Start by shifting the focus from "me" and what you can do to become a leader and instead put it on your people and what you can do for them.
Take a moment to think about best boss you’ve had and what made them great - you'll likely define the marks of a great leader. When I presented this idea while leading a recent Virtual Roundtable, I found an almost unanimous response: the best boss leads with transparency and open communication. It’s a person who can equally lead an A team AND a B team to great success, developing the skills of its members along the way.
Do this with communication and transparency, sharing the good AND the bad up front, so there are no surprises and there is an understanding about what everyone is trying to achieve.
Another thing leaders can do is show their loyalty to their team by investing in them. One member shared a perfect example of this: A previous employer had asked in the interview if they had specific skills and they honestly replied "no." However, the hiring manager believed in them as a candidate and invested in their Master's degree, giving them the tools to succeed. That moment of honesty and subsequent loyalty led both parties to have a great professional relationship - one that benefited both people and the brand they worked for.
Building a team and hiring people with the characteristics that you know will contribute to success may be an obvious time to utilize great leadership, but another thing marketers must frequently do is manage up as well – helping their Board, CEO and CMO look great by elevating their roles and highlighting results. In this situation, it is crucial to be as transparent with your C-Suite as you are with your team. That candidness, openness and transparency translates into trust that you can leverage to take risks and lead future projects to extraordinary heights.
In an ideal world, everyone leads a talented A-team. In reality, though, you have to step in and help a B-team flourish and grow more often than not. Think of this as a great opportunity to improve professional competencies, change the internal perception of your team and create significant results for your brand. Early in my career, I was handed a team that had low success expectations. I was able to find each person’s potential, nurture it, train according to those skills and surprise everyone by achieving great things together. I was excited about our results but even happier that I helped each person become the professional they wanted to be.
Another member had a similar experience: she was hired to find new talent but was given a very limited budget to do so. She subsequently decided to hire the young and hungry, leveraging their desire to learn, excel and get ahead. The team became so good at what they did that they had trouble down the line with retention because other brands kept trying to poach them! But even those who moved on to other roles were fiercely loyal to their original CMO and brand that had invested in them.
When hiring, I personally ask people, “What are your three deal breakers?” This allows me to know if they will be a good fit for us culturally and also what they need from their peers, me as a leader, and the company as a whole. But after you’ve established these, you must follow up - what their abilities are, what projects they’ve enjoyed the most, which ones they’ve excelled at, and how they want to continue growing.
“I very candidly tell my team that we won’t micromanage them. But recently, I’ve had people who need more check-ins and guidance. So, I’m trying to strike that balance of not being overbearing with my self-starters but still being there for my other team members that need more constant communication,” said Dorian Quispe, VP, Marketing, LegalZoom.
It’s also important to take a moment to learn from them because leadership is a two-way street.
One marketer said she has one-on-one meetings where the first 30 minutes are given to the employee to take center stage and talk about any subject - whether personal or professional (their kids, a new project, co-workers - anything is game). It's a great way to learn about her team members on a personal level and understand the issues they are passionate about.
Another member's company has employees give internal presentations that are open to the entire organization. He said they get to be subject matter experts on any topic of their choice, and that he himself is frequently amazed at the varied talent of his team and the new things he learns from them during those sessions.
From time to time, you may find yourself in a situation where you feel you have to defend or protect your team. It shows great leadership to step up to bat for your people, but just make sure you’re staying balanced and level-headed when it comes to the feedback you are receiving. If issues rise up from or against your team, use that aforementioned openness and transparency to look objectively at the situation, find the areas that need improvement and find a compromise. When we are close to a project we can easily be fooled by our passion, missing the forest for the trees, but taking a step back to validate claims may give you the tools to get even better results in the future.
In conclusion, a great leader actively listens to their team members and is transparent. They hone people’s skills and find ways to channel them effectively for outstanding output. The result often goes beyond satisfaction to pure elation - you achieve the company goals and help your teammates realize their full potential.
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