2-24: "The Boy Scout" - Eric Baldwin

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"The Boy Scout"

I first interviewed Eric Baldwin two years ago when he and his new partner Jason Bagley came on the show, 6 months  after they had been named to run Wieden + Kennedy Portland.

I wanted to talk to him this time about what he’s learned about leadership two years later with two agency of the year titles under their belt as well as being named Fast Company’s most innovative marketing company of the year and just this week being named agency of the year by the One Show.

We’ve worked together closely over those two years and Eric Baldwin is one of the most honest people I know. But even he lies. Which in his case is particularly surprising. 

Because Eric is a Boy Scout. Literally. 

Which is the name of this episode. “The Boy Scout”.


Three Takeaways

  • Define your impact. 

  • Honesty wins. 

  • Integrity matters.


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-24: "The Boy Scout" - Eric Baldwin

Do great leaders lie? Someone asked me this the other day and I think the answer is, it depends on your definition of lie. 

I first interviewed Eric Baldwin two years ago when he and his new partner Jason Bagley came on the show, 6 months  after they had been named to run Wieden + Kennedy Portland.

I wanted to talk to him this time about what he’s learned about leadership two years later with two agency of the year titles under their belt as well as being named Fast Company’s most innovative marketing company of the year and just this week being named agency of the year by the One Show.

We’ve worked together closely over those two years and Eric Baldwin is one of the most honest people I know. But even he lies. Which in his case is particularly surprising. 

Because Eric is a Boy Scout. Literally. 

Which is the name of this episode. “The Boy Scout”.

“I feel like my whole career ... and this is something I was surprised to hear Dan tell me once that he would do this too. I realized that the person I think I am is not the person that can do all the things that I want to do. So I just sort of pretend that I'm that person that can do those things.”

As you’ll hear in our conversation, honesty is central to everything Eric does. As are the Scout Laws. 12 behaviors that are supposed to guide you through life. 

In Eric’s case, the short-term lie he tells himself allows him to pretend he’s someone else, until he becomes that person. Amy Cuddy in her TED talk describes faking it til you become it. And I think the best leaders do that all the time. 

Because the best leaders understand how they need to show up in order to be the leader they want to be.

Is it a lie to “fake it until you become it?” To some people I guess. But I don’t think so. Telling ourselves a story to get us past our own fear is a necessary part not just of leadership but of human evolution. Otherwise, we’d all still be living in caves.

I’m not naive. And human beings are fragile. Everyone - almost everyone - is dealing with some kind of fear. 

But, I do find myself frequently reminded of the extent to which that fear drives some leaders to some truly terrible business decisions. 

Fear makes some leaders lie. And they lie because they are afraid.  Of failing. Of being found out. Of not living up to their own image of themselves or the one they have painted for others. And then they lie to themselves and convince themselves it wasn’t really a lie. And they stack another lie on top of that one and another. Until the whole edifice is literally built on lies. And unraveling one brings the whole thing crashing down.

One of the reasons I started the podcast was to shine a light on what leadership looks like up close. 

The reality of living day to day with the challenges of unlocking the world’s most powerful business driver - creativity - and the difficulties of unlocking our own potential as leaders. 

And what I’ve seen is that the best leaders, the leaders who don’t just drive results, but who empower others. The leaders whose success withstands peeling back the veneer and looking at the truth, those leaders try very, very hard not to lie. 

And if, occasionally they succumb to the pressure and the fear, and do lie, they don’t compound the problem by lying to themselves that they didn’t. They push themselves to a higher standard so that they can, hand on heart - say what they mean and mean what they say.  

And that doesn’t just drive business results. It doesn’t just empower others. It doesn’t just unlock the power of creativity (which dies in lies). 

It allows those leaders to look themselves in the mirror - every day and on the final day  - and see the truth. 

And smile.  

Are you willing to lie in order to succeed?

Or put another way. What matters to you? And what’s that worth? 

Here’s Eric Baldwin.

Charles:

Eric, welcome back to Fearless. You are in fact my first return guest, I'm happy to say.

Eric Baldwin:

Oh, wow. I didn't realize that. That's exciting.

Charles:

So thanks for coming back on the show. Before we start actually, I wanted to tell you, I've been meaning to send this to you for the longest time. I was in an antique shop, about four months ago. There were a pile of books on the table, and I came across one that I bought for you, and I'm going to send it to you. It is The Boy Scouts' Defiance, one of the Boy Scout Series Volume 10, published in 1912, by Colonel George Durston.

Eric Baldwin:

Oh wow.

Charles:

I've read the first few pages and I have to say, it looks like a pretty gripping story.

Eric Baldwin:

That sounds amazing. I thought you were going to say Colonel Baden-Powell who is the founder of the Scouts.

Charles:

No, clearly somebody, this was an early example I think of integrated marketing on behalf of the Boys Scouts, clearly.

Eric Baldwin:

All right. I can't wait.

Charles:

I'll send you that.

Eric Baldwin:

Well, thank you.

Charles:

You were in fact a Boy Scout, right?

Eric Baldwin:

Yes, I was a Boy Scout. I am an Eagle Scout, Eagle Scout being the highest rank you can achieve in Scouts, and you have to do it before you're 18, which was a good thing because when I was growing up, being a Scout was not a very cool thing to be. So, I earned my Eagle by the time I was 17 so I could get out of it as fast as I could, because the hazing was just not, it wasn't enjoyable.

Charles:

Why did you decide to join? What drew you?

Eric Baldwin:

My dad was in Scouts and it was something … my dad worked in advertising, and so he wanted to use that as a way for us, I have an older brother, my older brother and I to be able to connect. I think it was an important thing to him, and it just became a fun thing for us, learning all the things that we learned. He had made it to Life, which is one rank below Eagle, and he always regretted that he never made it all the way to Eagle, so my brother and I were bound and determined to make it all the way to Eagle. Yeah, my brother and I both are Eagle Scouts.

Charles:

I know that there are a list of rules, right? Or behaviors. How do they describe them?

Eric Baldwin:

Well, there's so many different sayings in Scouts that I still use today. "Do Your Best" is the Scout motto, which I love. I love it because it ties in with my nerdy love of Yoda, so, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Ties in with that. Then, there's the Scout oath which is a longer piece and then there's the Scout law which there are 12 points of, and they're 12 things that you're suppose to guide your life by.

Charles:

Can you recite those?

Eric Baldwin:

I can. A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Charles:

It actually sounds like a pretty good frame of reference for leadership, actually, as you say it out loud.

Eric Baldwin:

It's interesting. I've always been proud of the fact that I'm a Scout and as a creative director, I didn't really spend much time thinking about leadership as I do now. It occurred to me that those were the principles that I've always, whether consciously or subconsciously, I've always followed those principles and they've always guided me in my decision-making and the type of person I strive to be.

Once I became the Executive Creative Director of this office, and started thinking more and more about leadership, I realized how much those bits are crucial to the way that I try to lead, and the way that I hope to show up to people. Not just in this office, but in my day-to-day life.

Charles:

I want to come back to that, because I think it's a really interesting context and reference point. I think when you and Bagley were on the show, you were what, four or five months in to taking over the ECD roles of Wieden Portland, right?

Eric Baldwin:

Yeah. I think it might have been six, but right around there.

Charles:

What have you discovered since we had that last conversation? What have you learned about being a leader over the last two years?

Eric Baldwin:

Wow. I've learned a lot. I feel like I was a newborn infant when Bagley and I both, when we were on your show last time. I've learned how powerful our words can be. People really listen to everything we say very carefully. We learned that hard and fast at the very beginning. But the biggest thing I think that I've learned, is that showing up in a way for people in this building that helps them, that helps them grow and helps them make the work that they want to make, and that's different for everybody.

Some people react to loud help and other people need to be more nurtured. So, trying to find out that about all the people that I'm working with closely, and trying to find ways to help them just make the best work that they possibly can.

Charles:

Was that an evolution for you in terms of how you learned? I mean, when you were a creative director, did you have that same kind of interpersonal connection with everybody? Were you as conscious then about trying to find different ways to engage and to encourage and to guide?

Eric Baldwin:

I don't think as much. I think I might have been a little bit aware of it, but it was much more so my style, take it or leave it. I'm sure some people didn't want to work with me because of that, and other people may have wanted to work with me in spite of it, and other people might have been drawn to it, but yeah, I definitely feel like it's been a pretty big evolution in realizing, it's a big place.

I went from managing three or four accounts to the tune of like 25 million, to now managing the entire agency and now we have 26 accounts in this building, and a lot higher stakes. I think that going from that scale into the larger scale and realizing that it's, of course my remit as a creative director are creatives, but there are also account people and planners, and media, and design, and production, all across the board. But it's at a much smaller scale and you get into a rhythm where you're with the same people all the time and everybody gets to know you and they understand your style and know where you're coming from.

In this job, the time is much shorter with people. So, trying to be able to make an impact on a 500 person organization is a challenge. Everyone's better when they're one on one. Everyone's better in a small group than a large group, I would assume, in terms of being able to get to know them. When there's 500 people and 500 fires every day, finding that time is a bigger challenge, so it takes longer.

But I feel like it's been important and as people have started to know us, and as we've started to get to know them and their working styles, we've definitely seen a huge shift in the morale and the culture of the building from the time when we started.

Charles:

I think it's such a good point that the idea or the concept of personal engagement is really fundamental, I think, to successful leadership. I'm also struck by the fact that not everybody gets to that understanding either very early or sometimes at all. I mean, I think you naturally are drawn to wanting to engage what people one-on-one, right? You like that situation. I think that approach for you works really well, because you're straightforward, and so it gives people reason to lean in and to trust, but I think there are definitely leaders for whom actually engaging one-on-one is harder, because they don't enjoy that as much.

Eric Baldwin:

I think smaller groups for me have always been better. I always get it backwards. I think I'm an extroverted introvert. At my core, I'd much rather be a hermit and hiding in a cabin in the woods somewhere. The smaller groups are more enjoyable for me because surface-level conversations aren't satisfying and if I don't know the person, if I don't know what motivates them, if I don't know what they want to make, what type of work they want to make, what they want their work to say, if I don't know who they are, it's a lot harder to help push the work and bring the work out of people.

Yeah, I think being more tighter with groups is definitely my style. I'm sure there are other leaders out there who are less interested in the interpersonal and more concerned about the big picture, but it doesn't feel as fulfilling to me to be at that high level, and not seeing things click for people, not seeing the discovery people make and the excitement they get as they're coming up with an idea that's going to solve this complex problem. The touch-and-go, high-level stuff, feels a little bit empty to me, personally.

Charles:

It's also, I think, interesting to hear you talk about the way that you look at yourself now and the kind of impact you're having compared to what that looked like to you when you were a creative director. The definitions of success for a creative director are pretty specific, right? It's the work that comes out of your groups and the people that are working for you.

Eric Baldwin:

Yep. Yeah, that's it. It's a very clear measure of success. You're either making great work that is moving a client's business, or you're not. You could be making great work that a client won't buy and that is equally as important, but yeah, it's a very easy-to-see goal at the end of the day. "Okay, I made that thing, it was good, it got attention. The client made money. Everybody's happy." It's not always as clear, what is the sign of success in this job?

Charles:

What have you learned for yourself in terms of how you define success now?

Eric Baldwin:

I think what I've realized is that going back to that closer connection, it's seeing the breakthroughs in people, it's seeing people do things that they didn't believe they could do. Seeing work be sold that they never thought could be sold, you know? Showing them how to … helping some of the younger talent just learn how to be tenacious and keep pushing ideas. I've found that when I'm in that tighter space, I'm able to impact that more and it is way more fulfilling, because I can see the results in the people and at that higher level, it's harder to see that. I think you don't really have a grip on exactly 100% what your impact is, as a leader, if you're not, for me at least, if I'm not in there, seeing the successes of the people, it gets a lot harder.

Charles:

When your day is done and you're reflecting back on, was this a good day or was this a bad day, what's your definition now? What makes you decide, "I felt like I made a difference" or, "This was not a great day"?

Eric Baldwin:

I would say it just comes back to that connection, if I feel like I've connected with people and we've made progress. It doesn't have to be selling an ad or selling a non-traditional piece of technology or something like that. It doesn't have to be that, it just has to be seeing people make progress. That's a good day. That doesn't happen every day.

I think there are moments where you have a good … you'll have a bad day but you'll see a good stat, you know? Like yesterday we saw that we've increased over the past, just the past year, we've been in this role for two years, but in just the past year, in the creative department we've seen an increase of people of color, and of women in our creative department by 10% on each category, which was huge to us.

It's not finished by any means. Yesterday was rough, but I can find those ... You have to find those things, I think, to glom onto, to realize, in the aggregate, a year, later this is the work that we've accomplished. It's interesting because it used to be pretty clear-cut what was a good day, what was a bad day. I think because there is so much that we have to cover in this role beyond creative, larger office decisions, dealing with just people who need help in general.

There's just a lot more, the remit's a lot broader. You might have a day ... it's more roller-coaster-y, I guess. You're going to have some high points of a day and some low points of most days, it feels like.

Charles:

Do you take everything personally?

Eric Baldwin:

I try not to. I try not to. I'm getting better at it. I used to be … everything weighed on me quite a bit, because I want to ... I've always been, even as a little kid, I've never wanted to let anybody down. What's extra painful is unknowingly letting someone down. Those are the things that I'm still working very hard to not hold myself personally accountable for and beat myself up about it.

But yeah, it's tough because you want, if you go back to those 12 points, you want to make sure you're showing up like that for everybody, but if you let somebody down, you clearly haven't done that.

Charles:

Do you use those 12 points consciously or are they an implicit part of how you want to show up every day?

Eric Baldwin:

I think they're implicit. I find them more and more as I've realized that, I find them coming up more and more in the back of mind, during decision-making. They'll come to the forefront and guide decisions. I don't know if that's a conscious thing or a subconscious thing, it just feels like it's the flow, you know?

Charles:

Do those constitute a leadership philosophy? I mean, I've talked on the podcast fairly recently actually, about the notion or the fact that I think a lot of leaders think they don't have a leadership philosophy, but when you ask them how they try to show up and how they behave, they start to say things that actually demonstrate they do. Do these 12 rules provide the foundation of a leadership philosophy of sorts for you?

Eric Baldwin:

I don't know that I would have articulated it that way, but I think so. I always struggle with, and we've talked about this before, I always struggle with, when people ask for a vision or leadership, "What's your leadership values? What's your leadership qualities?" I think my Midwestern-ness makes me want to shy away from the thought that I could have such a thing as a vision, or what drives me as a leader. But yeah, I think if I probably sat and thought about that and pulled that back, that's probably the foundation of it.

Charles:

Your reticence to provide a vision or define a vision, that comes from what?

Eric Baldwin:

I think at Wieden specifically, because of the vision, in my mind is set, and it's simple. It's not my vision, it's Dan and Dave's vision for what they wanted for this company. I think Bagley and I tend to think of ourselves as stewards of that vision, and our goal is, to stay on the scouting theme, the national parks, “Leave it better than you found it.”

That's the goal in this job, and it's not to change what the vision of the agency is, it's to evolve it and expand it and continue doing the best work and making it all about the work, and making an impact on culture, and having people from different backgrounds with different voices, giving them the opportunity to use their voice. That's a big part of keeping the work interesting.

Charles:

Is that where you tend to focus is on helping people figure out how they do that?

Eric Baldwin:

Yeah, and that's at least been at the start of our time in this role, Wieden being known for film for so long, being experts at it. How do we make sure people see us showing up as ... with the same incredible level of idea and execution and craft as we've been known for in film, and how do we do that and other things? The agency has always done that. But the expectation prior to Bagley and I are having this job, the focus and the accolades seemed to go mostly towards film. For Bagley and I, making film is great, but it's the other stuff that is exciting because it's new. The chances of doing something that's never been done before greater. So yeah, that's really is where we've been spending the most of our time. How do we help people learn to push themselves and come at ideas from different ways?

Charles:

What have you found to be the most effective ways of doing that? How do you get people to start to move in different directions? Particularly as you said, when you're dealing with 4-, 5-, 600 people?

Eric Baldwin:

Yeah. It's I think we have a lot of really good creative directors here that have grown up here and even some that have traveled around to other offices and come back, that have that in their DNA, that know implicitly how to get to those ideas. Then there's, of course, as the company grows, new people come into the agency and maybe don't know exactly how or why or if they should be making work. A lot of people come here and they think, “I'm going to make Wieden work now.” And they stop thinking about what kind of work that they want to make? What is their voice, what is their role in that? And they try to sort of adapt to a Wieden style and it never works.

You'll see that especially with Nike, people will come in and try to, “I'm going to write a Nike commercial,” in finger quotes. And it never works out, because the reason Nike is powerful is because those writers and art directors and creatives and producers, they're all channeling their voice and their passion. So I think where we've been able to get in tight on that has been on new business pitches and some of the accounts that we initially run when there's no bandwidth for our creative directors. For us it's just teaching by showing, throwing ideas on the wall.

Talking about ideas that are different than scripts. Trying to get people to understand that it's just about putting work on the wall and finding the idea through great work. And that doesn't have to be a script. That can come in any shape. And so I think that’s really where I feel like it's been the most effective, is when we're in the room, teaching by doing.

Charles:

That's actually a great segue actually to an area that I think a lot of people struggle with, particularly in the creative industries, when they've had really significant and public-facing success as you had. I mean, you've been responsible for a part of producing and creating some of the most visible, recognized work in the last decade, and obviously there's an ego boost that comes with that recognition and the achievement of it. Has that been hard for you to walk away from or to become less attached to? It's obviously now, to your point, it's the work of other people that you're trying to encourage and much less your own. Has that been a difficult transition?

Eric Baldwin:

It's only been difficult in the sense that, to go back to the earlier conversation around what is the measurement of success? It's taken me time and I'm still trying to find, how do I define success for myself and how does Colleen define success for Bagley and I? But in terms of missing out on any of the accolades or the “glory”, I don't miss that. I never really enjoyed the press part or the award part of it. I've never been concerned about that. It's more about making ... For me, it's just always been about making great work that is effective and I know that sounds cheesy as a creative to say that I want my work to be effective, but I don't know what we're doing if it's not.

Sometimes it just isn't received well or it isn't placed right. And so I'm not saying that those projects that I've worked on, that the client pulled a budget at the last minute or whatever it was, maybe they fired us after the work we made, like Maxwell House. But that was good work. So I was proud of the work. That was really all I needed. To be able to say, “Look at this cool thing that I was a part of making.”

Charles:

Do you miss the craft aspect?

Eric Baldwin:

I do and I don't. I waffle on this because, I started as a graphic designer and even as an art director, I would still try to do as much design and craft that I could possibly do on my own. I never felt entirely satisfied by what I would make. And I always would assume that someone else could do a better job or have a different approach to it. So I was never even too precious about my craft. I've made a lot of things, but I think as I've grown, I realize that there are people out there who are much better craftsmen than I am at this point, crafts people at this point, than I am.

And I should just leave it to them. And my job is to show them the path to making it ... Helping clear the way in terms of any sort of obstacles internally and with the client, that's more my job now and less about getting in and making the things. It's fun to talk about, of course. But like I said, I would rather hire some talented people to do it instead of me because I think they could do it better.

Charles:

So when somebody brings you work and you're responding to it, you're not inclined to give them specific advice from an art direction standpoint. You're happy to give them strategic advice or help them think about it in a different way. But the actual act of the craftsmanship of it is not something that you're drawn to. It's funny. It's interesting because I talked to a number of different leaders for whom the separation of themselves from the thing that got them to where they are today, is a difficult step for them to take. You'll find people running big companies who are still in their head trying to rewrite copy for instance. That has not been an issue for you?

Eric Baldwin:

So I will say, if an example of craft is giving art direction, I absolutely do that still. But when it comes to actually sitting down at the computer or grabbing a pencil or going on a shoot or making a mood board, those are the things that I used to love doing but didn't find satisfaction in, because I didn't think it was good enough. So I've removed that part. But I can ... Guiding and giving art direction and doing those things, I still definitely do that, but I'm just not getting down in the weeds and doing the actual making.

Charles:

You talked about learning the lessons of the reality of how powerful the leader's voice is and that voice shows up, not just in what you say, but in how you behave. We talked about in the past that an eye roll in the wrong moment can have an incredible impact on people's perceptions of somebody's leadership. What are the toughest lessons that you've learned?

Eric Baldwin:

I think the toughest one was just that the style, the myopic style of creative direction that I had, doesn't work for everybody. The approach ... I can be loud sometimes, bombastic…. I don't know what words people would use to describe me. Obnoxious maybe. I can think about that radical candor book and she talks about how radical candor is a quadrant you want to be in. But if you're not going to be in the radical candor quadrant you should be in the obnoxiously aggressive quadrant. I think that was me as a creative director. So I learned ... Yeah, it doesn't really work for everybody.

Charles:

Did you realize that that wasn't an effective, realistic approach from a leadership standpoint through experience? I mean, how did you understand that you had to evolve stylistically?

Eric Baldwin:

Yeah, it was through experience. I think just hearing the impact my behavior would have on individuals, going back to that - If you ever want to make me feel bad, tell me that I let you down and I'll learn pretty quickly.

Charles:

What about the flip side of that, which is the danger of overreacting to input. I mean, obviously, you get a lot of input, right? When you're leading. A lot of people have a lot of points giving you a lot of opinions about what you're doing, both positively and negatively. What have you learned about how to respond to those kinds of inputs?

Eric Baldwin:

It's tough. I mean obviously talking with you has always been helpful in that regard, to have somebody to help center you in terms of that's a valid thing to talk about, a valid thing to talk about evolving your repertoire with ... Or that's just something that's arbitrary. Of course you can't be everything to everyone, and everyone knows that. But everyone wants you to be at the same time. I've tried to do the best to just remove the obnoxiously aggressive part of my personality broadly and work personality I should say, from a more broad standpoint. And it's not to say that I'm taking every single piece of feedback and addressing it.

Everybody's going to have an opinion and if it's not a resounding opinion, if I'm not hearing it from a bunch of different places, then it's probably ... Maybe that person just doesn't like me and that's okay.

Charles:

Has that become okay to you? Can you live with that reality that maybe somebody doesn't like you? And ...

Eric Baldwin:

I think ... Yeah I struggled with it initially, thinking that ... I don't know if it's necessarily that people didn't like me, but more so that ... I think it was because I didn't feel like I was understood as a leader in the early days. Now I'm feeling more so with the exposure over the past couple of years, I feel like people know what to expect from me in a good way, that they know where I'm coming from and I think they know what my intentions are. At least I hope they do. That was a bit of my obnoxiously aggressive behavior is that, I used to not care if people liked me or not.

If you can believe that, I was on the opposite end. I just didn't spend time, too much time worrying about that. I wasn't actively trying to make people not like me, but I just ... I'm not for everybody and that's okay. That's come back full circle at this point for me, I think.

Charles:

Occasionally, I've had people that I work with, put together what you might describe as this leadership contract. I think one of the challenges for people moving into leadership positions is that, they tend to worry a lot about how they need to adapt and evolve in order to get the best out of the people that are now working for them. Obviously, as you've been talking about, all of that's true. But the flip side of that is also, being able to draw a line around who you are as a leader and how you're going to show up, and what you need from people in response to that.

So this leadership contract is essentially a statement that says, this is what you should expect from me in terms of how I can help you best. This is what I need from you. This is the best way to get me to help you. If I were to ask you that question, I don't think I ever have asked you that question. If I were to ask you the question of, what do you need from people around you in order for you to be the best leader you can be, how would you answer that?

Eric Baldwin:

I think the biggest thing is, I want people to have fun. I don't know why we're doing this job, if we're not doing it for fun. It's not heart surgery or anything that serious. I want people to come into the room expecting to have fun, even if as a creative director or an executive creative director, if I kill all the work, I still want people to feel like they had fun. I think people come into rooms a lot of times still, very serious and trying to be very professional. But using your voice, giving me your opinion, giving it to me straight, tell me when I'm ... Call me out when you disagree with me.

I expect people to debate me. I don't expect people to treat me like, “Oh, here comes one of the heads of the office.” I want to be seen as the person that can walk in the room and hopefully help you make the work better, or help you solve a problem or ... I don't see my role as a dictator, by any means. So I hope people see that at this point, or at least the majority of the people see that that's what they can expect from me when I walk into a room.

Charles:

So the flip side of that is learning how to use authority, right? When you become a leader with this responsibility and in your case the scale and the scope of the job. One of the things that I see also, on the other side of the equation is that, leaders early on moving into these kinds of positions are reluctant to pull what I would describe as the levers of power. That there were things that you can do when you take on a role like this, that you couldn't do before and that almost nobody else in the organization can do.

Charles:

What have you learned about using the levers of power? What have you learned about when you have to step in and actually make a decision? Make a tough call, hold somebody to account?

Eric Baldwin:

The most important thing I think I've learned about that specifically, is making sure you are listening. If you're not listening, you can't ... People won't trust you to pull that thing. If you don't hear the different perspectives, if you don't ask people their point of view, if you don't get input, you're asking for pain, because when you pull the lever of power, as you say it, it's a big deal. And so if it's not considered and if people don't feel like you've considered it, you can lose a lot of trust in that way.

Charles:

If you're dealing with a situation that's got a certain urgency and a certain dynamic to it, how do you go through a process that involves taking other people's points of view on board, before acting with the speed with which a modern global marketing media communications company has to move these days?

Eric Baldwin:

I think it's in those situations, there's obviously the longer timelines on certain things that bigger sort of like departmental shifts or things like that, that take a little bit more time, because you can't get everyone in the room at once, which is what we try to do, if we need to make a decision. Get in the room and just hear everybody out, here the debate, understand all the inputs coming in to the decision, and then if someone has a strong opinion about a way to go and we agree with that opinion, we'll go with that. If we have to form our own opinion based off of all of the input we're hearing, then we'll go with that.

But at least it is done in a way that we're hearing ... because we don't always have all the information when we walk into a room. So you really do need to sort of take a step back, get caught up to where everybody is in the conversation so you can make an effective decision. But I just think it's about ... I think people just need to be heard. So whether that's doing it quickly like that, or taking your time and going around person to person, I just think people need to be heard and we need to hear them, frankly. We need to hear their point of view and their take on things.

Charles:

Needing to be heard is different from being agreed with, right?

Eric Baldwin:

Correct. Yeah.

Charles:

You don't have to do what they're asking.

Eric Baldwin:

No.

Charles:

They need to understand that you have considered it.

Eric Baldwin:

They need to understand that you've considered it and they need to understand why you're saying no to it, I think. And as long as they feel like you understand and they understand, then people are usually fine. Even if you're killing an idea or telling them no.

Charles:

Right. As you look back over the last two, two and a half years now of doing this job, what do you cringe at early on about either what you did or what you believed that you now look back on and say, wow, that was an early side of my initial view of leadership?

Eric Baldwin:

I think not going with my gut instincts to be honest with you are the things that I cringe at. The things that took longer to accomplish that I knew straight away, having worked here for ... I've been here for 13 years now. When I moved into this role, there were things that I had seen for years that I knew needed to be fixed that could be changed to be more effective, more efficient or make better work. Being new to the job, it was scary to make big decisions like that and even though my gut might've been pointing me that way, I might have dug my heels too long on some things. And so, am I as fast as resolving things as I would like to be every single time now? No, but I definitely feel like we're getting faster because those lessons that you learn like that, where you ignore your gut or you don't have the conservations. You catch someone off-guard. Catching someone off-guard with bad news if you haven't been having conversations with him, is rough. But the biggest thing for me is, remember to trust my gut.

Charles:

What do you think... As you look back, what do you think now? What did you think was going to be true that you've realized wasn't?

Eric Baldwin:

I think I thought even though I was sort of scrolled away with my brands, so it's KFC or All Spice or whatever. I think assumed people knew who I was more. So when I stepped into this role, I didn't think I would have to sort of... I don't know if I want to say re-educate but kind of. Re-educate people on who I am. That was a big surprise. I hope that doesn't sound arrogant or cocky that I would think a 500-person organization would know me. But I thought the bulk would, because I had been here for so long. Not thinking about the fact that I had been here for so long and a lot of the people who knew me really well for years and years may not necessarily be here anymore. That may sound super naïve and it probably was, but that was the most surprising thing for me.

Charles:

What did you do to fix that?

Eric Baldwin:

Spend time with people. Spend time with our direct reports, which are the creative directors. Try to do as much, sitting down and talking about how we would like to work and process and what we expect of people. Uncomfortably getting up in front of 500 people in the atrium, which you've been to here, which is like Thunderdome, it's terrifying to be out there. Everybody just appearing over all these balconies and stairs, looking down at you and you're in the bottom of this hole.

But I think just communicating and listening to people and talking to people. Telling them where you're coming from, that's been the way we've been able to do it. Leaning in on pitches and the way we organize the agency into brand groups. Being able to put a pitch into a brand group and getting exposure to a consistent brand team. When you go to the next one so you're kind of designing to where you're able to make a big impact with a lot of people when it comes to a pitch.

So I think, yes. Again, it's the basics. It's communication and just listening, time.

Charles:

The first time you stood up in front of that audience, in your new role, I know was not a situation you would naturally particularly comfortable about. How do you feel about doing that now? How have you grown into the role through the lens of standing in front of everybody and declaring a point of view?

Eric Baldwin:

I think I got to a point where I realized I was fighting gravity if I thought I wasn't going to have to do that. I just kind of had a conversation with myself. I feel like my whole career ... and this is something I was surprised to hear Dan tell me once that he would do this too. I realized that the person I think I am is not the person that can do all the things that I want to do. So I just sort of pretend that I'm that person that can do those things. That can stand up in front of an audience of 500 people and talk on a microphone. If you tell yourself that's who you are and you believe that and that's kind of the role I'm playing and I'm going to be exhausted after it. I'm going to need to go home and be silent by myself for a little while afterwards. That's what I have to do. It's a part of the job that's important, people need to hear from us. You can't fight gravity, you’ve just got to figure it out.

Charles:

That's a remarkable piece of self-awareness, I think and also a fantastic technique. Amy Cuddy's given a great Ted Talk, of what she was describing as, don't fake it until you make it but fake it until you become it. Exactly what you've described, which is the act of behaving in the way that you want to feel, essentially.

Eric Baldwin:

Yeah.

Charles:

So I think there's enormous personal power in any situation, leadership or otherwise. Be able to decide something is so important to you that you're willing to see yourself through a different lens. What do you think was the biggest mistake you made in the first couple of years?

Eric Baldwin:

Probably taking too long to effect change and I can give you a million reasons why it took long. I think not moving fast enough on things is probably my biggest regret. On some critical things that needed to be done in order for us to move the agency forward. In hindsight, seeing the impact, post those difficult decisions, you just kind of kick yourself and go, “Man, why didn't we do that quicker?”

Charles:

Yeah, decisions are incredibly powerful, aren't they? I think you're right, it just takes a while, when you move into a position with that kind of authority to realize the importance of making them, sometimes even without perfect knowledge. Progresses is, I think in many cases more important than perfect decision-making.

Eric Baldwin:

Yeah. Personally, I've always been one, and I think been known as one, to make decisions. The gravity of those decisions were much different than the decisions that I think as a creative director, that I would make hasty decisions that would work out sometimes and then sometimes wouldn't. But it's like you made the decision, at least you chose something. But yeah, I think the gravity of this job causes you to want to pause a little bit more.

Charles:

We’ll use that context - when you and Bagley were on the show a couple of years ago. One of the things that you said that struck me at the time and that other people have brought up to me since, in listening to that episode. Was, you used to use the reference point for when work was presented to you. If it's affordable and possible, we're not interested. In other words, push yourself beyond the boundaries of what is actually doable and what we can conceive. Let's break all the rules. Have you brought any part of that to this role?

Eric Baldwin:

I think so. I think Bagley would want me to correct you and say if it's possible and within budget, we're not interested.

I think he has a little TM on the end of that line. But yeah, I think we have brought that into this role. Where even in little things, I think, trying to show people that the limits are only what you make they are. It has been done a lot through I think the pitch process and the types of ideas that Bagley and I are interested in. The types of clients that we want to work with, the ambitious sort of clients that we're working with right now. Talking about why we're excited about working with them because we can do things that we thought were impossible. But isn't that going to be too expensive? Well, who knows, let's just do it.

Charles:

How do you lead today? How would you describe your leadership today?

Eric Baldwin:

I try to bring as much energy and enthusiasm. A feeling of maybe a bit naïve to think that we can do some things and to believe that we're going to be able to do some things. I think, more now than I've ever experienced at Wieden, we try to do as much as we can to help grow our creative director talent. Through conversations, through presentations that we make about how to work. I think I see myself as a person who can kind of help people do things that weren't possible. So I hope that's how I show up.

Charles:

What's the role of honesty in your leadership?

Eric Baldwin:

Bagley always tells me that I need to take some lessons on not being so honest all the time. It's a really interesting thing for me because I don't like to withhold information from creative directors or teams that maybe I should hold back from them. Maybe about what the client's asking or what the client's doing or what the... That the project could die, that it might not be real. I like to believe that our creatives are responsible enough and mature enough, at least our creative directors. That when we are honest with them and tell them what the stakes actually are, that they aren't... If we tell him like, “This could die tomorrow,” I know that they're going to still show up with their best work. They don't want to present anything to a client that they don't want to make. Some people would argue that giving that information will defeat them and they won't push as hard. But I don't think that's what our people here would do. Now, maybe some younger creatives would do that, but I don't think our creative directors would. I think having that level of honesty, it's almost essential for me. I have a hard time not giving information, even though it's technically not lying. I have a hard time not giving information because I feel like once they find out they're going to feel duped by me.

It's important that they know that I'm on their side. So being as honest as humanly possible and sometimes maybe too honest, is incredibly important to the way that I lead. It's not something that I'm willing to compromise. I'm always doing my best to make sure that I'm giving the full picture of things. So people know and they feel that consistency of, if I ask Baldwin a question he's going to answer it honestly.

Charles:

When you took the job, what were you most afraid of and what are you afraid of today?

Eric Baldwin:

I won't cheat and say letting people down because I already said that earlier on. That's kind of the undercurrent of my life I think. So that doesn't count. I think to answer what I'm afraid of now is … what am I afraid of now, is that Wieden And Kennedy in the time that the industry is in and the state of flux that the industry is in, the pendulum is swinging all over the place. We don't know where it's going to land. My biggest fear is that we lose sight of who we are and what has made us great for so long. I'm not saying, be a Luddite and ignore different ways to communicate to people. The way technology has impacted that - it's not to say that but that the core of who we are is saying something that makes people feel something. Maybe that sounds basic but if we do that, when we do that, it's amazing and impactful and it impacts culture. So I just hope that in these shifting times, we can kind of make sure we stay kind of centered on that desire as a company.

Then you asked, what was I most afraid of when I got into the job? Failing, not knowing how to do it. I still don't know if I know how to do it but I feel less afraid of just completely screwing this place up. The legacy of Dan and Dave and all the great work that has come out of this building. The building itself is a work art, it's an architectural wonder. Just everything about it, it's sort of like the holy land of our industry. How do we keep that going and how do we transcend our industry was a really scary thing that I'm like,”I don't know if I know how to do that.” I still don't know if I know how to do that. But I know that's kind of always in the back of my mind driving me to come in here every day.

Charles:

If it all stopped tomorrow, would you feel like you've made a difference?

Eric Baldwin:

Yes, I think we have. I think we have done a lot of things with the basic fundamental groundwork that Dan and Dave had set up. That we have just continued to push that and accelerate that. Dan wanted this to be a place where everybody, anybody who is creative and wanted to use their voice could come to. That looks different today than it did in 1982 when he set out on that. I'm really proud of the progress that we've made there. You can see in the work the different voices we have in this building than I think most agencies have. That is really exciting to us because it's work that we never thought we could do. It's fun to be surprised to say, why would I never would've thought of that? That's such a fresh perspective. It's that person right there with their unique makeup that found that amazing thing. That's probably the thing I'm the most proud of because obviously, the work that we're putting out is good. I think we've been recognized for that a lot and that feels good. But seeing people again, just feeling that, feeling that they've done something cool.

Charles:

I think that's a great segue actually to my wrap, which is, as you know, I wrap every episode with three themes that I've heard today. That I think contribute, by my definition, I think many other people's definition of, your success as a creative leader. So the first I think is that you are focused on the impact that you're having. Whether the impact is on people around you or the business of your clients or the growth of a brand. “I think what difference are we making here,” is always at the forefront of how you show up. Second is I think that you have a natural humility, which allows you and encourages you, I think compels you, to listen to other people. I think as you've rightly said, that is so fundamental to effectively leading in the modern world. Then I think third is that you have real integrity. That there's an underlying authenticity and honesty and straightforwardness to you that requires you to show up consistently. It allows people, I think, to lean into your leadership and to who you are and to have faith and trust in that. How do those sound?

Eric Baldwin:

Sounds pretty cool. I don't know that I would've ever said those things about myself. Especially when you get into humility, I would just call that low self-esteem. But if you want to call it humility, that's great. It sounds way better.

Charles:

It is after all, a brand-centric world. Eric, thank you so much for coming back on the show and for joining me today. I'm always grateful to you.

Eric Baldwin:

Thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.