LENZ views leadership broadly and encourages leadership development among everyone on our team. In this series of interviews, several of our leaders reflect on their principles and practices, and on the lessons in leadership they’ve learned along the way.
John Lenz is a vice president and managing partner at LENZ. He is also president of Georgia Smoke BBQ. Before joining Lenz, John attended Oglethorpe University, where he was a starting pitcher on the baseball team. He joined LENZ in 1992.
Excluding colleagues at LENZ, who taught you the most important lesson that guides your leadership at LENZ today? What did you learn from them?
Jerry McCollum, then CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, once told me a version of that old story about a “post turtle.” When you see a turtle balanced on top of a fence post, you know he didn’t get up there by himself.
I think his version of the story was a little kinder than how it’s usually told. But I liked the way he told it. He was very successful and had done a lot of good for the Georgia environment. A man at the top of his field. But he always remembered the post turtle, and he told me, “People helped me get to where I am.”
That has always stuck with me. To get somewhere, yeah, you need your own initiative. But there are a lot of other people who have worked to get you to whatever position you’re in. I always remember that as a lesson to never forget that I’m not all by myself in this thing. There’s no way I could be where I am without the help of a lot of others.
What is an important lesson about leadership that you learned from a client?
The best leaders I’ve worked with aren’t kings or queens of their companies. They might have more experience than everybody else, but they surround themselves with smart people. They ask for feedback and listen to it for a diversity of thought before they make a call.
I’ve made many mistakes where I was handling something I’d seen before, so I thought I already knew exactly what to do. And often I made the wrong call because I wasn’t listening to something someone else was trying to tell me. Giving too much weight to my own experience and not enough to others.
As a leader, if you can open up enough to listen and really process other people’s perspectives, if you can meld it with your experience… that’s when you make your best decisions.
What impact that you’ve made on the world through your leadership at LENZ feels most meaningful to you?
I think it would have to be our impact on the people who have worked here and who work here now, and their families.
LENZ is a place where people can really grow in their careers and not have a ceiling. I’ve done so many different things here. We give people that flexibility. You can say, “I’m interested in photography.” Well, we’ll get you a camera and some classes.
We support people and help them support their families.
It’s the people… the people who have benefited from working here. And I’ve benefited from working with them.
What is a belief or opinion you have in your field that most people in your field don’t share?
A lot of people in our field fall in love with tools, with data and other statistics before considering the first thing that should be checked off the list: creativity.
They start thinking you need a Facebook campaign, you need a Snapchat whatever. They think you need a billboard, a TV campaign. All without first coming up with great creative that makes the client’s investment really pay off.
They waste clients’ money and produce some really bad creative.
Creative that makes sense for the client should come first.
Is all my creative like Garrison Keillor’s? All the kids are above average? No, there is a bell curve of what everybody produces. But you always have to strive for that appropriate creative idea before you start talking about anything tactical.
Oftentimes in this world, when there’s something bright and shiny and new, people go for that, just to do that without thinking. You always have to ask first, “Does this really make sense for the client?”
Fast forward as many years as necessary. You’re leaving your present role, whether for a promotion or a job change or retirement. What advice would you give to the next person who fills your position?
I would not have been able to retire if it weren’t for years and years of working with talented people, and smart clients who had the vision to hire us and trust what we were trying to achieve.
Make sure you surround yourself with the best people, and make sure they have the freedom to blossom into whatever it is they should blossom into. Help them in the best ways you can. Help them get to wherever they want to go.