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Leadership Extract: 6 business truths I learned from observing my clients in marketing

Our heads are buzzing from all the business leadership quotes being spammed by crypto/business/motivational influencers. When suffering from an overload of information, you have to learn how to filter out the fluff - to extract what is valuable and essential.

The following is an extract from my most recent 70 clients in marketing, who have made it out of the pandemic and are now approaching 2023 with great momentum as business leaders.

Show up.

This would probably be the most widely accepted rule for success in all of business - always show up. Do it on time, in style, and consistently.

Every single client shows up to our meetings on time. I thought I was especially OCD about my own version of German punctuality in a professional setting, but now I realize that this is less of a rarity and more of a rule.

This also means showing up for yourself. Have a protein-heavy breakfast, take some alone time, reflect, write down ideas and consider them with careful attentiveness. Show up at the gym, poke your nose at that networking event or at the office - let your social battery overheat. In time, the practice of showing up will lay the foundation of your presence in the business community and people will be eager to show up for you as clients, friends, connections, and opportunities.

For wild-card introverts, it is almost impossible to have boring meetings, because they are less likely to maintain a fake persona - take your limited social battery and introduce yourself to a creative collective and challenge yourself with new ideas before retreating back to your desk space.

First Principles Thinking

The term "first principles thinking" has been popularised by Elon Musk through his conversations with Joe Rogan, Lex Fridman, and other prominent influencers. Despite not being aware of the term, most business leaders practice it naturally.

First Principles Thinking simply means deconstructing something to its fundamental components, truths or parts and then building up from there. This kind of thinking is an approach to effective problem solving, able to be applied universally to almost any business problem, enabling founders and leaders to break down complex problems to generate effective solutions.

You can apply Socratic Questioning to first principles thinking and follow a sequence of questions to establish first principles:

  • Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas (why do I think this?);

  • Challenging assumptions;

  • Looking for evidence;

  • Considering alternative perspectives;

  • Examining consequences and implications;

  • Questioning the original questions.

By relying on first principles thinking, you're adopting a problem-solving framework that enables consistency and structure to your problem-solving process. It is a good place to start - see how you can change or adapt it to work for your situation.

Know the basics

Most business leaders I know, at least in the start-up world, tend to be generalists. The job of your team is to know the details of their specific specializations; yours is to facilitate effective communication and be the thought leader. You do this by knowing the basics of every dimension that exists as part of your business operation.

You may not be better at design when compared to your lead creative, for example, but you have to be able to speak the same language to command respect and be able to steer towards the shore without getting lost in the plot. Know the basics.

Be flexible.

Despite the popular notion that flexibility in leaders is more prevalent in SMEs, while high-profile corporate leadership roles demand stability, I noticed the necessity of being flexible as a leader in both small and large enterprises.

Being flexible as a leader can come in many forms. The most essential, in my opinion, is being flexible to changes in team composition, digital environments, and creative processes.

Teams change, people have babies, advance in careers, retire, move countries, go back to school, and establish new enterprises that may even act as your competitors. Business is people, and people always change - you have to be flexible enough to anticipate and plan for it.

Many businesses are highly dependent on pay-per-click - so what happens when their ad accounts get banned due to some unforeseen reason? It happens way more often than you may expect. Flexibility as a leader enables foresight and preparation before shit hits the fan.

If you're a classic corporate executive, creatives are a hard bunch to deal with. They're explosive, colorful, pretentious, and disorganized - but they get the job done better than you ever could. Their mere existence and product are a contradiction to the classic, inflexible, industrious, conservative business worldview. Yet you have to collaborate with them if you want a logo, a brand, copy, key visual, ad campaign, or video - it's best to keep an open mind and don't impose your authority where it is not needed. Be flexible, listen to their ideas, and the logic behind them, and have an open mind to the big creative ideas that they offer you. If you don't do it, you're dead in the water.

Make it feel good.

If you find something you love doing, you will never work a day in your life. As a business leader, you are in a unique position to form a positive synergy between the team and the task - to make it feel as good for them as it does for you.

This doesn't mean having a pinball table at the office or making employees feel at home by bringing in pizza and bean bags just so they are less compelled to go home. Make the work itself rewarding. No one is the same - ask for feedback and attempt to accommodate introverts and extroverts without any judgment. Run anonymous polls and never force any team building outside office hours.

Have a reward system, randomize it, and encourage healthy habits and mental healthcare. I'm sure you can figure out light-hearted ways to surprise your team and keep them guessing about the next surprise - big or small.

Impose boundaries between functions.

Allow people to have their own strict functions within the company. Actually, apply brute force to impose boundaries between the different functions. Not doing so may result in a toxic, time-wasting, unproductive, and mentally draining corporate group grope and analysis paralysis - here's why.

A client of mine represented a large hotel chain and their executives required creative delivery. I established the brief, delivered and waited for feedback. 3 revisions down the line, the client was happy and we were about to move on to the next project. Until the deliverable was passed on to the other executives in the team.

In Lithuania, we have a saying "kiek žmonių, tiek nuomonių", meaning that there are as many opinions as there are people. You take a perfectly chiselled design and pass it on to every person on the street for evaluation, and you'll get infinite revisions, ultimately resulting in analysis paralysis, wasted time, group grope - all that jazz.

After receiving feedback from the team, the original point of contact requested more revisions. After those were done, I thought it would be hilarious if it was passed on to someone else again... and it happened. This time with a higher-up. After that, it happened one more time with the regional team.

You see where I'm getting here, but how could it be solved - surely we have to consider the opinions of managers, regional teams, local teams, and the janitor, right? We're all a family, so this is just teamwork, yeah?

Hell no.

Creative directors have a very specific function - to apply brute force and eliminate unnecessary opinions in creative execution. They're there to have an unchallenged opinion that is better than everyone else's. That is the highest authority figure in any creative project, and only his/her opinion matters. Every team should have creative authority, and the person should have full responsibility for creative execution - that's how it works in the top echelons of the creative industry, and every business leader should pick up on this.

Apply strict boundaries to all aspects and functions of your business and see how everything begins to flow faster. This is not only because of the power of professional boundaries but also because people are clear on what their function is, enabling them to take full responsibility for it - this is extremely fulfilling and motivational.

unthink marketing,



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