I always smile when I hear someone, particularly in a high-technology industry, talk about their "staff," because smart leaders always work through complex webs of relationships. They don't simply give orders; instead, they listen, think, communicate, and develop meaningful relationships.
While managers generally are more concerned with hierarchy, effective leaders think more about dependencies, relationships, and networks—not simply formal authority and management. A more educated, empowered, and knowledgeable workforce understands this, and demands and even respects top-quality leadership. People recognize change cannot be managed without the right leadership, and more change demands more leadership.
Trust and Competence
The importance of establishing a trust-based culture, especially across the marketing organization, cannot be overstated. While most good salespeople are hunters—individualists who prefer to be left alone unless someone can help them achieve their personal objectives—marketing professionals often are people pleasers who enjoy being part of communities. Because trust is important to marketing professionals, they should be given a clear vision, enabled with the tools needed to accomplish the objectives, and supported to facilitate their success.
In fact, all healthy business relationships require trust and competence. They are the prerequisites for taking risks and achieving greater successes with your team. Mistakes most often occur when people lack time or knowledge, factors that can be overcome by an effective leader who is in constant communication with the team.
Trust enables companies to move quickly—generating change more rapidly. Experienced leaders innately understand this concept and leverage it to overcome the politics of change to achieve the best results for the organization. Leaders who encourage participation, listen, and negotiate accordingly usually are rewarded manifold. While complex and time-sensitive circumstances can require aggressive tactics, it's best to reserve coercion as a last resort because short-term gains can be nullified by longer-term resentment that erodes trust. In building trust, it is also important to be aware of symbols that erode trust across the business. For example, using public tax dollars to pay Wall Street bonuses erodes the public trust, and executives flying first class while eliminating employee benefits equally ruins credibility.
As for the competence required of a marketing leader, pioneering skills are in demand now more than ever. The discipline of marketing has been at the epicenter of the Internet revolution, introducing dramatic new potential and capability. An effective marketing leader always challenges people, sets the bar high, and leads by example. It's a form of "tough love" because a trusted, competent, and steadfast leader always can drive people to achieve greatness. Giving proper credit is one of the most powerful attributes of a confident leader. The truth is, keeping a humbler profile and aligning with the CEO and other senior leaders are the most effective ways for a marketing leader to gain visibility—not taking credit for others' accomplishments.
An effective leader is always ruthless about hiring the very best people the company can afford, which is essential to build a world-class team with complementary skills. After all, how can you take great risks without a great team at your side?
To be most effective in bringing change to an organization, a marketing leader needs to be relatively hands-on with current technologies and best practices, even bringing technical expertise to the equation. The availability of incredible new marketing technologies and strategies makes this the most exciting time in history to be in marketing. Understanding the wide array of new media, customer relationship management (CRM), and business intelligence options can have a dramatic effect on business performance and profitability.
And finally, technology-enabled marketing skills combined with sound financial acumen also enable the metrics and quantifiable measurement that are so important in the executive suite. Today's marketing leader should have a genuine interest in business issues, top- and bottom-line growth, and maintaining financial discipline while building market share.
Fire Your Company
Am I crazy? Perhaps, but marketing leaders have to decide whether their company and culture will permit them to succeed. Today, more than at any other time in history, a world-class marketing organization has a superior arsenal to increase revenues and profits. How does your organization compare?
Another consideration is whether a marketing leader has budget authority. The answer is usually "yes" if the leader is trusted. However, there are "marketing founder" and "owner-operated" businesses where a marketing leader simply will never be trusted or empowered. For this type of business, perhaps a strong marketing manager is the most appropriate profile.
Finally, to whom should a marketing leader report in the organization? Reporting to sales or R&D can be a recipe for disaster. Marketing should lead sales, helping enable its success. Likewise, a qualified marketing team also provides R&D with invaluable insights and can lead them to the promised land of greater innovation and success in addressing market needs and opportunities. In the end, a marketing leader should have a "seat at the table" and be empowered to effect change, increase revenue, and boost profitability.
Most people don't come to work saying, "I want to do a lousy job today." Quite the contrary, they crave the opportunity to succeed in their career and contribute to the business in significant ways. Marketing leaders carry the awesome responsibility to help achieve a wide range of highly important business objectives, creating challenging opportunities for employees to develop their leadership skills along the way.
Change happens when it is woven into the corporate fabric and becomes "the way we do things." It takes time and occurs in phases. Skipping steps may create the illusion of progress, but it seldom produces desired results. In fact, 50 percent of companies reportedly fail in the first phase by not establishing a great enough sense of urgency. President Obama articulated a strong vision and created an incredible sense of urgency to pass his economic stimulus package. Now the country is eager to experience short-term wins, which would garner more support.
Finally, in economically stressed times, know that bad business results can be both a blessing and a curse. While losing money catches the attention of boards and shareholders, it also gives less room to maneuver. On the other hand, when business results are good and resources more plentiful, people often don't recognize the need for change at a time when the possibilities would be greater.
Getting to Breakthrough
One of the smartest practices employed by a strategic marketing leader is the discipline of staying close to customers, salespeople, and partners to understand their preferences, behaviors, and needs. This practice helps a leader maintain a global perspective and fosters breakthrough thinking, resulting in armor-piercing strategy and influence over the business planning process.
Edward Vesely is senior vice president of World Wide Marketing at Vision Solutions (visionsolutions.com), a provider of high-availability and disaster recovery solutions for IBM Power Systems. He serves on several advisory boards and is the author of "Code to Commerce, High Technology Marketing for Maximum Brand Performance." Vesely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.