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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  “Soldiers do not charge machine-gun nests for generals they do not love.”


“Soldiers do not charge machine-gun nests for generals they do not love.”

Posted on April 17, 2011 and read 2,632 times

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lukesmall Soldiers do not charge machine gun nests for generals they do not love.Luke Sullivan
Senior VP/Managing Group Creative Director
GSD&M Idea City

The following is an excerpt from Creative Director: Year Zero, the latest project by us at IHAVEANIDEA. We asked our creative director friends from around the world to reflect on what was like when they first made the transition to that role, and to offer advice to those about to make that leap.

The end result? A book of twenty-five essays from established and respected CDs, self-published in conjunction with Blurb Inc. To find out more about the book, including a full list of CDs and ordering information, click here.

Great CDs Are Almost Always Great People, Too.

A few words, if I may, on what I think makes a good creative director?

I once read that a coach’s main job is to love his players. I think the same holds true for creative directors. Advertising is so hard. There is so much rejection, so much brutality, so many late nights. To be able to motivate people in such a business, you have to love them and they have to know it. Not everyone feels this way. A famous CD once confided to me, “You need to have people fear you.” I disagree. Life is short and this is just advertising, people. If this means I’ll always produce less stellar work than a much-feared-CD, I’m okay with that. We all have our priorities. Those are mine.

Good creative directors need to get to know their people. I’ve heard of CDs who dig a moat around their office and meet only with the senior creatives; never with anyone lower down the food chain. This, too, I think is misguided. You need to know and love the people who are manning your trenches. You need to know their names, you need to know what they’re working on, you need to know when they do something great so you can lean into their offices and say, “Dude, that was great.” Soldiers do not charge machine-gun nests for generals they do not love.

Good CDs not only improve your work, they improve you. Someone once told me that a great creative director is a “career accelerator.” These are bosses who leave your career in better shape than they found it. That requires someone who is not completely wrapped up in either themselves or the pressures of doing good work. They manage to keep any eye on the lives and the souls of the people who are working for them. This takes me to concept I’ve heard described as the “servant leader.” Writer James Kouzes wrote that such leaders “do not place themselves at the center; they place others there. They do not seek the attention of people; they give it to others. They do not focus on satisfying their own aims and desires; they look for ways to respond to the needs and interests of their people. They know that serving others is the most rewarding of all leadership tasks.”

Wow. Sounds a little altruistic put like that, but then I think of a guy like Mike Hughes at The Martin Agency and I realize, hey, he’s right. Here’s a guy who has been quietly building one of the best agencies anywhere and doing by serving his people, serving his agency, doing it without an ego, and without beating on or intimidating the folks who work there.

Perhaps another day we can talk about all the other things it takes to be a good creative director, one of which of course is being a good creative first. But for my money the most important thing is being a good person. Honest. Level-headed. Friendly. Approachable. Humble. And human.





  • http://twitter.com/ben_weeks Ben Weeks

    Great title! Sun-Tsu would say it’s good strategy too. 


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