2-10: "The Generous Leader" - Susan Credle

Susan Credle.jpg

"The Generous Leader"

Susan Credle is the global chief creative officer of FCB. She is original, open-minded and generous.

As the global CCO of a multinational agency, her job is to inspire, teach and hold to account a network of talented individuals most of who work in different cities than the one she calls home - New York.

Providing creative leadership to a large network brings different challenges. Building trust with people you see only intermittently is one of the most important.

Knowing yourself - your strengths, your weaknesses, your tendencies and, perhaps most importantly, your own heart - is a competitive advantage in any leadership situation. In a complex, organizational structure, it’s even more valuable.

So, this week’s theme is Self-Awareness.

And this week’s episode is called, “The Generous Leader”.


Three Takeaways

  • Openness to new possibilities, wherever they might come from

  • March to the beat of your own drum

  • Willingness to give your time and energy in the support of others


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-10: "The Generous Leader" - Susan Credle

Hi. I’m Charles Day. And this is ‘Fearless’.

Susan Credle is the global chief creative officer of FCB. She is original, open-minded and generous.

As the global CCO of a multinational agency, her job is to inspire, teach and hold to account a network of talented individuals most of who work in different cities than the one she calls home - New York.

Providing creative leadership to a large network brings different challenges. Building trust with people you see only intermittently is one of the most important.

Knowing yourself - your strengths, your weaknesses, your tendencies and, perhaps most importantly, your own heart - is a competitive advantage in any leadership situation. In a complex, organizational structure, it’s even more valuable.

So, this week’s theme is Self-Awareness.

And this week’s episode is called, “The Generous Leader”.

“I know that there are people out there that can't stand me, and that I've probably done, through their eyes, done terrible things, but I go to bed every night knowing I tried my best to be as thoughtful and generous to the situation, to the people involved as I can. And the times that I haven't, that's when I've probably tossed and turned the most.” 

The ability to see ourselves clearly is the work of a lifetime and perhaps beyond. One day, we’ll all know the answer to that question.

As someone who spends their days helping others to see themselves clearly, I know how hard it is to see what is often right in front of us - those incredible attributes that are so obvious to others and often invisible to ourselves. 

When we’re not clear about our strengths, we tend to focus on our weaknesses. When we’re not clear about our what’s in our heart, we tend to focus on what’s in other people’s minds. 

Being aware of your weaknesses and caring what others think are not bad things to occupy your day. And understanding your audience, is at some point critical to your success.

But if that’s all your thinking about, you’re dramatically limiting your own leadership potential.

If you want to unleash creative thinking in yourself and others, knowing what you’re extraordinary at and what matters to you is an incredible launching pad from which to start that journey.

The fact that you don’t know where it might lead, is, of course, the point.

Here’s Susan Credle.


Charles:

Susan, welcome to Fearless. Thanks for joining me today.

Susan Credle:

Glad to be here.

Charles:

What's your relationship with fear?

Susan Credle:

I think it's a little bit of ... I think what happens is as you get older, and you have more experiences, you remember the first time you felt that feeling, and you can't remember when it was. So, it must not be as scary or important as you think it is in that moment. So, when I look back, I can't remember when I was terribly, terribly afraid and yet when I think about what I've done and been through, there should have been times.

The other thing I think about fear is if you rethink what fear is you can actually turn it into excitement. So, if you can move from that feeling, feeling angst-ridden and into more butterflies, you just push it more to a positive place than a negative place. And also I know that we talk about it all the time that, that's where you learn. So, fear is actually maybe a moment to grow. So, I think it's reframing it but instead of it's going to pull me down, it's going to hurt me, it's going to bring me backwards, if you can reframe it as, it's going to be interesting, you're going to learn something and you're probably going to end up in a more progressive place, that helps.

Charles:

You actually just reminded me of something I need to reframe for myself for sure.

Susan Credle:

Reframing, it's a really interesting thing. Reframing is a powerful tool.

Susan Credle:

It really is. And I didn't realize it. And you own reframing, right? It just happens in your head and you reframe a situation that's negative into a positive and suddenly you start living that way. It's powerful.

Charles:

I think it is too. I read a post the other day on something that said you can choose every morning when you wake up how you're going to feel today. And if you go through a sort of positive affirmation process without getting too L. Ron Hubbard about this. But I think there's real fundamental truth in that.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, well, I remember, I've always worked at big agencies and I get a little frustrated when people talk about the big, big agency and I was talking to a friend of mine, Mick McCabe, and he's a great strategist. And I said, "Mick, how can we take big and not make it a negative?" And we sat around and talked about it for a little bit and then he just said the word abundance. He's like, "What if we're not big and heavy but we're abundant." Abundant briefs, abundant clients, abundant opportunities, abundant resources. Suddenly big seems like a pretty nice thing to be in this world. And just reframing big to abundance has helped me feel very proud about being with a large agency.

Charles:

It's such a powerful reminder because there really are two sides to every story and depending on how you choose to look at the situation makes a massive difference.

Susan Credle:

It does.

Charles:

What's your first memory of creativity growing up? When did creativity first show up in your life that you conscious of?

Susan Credle:

I think I was probably four or five and I was at my grandma's house for the summer and all the kids in the neighborhoods, we decided to put on Cinderella. To do the play. And I got to be Cinderella, I think. And I was probably bullyish about it, which is embarrassing. But we made the stage, we made the costumes, we did the story, but I think that was the first time I felt this thing of creating in a real world an imaginary world and I loved it.

And then later on, when we would go to the beach ... Now, this is really weird, because we would go to the beach and this was probably when I was around 12. We would get together with another one of my friends who became a fine artist but during the day we would create skits, sort of like Saturday Night Live. And so we were in the writer's room writing. I remember one was about a department store saleswoman named Miss Fatback. And all she said was, "My name's Miss Fatback, may I help you hon?" And we created a whole skit around that and it was basically a bratty little girl wanted clothes off a mannequin and the mannequin had layers and layers but the mannequin was actually my friend's older sister who was really 16, 15. So, basically, we were stripping her. And it finally gets down to she's in a bikini and then the mannequin comes to life and slaps the little snotty girl and runs off.

But I would feel such pressure, like in the writer's room, down in the bedroom. I'd be like, "It's not funny enough. We don't have a joke. We don't have the ending." And I loved it and hated it. You know? It was like, that pressure to ... And then we would perform it at night for all the parents. That was where I really was like, "Okay, I'm in the business. We're really making stuff and there's pressure. We have an audience and we have to come up with a story." But I remember thinking I loved it and was terrified. It just was ... And again, thinking about what I just said about fear, it was like, but we would get up and go down to the bedroom and write the skits for the next night.

Charles:

Did you like the writing, or the performing part?

Susan Credle:

I liked the performing.

Charles:

Did you?

Susan Credle:

Yeah. The writing's always ... I love writing when I get finished but looking at the writing, that blank page, it's hard for me. And I try all sorts of things to get over that. Once I'm in it, I adore it but it's just the getting started is very hard for me.

Charles:

How do you get started, because you're such an instinctive thinker. I mean, you think so organically and naturally in the moment. How do you start actually committing to paper?

Susan Credle:

Well, one of the things I've been doing recently is not writing. I just wrote a little story a couple of weeks ago and it had been in my head for a couple of weeks and I was like, "Susan, sit down and write this. Sit down and write it." And one morning I just got up and I was like, "I don't want to write it. I'm just going to record it." And so, I sat in my bedroom like a crazy person and pretended like I was giving a talk to people but I was telling them this story and so it's like, once upon a time there was this blah, blah, blah. And I just told the story. And some of it I knew what it was supposed to be and some of it I didn't and as I chatted and improv’ed with my fake audience, or invisible audience, or made up audience, I recorded it and then an hour later, that was what I started writing on. And then I started filling it in with nuance and interesting phrases and colorful language and it went really well.

So, I think I might have broken through and found a way to get started, which is talk to an invisible audience and get the skeleton of what I'm doing done and then go back and then do all the crafting of the story. But you feel crazy when you're doing it. Or I do. Like, I hope nobody's watching.

Charles:

I think that's a really interesting technique because I was just sitting here imagining myself doing it and the weird fear of standing, talking to nobody but imagining you’re talking to people, I think I would have a struggle doing that. When you're sitting in that moment, are you imagining actual people?

Susan Credle:

No, I'm more like an actor, so I'm imagining that I'm performing for some group of people. So, I'm not really having a conversation with them. I'm putting on a performance. And that I love to do. And yeah, so I just put on a performance.

Charles:

So, that's a different mode you go into-

Susan Credle:

Yeah.

Charles:

-essentially.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, I've just started it but I like the way it feels. What I found is that when I write, it's too intimate. Especially if it's creative. I think if you're doing an op-ed piece or something, I don't think I would do it that way. I would just start writing, because it comes from a rational place. But when you're truly trying to be creative, I think the first thing you want is that there's ellipsis. I mean, your synapse has to be firing and to not get in the way because you mistyped a word or, oh that sentence doesn't feel write. And when you're just putting it out there audibly, you don't have real time to think. It's kind of that free form. And you're giving yourself the space to go places you didn't know you were going to go. Because that's the best.

There was a great Ted talk, Elizabeth ... I'm not going to get her name right, right now, but she talks about the muse. Sometimes we confuse that we're the creative versus we're the mechanism for creativity to come through and I think when you give yourself that freedom that it's not about you being a genius and you being the creative, it's about you opening, physically giving space for creativity to pass through you. It's kind of interesting. I mean, it's a little heady but ...

Charles:

No, it's the author of Eat, Pray, Love, right?

Susan Credle:

Yes, that's right, Elizabeth-

Charles:

Elizabeth whom either one of us can't-

Susan Credle:

Sorry, Elizabeth.

Charles:

-actually remember in that moment. [crosstalk] Elizabeth Gilbert.

Susan Credle:

Yes. But she made an impression on me.

Charles:

Yeah, I was struck by her Ted talk as well. That notion that it's essentially a partnership between the external force of ideas. And she has that lovely theory that says there are ideas floating around, looking for owners essentially. Looking for people to actually take them-

Susan Credle:

Push them through.

Charles:

Yes, exactly. And if you don't grab it fast enough it finds another owner.

Susan Credle:

And I think that's why a lot of creative people, and not just in our industry, but they have to take time, find space and especially in advertising. It's the exact opposite. We have no time and no space. There's deadlines everywhere. And I do like a deadline because it pushes you to get started. But to not give the space for those ideas to pass through you. I think it could be dangerous to the creativity of our industry. And I think people either think, "Oh, you're creative, you can come up with something really quickly." It's like, not without the space.

Charles:

How do you create the space?

Susan Credle:

Well, it's interesting. So, my husband and I are getting ready. In about four days we're going to drive from New York to Montana in a pick up with a dog, which I think is crazy. And again, talking about, am I afraid or am I excited? I'm excited but I do think I've lost my mind. But ten hours a day in a car, at some point, those ten hours will turn into space that I will be trapped in a space that at some point I will have nothing but my imagination to entertain me. I'd say the first day I'll probably binge watch everything, then I'll play games and then at some point this will all become things that are uninteresting to me. And I think that the interesting thing will be something happening in my head.

Charles:

Are you conscious every day of looking for space?

Susan Credle:

No. No. And it's something that ... Again, thinking about it ... I wouldn't say that. I do spend a lot of time alone and I like being alone. My biggest thing is, it's going from what's inside my head to what actually makes it out into the world. Like, I write stories in my head all day long. They're like, oh, that would be a hilarious opening scene. That would be a fun thing. And then I go to bed and I'm like, "What were those things I was so entertained by today?" I was trying to write a book of ... Somebody said that the first paragraph or the first scene is the hardest part of getting started. So, I thought, well, I'll just write a book of first scenes. First acts. And then give them to people. Like, go, "Here."

Charles:

That would be gift.

Susan Credle:

Yeah. I remember one I wrote and it was about this guy who, when he gets off an airplane he tightens the seatbelt just a little bit more so that anybody who sits down has to unloosen it. And he's so thrilled with the idea of someone doubting the size of themselves and their weight and their girth. Even a thin person, because he makes it that small. And he loves that he's left an emotion behind that he'll never know what the experience was but he still left ... It's kind of like a not so mean serial killer. Just doing evil things. Kind of like in Amelie. Remember in the movie when she would put a smaller size bedroom shoe in the house or put the light bulbs in that had burned out. He was that kind of just little things in the world that would kind of hurt but not really hurt somebody.

Charles:

So, your mind is working all the time. You're just open to these ideas floating through it.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, I just don't do anything with it. I'm totally entertained all the time but I'm not entertaining anybody else. And that's a weird thing. Like, people will say ... I'll show them something I've written, they're like, "Why don't you publish it?" I'm like, "I don't know." The joy was in the writing of it and maybe that's selfish of me that the sharing is not as big of a deal. Maybe that's why I sometimes struggle to do the outward thing.

Charles:

Do you want to impact audiences?

Susan Credle:

I don't know. I enjoy having an audience and entertaining ... Yeah, I guess. I mean, I enjoy giving speeches, I enjoy doing these kind of things and chatting. But I think, sometimes it's more because I'm learning something about myself more than entertaining other people, maybe. But it is weird. Like, I don't have any major desire to ... I was talking to a friend of mine who's just really leaned harder into the fine arts and he said it was ... And this was just two weeks ago. He said his entire life, and I've known him a long time, that he was always drawing and doodling to get stuff out of his head and one day he realized that he could use his art to make other people happy. And so, he switched from it being therapeutic for him to purposeful for others. And he looked better and happier than I've ever seen him. So, maybe there's ...

Charles:

It's the evolution to come.

Susan Credle:

Maybe that transition will happen for me.

Charles:

What did you study in college?

Susan Credle:

I started in theater at UNC. But it's a shame. When people are drawn to the arts, I think a lot of our feedback is, that's a nice pastime. It's a nice thing to do when you're off on your own time. But it's not a way to make a living, it's not a career. And I really hope that anybody with artistic ability realizes it's such a blessing and a gift and just because you love it and you enjoy it doesn't mean it's frivolous but when I was majoring in drama, I loved it so much and I had so much fun and it came so naturally that I thought it was frivolous. And so, I left the drama school and I went over to journalism where I proceeded to flunk the first test and it was miserable and I thought, "This is the school I should be in. This feels like hard work." And I'm still glad I went to the journalism school and I learned a lot but it was a weird ... When I look back on it, it's like, why did the world make me feel that if it was hard it was worthy and if it was joyful it was frivolous.

And my niece is a beautiful artist and a beautiful writer. And she's going through that same noise in her head of, "I know I can't make a living as an artist." And I'm like, " You can. And at least you can get close. You can get close to creativity." Advertising's been a blessing for me in that way, which is, I've been able to perform. Write scripts, perform scripts, work with actors, work with musicians. So, a lot of the things that I loved about the theater I actually have been able to experience in my career. And I'm just thankful that I found a career that was, at the heart of it, or at least at some agencies, at the heart of it. Creativity was the power, was the product.

Charles:

Would you change your decision looking back? Would you stay in theater?

Susan Credle:

I might have. Yeah, I might have. Because, I actually believe ... I think successful people are successful no matter what they go into. I used to think, "No, you should never think that you would have wanted to go in theater, because you've done really well with the path you chose." But I think there's something about people that succeed that wherever they would have put their passion, odds are they would have been good.

Charles:

Found a way to express it.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, you need talent. But I think these are all relative. Like, I don't think advertising is that far away from theater and if you hone that ... And like, somebody goes, well why don't you just go back now, it's like, "No, I've got 33 years of thinking about advertising and marketing." But if I'd had 33 years of thinking about character and performance and my body, and training my body as a muscle to be used. Yeah, in 33 years, I might be successful.

Charles:

Get it back.

Susan Credle:

I might be able to do an accent.

Charles:

What drew you to advertising specifically, coming out of the school of journalism?

Susan Credle:

Well, thankfully it was in the journalism school, so as I ...

Charles:

Advertising was in the journalism school?

Susan Credle:

Yes, it was mass communications. And now it's called media and journalism at UNC. But it was studying marketing. And it's a state university. It's not like going to a specialist advertising, specifically honing your skills as a creative. But we got a taste of it. And I actually think that's what college is really about. I know we're all leaning into, you should have a vocation when you come out. I actually think, if you're privileged enough, really what those four years of college or liberal art should not be about walking out and getting a job. It should be about opening your mind and getting a little taste of everything so that when you do go out into the world and start thinking of what do you want to do, you have nuance. There are pieces out there that maybe tease you.

So, I got teased by advertising. And John Sweeney, who was one of my professors, had been a writer in advertising in Chicago and I thought it was so cool. And it was really interesting to think about ... I liked the limitation of advertising. The focus. It's like, you only have this much time. A TV ad. You only have this much space. A print ad or an outdoor ad. And that the limitation of that space that you had to create in was very exciting to me versus write a book. It's like, how long? I don't know, just write a book. That stuff doesn't ... I can't get started. But I love the boxes of advertising and then I love the brands, or kind of a character or an actor, a role. So, if you started to think about a brand, of like, how would it talk, how would it speak, how would it show up? And I thought that was really interesting.

So, I like that it had structure but it still had, what do we say? Freedom within a framework? It had creativity but it has structure. And it had a result beyond entertainment. Sell something. Ask someone to do something. Ask someone to participate in something. So, actually, they kind of are fairly close when you think about the skillset you're using and the way you're approaching it.

Charles:

And you jumped in at the deep end, right? I mean, you moved from North Carolina to New York and decided, I'm just ...

Susan Credle:

Yeah. There was a world in the Carolinas that was beautiful. But everybody sort of ended up on the same sort of path. And I thought it was a great path. You get married, you have children. You do all the ... Like, it's Christmas time right now. You do all the traditions

And you plan your year out, and it seemed quite lovely, but it also seems like I had seen it my entire life. And I thought before I do that, which I planned on doing. I thought I'd go up for ... to New York for three months, and then I'd come back, find a nice young man, get married, learn how to cook, be a great volunteer, have a few children, be a great mom, and watch my children repeat that. And the only part of that that worked out is, I found a great man. Nothing else. So right when you think you're planning your life, you're not. No, I couldn't have children, I never thought about having a career, when I was 20, 21. I was like, "I'll get into something and dabble in it for fun, just for the experience." But never was I like, "I'm going there." Which, is interesting.

But yeah, I fell in love with New York when I was 16. I came up for my birthday, and the city almost made me feel electric. I felt ... physically felt something, and I also think New York, if you're going to move somewhere New York is ... If you're not from New York, or if you're not from a place, New York is the most welcoming, because nobody is from New York. I mean yeah, I know there are lots of people that were born in Manhattan, but for the most part the majority are not. And so you really ... it does become your city. It becomes whatever you want it to be for you versus when we lived in Chicago, I felt like I was a visitor, because there's so many generations of Chicagoans there. And it's not bad, but I felt like it was their city and I was fortunate to be visiting.

So it's interesting. I think that's why people that are not from New York fall in love with the city, because it becomes theirs.

Charles:

How did the discovery that you couldn't have children change your view about what your was going to be like?

Susan Credle:

Well, I think that's when I doubled down on my career, because I was like, "If I can't have children, then I've got to take care of something." And I talked with my husband Joe, and I said, "Maybe this is going to be the focus." And he's been a great partner. He's never complained about me coming home midnight, or getting on a plane every week, or even moving cities, and then moving cities again. He's been joyful and excited to do whatever it takes. But yeah, I think that the children thing allowed me to put my career as a priority, but it also is bad because I think I did do that, I forgot about me a little bit. It became all about the clients, the agency, and I think I put my extended family further out, even Joe further and me definitely further out. I wasn't a priority in my life, the work was.

Charles:

How long before you realized that?

Susan Credle:

I'm working on it. I'm here in the country right now on a weekday. So look at me.

Charles:

Two days before Christmas.

Susan Credle:

Yes, look at me, taking advantage of a little space. It's hard, it's hard, and I don't know whether it's puritan guilt or whatever, but I think one of the things I always though is if I worked hard enough, I would be successful. So I think the opposite of that is if you don't work hard enough, you won't be successful. But I've had some family issues in the couple of years, and again it's not for me, but it's forced me to put those people in front of work. I think it's one of those things you test. I don't think it's hurt my performance, I think it's actually helped, because I'm seeing some human things that I think make me as I have to help people that are in the company, that are going through tough times, I think I can be more empathetic.

Charles:

Was that total focus on your career because you thought that's what was necessary for you to be successful?

Susan Credle:

Well, it's funny, I don't know if it was me being a success, it's that this company has entrusted me with pretty big jobs along the way, and I don't want to disappoint them. I think my hard work comes from not wanting to disappoint others, more than wanting to be some incredible success. But the irony is that when you don't disappoint others you become more successful. So try that, don't disappoint people and you will be successful.

Charles:

You got in at the ground floor into the advertising industry.

Susan Credle:

Yes.

Charles:

You have a great reference point for how you evolved your initial role.

Susan Credle:

It's interesting, there's so many cliches that are just so true. Like the, "Start in the mail room and work your way up." And that's really what happened to me. I gave the receptionists their bathroom breaks. What's interesting when you work your way up and do every role, again, this word empathy, you kind of understand the importance of everybody in the company. So even when I walk into FCB first thing in the morning, that receptionist, the woman who’s sitting there, or the man who’s sitting there, the way they greet me, the way that we have an exchange, they make me better or they make me worse, or they just make me nothing.

And I remember being that, and thinking, "I'm proud to be in this role. This is not a ... this is some ... it's the only job I could do." I really took that job very seriously when I was the person sitting there greeting people. And I think looking at every role, and understand ... I've played ... I've done almost all of them on the journey up, to recall the pressure I felt in each of those jobs, how you could mess up. Sometimes I think I felt more pressure when I didn't get the call to go the right person and ended up hanging up on somebody than I've ... the gut wrenching, "Oh my Lord, I just lost that person" than a client not liking an idea.

But I think it's nice to go back and even now, think about all those times that that job had so much pressure. And I think when you're up here you think your job's the big pressure one, not the other things running the company. But I think that's helped me as I've moved up, is the appreciation and understanding of how hard everybody in the company works for the company to be a success.

Charles:

What did you learn about yourself as you were moving up the ranks? What did you learn to depend on?

Susan Credle:

Whatever job I was given do it well, and do it with some personality. Even when I was a receptionist, was the floating receptionist, I knew every floor which floor I was answering for. So if it was Global I would answer the phone very much with a voice like this, "How may I direct your call?" But if I was on the Creative floor I'd be like, "Hey, what's going on, how can I ... who do you want to talk to? Who should I put you through to?" So I just tried, and I don't know if that made a difference or not, but I tried my best to make whatever job I was doing one that hopefully people would say, "She does it well."

But I also ... I do remember when I was a secretary and we were caught ... it was a secretarial job at the time, that I remember thinking, "I don't want anyone to think this is where I'm stopping." I do remember that, that I have greater ambitions to be here, and this could like a permanent job, especially in the '80s because there weren't that many women that weren't doing the support staff roles. And I remember being very clear that I didn't want to be there for very long.

Charles:

Did you set a target, did you set a destination about how you get to that?

Susan Credle:

Yeah I would do things. So when I was the floating receptionist, I decided to turn the agency into my own personal advertising university. So I did informal interviews with all the heads of the departments, and questioned them about what they did, how they did it. I've got to know ... I moonlighted at night for all the EC ... the Executive Creative Directors, and [inaudible] Berry, the Chief Creative Officer. So I would just type their scripts and stuff like that, but it was like a sponge, I could just learn so much. I'd ask if I could sit in on briefings, and people were so generous. The ECD's would be like, "Sure come in." And I was respectful, I didn't jump in and, "Hey, I've got an idea." But I just listened and watched. And so that's what I did when I was doing the receptionist work.

And then doing that I found out that I really liked the creative department, it was at BBDO, and if I'd been at another agency I might have chosen the account management department. But BBDO, the creatives really ... everything was in service to the creative, and I liked that, but it seemed like a good team to be on. And then I started seeing who was always getting their ideas through, and kind of understanding who was a better creative than others, and I just started hanging out with them.

And again, not being ... Hopefully I wasn't annoying, but just sort of saying, "Can I go to lunch with you? Or, can I see what you just did? Or, will you show me the pitch that you all went through?" And people were just ... I remember one guy he'd be like, "Hey, do you want to pick out the models for this Pepsi shoot?" And I'm like, "Yes." So they were really dear about including me, and I feel really fortunate that I was surrounded by people like that, that were enthusiastic for me versus just pigeonholing or not having any time for me.

Charles:

I do think there's a fundamental truth about it. I found, because I started in Media Mood into account management and then became a producer. And when I realized I really wanted to be a producer, and I knew very little about it except the things I'd observed, I went out of my way to go and ask people for help, and advice, and, "Can I ..." very much what you've just described. And was struck by how open and willing people were to share. And I don't think people are conscious of that very often, and don't ask often enough.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, it's ... If you're not ask ... Most of the time people in bigger positions are being asked for money, title, vacation. People want stuff from you all the time, and when people just want some advice, it's so ... first of all, it's so easy to give, and it's kind of refreshing. It's just sharing your experiences, and in fact, I think about for me, now, I forget to do it. To call people that I respect and say, "Can I discuss this with you?" Or, a lot of times now what I do, is I actually reach out to people I admire, and just send them a note and say, "I just saw you did this." Or, support, and it's my own way of putting myself out into another part of the industry that may not know me. And it's amazing what it means.

It was funny, I sent some bottles of champagne to a group of people that were being honored, I don't know, about a month and a half ago, and it was funny because a few wrote emails, and I don't know them, but I just said, "I thought your speech was great, it was really interesting. I've learned something. Congratulations on this honor." A few people wrote and said, "Okay, that blew me away, I wasn't expecting that." But was funny is, I ran into a woman at another event, and somebody goes, "Do you know so and so?" And I said, "Well, we don't know each other, but I did send you a bottle of champaign." She goes, "Was that you?" She was like, "I didn't know ... I couldn't figure out who this was, or what it was." And it's like ... Again, it's just another way of, "Can I have an informative interview with you, or can I just tell you I admire you, and some things you're doing I'm learning from?"

And I think when you let people know that, somehow it's got to be good for this world.

Charles:

I couldn't agree with you more. I've been really struck actually, in this podcast over the last 18 months or so. The response of when I reach out to people-

Susan Credle:

Right.

Charles:

-and the people are, I think with rare, rare exception, willing to sit down and share with this kind of intimacy, and this kind of honesty the things that they work.

Susan Credle:

Well, I also think give yourself some credit. If the podcast were boring and you were sort of flailing around in your questions, I think we'd all be like, "Yeah, good luck with that." So I think you do this very well. I mean we've had, over the last couple of years, we've had a couple of times to sit and do interview Q & A's, and again, when it comes naturally it seems easy. But it's not easy for everybody, and when you're being interviewed by somebody who it doesn't come naturally, it's not fun. So you've built a nice reputation for being someone that's easy to talk with. And I do think that any time you can have someone be interested in you, and curious about you, besides a therapist, you learn something about yourself. But this is sort of interesting therapy.

Charles:

Wow, you're kind to say that. I appreciate that, and thank you. And the broader point of taking a moment to remember ... I mean I think social media has deflected us from this kind of interpersonal connection, because we kind of use social media as an alternative, and we feel like we've had a like, or we've put a comment on somebody's post that there is a connection of sorts there.

Susan Credle:

Right.

Charles:

It has an impact, but there is nothing like reaching out into personally sending somebody something in a note, or just taking a moment to say, "Could you give me a piece of advice on this?" That's fundamentally what makes the world go around, and I think it's easy to forget that.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, and it's amazing how many people when I see them on social media, and then we actually have an offline moment, it's much more fulfilling. It's-

Charles:

The depth of the relationship.

Susan Credle:

-the cliff notes versus the book.

Charles:

Right. The three dimensional versus the two dimensional.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, exactly.

Charles:

As you look back on your career so far, clearly there's more to come, but if you look back on-

Susan Credle:

Thank you.

Charles:

If you look back on the lessons you've learned so far, what have you found is essential to creating an environment that unlocks creativity in other people?

Susan Credle:

I would say the number one thing is believing in them more than they believe in themselves. I really ... If I walk in thinking someone's not very creative, they're probably not going to be very creative. If I walk in thinking they're going to come up with something great, the odds of them coming up with something great go way up. And it's that art of possibility that when you believe it's possible, it becomes much more likely that it's possible. And so that to me, is the most important ... is believing in somebody. And then I think also giving them, I mean everybody says it, but giving people room to get their space again, but that also includes messing up and maybe not getting there as fast as you would want them to get there.

I give people a lot of time. I'm pretty patient when it comes to watching average creative get to brilliant. And over the ... I would say that sounds really a little Pollyannaish, but it's worked for me. I've seen ... Then again, it's that attitude adjustment thing, that I realize that I was creatives with a great reputation all the love, and I was giving creatives with the average reputation no love, and it was self-fulfilling. And then when I consciously started to reach out to what I felt was average in a more positive way, they became better. So I think that's ... And it's hard.

I mean I've just being doing year end conversations with CCO's around the world, and when I look at the employment survey, one of the things that comes up is, they just take care of their favorites. They just take care of their favorites, they just take care of their favorites. And that might be a winning solution short term, but I don't think it sustains a healthy company long term. If you're on the team, you're on the team.

Charles:

Difficult to create that mentality, but humans are parochial by nature.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. But I think if, and again, I don't know if everybody can do it, but I think that great leaders will do that. That they'll make everybody ... And my father and I love to discuss leadership, and character, and is it important. Is character important? And my feeling is that in the short term, character probably holds you back, in the long term it will be the thing you'll be remembered for.

Charles:

Hold you back in what way?

Susan Credle:

Because I think you have to make more human decisions. Not let go of somebody because it just suits you best in this moment, or, not be so brutal with decisions. Giving people time, being patient, it's the old Rabbit and the Hare. I mean the Turtle ... the Hare and the Turtle. But you might get to the place you thought you wanted to go more quickly, but what was the collateral damage along the way, and does that collateral damage in the end have much more impact than you ever thought it would? And so I think a lot of times people can say, "Well, she doesn't make decisions as fast as a leader should." And I would say the opposite, it's that I'm making decisions thoughtfully, and with humanity at the center hopefully.

Look I do things ... I know that there are people out there that can't stand me, and that I've probably done, through their eyes, done terrible things, but I go to bed every night knowing I tried my best to be as thoughtful and generous to the situation, to the people involved as I can. And the times that I haven't, that's when I've probably tossed and turned the most.

Charles:

Do you think it's possible to move too slowly?

Susan Credle:

Yeah. That's why I always work with people that move really fast. I choose my partners wisely, because I find that if I work with someone who's very fast, and abrupt, and quick and loves to make decisions and action, if we work together we actually go really well together.

Charles:

What else do you look for in a partner?

Susan Credle:

Ethics, values that are similar to mine, honesty, trust. And the minute those start to sort of wane ... And I really haven't had, when I think back about the people that have been my partners, I've been so fortunate. I've never had ... I've had some colleagues that I've been like, "Wow, that was the most unethical move I've seen ever." But people that I've worked directly with, my day to day partners, I've been fortunate to have very, very good values relationships.

Charles:

When you find yourself at odds with either a partner or a client, how do you speak truth to power in those situations?

Susan Credle:

I think that what I do is try to ... It's different for everybody, because you have to think about who you're talking to and what motivates them. So if I have a client who really doesn't listen, I try to go in and just say, "This thing that you do, I mean you can behave that way all you want, but let me tell you how it's hurting you, and how it's hurting what we could give for you." Whereas ... I'm trying to think of another situation I was in this year, someone who I think is very, very smart, but was making a decision I didn't believe was right. And that one I made a formal meeting, I didn't want to do it casually. I made a formal meeting, and we sat down

I said, "As someone who cares deeply about you, I'm worried about this decision." But they were very different, because they're very different people, and I have different relationships. I think if you treat everyone the same when you're in those situations, if you have one ... "I have my style and this is how I deal with people." I think you're missing out on success. Because I think every person is an individual that is motivated and moved, and behaves differently. When I'm talking to my CCOs, I'm very conscious of what I think their strengths are, and their weaknesses are, and where I could say something to somebody that would be very motivating, could actually break and hurt another person.

I remember when I was getting ready to take over. My boss was retiring, and he gave me the keys to his office, which was kind of funny to go from the bathroom break girl to getting the keys to the corner office from your boss of 24 years. It's a great moment. I said, "Do you have any advice as I step into your office?" He said, "No." He said, "You're a coach." He said, "Every one of you that worked for me, I had to learn what motivated you." He said, "If I told so-and-so he did a good job at nine in the morning, he'd be gone by 10. Thinking, "I did a great job." He said, "If I told you you did a great job at nine in the morning, you'd be here till midnight trying to prove me right."

He said, "So, I had to know what motivated him, what motivated you, what motivated somebody else." And that's what he tried to do. I think it was a great piece of advice that I'm not sure I would've ... And I'm not even sure I understood it when he told me, but now that I've had 15 years after that, I went, "Wow, that was really good advice." It's not about my style. It's about your style and what I need to say. Because the outcome is we want a behavior. We want you to do something. It doesn't look good if I'm just doing it my way. I need to do it your way.

Charles:

What the toughest lesson you learned about leadership? Or the hardest?

Susan Credle:

People will hate you. People will hate you, and it sucks. It's hard. There are going to be people out there that bully you and troll you. It's weird, because the advice when I say that is, "Well, don't listen to them. It doesn't matter." But it does. It does when you're trying hard to do a good job and you give a lot of your life to this journey. Like I said, I'm not perfect. I'm sure that justifiably I've done some things that I'm not aware of that affected somebody, and hopefully I did some, that I'm not aware of that affected them positively, and some that I did that didn't have quite the intention that I wanted.

But I think that's the hardest that you're in the spotlight. What goes along with that is, that you just want to be you, and be treated as one of the people. What you realize is, every word you say is amplified a thousand times. Every gesture you make, people are analyzing it, reading into it. I try to remember back when I used to do that for people in my position today, and I would. Every sentence they said I was like, "That's right, or that's wrong." I was judgemental and tough on them. So I get it, but it doesn't make it easy.

Charles:

Leading as a woman in today's world, in general, is really complicated. I had lunch with Kat Gordon last week, and said something to her that I think surprised her, but I think she believed it. I said, I say this occasionally, people think I'm just blowing smoke at them because they're a woman. I said, "I would really like to live in world that is led by women, because I think the world that's led by men isn't working so well." Ultimately I think we need to get a world that's led by women so we can get to a world that can be led by a balance-

Susan Credle:

Yeah. I might say that, I don't know if it's male and female, but I think there is male and female sensibilities. I think it's probably not that everybody has to have a vagina, it's more that where are those maternal, more maternal instincts? Where is the nurture versus the more aggressive, win at all costs? That kind of stuff. The money, the power. That to me is also society. It's like, what are your values? Power and money have become such, the driver. Like, did you set up a company because you wanted to do something brilliant in the world that would make the world better, that would be fun to do? Forget even just making the world better, but you would enjoy, that you would get lost, you'd have a great time in, or did you just do it because you want to make money and have power? I think where we've gone wrong is, the drivers have changed. I was watching a documentary on how Ashby ... It's Ashby? The editor/director. It was during the '70s, and I was just watching all those directors back then, and how they worked.

They weren't trying to make money in the movies. They were trying to make movies. You could just see the joy and the ... It was crazy in what they were doing, and they were insane. But they were driven by a passion to make movies, not a passion to make money. I just think we've got ... I think you're still going to make money, and you're still going to do well, but what's the driver of it will have very different outcomes, I think, for the world. I think, when I look at our country and it's like, where we started with freedom and not being stuck in some hierarchical society, and that if you worked hard you would have a chance. That's worth fighting for, right?

Charles:

Yeah. Justice for all.

Susan Credle:

Yeah, but just being the most powerful country in the world, it's not-

Charles:

And the richest.

Susan Credle:

Yeah. That feels off to me. But a place where if you're a good person and you do the right things, and you have to opportunity to have a happy life. And that's successful, happy. Which is kind of ironic too, is truly a successful life a happy life. I think probably. That's where I'm trying to shift to, it's like, oh, success is not about a title and how many times you get on an airplane, and how many people listen to you, or even what creative you put out into the world. Success is, are you happy?

Charles:

What defines happiness for you?

Susan Credle:

I think it's a feeling. I woke up the other day and I looked at Joe and I said, "I'm happy." He said, "What?" I said, "I don't know. I don't ever feel this way. I think I feel happiness." I was like, "It's just inside. It's not because the eggs were good this morning, or I had a good night's sleep. I just feel happy." I don't know what it was. Maybe in that moment all was right with the world for half a second. I think that happiness is not any one thing. In fact, happiness might be the absence of any one thing. But if you can get over, "If I could just have this I'd be happy." If you can just get to the point of it's like, there's not any one thing in this world that's going to really create true happiness, except just a piece of being. That was really deep.

Charles:

It was very thought provoking.

Susan Credle:

What the hell was I talking about? Where did I go?

Charles:

No, I think that's very thought provoking. What do you see as your responsibility as a leader, and does that change because you're a woman?

Susan Credle:

No, I don't think so. The leadership stuff that I was talking to you about, I would say that ... My dad and I went to a Gettysburg leadership course in Pennsylvania, a couple of years ago. It was absolutely fascinating to see, told through the battle of Gettysburg, told through the lens of character why character wins. I grew up with Dean Smith and UNC basketball, and the Carolina way. If you know the Carolina way, it's all about character. A war, a battle, and a male basketball coach are two things that I think of, and pressed upon me the way I like to lead. It's funny, because listening to this it comes off like I'm nice all the time, and I'm not. I'm tough on ... When people disappoint me, when they cross me, when they're not listening, when I think they're going the wrong way and they've had time to understand it. I do call it and say, "We're done now."

If I see behavior that they're doing that I think is going to hurt them in the long run, or hurt the company in the long run, I think I get pretty tough. But as a human being, whether I'm male or female, I don't enjoy feeling that way. I don't enjoy being the gruff, angry leader. I don't know if that's because I'm a woman, or it's just who I am as a person. I think at this point in my life, as a leader my job is to help other people succeed. The more successful people that are around me, I think I'm doing my job the right way. That's why when other people fail it hurts so much, because I feel like that's a reflection on who I am, or my ability to lead or not to lead.

I remember I was letting go of someone, and I said, "You know what? You're sitting there thinking you failed the company." I said, "The company failed you. You're talented. I just couldn't figure out how to ... This wasn't the right environment. I'm not the right person. Either I'm not inspiring to you, or I'm not good enough for your talent, but you'll succeed somewhere else." That person went on to succeed very well. My job as a leader is to create success in others.

Charles:

Do you think you have a greater responsibility to women because you're a woman? Obviously #timesup, #metoo, all of those things have created a massive focus on those?

Susan Credle:

Yeah I think so. I do. It's very hard. We were in a situation that the right person for the job was a guy, but the leadership team was mostly guys. It's like, "We should put a woman in there." But the right person is ... It's not just shades of right. It's a dramatic difference of right. I'm just going to have to make that decision, and take the social media angst, anger, or ire, or whatever that'll come with it. Again, I have to know that I considered a lot of people, and I believe this is the right person. I had a woman call me about a month ago. She goes, I'm going to get into so much trouble in social media, because I'm ... I don't want to give too many details, but she was putting a man in place, not a woman. She said, as a woman in this powerful position I'm expected to, but this is the right decision. I think that's a very shallow way to think about helping women.

To me, helping women means, like when I was on a call with people in very big positions, and as a woman I can be empathetic and say, "It's okay to feel like you don't have control of this." I don't think a woman would have shown that side of herself to a man. Likely they would've had to been, "Toughen up." I was like, "Just let go. You can be tender with me, I don't mind." Then the tears start coming. I'm like, "Don't you feel better?" It's like, "That's okay." Then all of a sudden the next time I see them they're like, "I am back with a vengeance." It's because they got in touch with ... I think that tapping into how females might feel that they don't ... And not all of them do. There are a ton of women out there that they don't have any water works in them, and that's fine too. I think helping women understand that they don't have to assimilate into a culture that they can bring themselves to it.

I think that's the one thing that I do as a leader. I think things like free to bid. I got called, before it was anything, and we talked about it, and I was like, "I can sell this in a heartbeat to every guy, every CCO out there, I think." There was only one that said no when I initially called. Like David Lubar was just like, "In, 100%, right now." No question. Coming from a woman, being able to say, "There's this cool thing." They respect me, I think, in the business to say, "I back this. This is not frivolous. This is important. It's going to work." Everybody was a yes in four days. Those are the kind of things that I think, it's not just about hiring more women, it's creating action for women that I think will have more impact. I remember one time I asked Cindy Gallup. I was like, "I feel bad because I think sometimes I'm getting the calls first because I'm a woman, second because maybe I'm good."

She said, "Susan, the first 20 years of your life you didn't get a call because you were a woman, and you had to work twice as hard to prove that you deserve that call." She's just, "Take the call." She said, "You're not getting the call if you're incompetent. But yeah, you are getting considered first, but 20 years of your career you were never considered first." That helped me a lot, which is that you're not getting the call only because you're a woman, but you are getting the call first because you are a woman, and be okay with that.

Charles:

Yeah, good advice, I think.

Susan Credle:

Yeah.

Charles:

How do you lead?

Susan Credle:

I probably would say that the way I lead is I, and this is just ... It's where I am as a leader now, not where I was five years ago, but I listen a lot. I actually like people to come to the decisions before I tell them what I think the decision should be. It's funny, Jose Moya of the community, I was giving a little ... I don't know if it was a talk, it was more a provocation of, is your agency starting to look like a high school where the seniors never graduate? My question was, how do you lead and give other exceptional people that are quite senior room to lead, but also don't give them so much room that they don't know what you do or don't feel like you don't have any value? I think that's a little bit of a conundrum with leaders is that you're either all over people that are ready to fly, and you're not letting them fly, or they're flying and they're wondering, "Where are you?" How do you manage those two things?

What I've been trying to do is, give people room to do their job, which means making mistakes, making decisions. We always say, "Oh my gosh, nobody at the client can say yes but the top person, and they're never in the meeting." If you're not going to be in the meeting, those people that work for you have to have the ability to say yes. Then I think the other thing is, what I try to do is ask, "What do you need from me? You're out there on the frontline, what can I do better?" I think looking that way, but the listening has been the biggest. It's advice I give to the CCOs around the world is, listen. If you don't listen, then fire your people and hire new ones, because if you're not listening to your people they're not good enough.

Charles:

One last question. What are you afraid of?

Susan Credle:

What am I afraid of? Not leaving this world with dignity. That's it.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three takeaways that I've heard.

Susan Credle:

Okay.

Charles:

I think contribute to your success. Let me throw these at you and tell me what you think.

Susan Credle:

Just drinking some vodka. It's water.

Charles:

The first is, I'm struck by your openness to possibility, to ideas, to thoughts, wherever they might come from. From yourself, from other people. You are constantly engaging, both with yourself and with the world. I think second is, you march to the beat of your own drum. At the end of the day, with all the input and all the things, all the external reference points and demands and requests and thoughts and suggestions and expectations. At the end of the day, it feels to me that you have really managed to navigate a path for this truth of who you are, and decided, "Come what may, these are the values that I want to live by. This is how I want to judge my life, including how I leave it."

Then I think third is, you bring in almost empathy. You are very conscious of the impact on other people. Not to the extent that you make poor decisions because you are indulging people endlessly, but I think you’re willing to create time for people. Your willingness to give people the ability to develop on their own, at their own way, and provide them with the kind of support that they need, is not all that common, I think. How do those three resonate with you?

Susan Credle:

Yeah, I think I've always ... I remember in the third grade the teacher told my mom, "I'm worried, Susan worries so much about everybody else, she's not going to take care of herself." That's a smart third grade teacher.

Charles:

But you clearly learned to do that.

Susan Credle:

Work in progress, as we say at FCB, never finished.

Charles:

Never finished.

Susan Credle:

Yeah.

Charles:

That's a wrap. Susan, thank you so much for being here today.

Susan Credle:

You're welcome.