Last week I had conversations with three agency founders in which they clearly knew the reality of a particular situation in their business, and knew what needed to be done about it.

But they were frozen, hoping for something (anything) else to magically happen, that would mean they wouldn't need to do it.

It reminded me of times when I failed to be the boss, as I wrote about last week, when I avoided:

  • tackling an underperforming new head of sales who seemed to believe intricate spreadsheets documenting activity were an adequate substitute for new contracts to sign
  • handling a client who kept undermining their own project with their chaos
  • disciplining an employee who was clearly taking the piss
  • addressing a conflict with a business partner
  • and more, so much more

In all these situations, in my early agency leadership career, I spent too long avoiding facing the reality or doing anything about it.

The thoughts about it would nag at the back of my mind at the most annoying times, but I still just kept hoping the situations would resolve themselves so I wouldn't need to have any difficult conversations or decisions.

That meant the problems only festered and grew. I would then finally have to deal with them as a crisis, rather than just a problem.

It's a natural human trait, wanting to avoid difficult and stressful things, trying to 'think positively' rather than actually do the hard work to create a positive outcome.

A key reason agencies stagnate is getting stuck in this avoidance, like quicksand. They sink into their issues rather than facing and dealing with them, and they end up putting all their effort into floundering around trying to get out of it rather than moving further towards their goals.

Part of being a boss, then, is keeping the business, and yourself, pointed towards the difficult things that need fixing, and actually doing something about them.

Success is just dealing with each obstacle as quickly and effectively as possible, one after the other, as you keep going towards your goals.

A useful skill for bossing it is to develop a nose for when you and your team are avoiding something. These questions can help:

  • What reality are people avoiding thinking about?
  • What are people thinking but not saying?
  • What are people saying, but only privately?
  • What do people know, but not do?
  • What are people doing to be busy, rather than do what really needs to be done?
  • What does 'someone' need to do that nobody is doing?
  • If you were given a truth serum today, what are the things you'd end up saying to people? Why don't you find a productive way to say that anyway?

Start by running through this list for yourself, then run through it for the wider agency.

P.S. This need to avoid avoidance is one reason why we help agency founders to set up and run an advisory board (even a virtual one), because it helps the CEO to focus on these kinds of questions and issues by having structured discussions based on the prompts in our briefings. It helps the CEO to hold themselves accountable, and to be the boss for the rest of the business.

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