Practical Tips for Becoming a Better Leader with Karl Sakas

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In this episode of Agency Advantage, Karl Sakas of Sakas and Company talks about how you can improve your management expertise as a leader inside an agency.

At Sakas and Company, Karl helps agencies grow without the usual pains. By working with hundreds of agencies, he has learned that you don’t need to be a great manager to start an agency, but you need to become one if you don’t want everyone to quit.

Because becoming a great manager is hard, Karl put together a pocket guide called “Made to Lead”. It streamlines the process of becoming a more effective manager for those leading marketing and creative teams inside agencies. He talks about highlights in his book and much more during my interview with him.

Grab the transcript of my interview with Karl.

Key Takeaways

Do less of what you did before

Karl points out that starting an agency requires a shift in mindset and responsibilities. As your agency expands and you start hiring more people, your role needs to change.

Suddenly, you’re not spending as much time in Illustrator or Word as you used to, and the focus of your job is more on the nitty gritty work of management. You need to ensure tasks get done on time by the right people and attract the best talent in your industry to work for you.

Moving into a management role can sneak up on you, but Karl argues that if your goal is to start an agency, you need to plan for this change. You can’t have your hands on every piece of work and be a manager. You need to to step back and let your team do their thing.

Karl understands that moving away from the work you love, like designing or writing, can be painful at first. So he says to allow yourself to grieve but not to try and shove yourself back into a role that’s too small for you. If you can’t bear to move away from the base level work, you should reconsider starting an agency.

Invest time in training new hires, or don’t

According to Karl, a manager’s main goal is getting results through other people, which starts with hiring. And there are two main routes here. You can either 1) hire inexperienced people with promise and train them from the ground up, or 2) you can “steal” people who are already leading lights in the industry.

The former is cheaper, but it takes a lot of time and effort. As a manager you need to make sure you have the ability to help your employees get to where they need to be. The latter is more expensive upfront but requires less investment of your time.

Either way, you must create goals for your employees. Understand where they want to be in their career — and where you need them to be — and help them get there through working for you.

Meet sparingly and with purpose

For Karl, every agency’s inventory is ultimately their team’s time. Therefore, you need to find ways to weed out inefficiencies.

Take meetings, for example. Every minute you spend in a meeting that isn’t necessary is a minute that could have been billed to a customer. If you’re not running meetings well, you’ve not only wasted your team’s time, but you’ve cost your agency money. Luckily, Karl has several suggestions to make meetings more efficient.

First, plan ahead. Think about what you could do outside the meeting. Are you bringing up a problem that’s only an issue for a handful of employees? Consider talking with them face to face instead of addressing it in the meeting.

Next, make employees come prepared. Have everyone write up where they’re at in a document that everyone can review before the meeting. Then the focus can be on actionable items and issues that need to be resolved.

Finally, make sure you have an agenda and enforce it. It’s important for employees to have some time to catch up at the beginning of a meeting, but be sure to bring everything back to the agenda. Don’t be afraid to rein in conversations that are going too long or are between only two or three employees.

Be needed, but not necessary

Karl reiterates the need to shift your focus as you become a manager. Yes, you might be able to finish a project faster than one of your employees, but it’s not your job. Your job is to teach your team to work without you.

In addition, make sure your team knows how to handle customer interactions. Remind them to build padding into work estimates. That way, a project is never delivered late, and sometimes it comes in early.

Also pay attention to what your employees need to work more efficiently. As a silly example, if they’re constantly asking you what time it is, install a clock in their office. Make yourself needed for larger problems, but not necessary for the day-to-day operations.

Resources mentioned

Win a free copy of Karl’s book

Leave a comment below and share your biggest takeaway from the show. On February 1st, 2017, we will randomly pick a commenter to receive a free copy of Made to Lead: A Pocket Guide to Managing Marketing & Creative Teams. We’ll ship it to wherever you are in the world.

  • Great episode (as always). Karl’s insights about accepting your new role as a manager is big for me. As the agency grows, we need management, new resources and systems for it, and it’s something that I look at as time sucking. However if looking at it as “my job” it completely shifts the mentality around those activities.

    In client services, email/communication/meetings are a big part of what’s needed. And there’s so much content out there about how to eliminate email and meetings so you can “do your job” makes it easy to forget that for some people, that IS the job. When you accept these things as part of the job, you can take them on from a much better and optimistic perspective and be happier and more successful.

    • Thanks, Todd—glad to hear my insights helped shift how you viewed your new activities!

      Although reducing email/communication/meetings is ideal, they won’t go away completely when you’re running the company.

  • Serena W.

    Karl’s advice on meetings was huge for me. It wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but just the idea of having an agenda and actually sticking to it should save us hours every single week. Thanks Karl and Andy!

    • Thanks, Serena! You’re right, most of it isn’t groundbreaking—but sometimes we need that timely reminder.

      In the 18th century, author Samuel Johnson wrote, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”