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This article was originally posted on the BLACK BAG website a few years ago, but I migrated it over to HEIDI CONSULTS because I still believe it’s relevant. Enjoy. ~ heidi



When I speak to natural born leaders, most of them tell me that leaders are born, not made. But when I spoke to Michael Conrad, Founder of the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, he told me that only a small percentage of the world’s population are natural born leaders, which is far less than our industry needs right now. Considering that only a small percentage of that already small percentage of people will enter the communications industry, it seems to me that what our industry needs right now – more than another “new agency model” – is a Leadership Factory.

Or the Berlin School of Creative Leadership, although I’m certain that Michael would cringe at the comparison of his school to a factory.

Michael speaks from personal experience. He doesn’t believe he is a natural born leader. Not what one would expect the former Chief Creative Officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide to tell you about himself. But he claims it’s true.

“Leadership didn’t come naturally to me.” Michael said, “It developed over time. I’m not a natural born leader, I was actually a very shy person, but I came to understand very quickly, that if you let your shyness get in your way, you’re not going to get very far in any business.”

The Berlin School of Creative Leadership’s Executive MBA Programme breaks the conversation into manageable components and then gradually increases the scope of leadership as students’ comfort with the concept increases.

Initially, students are taught to lead themselves.

As Michael says, “These are people who have been assigned a leadership job, but they don’t yet understand that they’re running a company now, not just a department.” From Leading Themselves students move on to Leading Business Partners, Leading People, Leading the Enterprise, Leading the Product, and ultimately, Leading the Industry.

A desire to lead the industry is what created the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. In addition to teaching leaders with titles, to be leaders in action, Michael believes that strong leadership can play an important role in evolving our industry. “The output of most of the industry is mediocre,” Michael says “It’s, s a disservice to all the money spent by our clients. If we can strengthen the creative leaders, we might get somewhere.”

A thought obviously shared by the faculty Michael has gathered to help make his initiative of strengthening the creative leadership of the world a reality. In addition to including over 22 Professors from some of the world’s most renowned business schools, The Berlin School of Creative Leadership has also received a commitment from the following 48 professional faculty members who share Michael’s vision.

They are: Ron Berger, Cheryl Berman, Tom Bernadin, Ute Biernat, Lewis Blackwell, Rick Boyko, Michael Buckley (Board of Governors), Michael Conrad, Simon Clift, David Dangoor (Board of Governors), Craig Davis, Nina DiSesa, David Droga, Jean-Marie Dru, Fábio Fernandes, Miguel Angel Furones, Roger Hatchuel (Board of Governors), John Hegarty, Michael Hockney (Board of Governors) John Hunt, Bob Isherwood, Joakim Jonason, Anthony Jones (Board of Governors), Akira Kagami, Jon Kamen (Board of Governors), David Kester, Anne-Marie Marcus, Khai Meng, Andre Midani, Marcio Moreira (Board of Governors), Filip Nilsson, Toshiaki Nozue, Washington Olivetto, Piyush Pandey, Norman Pearlstine (Board of Directors), Keith Reinhard (Board of Governors), Stefan Sagmeister, Marian Salzman, Rolf Schmidt-Holtz, Elisabeth Schweeger, Tom Segerra, Jacques Saguela (Board of Governors), Marcello Serpa, Tom Stromberg, Joo Daniel Tikhomiroff, Rishad Tobaccowala, Sebastian Turner, and Mark Tutssel.

At first blush, the cost of the Berlin School seems steep. And the time commitment seems prohibitive.

However when I compare the cost of helping a creative leader become a leader to the cost of having someone in the role of leader not behaving as a leader, it seems like the best value in the community today.

I ask you:

What is the cost of having a person at the helm who might hold the title, but doesn’t behave in a way that is aligned with the title?

What is the cost of hiring someone into one of the most highly paid positions in your company and not extracting every possible return from that position?

Is the cost lost talent? Not something any company can afford to lose in today’s “war for talent” market.

Is the cost lost revenue? More than anything clients choose the people who work in the agencies they choose when they choose an agency. What if your clients chose the effective leader of your competitor’s creative department over your ineffective one?

Is the cost an undesirable impact on culture? My experience as a talent consultant has told me that the two main reasons that people choose to leave a company is a) lack of leadership, and b) lack of commitment to their personal development, or training.

This brings me to my final point:

Why should you invest the kind of money that the Berlin School of Creative Leadership costs in someone who is probably at your agency for mercenary reasons and will more than likely leave within the next two years?

Because the main reason that people stay at companies is because they’re growing professionally, they’re having fun (and learning a new skill is always fun regardless of age), because their company invests in their success, and because they are surrounded by inspirational leaders.

I assure you that no one will ever leave your company BECAUSE you invested in the Berlin School of Creative Leadership and helped them develop the skills they need to do their job better.

And with the same certainty I can tell you that the people surrounding your weak leader WILL leave.

Why take that chance?

~ heidi