Bossing It in association withLBB Pro

Bossing It: Maintaining a Good Energy with Omar Polo

Advertising Agency
Panama City, Panama
McCann Panama’s VP, creative on frustration, looking for a quick rematch and the influence of Miguel Leon

Omar is an award winning creative director. Currently leading the most effective agency in Effie Panama 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. It is also the No. 1 Agency of Panamá in the AdLatina Crema Ranking, the Top FICE Ranking and the Best Country Agency according to FIAP. In 2021 McCann Panamaě was chosen as part of the Top 5 Agencies of Central America and the Caribbean in El Ojo de Iberoameěrica and also he was part of the Top five Creative Directors of Central America and the Caribbean.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Omar> After two years of having started my career in a large and global agency, I moved on to a smaller and more local one, and within a few weeks they already had me presenting pitches and leading my accounts. That confidence was decisive.


LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Omar> The CCO of my first agency was one of those old legends who was bored and tired of clients. He was not motivated and seemed to be fed up with everything. I realised that I should never seem fed up in front of my team and that I should always get excited about any brief or challenge. It's not easy, but I work with that in mind.


LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Omar> The first time we lost pitches, my bosses did not place the responsibility on me. They told me what to improve, what to learn and they motivated me to keep going. In addition, the culture where all areas row towards the same side was the key to always think as a team.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Omar> I noticed that they always gave me more responsibilities and called me to meetings with 'older people'. I realised that I was doing something right, I tried to analyse it and continue with what I knew they liked. I never considered a strategy to follow.

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Omar> I think something of the personality is always imprinted on it. There are people who are more reserved and others who are more expressive, both can be great leaders and they will do it in their own way. It will always depend on how they adapt that personality to the challenges. And yes! You must always learn to improve yourself as a leader.


LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Omar> Frustration. Creatives deal with frustration. If you are passionate about what you do, it will affect you when things don't go as planned. That's why you'll always border on frustration with every 'no' from a client, with every award you didn't win. The best way, for me, is to recognise it and turn it into something positive and a new challenge. When negativity begins to win you over, the passion begins to go and you will stop loving this profession. And this profession requires passionate people.

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Omar> When you lead your team towards a goal and it is not met, you will always feel responsible. It is your duty to assume yourself as the first person in charge and not look for guilty people in the organisation. Personally, I'm always looking for a quick rematch, a new challenge nearby and where we can change the energy. Finding mistakes and learning is one thing, spending a lot of time regretting it is different.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Omar> I like to create a close and empathetic environment, where you can talk about everything and we can all laugh. My team has made memes of me and I love it! That said, closeness is not the same as improvising or not demonstrating with your behaviour that there are things that as a boss are not negotiable.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Omar> Miguel Leon a.k.a. 'el chato' was my benchmark for creative leadership and the kind of atmosphere that I would later have in my teams. The clarity of Max Gutierrez at McCann Lima also marked me, a leader who may seem very reserved but always moves the right pieces. When I arrived in Central America, Paul Mejía, the CEO of McCann Mexico and Central America, invited me to have lunch at a very business-like place. He explained many things to me about my new role, he advised me how to lead my life in a new country. Leaving the restaurant, he took one of the business newspapers that were on a table and gave it to me saying: "You are creative, but now you must know about the economy of this region and how it moves"

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Omar> It was a great challenge to maintain a good energy at a distance, Latinos like closeness. But we were turning remote work tools into a way of recreating the same environment. For example, we send each other gifs to warn something. Now the challenge is to preserve the spirit of the agency in a hybrid format.


LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Omar> Diversity and inclusion should be a culture, not a trend of the moment. Fortunately, McCann encourages us and constantly trains us to break biases. I started at a time when advertising was more stereotyped, sexist and racist, there is no need to be afraid to say it. You have to be part of the change and put yourself in the place of what the new generations feel. It's not good when advertisers say “they don't like that change”.


LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Omar> McCann's culture of creating meaningful brands in people's lives is central to everything we do. Whatever the situation, that is always the goal.

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Omar> I found resources in the stories of sports coaches and the great geniuses of humanity and their way of seeing the world. On a day-to-day basis, seeing the new generations should inspire us to be better leaders.