Listen to Your Staff! It'll Make Your Job Easier

Article by:
Mark Graham, EO Toronto
Mark Graham
EO Toronto

Mark Graham founded the promotional marketing company Right Sleeve in January 2000. The firm builds clients’ brands through innovative logoed merchandise. He has been an EO Toronto member since 2003. Contact Mark at [email protected].

In my experience, the meaning of leadership is giving my staff a voice to express themselves.

My company, Right Sleeve, is an online promotional marketing agency. The staff members we attract enjoy selling our fun/hip/trendsetting products to image-conscious companies. Working with headstrong, creative, opinionated people can be a challenge, but allowing a group of people like this to express themselves creatively can have extraordinary results.


    We have weekly meetings to discuss creative initiatives. These sessions are pretty liberal and open ended. I have found that the more freedom I give my staff members, the more creative they are with their ideas.

    For example, in a recent session about how we were going to communicate our top sellers to clients, we honed in on the idea of a Staff Top Ten list. In order to give this promotion a little more personality, the team decided it would be fun to showcase ourselves as the style makers behind the products. Fast forward to the creative: We now have people striking poses in the Number 10 to represent the Top Ten theme so we could capture the meaning of the promotion on our website

    These exercises are often very random, and the energy in the room is unbelievable, as it allows members of the team to express themselves as well as feel connected to the overall mission of the company– to deliver a WOW experience to our clients


    In addition to these creative sessions, I ask each staff member to be a weekly “Learnings Chair” where they moderate a discussion based on a case study of their choosing in their assigned week. This case study may be a chapter from a book, blog post, magazine/newspaper article or podcast. This topic is distributed to all staff a few days in advance. Each Monday, the appointed staff member will lead a discussion on the top three learnings from the case study and how we can apply them to Right Sleeve.

    The results have been fantastic. Not only does the company learn three new things each week, but each staff member is empowered every time they are asked to present in front of their peers. This is much more powerful coming from an employee than it is coming from the boss (people just expect me to say these things!).


    As a leader, I find that the written word gives my ideas more legitimacy. As such, I publish my ideas on our company blog for the world to see ( Our company blog is successful because it gives Right Sleeve a human face. I do not write about anything to do with selling our products, rather I use it as a medium to communicate my philosophies on marketing and business in general. I have found the impact of the blog on my staff to be profound as it gives them a forum to discuss and debate the things I publish online (and believe me, they debate them passionately). They also get the opportunity to look “beneath the hood” and see what makes the owner tick– unfiltered and uncensored. This is powerful as it makes me more accessible as a leader.

    While I have made many mistakes in running this business, one of my biggest successes has been giving my staff members a say in the process so their sense of ownership increases...that makes my job a little easier every day!

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