Stop cheerleading, talk plainly, and get out of the office: What a marketing vagabond will tell you about leadership

This is a work-related piece that was published a while ago, and I’m reposting it in its entirety here for those interested in the subject.

Marketing is a profession that requires its practitioners to be fluid and nimble. The constant pursuit of new ideas and hot trends, and the ability to work with and adapt to various industries are essential traits. Oh sure, sometimes we marketers can get carried away by new gadgets and shiny tools. But we know that our value rests in the ability to spot behaviour patterns in any group (or demographic) and act quickly on any opportunities.

In my case, acquiring practical marketing skills meant working with businesses in a variety of industries, in the private and public sectors, here and abroad. In addition to focused professional development, this exposure to a broad spectrum of corporate cultures and business practices gave me insights into what makes entities successful.

Strong leaders do not apologize for a vision or an ideology

Reluctant leaders, or those who do not explicitly-state their raison d’être, cannot generate the passion needed to fuel their employees. Knowledge workers rely on inspiration as a source of energy to work on endeavors that may never see the light of day. This is why TED talks are so popular, and why cubeland is speckled with black and white printouts of Steve Jobs quotes. The absence of drive and charisma in a leader has real effects on productivity and morale.

Whether you’re in a position commanding five or 500 employees, it’s crucial that you communicate the ideas and feelings that make you work as hard as you do. If we can look up to someone who genuinely believes in the significance of the work they do, we are less likely to be cynical about our own output.

Poor communication buries great ideas

I have seen many interesting initiatives go belly-up because of poor communication. Objectives were unclear, goals were excessive in jargon, and calls for action were absent. Worse, I’ve seen fantastic campaigns flop almost immediately because of the seemingly impersonal and flat communication delivered from those meant to lead the charge.

It is not up for one individual or group to take the blame for poor communication, rather, we should collectively admit that over the last few years we have moved away from personable communication tactics. As a result, our sentiments are unclear, our intentions misunderstood, and our efforts wasted. It’s a bad habit, and we need to break it.

It will take some time to move away from the detached tones and passive voices, but once you learn to speak with people using any medium of your choice, you’ll start receiving exactly what you’ve asked for, and then some.

Write in the manner you want to be written to; state your intention clearly, reveal your vulnerabilities readily, and add your own personal style and tone that communicate what you stand for. Your words have the power to leave an impression that lasts long after you’ve left the building.

To have honest conversations, leave the office

Taking someone out of their comfortable space and introducing them to an external environment naturally causes them to change their behaviour. The absence of their familiar surroundings (like furniture, cubicle spaces, and such) temporarily removes the difference in rank, making the power balance less visible. In a coffee shop, for example, you are both paying customers who are equal in the eyes of everyone else around

This little time away from the office will lead — with time — to an exchange of direct feedback and valuable insights that could make a difference for your business.

Sometimes, the best way to let progress happen is to step aside

A friend once remarked that a leader’s role is not that of a cheerleader for change and innovation. They’re too busy and expensive for this. Instead, a leader’s duty is to consciously avoid becoming a barrier.

In large enough organizations, there is a surplus of fresh ideas and approaches that could make the business more efficient, decrease costs, or improve morale. Take a step back and observe the clusters that have the motivation and willingness to try new ideas and generate change and innovation naturally. Provide your insights on how to best align these endeavours with business goals or objectives, and share the risks and hesitations you may have openly before too much work has gone into any one initiative, then pull back.

This is also important: don’t try to get everyone else in the organization on all these new experiments and outbursts of creativity. Laggards will arrive eventually, and naysayers may be entirely out of reach. Which brings me to …

Some people just don’t care, and there ain’t nothing you can do about that

People accept employment offers for a large number of reasons. Some want to change the world, others want a steady paycheque and a good dental plan.

Any group is guaranteed to have employees who are invested in the 9 to 5 stretch only. Their ideas, hopes, aspirations and passions lay elsewhere, and that’s absolutely fine. These are the steady doers who can be relied upon to deliver constantly, without any drama. If you chase after them to join every new initiative in the organization, you may lose them entirely. Or, you could generate a wave of dislike and negativity that will hurt your efforts in the long run. This group keeps operations going while the ideologists are busy creating new work streams.

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