CMO leadership: how to succeed in the modern era

I am deeply honored and delighted to be nominated by the CMO Club for its annual CMO President’s Circle Award.  This award recognizes CMOs who have demonstrated success in leading teams, leadership in marketing innovation, and leading beyond just the marketing department.

Usually I am embarrassed by recognition such as this but it sparked me into thinking about what are the key leadership characteristics that would help make a CMO successful in today’s world.

When I think about leadership I always refer back to Jim Collins and his excellent book “Good to Great”.

In this book he talks about Level 5 leadership. Jim defines a Level 5 leader as “Building enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”. In effect it is the ability to create and establish absolute clarity of purpose whilst ensuring that success is only seen through the action of others. To achieve this it means your primary focus can only be on two areas; the people you work with and the ability to build market understanding.

So here are some proposals as to how you can be an effective leader in these two areas. It is just a selection but hopefully it will be useful:

People and teamwork

  • Start with culture and establish a function that is built on respect, transparency, collaboration, shared success and fun.
  • Great culture will attract great people. Jim Collins once said; “if I were running a company today, I would have one priority above all others: to acquire as many of the best people as I could”.
  • Get to know the skills and competencies of your team members and focus their efforts on areas where they excel.
  • Always recognize, support and motivate your team members by focusing on the positives, whether it is success or opportunities to improve. This will ensure your team contributes more so imagine everyone gives a further 10%, you have just increased your FTEs by 5 people for a team of 50.
  • Allow people to be personally accountable and give everyone the chance to show what they can deliver.
  • Set goals on outcomes and not activities, this way you allow freedom to experiment and innovate.

Data, knowledge, wisdom and foresight

  • Always start with data.
  • Try and ensure that every decision made has considered all available insights.
  • Establish a marketing sciences team and empower them to always provide recommendations with any analysis.
  • Create a structured, uniformed segmented view of the market so everyone is looking at the market in the same way.
  • Set targets based on market / customer segments so you can better gauge progress at a micro level.
  • Make sure objectives are based on business outcomes and not just on specific activities as these end up being proxies.
  • Apply the concept of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) so you report performance across all stages of the customer lifecycle in a joined up fashion. There is no benefit in doing 4 out of 5 things well if that one element that you don’t do well breaks the chain.

To best summarize this it brings me to the magic of Arthur C. Clarke who once said; “The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.”

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So, in signing off, if you get the right people onboard, establish a culture in which they can express themselves and then empower them with the best possible insights, you will have gone a long way to becoming a successful marketing leader.

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