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The Golden Egg

  • October 15, 2001, 12:00 AM EDT
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Remember Aesop's fable of the goose and the golden egg? It's about a poor farmer who finds a glittering golden egg in the nest of a beautiful goose. The next day it happens again. And again. And again.

But he wants more. Impatient and greedy, he kills the goose to retrieve all the gold it has inside. But he finds nothing (oops!) and loses all chance of future profit.

It's the same with creative directors. In the past, we hired those indomitable geese who laid award-winning eggs and assumed they could get others to do the same. Unfortunately, those tasks require different skills. It's the Peter Principle—rewarding excellence in a role by promoting a person out of it.

Can you imagine a farmer plopping down on a goose's egg? The egg will break, and the goose will waddle off dejected. And with agencies incubating many ideas at once, no farmer can do justice to all the eggs, not even with the most gifted of derrieres.

Of course, certain talents are indispensable. CDs must know good work when they see it, and having created it themselves should make them pretty good at this.

But how will they get good work out of others? Does he appreciate work that doesn't resemble his own? Does she guide or dictate? Will he let a team flounder until the night before deadline? Can she rev up employees? Does he fix the work himself or send the employee away with a clear picture of what's needed? It's the difference between leading a staff and killing the creative spirit.

Why not ship our CDs—group heads and ECDs—to management school? Other industries do. Some demand that new managers take a pay cut. OK, bad idea. But what if it's a minimal raise? On a symbolic level it says, "Know what? You just got a new job, and you will be evaluated by a whole new set of rules."

We have to learn how to give praise, because the pat on the back that inspires one person insults someone else. Criticism should be an art—sometimes we talk about our own mistakes first, other times ask questions instead of giving orders. We'd better know who will be driven by "This sucks—keep going!" and who will be crushed.

It's time we look for people who can take care of a goose. Considering the high turnover of creative directors these days, it's time.

Young employees have been brought up in a prosperous world of tempting opportunities. To motivate and retain the best and the restless takes a deeper understanding of what motivates them.

Clients need us to listen and be empathetic. As media becomes more complicated, we need people open to new ideas. As clients demand integration, leaders will create environments in which every discipline has a voice. The new CD will have the disposition to embrace difference.

Ronald Heifetz, author of Leadership Without Easy Answers, once gave this advice in Fast Company: "If you're the boss, the people around you will invariably sit back and wait for you to speak. They will create a vacuum of silence, and you will feel a compelling need to fill it."

I know what I want to fill it with. Quacking. Mellifluous quacking.