Experts Lend Advice on How to Become a Rockstar CMO

At times, it may seem that a CMO can't merely be brilliant, but must rise to the ranks of superhuman in order to steer overall brand strategy, lead innovation, and manage team-building in the face of changing technology, HR, and market landscapes. It seems impossible to do it all alone - and the first piece of advice from our CMO mentors is that you shouldn't try.

In fact, the most talented CMOs have mastered the art of collaboration in order to thrive, which means they spent time and resources cultivating a team of fellow “superheroes” from day one, viewing them not just as support staff, but as part of a league of innovators with unique, complementary roles in brand building.

During a recent virtual roundtable, “How to Achieve and Retain Success as a Marketing Leader: Advice from the Experts,” Tom Seclow, Director of Spencer Stuart, and Ty Shay, CMO of Norton and LifeLock, discussed the challenges and solutions to being that rockstar CMO, remaining full-throttle and motivated while growing a brand.

Here, we’ve distilled 3 principles from their discussion that will inspire you as you move forward.

1. (Really) Know Yourself: It’s “No Filter” Time

According to Seclow, knowing the “range of your superpowers” is just as important as knowing your “kryptonite." The value in this is being able to then surround yourself with the people who can do well what you can’t. 

While you’re probably already adept at rigorous self-examination, you need to go even deeper when it comes to developing an accurate portrait of your weak points and how to turn those weaknesses into strengths. Instead of focusing exclusively on eliminating elements of your management style or strategy process that aren’t serving you, look to HR to find team players who can thrive under your leadership, while harnessing their own talents to make your unique attributes a positive for your team.

That means creating an environment in which you regularly invite others into a safe space to offer meaningful feedback about optimizing communications and getting to the heart of what makes the team interact smoothly (or is pushing them apart). This is more than just a 90’s touchy-feely “how should I communicate with you” exercise. It’s about becoming genuinely interested in your team members by creating a welcoming and trusting space where people can grow. Your goal isn't just getting your message across or “just” inspiring greatness - you want to intuitively lead because you’ve developed a human-level connection amongst your team that is based on more than data and KPIs.

Allowing yourself a reasonable amount of vulnerability—acknowledging management style differences (or snags) and working through ways to leverage them with your team—makes you more than just another boss. Instead, you'll be another comrade working tirelessly to help lead the entire team to victory. That kinship will be invaluable as a leader and seen as a sign of strength to your team members: if you’re going to lead, you’ll do it through developing a bond, not an image.

2. Never Stop Campaigning: Win Your First 100 Days

There’s an incredibly thin line between heroic effort, bravado, fool-hardiness, and miracle-making, and this is a line that you should be far away from during your first 100 days in a new role. It doesn’t matter if you can do it, it doesn’t matter if you wonder why no one else has before you: your first job as a CMO is your actual job—the grunt work, the learning the ropes that comes with some of those unglamorous, quality-control and other housekeeping activities that must be done to show your team that you are a team player.

Do those first duties passionately, creatively and flawlessly - and make sure you do them before you do anything else. 

Your first three months will not necessarily establish you as a legend — that isn’t what an onboarding period is meant to do, after all. Rather, this is the time to make your bid for leadership and establish the qualities that you value as a leader and marketer. You may have gotten to your new role on the basis of your qualifications, but you’ll still have to win it internally with the people you work with each day.

You’ll need to exercise intelligence, an inspired attitude, an attention to detail and wisdom as a marketing leader. Your first 90-100 days is not the time to implement aggressive changes, campaign for large risks or overlook those legitimate opportunities to innovate. You’ll need to temporarily resist the urge to dive into a rapid-fire action plan to change whatever ails the organization and start strengthening your personal brand first.

Then, start to assess your brand’s most pressing needs, and create a plan to work within the existing culture to meet those requirements while building bridges between yourself and stakeholders in order to open opportunities for future ideas. Just like a politician - or a superhero - you’ll need to prove your ability to respond to needs and create innovative solutions before you can truly be viewed as "on our side" by those you’ll be leading.

3. Creating a League of Talent: Inspired Team-Building

According to Shay, a marketing leader’s job isn’t to be (or become) the smartest person in the room. As CMO, hiring the most gifted, passionate individuals whom you can find and empowering them to exercise their talents is a much more valued skill. This allows you to create a team that can forge through any obstacle in the name of your shared goal.

When you have a team that is united, engaged and motivated, there are no worries about the politics of outshining any other team member because the competition is against your brand’s competitors and your brands own KPIs - not between the egos of surrounding employees.

That ethos also means that you’ll need to cultivate a values-driven work environment. To do that, you’ll have to make sure that your values - and your personal connection to your brand’s message - is clear to you and your team. If you can concisely (and sincerely) express how your brand inspires your creativity, you can also get your team to see your brand’s persona as something worthy of believing in themselves. Help each member understand their own role as an expression of that unique message.

Remember that every individual is on your team for a specific reason; make sure they see the Big Picture as well as their importance to day-to-day workflow just as clearly as you do.

While the list of things thing you have to do as a marketing leader is always growing, setting the framework for a successful relationship with your team and fellow executives is a critical part of your success. Both Seclow and Shay also reminded Future CMO Club members that these are things you can start doing at any point in your career to build a strong, united team of people that constantly elevate themselves and each other.

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