July 13, 2009

Extremely Good At Something Specific

An interesting piece appeared in Adweek last week entitled, "In The Shadow of the Founders."

The thrust of the piece is that it is often difficult for agencies to survive the exit of a charismatic founder.

The piece spotlights the troubles that have dogged agencies like Riney, Fallon, and Cliff Freeman as the founders have either left or taken reduced roles.

Of course, it is true that the exit of a charismatic founder often creates big problems for an agency. The thrust of the piece, however, misses the core of the issue.

The piece suggests that among the key prescriptions for a successful transition from charismatic founder to second generation, is that the new leadership has to share the values, principles, and culture of the founder.

This has almost nothing to do with it.

The reason charismatic agency leaders become successful is that they are usually extremely good at something specific. They have a talent.

They may be extremely good creative people, or extremely good strategists or sales people, or extremely motivated, or extremely confidence-inspiring.

To an outsider -- and even to themselves -- their success may seem to be related to values, principles, and culture. In fact, these usually emerge as a by-product of the success, not a cause.

That's why, when global agencies buy entrepreneurial agencies, and the founders leave, they almost always screw it up. They bring in a "manager" chock full of "values, principles, and culture" instead of someone who is extremely good at something specific.

No comments: