The secrets of effective leadership

Discover the secrets behind exceptional leadership skills and how you can apply them to your role in the marketing industry.

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There are certain qualities all strong leaders possess, regardless of their role in the organization and the circumstances under which they lead. How and when you apply good leadership skills makes all the difference.

An infantry platoon leader in the army, for example, needs to demonstrate confidence in their decision-making and communicate clear orders to take action. This is tactical leadership.

Effective marketing leaders also need to be masters of communication. But their message is very different. Marketing leaders need to cultivate a vision and use it to inspire their team. The message and leadership style is part tactical and part aspirational. 

Both the platoon leader and the marketing leader in this example are effective leaders. They’re just in very different jobs. 

Turn challenges into inspiration

As a marketing leader, you’re probably familiar with being in this position: Leadership passes down very ambitious goals for your department’s key performance indicators (KPIs) at the start of the fiscal year. 

Lofty goals can come as a shock and sow the seeds of self-doubt. You may push back and discuss whether you have the resources you need to achieve the goals. You might gather some data to help make your case. Maybe the goals get adjusted, maybe they don’t. There are still going to be goals you need to communicate to your team.

The best leaders will take a day or two to digest the numbers, take stock of the team’s resources and then present a plan to the team. By this point, the self-doubt is gone and it’s time to inspire the team with a plan on how they’re going to make it happen. 

Nurture a culture of innovation and empower your team

One of the significant differences between the platoon leader in our earlier example and a marketing leader is the way effective marketing leaders will delegate authority and encourage new ideas and innovative solutions. Strict adherence to orders is necessary in the military. In marketing, there’s a good chance your team will fall short of its lofty goals if it repeats the same strategies and tactics it used last year.

Creativity and risk-taking are an essential part of marketing. The often-professed love of A/B tests among marketers stems from trying new things. This is especially true in today’s world, where customers are bombarded by messages every waking minute. Without creativity and risk, your marketing is simply part of the background noise. 

Nurturing innovation and risk requires trust. If your marketing team is scared to fail because it will cost them their jobs, there’s no incentive to innovate. To foster innovation and encourage risk-taking, your team needs to know you have their backs. And that brings us back to communicating — this time with leadership. 

When something goes wrong, leadership wants to understand what happened. By clearly communicating the risks inherent in your strategy to your leadership, you’ll gain the confidence to take chances. In turn, you will be positioned to pass that confidence to your team. 

Dig deeper: 5 secrets of streamlining marketing workflows

Embracing a growth mindset and encouraging growth

Mistakes are often tolerated. A pattern of mistakes is an indicator of a larger problem. Encouraging innovation and risk helps cultivate a growth mindset among your team. Learning means making mistakes. Learning from those mistakes is growth. 

If you want your team’s marketing to rise above the noise, your team members need the freedom to learn and grow.

Adapting to change: Leading through marketing disruption

If part of your marketing playbook is reliant on data from third-party cookies, you need to adapt to a world without them.

If part of your strategy involves cold email outreach, you need to monitor changes in the email landscape closely.

There are a number of forces applying pressure to familiar marketing channels and tactics. Regulatory pressure impacts how we collect and store data. Pressure from vendors like Apple and Google makes it seemingly more difficult to reach prospects. But, as MarTech contributor Ruth Stevens pointed out in a recent Q&A, much of the change in the industry is a result of changes in the way today’s buyers buy.

People, in general, dislike change. Effective leaders help their team members overcome the uncertainty of change. The best leaders encourage their teams to change by encouraging innovation and risk-taking. But they also help their teams navigate through uncertainty when change is thrust upon them.

When it’s time to adapt to change, here are three areas to consider:

  • Embrace technological advancement and digital transformation. There will always be new tools, or “shiny objects,” as they are often called. AI is just the latest. That doesn’t mean you need to deploy them all (you don’t have the budget). But it does mean you should test them out (and encourage your team to test them out). Some will be a fit. Some will help you innovate. Some will simply be shiny objects.
  • Agile leadership. The environment where you operate changes. Some changes, like the way buyers buy, are generational. They tend to come gradually. Other changes, like a change in the leadership team, will happen overnight. Responding to these shifts, big or small, with confidence, makes you a more effective leader. Tracking trends in the industry will reduce the surprises and help you respond confidently. 
  • Leading remote and virtual teams. Remote and virtual teams are now a fact of life. They present new challenges to many leaders. This is especially true when it comes to change because remote team members might feel disconnected from decisions that lead to change and the results of change. Healthy relationships with remote employees require trust. Many leaders don’t like when they can’t see people working at their desks. Judge your remote team members by the quality of their work instead of the hours they work.    

Dig deeper: 4 common pitfalls in failed agile marketing transformations (and how to avoid them)

Influencing and collaborating in marketing leadership

Every marketing leader needs to manage and communicate with multiple stakeholders. These include vendors, partners, executives and more. Each of these stakeholders has their own communication and collaboration style. Each is interested in a certain aspect of your role but rarely needs a rundown of everything you’re doing on any given day. 

The secret to communicating and collaborating effectively with other stakeholders is to understand what they need to know and how to share that with them most effectively. This often boils down to their personal communication style. You can spend weeks trying to figure out what their style is, or you can simply ask how they like to receive information. Guess which method is most effective.

Cross-functional communication is the art of dealing with people in other departments. Every organization is structured differently, but developing and nurturing relationships with leaders in finance, legal, IT, data and product roles is essential. Get to know what’s important to them, what information they have that your team needs and how they prefer to communicate.

Developing and mentoring future marketing leaders

As children and young adults, we tend to think of the manager-employee relationship as one of issuing orders and following orders. We have decades of pop culture to blame for this perception. But for many of us, our first jobs as young people pretty much fit that description. 

The most effective marketing leaders are training their team members to take their place. That means providing them with opportunities to grow and mentoring them along the way. 

Mentoring is a cross between parenting and teaching. Parents want their children to solve their own problems (with some guidance when necessary). Teachers want their students to do their own work and complete assignments without looking up the answers in the book’s appendix. 

Mentoring equips your team members with the skills and knowledge they need to take the next step in their careers. This is especially true of the soft skills managers need, like communicating. The leaders who make the most impactful mentors have a talent that’s often under-appreciated: They know how to listen. 

Go forth and share the secrets to effective marketing leadership

Effective leadership in the marketing industry requires a unique blend of skills, including strong communication, fostering innovation, adapting to change, building relationships and nurturing talent. Current and future marketing leaders need to develop and practice these skills. 

But for marketing as an industry to grow its influence in the business world, these skills can’t be kept secret. Leaders should strive to unlock their full potential for themselves and their teams. 

Go forth and lead. 

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About the author

Mike Pastore
Mike Pastore has spent nearly three decades in B2B marketing, as an editor, writer, and marketer. He first wrote about marketing in 1998 for (later Jupitermedia). He then worked with marketers at some of the best-known brands in B2B tech creating content for marketing campaigns at both Jupitermedia and QuinStreet. Prior to joining Third Door Media as the Editorial Director of the MarTech website, he led demand generation at B2B media company TechnologyAdvice.

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