Business Transformation

Why Agency Leaders Need to Take Advantage of Their Freedom(s)

Drew McLellan

Sometimes, being the leader isn’t the only role you want to have in your agency or organization. Maybe you’re interested in being the creative director, the chief copywriter, or the guru of account services. That’s not unusual. Most leaders have other talents that give them enjoyment. The freedom to play any role in your organization is one of five that too many CEOs don’t take advantage of.

Being the leader of an organization means you get to write your company’s playbook. So why do so many agency owners (and entrepreneurs in general) neglect themselves when coming up with basic rules and responsibilities? Time and again, leaders forget they have the right to take advantage of the freedoms inherent in being the top boss.

This doesn’t mean that leaders should nefariously stack the deck in their favor or act as if they’re more important than their employees. But it does mean they need to start exercising the freedoms that come with being in charge.

What freedoms come to mind? Below are five that tend to be overlooked but are integral to having a successful, energizing CEO or founder experience.

  1. The freedom to say no to clients.
    It makes work more pleasurable if you and your team work for people who align with your values. Though you might have to take on jerks as clients when you’re just starting, you shouldn’t have to say yes to everyone forever. Saying no to clients can be positive, in some cases.

    When I started an agency, I established a goal: Never work for a disrespectful client. No compromise. This goal made the agency much more peaceful and productive because it drastically reduced our stress levels. I believe that fewer clients would misbehave if more owners set this boundary.

  2. The freedom to hire people who are a cultural fit.
    Leaders need to be careful about building their teams. The right team helps accomplish the agency’s objectives. The wrong team undermines opportunities. We’ve all worked with colleagues who weren’t the right match for our company. They weren’t happy, nor were their bosses, peers, or direct reports. Surrounding yourself with people who eagerly want to pull the wagon in the same direction makes an enormous difference.

    To get the most out of this freedom, you must be willing and able to share your vision. That means being transparent about your North Star. It also means setting clear expectations about how you want your agency to operate. Being open and honest about your organization’s needs will usually turn off the wrong candidates. They’ll self-select out of the hiring journey early.

  3. The freedom to rearrange your time.
    Most leaders are terrible at taking full advantage of vacations. You should be able to take at least as much time off as your employees. Want to go to Europe for three weeks? Good. Do it. Feel the need to spend time with your kids between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.? Cut a donut in your day and get the best of all worlds.

    There are a few caveats to making this all come to fruition. First, you have to plan your schedule and tell your employees and clients when they can and can’t reach you. Secondly, you must delegate duties and authority to others so your time off or flexed schedule doesn’t hurt the business. Do these things and you’ll be golden.

  4. The freedom to pay yourself what you’re worth.
    Most leaders of small businesses like agencies don’t pay themselves well enough. They say, “If I bump up my salary, I have to cut someone on my staff. I can’t do that.” And it may be true. However, this is a choice you have to make. You can’t take care of everybody else’s family and starve your own.

    Look at your compensation packages and policies now. Are you leaving yourself in the dust? Your paycheck shouldn’t be an afterthought or the “scraps” of what’s left after giving your people big raises and generous commissions. Your compensation model should reward you, too, whether that means in your salary, in retirement and investment contributions, or through other executive benefits like yearly bonuses.

  5. The freedom to play any role you want.
    Sometimes, being the leader isn’t the only role you want to have in your agency or organization. Maybe you’re interested in being the creative director, the chief copywriter, or the guru of account services. That’s not unusual. Most leaders have other talents that give them enjoyment.

    To make this work, you must juggle what’s on your plate. Again, this will likely mean you’ll have to empower employees to help you. Alternatively, you may be able to automate some of your responsibilities by investing in tech-driven tools or systems. Your focus should be on figuring out how to do the work you love and still be the big boss. It’s doable as long as you’re willing to adapt and adjust.

There’s one more freedom that can fall out from not taking advantage of the freedoms above: The freedom to step away. If you’re not feeling energized by being a leader and want to remove yourself, that’s certainly your prerogative. However, before you do, ask yourself if the real reason you’re overwhelmed could be that you’re squandering other freedoms. Perhaps leveraging your power just a bit more could give you the independence you crave without necessitating that you part ways with your business.

Written by Drew McLellan.
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Drew McLellan
For over 30 years, Drew McLellan has been in the advertising industry. For 26 of those years, he has owned and run an agency. Additionally, Drew leads the Agency Management Institute, which advises hundreds of small- to medium-sized advertising agencies on how to grow and build their profitability through agency owner peer networks, consulting, workshops, and more.

Drew McLellan is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.