Leading Clients Out. A New Concept.

In the military there are concepts called “leading up the chain of command” and “leading down the chain of command.” This has served as an informational path to accomplish missions for hundreds of years.

Having served in the US Air Force as both the lowest subordinate on the pole as well as a senior leader, I can speak to this. In Joko Willink’s book Extreme Ownership, this concept is laid out and explained beautifully.

But for those that don’t know, let me break it down for you.

Leading Out – Are You A Good Leader For Your Clients?

Leading Up The Chain

This is when a leader has the ownership and responsibility of informing the people that are his or her superiors and in command. Everyone is in charge.

It is leading superior officers, managers and those higher in the chain of command as to what, why, where, and how missions, tasks, projects etc are going to get done and communicated. It’s used to get approvals, gain access and obtain needed resources to accomplish a mission. If this is done well, your superiors are properly informed and give green lights, approvals and the resources needed to GSD. That’s Get. Sh*t. Done.

Leading Down The Chain

This is when a leader is in charge and responsible for those that are under him or her. It can be a team, squad, or flight leader. Basically they have people under them.

This person might be in charge of a department, perhaps have 5 to 20 people they are leading. Information flows from up above to down below so that the team executing a mission are properly informed as to all aspects of what, why, where, how they are to accomplish said mission. When a team is properly informed, questions are minimal, clarity is present and the job/mission is accomplished.

I want to add a third.

It’s Called “Leading Out”

When it comes to working in a service related industry, working with clients and serving those that you have a responsibility to. This element of leadership is equally as critical.

Much like leading up a chain of command we need to lead out to our clients. It’s our job as an agency to lead our clients in the direction we know they should go. Yes there are items that we need from them such as business goals but we need to lead them from our perspective. We need to have ownership of what we do, and what we’re going to do.

That breaks down into three categories that make up Leading Out. We must educate, inspire and inform.


A common frustration when it comes to work like ours at a creative agency is when clients are constantly questioning what we are doing and why were doing it.

Now while I realize that some people are just a tad bit more difficult than others, they have a right to ask questions.

We cannot get bent out of shape about it. Know why?

We did not properly educate them. Ultimately the ownership falls on us. If we’re getting a barrage of questions then we did not properly educate and lead our client as to our strategy, the expectations of the initiative and desired outcomes.

If we are getting challenged, then we did not properly explain every detail and the reasons why our actions will lead to a stated result.

If a client is confused, or not clear on what needs to happen, what we need from them and the ramifications if we do not get what we need, then WE did not carefully think through every question that could come up.

So ultimately it’s our fault.

*Success looks like this: Minimal questions, full comprehension, and complete buy-in.


Not getting buy-in on a campaign? Not getting help, or assistance on an initiative that you want to implement for a client? Is the response lagging? Does it feel like there is no urgency?

Then you have not inspired your client.

That is on you. We need to lead a client out as to the benefits, the value, the exceptional results and what life will look like after the campaign (or strategic mission) is done.

After all the work is put in, after planning, after all the questions are answered, a client should be inspired to action to GSD!

*Success looks like this: Quick response time, excitement in results, freedom given to us to accomplish the mission.


We have a saying around here that if a client asks for a status of a project, we are already wrong.

Tired of getting questions like “Where are we at with…” or “ I haven’t heard from you in…”. That is absolutely unacceptable.

It’s our job and ownership to lead a client with constant and valuable information. It is our responsibility to inform them of all that we have done and progress made to accomplish the mission. There is always something to share.

Yes there might be a few more emails to get out. It might be a phone call that you need to make to hear the tonality and voice of a client.

It. Does. Not. Matter.

It is our job to be effective, think outside the box and update at all times.

Leading out is not about what is burdensome to us, it is about managing and owning the information loop and client experience. Don’t ever let a client ask you for a status again. Own it.

So what’s the takeaway?

YOU are in charge of the client experience and getting what you want and need to accomplish the mission and task.

If you are not, it’s up to YOU to correct it.

Stop blaming and start leading.