Many leaders say they want to "democratize" and "flatten their org charts" in order to "unlock the potential" of all their employees and their businesses. But it's often hard for leaders, especially founders and CEOs, to really let go of power and not feel the obligation to always be the smartest guy (or gal) in the room.   

The key for leaders is to make sure your team knows it's about them -- not about you, says Ogilvy Worldwide CEO John Seifert.  

"If you don't do generous acts of making yourself important to them, chances are you'll never connect with them," Seifert says. "Any leader has huge responsibility to live and walk in the shoes of the people you serve."

Seifert learned that lesson the hard way -- and his experience is worth examining for any entrepreneur who wants to become a better leader.

The 'Aha Moment' and the Path to Success

Seifert came to this realization when he was running Ogilvy's Thai affiliate in the mid-1980s, during a time when Thailand's economy sounded like many startups -- "chaotic and a rocket ship of growth."

At the beginning, he thought he was "supposed to show the Thais how smart I was and knew things they didn't."

But after a disastrous presentation -- Seifert recalls the Thais telling in a very respectfully way that "'nobody cares about your 100 slides'" -- he had an "aha moment" and realized "the path to success and leadership in particular is not...showing others how smart you are by doing things yourself, but what you can do to help others do their best work."

That experience "completely changed my perspective on how I could contribute," Seifert says, crediting it for his subsequent rise up Ogilvy's corporate ladder. It's also something every entrepreneur should learn.

When creating your own business, you often need to do everything yourself -- from managing corporate culture to overseeing cybersecurity. It can be hard to take a step back and let others assume the reins.

It's exactly what you need to do.

The Power of Real-Time Feedback

As the ninth chairman and CEO of the company and "the last one to be mentored by the previous eight -- including David Ogilvy himself," Seifert feels both a deep connection to the company's storied history and an obligation to ensure its future.

At the same time he's trying to "get everyone refounded in the beliefs, and point of view that made David [Ogilvy] so successful," Seifert is very much looking forward: Ogilvy is currently piloting an enterprise-level 'listening solution' created by California-based startup HundredX that gives employees the opportunity to give continuous feedback in real time about what is (and isn't) working at the firm.

"The whole idea is by using the wisdom of the crowd...you're able to amplify what's important to people," he says. "It gives you insight into [whether] something is broken, you can isolate the problem and fix it. You can [also] create a systematic way to recognize and reward those who are performing brilliantly."

The phrase 'the wisdom of crowds' is often associated with financial markets. But the idea that the brains of the many outweigh the brains of the few could fundamentally impact a business -- but only if those at the top can let go and listen.

Seifert believes this 'listening strategy' has "massive implications" to both transform Ogilvy internally and help it better serve its clients. If getting real-time input from employees at all levels can work for a company as large and complex as Ogilvy's, imagine what it can do for a smaller business like yours.

"If you can apply these insights and learnings to better deliver on the outcome your audience cares most about -- really closing gap to what it is you provide as value proposition -- you can deliver in a more consistent, intense, and systematic way," Seifert says.

Published on: Apr 23, 2018