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Where’s the beef? And where is there real leadership?

It was just another marshmallow Thursday in Hong Kong, and there I was after two hours of reflexology and then getting my chakras sorted out staring into the television set with different random thoughts galloping through my head when noticing that the quite overbearing Jimmy Fallon doofus was interviewing Richard Branson.

Though a reasonably short interview, it was a reminder of just how entrepreneurial the Virgin King was and still is, and, more importantly, what a charismatic, inspirational and creative person he is.

Listening to him talk about how Virgin Atlantic Airlines became a reality, and how far he has made the $200 given to him by his mother travel, made one remember that self confidence is such an important motivational tool and engine.

Often, having self confidence is everything.

Self confidence is about not standing on ceremony and waiting for others to help get you from here to there.

It’s about going out and doing the very best one can to get what you want- and on your terms- and not what you can get, or are offered, but obtaining what you really want and knowing what is the end game.

Listening to what Richard Branson had to say made me go back and watch that brilliant episode of “Mad Men”, where adman Don Draper taps into his past and makes nostalgia work for him when pitching for Kodak’s Carousel product.

Was he being manipulative or honest with his feelings? Probably both.

When in advertising, my mentor- the very much respected Keith Reinhard, below- was apparently one of three people who inspired the composite creation of the Don Draper character, someone who was a philanderer, alcoholic, and ruthlessly ambitious, but who kept his real emotions under lock and key.

He was also a naturally brilliant presenter who could read his audience, and to whom thinking up creative ideas on his feet came easily.

This last part must have come from Keith, someone with a brilliant creatively strategic mind who would frequently throw curveballs our way to test us, keep us on our toes, teach us mental agility and prepare us with the tools to handle any situation that lay ahead.

He was the epitome of good leadership by being inspirational, offering enough direction and seeing what the young talent he believed in could produce and whether this met the high standards he set.

It was separating the wheat from the chaff and Keith seeing who might eventually have the necessary skills when the time came for him to eventually pass the baton.

In other industries where I have worked, I have never met anyone like him.

Maybe a Keith Reinhard only happened in a certain era much like that explosion of creative talent that started in London in the Sixties...

One memorable thing Keith made happen was giving us a blank canvas at a creative workshop and telling us to forget everything we knew about our biggest client- McDonald’s.

The challenge was to rework the brand as if it was owned by someone else.

The team I was asked to lead had to think about McDonald’s under the ownership of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and what marketing opportunities this might offer.

This meant coming up with pretty much predictable ideas like having E.T. Takeaway meals, E.T themed restaurants etc.

One idea became a reality about a year later- promoting the dinner trade, something which was practically non-existent at the time- under the theme of “Close Encounters” romantic evenings to attract couples and young parents.

The point of mentioning all this is that standards of creativity have been allowed to slip and slide to dangerously low levels.

Leadership skills have dipped, and The Peter Principle has come into play, where mediocrity is rewarded.

Of course during these post pandemic times, leadership and management roles have been forced to change to meet new business challenges and look for opportunities.

This very possibly means a redefinition of what is considered “creative” though the need to be intuitively able to read the tea leaves remains.

The question is whether this has meant regurgitating old ideas that no longer work in the new abnormal, or more relevant, not having those capable of leading and successfully moving those chess pieces?

Being nice and easy going isn’t exactly what makes someone a good leader with vision.

Often, this only creates corporate laziness on all sides and which causes creative menopause and shrinkage until businesses crash and burn.

Perhaps these are the times to look at leadership that sees the importance in investing in the startups sector instead of trying to force feed something new into one’s own company?

This is where there might not be the right talent and which would need huge organisational restructuring.

The flip side of the coin is that there are no guarantees that any of this spinning of wheels and change for the sake of change will be a success.

Any signs of failure will only show the consumer what they will see as weak leadership.

With this will be a loss of confidence in businesses and where the tail starts wagging the big dog.

This has already happened in the music industry and it’s not difficult to see other industries showing their own problems and being openly questioned and criticised.

What happens next could be open warfare and where the lunatics take over the various asylums.

Guess it’s one way of bringing about change though not all change is good change.

Sometimes it’s chump change.

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