Developing Client Leaders: The Enjoyable Struggle (is Real)

An enjoyable struggle is the kind of challenge that – when we’ve gotten through it – fills us with a sense of accomplishment and motivation to go further. This happened for some of the young and emerging client leaders in our new training program, Building Business Acumen. They found new gears they didn’t know they had.


“Challenging but good.”

“Excited, a bit overwhelmed, but empowered.”

“I know more than I thought.”

“Love it.”


Inspired by my favorite MBA business course, it was an intense, 6-week learning & development experience – focused on the fundamentals of business and understanding business context – with weekly live sessions and project work. Too much work, as it turned out.


Established as a beta test for refinement, the group let me know loud and clear that keeping up with the training projects on top of their actual client work was a huge challenge. So the next session (beginning January 24th) will be six live sessions occurring every other week. Not only does this allow more time for the project work to get completed with less stress on the group, it also allows for more collaboration, which is something they also strongly suggested in their feedback. (I’ll continue this feedback loop in the future – for continual tweaking and improving of the experience)


Why Building Business Acumen? There are signs all around that the advertising industry can drive more meaningful outcomes through stronger connection of the marketing and the business. John Harris, CEO of Worldwide Partners Inc. described it as ‘prioritizing the business of the brand vs the brand of the business’ in this Adweek editorial)  


Discussions about business models, business-level strategy and industry trends were perceived as “a fun change of pace” from the day to day work. And therein lies the opportunity. Training them to think with a business-first mentality is a key to developing today’s account teams into confident, proactive client leaders who can drive real value for the client and the agency.


Who within an agency is better positioned to become the SMEs of their client’s business than the account team? What could be more impactful than deep business knowledge in helping them to shift from a management/service mindset to one of leadership? And as business experts, how much more effective will they be as cultivators of growth?


Pre and post polling of this first cohort revealed significant gains in confidence. Confidence in their ability to speak the language of business and strategy grew by 9% and 25% respectively. Confidence in their ability to evaluate and get to the root of a problem grew by 15%, and confidence in research and analysis skills grew by 24%. Talk about finding new gears for accelerated growth! Confidence is a huge accelerant.


There’s no doubt I can make this new learning experience less of a struggle and more enjoyable through scheduling and more collaboration. But let’s be real, the role of an effective client leader is far from easy. Is it an enjoyable struggle? I say yes, and it’s kind of addicting, because we want to get better and better at it. So let’s keep developing the skills and business acumen of our young teams…we’ll all be better for it!


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