Joseph Michael Essex

Principal, Essex Two

Joseph Michael Essex
Joseph Michael Essex

Teachers and managers often preach to us to be original and creative--to "think outside the box" or to be the colored pencil amongst the gray ones. Many of us who hear these clichés acknowledge the thoughtful advice and proceed with our daily routines, however, every so often these highly-hyped ideas of creativity and originality take root in an individual. Meet Joseph Essex, a successful Principal at a graphic design firm called Essex Two. Unlike most business professionals, Joseph expresses his originality and creativity through his socks. Every day he lets his feet step outside the norm by wearing different-colored socks. His mismatched socks can range anywhere from a bright orange color to a softer pink pastel shade. Each mismatched sock couple is accompanied by shiny black dress shoes--a testament to the precession required in the business world. Joseph's simple, socially different, and colorful expression provides the framework of how he has been able to successfully lead Essex Two in the highly competitive graphic arts industry--an industry where it is necessary to be both creative and precise.

I. Meet Joseph
Before co-founding Essex Two with his partner Nancy Denney Essex, Joseph was senior vice president, director of visual communication planning for the offices in the Americas, and director of design for Burson-Marsteller World Wide, one of the largest public relations firms in the world. He has received more than 350 awards from every major communication publication and organization in the U.S., Europe and Asia, including medals from the New York Art Directors Club. His work can be seen in permanent museum collections in Japan, Ireland, Brazil and France, as well as the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Joseph's firm, Essex Two, provides strategic communication and graphic design services and has done work for Harpo Studios, The Marmon Group, Indiana University, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital Corporation.
Joseph has also done some work in typeface design and is the author of the font "Graham" which is named after his eldest son:


II. Meet Joseph's Values

Here, through Phasr.

III. Meet Joseph's Leadership

…through each of four lenses: Early Trait Theories, Behavioral Trait Theories, Contingency Theories, and Servant Leadership...


Personality Dimension
Manager or Leader?
Attitudes towards goals
Joseph never passively accepts a set “reality” in his decision-making. For him the question is always: Why? Joseph bases his goals on a thorough analysis of underlying desires and possibilities. In a September 16th interview Joseph said:
Clients don’t come to you with an answer. If they do come to you with specifics, the first thing I do is ask them, ‘Why? Why do any of those things?’ You try to get them back to the method, back to what they are trying to accomplish. It’s basically the Socratic method. There’s an emotional satisfaction in that.

Conclusion: Leader

Conceptions of work
Why? may be a risky place to begin when trying to design a goal or product, but it allows Essex to come up with the most creative, effective product possible. Rather than fearing risk, he takes positions in which he can best implement his vision. At Burston-Marsteller, Essex acted as senior vice-president and top director at one of the world’s largest public relations firms and now he and his partner fill what he describes as a "pyramid organizational structure" at Essex Two. While a manager seeks moderate risk and enabling positions, Essex seeks high achievement positions and world-class output.

Conclusion: Leader

Relationships with others
In the interview, Essex described his relationship with his employees as one facilitating creativity, but occasionally harsh:
I tend to be more straightforward--more concerned that they see what the parameters are and that they see what we’re seeing. I can be interpreted as harsh.
When working on a project, Essex and his partner design the big picture either together or alone and then delegate the implementation to their designers. Although he does not concentrate heavily on cultivating intense work relationships, Essex’s work reflects a level of comfort with solitary work and a non-risk-averse attitude.

Conclusion: Leader

Sense of self
Essex’s approach to any aspect of life, including his own, is never straight-forward. He is constantly examining underlying relationships, motivations, and characteristics. Essex searches for a real understanding of the order of the world, whether that is comforting or not.

Conclusion: Leader


Foundational Behavioral Research

His overall style can be considered Democratic because he trusts his employees to do quality design work. His employees are allowed to have some input and discretion about what goes into the design project, however, it is understood that Joseph has the final say on what clients see. Everybody reports to Joseph during the design process--once again, Essex’s “pyramid structure” comes into play.

Theories developed by The Ohio State University and the University of Michigan about Initiating Structure/Production Orientation and Consideration/Relationship Orientation also apply to Joseph's leadership style. Initiating Structure/Production Orientation is a
leadership behavior that defines and organizes work relationship & roles, and also establishes clear patterns of organization; Design projects are carried out by the employees with Joseph organizing their work and having the final say. Essex also stated that his wife, Nancy, the other Principal at Essex Two, played a bigger role in the area of Consideration/Relationship Orientation, leadership behavior that focuses on developing friendly working relationships and encourages trust and respect within the organization; Nancy helps the firm by fostering relationships that are necessary within the framework of the company.


Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

Fiedler's Contingency Theory states that leadership behavior should be appropriated to the situation. This theory assumes that leaders are either task- or relationship-oriented. Leadership effectiveness depends upon the favorableness of the situation.

Joseph is a task-oriented leader who is driven by results rather than relationships. According to this theory, in favorable and unfavorable situations, Joseph’s effectiveness would be fairly high while in moderately favorable conditions, his leadership effectiveness would be rather low. In moderately favorable conditions, this theory says that Joseph should change the situation rather than his orientation to it.

Path-Goal Theory

This theory is based on the expectancy theory of motivation and assumes that leaders base their choice of style and behavior on their work environment. Leaders function to clarify the paths that followers need to take to complete their respective goals.

Of the directive, supportive, participative, and achievement-oriented style of leadership, Joseph expresses the directive leadership style most. Although he shows support and concern to others, he encourages input, sets challenging goals, and gives specific directions to his followers. Because the structure of the business creates specialty areas of work, each worker has a specific task in each project; at the same time, they also have liberty to choose how they complete those tasks.

Normative Decision Theory

The Normative Decision Theory presents five different methods managers use when making decisions: decide, consult individually, consult group, facilitate, and delegate.

Joseph does not simply make decisions on his own because he has a business partner in the firm. Joseph is also unlikely to consult individually or facilitate a meeting about the problem. Joseph would not delegate the problem for the group to decide, however, Joseph would probably form a consult a group of his followers where he could gain input from the team that he could use to formulate ideas as he prepares to make a decision in conjunction with his business partner.

Situational Leadership Theory

This theory states that a leader’s behavior should complement the maturity level of his or her followers: (S1) leaders respond to unable and unwilling employees by monitoring them closely; (S2) leaders respond to unable and willing employees by explaining and clarifying; (S3) leaders respond to able and unwilling employees by demonstrating a participative style; and (S4) leaders respond to willing and able followers through delegation.

Joseph's followers seem to be mature, willing, and able employees therefore Joseph's behavior would probably mirror (S4) which suggests that Joseph should delegate work to his team. Joseph only hires employees who are good at the type of work he is hiring them for and are also confident in their abilities so it only follows that they are able and willing to do the work required of them. His employees have a high follower readiness so Joseph is able to set them loose and empower them to come up wit new ideas and direct themselves--under Joseph's guidance of course.


Joseph Essex can be classified as a servant leader. Robert Greenleaf developed the idea of servant leadership—the idea that leaders should serve employees, customers, and the community. According to the servant leadership model, “work exists for the person as much as the person exists for work,” and servant leaders try to lead based on the will of the group. These leaders also consider leadership a trust and concentrate on developing a greater future. This attitude is crystallized in Essex’s statement that, “Your work is not only in doing business but in how you teach others to do business.” Essex fosters creative development in his employees and seeks to provide leadership to his workers and insight to his clients. He says that there is “an emotional satisfaction” in helping clients identify what they’re really trying to accomplish.

Larry Spears builds on the idea of servant leadership to provide characteristics of servant leaders in his article “Practicing servant-leadership.” Many of these apply to Mr. Essex. First is listening: according to Spears, “the servant-leader seeks to identify the will of a group and helps clarify that will.” Second is empathy, recognizing employee’s special and unique spirits—in this case, their creativity. This is reflected in Essex Two’s project structure, which is designed to foster creativity. When Essex leads a project, he gives an assignment a direction to the employee(s). “Once they come back to you,” says Essex, “you can point out to them what works, what doesn’t, and why. And once you get them to that point you can move them into other areas, or their work gives you new ideas and helps you see things in a new way. So you look at the collaboration aspect. You are constantly in a state of review.”


“Joseph Michael Essex.” 2008. Essex Two. 9 November 2008. <>.

Nelson, Debra, and James Quick. ORGB. Mason: South-Western, 2009.

Spears, Larry C. “Practicing Servant-Leadership.” Leader to Leader 34 (2004): 7-11.