Hack the Toolkit of One of the Original Mad Men Keith Reinhard

What It Takes to Build, Lead a Winning Organization

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Credit: Kelsey Dake for Ad Age

"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, 'We did it ourselves.'" This is the wisdom of Lao Tzu, the 5th century philosopher, shared with me by Keith Reinhard.

One of the original Mad Men, Keith remains among the coolest in advertising. Smart, gracious, and extraordinarily curious, he's often found in one of the first few rows at industry events. Keith is the creator of McDonald's "You Deserve a Break Today" and State Farm's "Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There"and a driving force behind the creation of Omnicom Group.

He's also an incredibly good sport: With his usual good humor, Keith agreed to let the industry hack his leadership toolkit to make sure it is complete to lead through all the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The toolkit was created several years ago when Keith was invited by a management association to present on the subject of leadership. He was happy to present, but then realized he was following a three-hour seminar by a professor at Yale University. How was Keith, without any formal leadership training, supposed to follow that? He thought about his own efforts at building and leading a creative organization and described the tools, metaphorical as they may be, that had helped him. He then proceeded to buy a big carpenter's toolbox and fill it up.

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As kitschy as it may seem, the resulting toolkit is so insightful it gives us all something to consider:
Telescope to help see beyond the moment and try to discern what the future holds to consider how you might shape it.
Paintbrush with which to paint the vision of what can be.
Compass to set the course and align all actions and practices with the chosen direction.
Hoe and a watering can -- necessary reminders to make sure the soil in your organizations will nurture the seeds of creativity.
Pair of amazing eyeglasses For "other eyes." Putting them on helps you see things as others do.
Pen for writing thank-you notes.
A coffee cup as a reminder of the importance of getting together, one-on-one, with your team members to give honest feedback on their performance. And, even more important perhaps, to listen to their thoughts and ideas.
Whistle and chalk, the tools of coaching and teaching.
Scalpel to remove impediments to the health of the organization.
Measuring tape to hold your inspired people accountable while measuring their progress.
Baton with which to set the tempo for your organization. Erich Leinsdorf, the great conductor of the Boston Symphony, said that selection of tempo is the single most important decision a conductor ever makes.
Sword Just as you have great expectations of your people, they are entitled to have great expectations of you. And that means, from time to time, while you must not compete with them or do their job for them, you must personally draw the sword and perform heroic acts.
Bomb Just to drop on what Nabokov called those "model cities of common sense" created by those who would turn art and intuition into science and certainty.
Champagne glass to remind us that celebration is an important part of the creative process.
And last, perhaps the most important tool of all,
A box of matches, to remind us to ignite the fires of passion in the hearts of those who follow us. Nothing great has ever been accomplished without passion.

So given the challenges you see in the industry, what might you suggest for the kit? I'm going to add a Mirror as a reminder to all of us to not just hire people that resemble ourselves. They can bring different perspectives to your company. Email me at toolkit@adage.com with ideas either in writing or on video.

But before you start your hacking, I'll end with a little-known story shared about Keith. This one comes from Peter Weingard, VP-chief marketing officer for New York Public Radio, who worked on DDB's digital innovation team in the late '90s.

"DDB was working on a global new-business pitch. The prospective client had flown in from Europe for the presentation, which started in the evening and ran until about 8 p.m. A catered dinner was prepared, but rather than stay for dinner the executives demurred and chose to go back to the hotel to regroup privately." Rather than use the dinner as an opportunity to recap, Keith turned it into an act of kindness. "He asked if I would walk through the now-empty office building and invite the cleaning crew up to the executive board room to join us for dinner."

Keith was probably using his whistle and chalk for that one and likely didn't even realize he was doing anything special. He was just being Keith.

Allison Arden is VP-publisher of Ad Age and author of "The Book of Doing." Tweet her at @allisonarden.

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