I became an advisor to creatives after a long career in corporate communications and brand design.
I started and managed a creative consultancy that reached fee revenue of $10 million with a staff of just under fifty. We sold the business, and I moved to London, becoming Chief Creative Officer for Fitch Worldwide. In that position, I was responsible for around five hundred creatives in twenty-plus offices. This was heady stuff for a Seattle boy who’d only attended art school and gotten a technical degree.
Leaving that role, I worked as a consultant for two different investor groups who engaged me to help them acquire brand design agencies. One day, I woke up and realized that I was working for the wrong people and not those I love, creatives like me.
Something was missing. It may have seemed as though I was professionally fulfilled, but I wasn’t — despite my success.
So, I changed course. I began to look for a future that would be emotionally rewarding … and I started to write.
My early articles described the obstacles my clients faced. Writing about their successes and failures made me more aware of my struggles — more empathetic, accepting, and less critical of myself and others.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d long known that many creatives suffer from the same self-doubts and demons I’ve always struggled with –– demons I’d developed strategies to successfully overcome. What I didn’t know was how to help people use my experience and my insights. I quickly learned that demonstrating the methods that brought me success was often interpreted as condescending. That clearly didn’t work.
Once I looked closely at where my experience could best help my clients, I found I had to start by developing trust. Help is fully received only in a trusting relationship because collaboration requires trust. And collaboration is what makes an advisory relationship between advisor and client work.
To be effective, advising is not a one-way, top-down transaction. It requires the client to share their concerns as openly as possible and the advisor to listen and ask for clarification before suggesting actions. Understanding, mutuality, and empathy must be present and real. Only then can change happen on a meaningful level.
I learned that empathy, not a demonstration of superiority, is required for my consulting clients to succeed. I learned I changed and gained confidence as my advisory practice grew.
There was another critical factor that led to the growth of my practice. And I found it while exploring the history of my own adoption. I began to write and, through writing, gained insights into why I am the way I am. So, if you look at my blog, you’ll find my adoption series mixed in with my writing about being a creative, getting the money, and so on.
Best of all, when working with my clients, I get the same rush of pleasure the creative flow of drawing or writing gives me (maybe more, now that I think about it). Best of all, my process brings results. The creatives I work with get better work from better clients and have less anxiety along the way.
The skills I help creatives develop are needed more than ever in this tumultuous time. The world is changing; the architecture of creative opportunities is radically changing. Having help understanding and managing this changing landscape is my clients’ primary need.
A quick career summary: I started as an illustrator in a Boeing in-house design group, then worked for a design consultancy before starting my own firm, which grew steadily over many years. I sold The Leonhardt Group in 1999 and stayed on for the new owners as Chief Creative Officer of Fitch out of London.
Next, I spent a couple years helping a group of investors buy design firms. It was while acquiring independent creative firms that I began to realize I was on the wrong side of the table. I wasn’t helping the creatives I know and love — just investors who were only interested in financial returns. I have no problem with people making money from creative expertise. I do have a problem with people who treat creatives solely as financial instruments — as widgets on an assembly line.
I’ve made many changes since I realized something was missing in my life. I’m much happier, I’m writing almost every day and I have a busy practice helping both individuals and small groups.
You can read more about me on my blog:
- My dad taught me how to deal with bullies, because he was one
- Adoption Series: Couldn’t risk the shame
- Your struggle is your strength
- Learning the pleasure of teamwork
- Drama, shame and guilt
- First impressions
- Challenging the ethics of creative services
- My breakaway day
- Gender, negotiation and white male privilege
Today I focus solely on making it possible for creatives to thrive. I’ve recently moved to Bellingham. Although almost all of my work is on Zoom, I still use De Anza III, a lovely all-wood motor yacht, as my occasional Seattle office. De Anza was built just north of Vancouver, Canada, by the Western Craft boatyard. They launched her in 1959.