight, and many companies over the years have been so stripped of actual talent that they are left with employees who are still there simply because they can't get a job at another company. On the client side, the follower is a more dangerous type, the "yes-man." The danger with "yes-man" followers is that they will often follow blindly.
The first three archetypes, Leader, Acquiescer, and Follower are easy to deal with. They are predictable, and clients love predictable. The client tends to tolerate the acquiescer, and promote the "yes-man" followers, while not fully understanding the interpersonal dynamics of their true leaders. What happens in that system is that the company becomes entrenched in "group-think" behavior. The reason for this is the evisceration of the other two archetypes.
The Saboteur attempts to co-opt the leader's position and take their followers in a new direction -- but change is often seen as a violent process within companies. If the saboteur is successful, he/she become the leader, but it is often this type of conflict that pushes companies to adapt to a new paradigm. The leader's ego is threatened, and the ego is a very powerful force that will do anything to ensure its own survival. Hence, saboteurs are usually the most vilified and celebrated people in the business world -- who often rescue companies from the brink. But if understood correctly, your saboteurs are also those who provide your safety net. They prevent waste and inefficiency from driving you down the wrong path for too long. Unfortunately, the saboteur is seen as a disruptive influence and dangerous in the workplace.
And then there is The Control Problem. The control problem is one of your most valuable assets, but clients rarely understand how to utilize them correctly. The agency world is filled with control problems -- those individuals who are not afraid to speak their mind. In truth, what they are actually doing -- and often don't realize it -- is they are speaking the thing that is on the top of everyone else's mind, but that others do not have the courage to voice. Most clients do not understand this, and they view their control problems as malcontents or rogue agents. But they are the people who point out the elephant in the room that everyone can see. They look at it, look at the group, look at the elephant again, and are confused as to why no one is saying anything.
The control problem is your ideation source. Sometimes their ideation makes them believe that all the ideas are theirs, and it feeds their ego. But if you can work with the control problems, and find a home for them, they become your barometer for good work, good business, and good deals. The control problems are those who envisioned the internet and left corporate America for start-ups because the system wasn't structured to handle them.
The control problem rarely gets promoted at the client side for one simple reason: negativity during reviews. And hence, this is why the promotion process on the client side is at the core of the issue.
Let me explain why.
Your control problem has often had several successful projects, and a few problematic ones, as well. Or they have issues that "upset" some people. When managers and directors get together during reviews, and they put forward a promotion for an employee, most employees believe they get the promotion for all the great work they did. What actually transpires is that unless someone in the meeting has an objection, the promotion goes through. Some of your best and brightest on the client side get sidelined due to a manager's personal ego. So what happens is that the "yes-man" followers -- who are not as bright or as skilled -- rise up through the corporate ranks. This is client politics at its finest. It is not about the positive aspects of someone's work, just the lack of anything negative. Thus, client-side entrenched mediocrity feeds on itself.
On the agency side, it is often the employee who develops the best ideas and creates the most value, regardless of how much of a colossal pain in the ass they are to deal with. And those of us who have worked on both the client and agency side understand the scope of that difference.
So that's the structural problem of why your client is broken and not able to adapt to the new mode of business that agencies are trying to push forward. The agency side rewards talent, the client-side rewards safety. So for the clients out there who believe they would love to work on the agency side, just ask yourselves: "When was the last time I was willing to risk losing my job to fix something that was wrong?"
That's OK, the world needs "yes-men" too. But try and give your agencies a break. The reason they push back is not because they don't respect you, but because the agency world is filled with control problems who are honestly only trying to create the best work they can for you.Sean X Cummings runs his own marketing consultancy, sxc marketing.