Points North: Guy Levine, CEO and founder of Return on Digital

David Prior's picture
by David Prior


Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.

This week it's Guy Levine, CEO and founder of Return on Digital. He argues that it's time for Leadership 2.0 - focused on providing real inspiration, not free cans of pop.

I’m in the people business. Every agency owner is. Every time a pitch is won or a client is retained, it usually comes down to the fact someone, somewhere had a great idea. If you are lucky, it was an awesome idea. If you are blessed, it wasn’t even your idea. Our currency is people.

I mean, hanging your hat on the fact you give someone unlimited free biscuits and fizzy drinks, come on. Sure, we can make a great environment but that is just table stakes now. I can just see it now... “Here lieth that man who gave free cans of pop to his team.” Is that how you want to be remembered?

When are we going to start caring enough to push our people way out of their comfort zones, giving them the feedback that is hard to give and hard to take? The feedback that is going to shape someone’s future? The feedback that might only ‘click’ three jobs down the line.

guylevineAnd there lies the leadership challenge. Can you care about developing your people enough that it might not even be you who gets the benefit? Or maybe you are happy making love but just can’t be arsed with the cuddle? Nice.

I had an English teacher, Mr Morris. He was a total git. He had high expectations, I didn’t, but he pushed me every lesson. And I passed. In fact, I have enough skills to write this now, kind of. My art teacher let me have a quick smoke in the art cupboard. She was cool. But when I think about school, Mr Morris made the difference.

What has to happen in our businesses to make a positive impact on the people’s lives who work for us?

Well, I’m not actually sure. I’m learning on the job. I’m not even one of those people who light up the room. Strangers scare me. I’d like to think more defines me that the ‘nice’ that comes out of my mouth. What I do know is that writing some motivational words on the wall like... ambition and expecting that to be enough is naïve. Expecting Gen Y to give a toss about the way we used to do it... well that’s naïve too.

It’s time to put our creative might together and create leadership v2. Have a purpose. Have a goal that scares everyone in the business. Pull together as a team. Don’t write generic words on the wall, create values that define you. Set the bar high every day. Be brave in your leadership. Don’t stop until you win. It’s a marathon not a sprint.

I once heard a great quote. “Men, love your women. Women, forgive your men.” In the workplace? “Leaders, inspire your team. Team, inspire your leaders.” Ambitions run high in our sector, but never forget to be inspirational. Inspirational enough to lead a team. Inspirational enough to be promoted without asking or leveraging another job offer.

If you are lucky, you may have an awesome idea. If you are blessed, someone else may have it.

Guy Levine is the CEO and founder of Return on Digital

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