Why Being a Student Makes You a Better Leader

After almost a year of following and absorbing content by Donald Miller and his team at StoryBrand, the OTM team decided we were ready to take the next step in our adoption of the StoryBrand framework. As an investment in our agency and my ability to implement the StoryBrand framework, I jetted off to the StoryBrand Guide Training in December of 2019.

And let me tell you this: as an agency owner, leaving the office for an entire week, approximately two weeks before Christmas and three weeks before New Year’s Eve, is one hell of a commitment.

Was it worth it? Absolutely – but in more ways than I had expected.

The training, held in Downtown Nashville, was a 4-day intensive hands-on experience. It not only reminded me of what it’s like to be a student, but also the importance of being a good teacher to my team.

Over the past 13 years, I’ve transitioned from being the person who “does the things”, to the person who helps our team members “do the things.” To say that it’s been a difficult transition would be a massive understatement.

However, the opportunity to experience being a student again taught me two vital things that every creative industry leader needs to know:

New things are scary and being creative is being vulnerable.

As a leader, we must remember that the people we are leading want to succeed. Period. They want to feel like they are a part of something and that their work matters, and a lot of times that means that they’re doing something that they’ve never done before and that is scary.

As a part of the StoryBrand Certified Guide Training, we were asked to split into groups, create a fake business and then develop all of the StoryBrand assets for that business. We were creating everything from the name and brand story to the elevator pitch (which we call a one-liner), website homepage wireframe and sales copy. All with a small group of people that we had just met, in less than an hour – and to top it all off, we had to present it in front of Donald Miller and his team.

I have literally created thousands of marketing plans over more than a decade and this scared the shit out of me. Why? Because it was new and because being creative is being vulnerable.

How has experiencing that helped me as a leader? I forget that not everyone on my team has 10+ years of marketing experience. Many of the things I am asking them to do are new to them and everything I am asking them to do requires creativity. Doing those things requires courage and a good leader must encourage risk, embrace failure and inspire trust in the process.

Sometimes, you have to ship it.

Almost every part of the StoryBrand Certified Guide Training was hands-on creative work. We were creating the stories, writing the copy, designing the websites – “doing the things.” However, many of the guides-in-training got hung up on sections of the program because they wanted things to be perfect.

There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to creativity. I know that!

Perfect creativity is completely subjective. This means that as leaders, we need to embrace when our team’s creative vision is different from our own. As an Enneagram 3 (Type A, Lion, Disc High-D – whatever your flavor), this is not easy for me to remember. But as I watched other guides struggle over one word or one connotation, I realized that it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being clear, iterative and flexible. A good leader doesn’t scare their team into a perfection spiral. A good leader knows when it’s ready to ship and supports their team throughout the iteration process.

If you’re a leader, no matter what industry you’re in, I encourage you to find a way to be a student again in 2020. Whether it be a course, certification, or even something outside of work (like learning to play a new instrument). Find a way to channel your inner student and pay close attention to the feelings you have and the things that scare or excite you.

Being a leader is about being inspiring, and the best leaders are those who inspire and teach at the same time.