Driving change without authority: How to become a successful marketing leader

Thomas Barta / October 2019

Hear from organisational psychologist and former McKinsey partner Thomas Barta. Together with London University emeritus professor Patrick Barwise, he conducted the world’s largest study on marketing leadership. With over 68,000 assessments, they unravelled what drives marketers’ success.

To be a great marketer, you have to be a great change leader. All of your work — your skills, techniques and functional expertise — aren’t worth much if your ideas don’t have the space to come to life. This became strikingly clear after conducting the largest study ever undertaken on leadership and marketing. By analysing over 68,000 executive assessments, we discovered that the best marketers and agency executives know how to make things happen.

Don’t get me wrong. Many marketers are doing great as experts in brand, customer understanding and social media campaigns — but too few are making it into the top team. They work hard to help the company grow, but their efforts don’t always gain influence internally or boost their careers.

This came to light through our research where 71% of the senior marketers in the study believed that their business impact was high, but only 44% were satisfied with their career paths. What’s worse: bosses put marketers last in terms of career success.

When things go well with marketing, they go well for the company. And vice versa. Failure as a marketer is a big issue — not just for you but for your company, too. So CEOs and marketers have a joint obligation to succeed.

Marketers often put all effort into functional marketing expertise — after all, the work needs to get done. But that’s not enough to maximise business impact and career success. The key to creating long term value is becoming a marketing leader.

But of course, there are barriers.

A marketer’s job is really quite difficult. And there are three major gaps that stand in the way of success.

First, there’s the trust gap. A marketer’s job is to shape the future — future opportunities, future profits, future customer behaviours. And when standing next to someone in finance with hard numbers, what the marketer says will always be less reliable.

Then there’s the power gap. To do marketing well, it takes a village. There are so many people involved — and most aren’t in the marketing department. And it’s safe to say that marketers will never have all of the say in a company.

Finally you have the skills gap. Digital marketing solutions are exploding right now. Technology changes daily and with that, marketers need to stay on top of the latest and greatest. You can’t know everything, and that creates a significant barrier. Leading marketing can be really tricky.

Breaking down the barriers

Luckily, marketers can bridge these gaps and become great leaders! To remove the barriers, the most successful marketing leaders learn how to lead their boss, their peers, their team and themselves. And here’s how.

1. Mobilise your boss.

Go after big issues with a top management viewpoint. Marketers must work inside the Value Zone (or V-Zone) — the zone where business needs and customer needs overlap. That’s where marketers’ power lies. First you need to find it, then you need to grow it. Success as a marketing leader is about mastering and applying the leadership skills that help maximize the V-Zone.

Driving change without authority: How to become a successful marketing leader

There’s no room for jargon, your boss doesn’t want to hear it. Instead talk revenue, profit and customers — show how your work works.

2. Mobilise your colleagues.

Your non-marketing colleagues are a big part of your success so you need to join forces to get results. Walk the halls, get to know other departments and really understand what they do and what they want to achieve. Then tell a compelling story that gives hope to your colleagues.

3. Mobilise your team.

Build a group with the right mix of skills and personalities centered around a common goal. Of course, as a manager you’ll have to set standards and weigh performance. But trust in them — and make sure they know it.

4. Mobilise yourself.

You’re in the inspiration business. You already have it in you, you just need to identify how you inspire others and then double down on it. Once you have something you believe in, a reason to go to work, people will see it in your eyes.

So now what?

You aren’t born a marketing leader — you must become one. Here’s a big surprise from our research: marketing leaders’ success has very little to do with personality. So almost anyone can succeed by applying these marketing leadership skills. Don’t wait for someone to ask. Get out there, remove the barriers and give your ideas a chance!

If you want to know more, perhaps The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader or my free TryThis.Blog are for you.

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