Life Lessons from Successful Leaders

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Before I sit down with each new guest on CMO Moves, I have an incredible sense of anticipation about what nuggets of wisdom they might reveal, stories they might tell. And I’m never let down. Every single one of these pioneering leaders has openly shared their career defining moments, personal experiences and observations that formulated their lessons learned. Below are just a handful of incredible tips that have come up in their individual podcasts, representing important principles such as servant leadership, diversity, equality, inclusion, exploration, risk-taking, personal growth, confidence and self-awareness.

 

LEAD AS A SERVANT

 

It’s not about you

I believe strongly in this whole concept of ‘servant leadership’ that is often discussed but not always clearly understood. I genuinely believe that everything I do as a leader should be for the benefit of the team and the organization that I have the privilege of leading and working with. It's not about me, it's not about what Terrance says. What are the things that I can do to ensure that I'm promoting us as a marketing department and as an organization? How do I ensure that what we're doing on a daily basis speaks to the vision that we've set forth together? Leadership transcends all. If you're able to lead; if you can genuinely create followership and you’re able to resonate and connect with people on an emotional level, I think it allows you to accomplish things that others can't.”  - Listen to Terrance Williams, CMO and President of Emerging Businesses of Nationwide

Help your team succeed by letting them fail

“At Belkin, we love to let people try new and different things. The beauty of agile marketing is you can fail fast and fail quick. I’m not saying that we like to fail, but it's an important part of someone’s learning process. And letting a person experience it is better than telling that person that they’re going fail. We've seen programs or projects that we know are going to fail, but we let them go through because it's a great individual lesson and they come out a much better person through that process. So, we do reward success but we support failure as well. By mentoring [through that process], we let people really shine.” - Listen to Kieran Hannon, CMO of Belkin International

Everyone deserves an equal share of voice

“My wife and I have a twelve year old boy and we've been talking about gender equality. We think that we have not only a responsibility, but an opportunity to raise a boy who becomes a man who actually has a larger impact on gender equality than if we'd had a daughter, in a sense, right? How do we teach this boy to become the kind of man that the world really needs?  That mission carries over to my work as well. At Spotify, I have a team that is majority women and I find that as communicators we need a level of thoughtfulness in what had once been a more male-dominated industry. By even allowing these conversations to come to the surface, people really do examine their beliefs, false or otherwise. And as a result, I hope that we've created a safer environment because if you're expecting innovation, if you're expecting creativity; it only comes from an environment where you do feel safe, where you feel no lack of judgment, and a complete openness to try and occasionally fail. It's not about making everyone the same, it's about respecting everyone for what they bring and not silencing any voices, especially the voices of fifty two percent of our population.” - Listen to Seth Farbman, CMO of Spotify

 

BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS

 

Surround yourself with people who are NOT like you

“I think one of my biggest learnings in life is that it is really natural to surround yourself, especially when you're younger with people who are like you. I grew up playing sports and I was a statistics person, so I really wanted to be around other type A people. That was just who I was drawn to because that was my sort of persona, if you will. But I think the key to having a really good team is having people who think fundamentally different, completely different and that means different cultures, different genders, different ages. I don't want a team full of 10, two years out of business school, Harvard MBAs, right? Like that sounds like the worst team on earth to me.”  - Listen to Charlie Cole, Chief eCommerce Officer for Samsonite and Chief Digital Officer for Tumi

Explore the ‘white space’

“There was a guy on my team at the very beginning of this year who told me that his New Year's Resolution was to focus on the white space. There was a big white board in my office and he drew a massive black dot on the whiteboard and said, ‘If I told you to write about this white board right now, the first thing you would do is focus and write about the black dot rather than the 98 percent of white space around it.’ So as a result of that conversation, I've been speaking to people and really thinking about what other opportunities are out there, career-wise. There is so much opportunity for people who are looking for branding help, for communication help, be it in politics, in traditional companies, or even celebrities who are looking for that help and how they can start working with brands. It's interesting and I'm learning. I'm trying to do things that I wouldn't normally do. What's fascinating is that the conversations I'm having with people are so much different than when you're in a role already because people tend to label you as ‘X’. Whereas when you’re just sitting down with people to learn, conversation tends to go off in lots of different directions, which has been really interesting."  - Listen to Musa Tariq, Recent Chief Brand Officer of Ford

Focus on what you don’t know

“There's so much micro-specialization going on in marketing right now. When I see someone spend twelve years in digital marketing, I really wonder, does it make sense for that person to then branch out and go spend time in finance or in supply chain or in human resources or other areas? It's really important that we provide cross-functional exposure to people early on. And though we certainly need specialists on our teams, if you really want to be a CEO, you need to be really good across a number of areas rather than a specialist in any given area.” - Listen to Greg Welch, Senior Partner of Spencer Stuart

 

TAKE RISKS

 

Forge your own path

“My first job in marketing was for WL Gore, where I was hired, unbelievably enough, to go over to live in Paris and launch a brand-new business line. It was a product for people with allergies made out of a revolutionary material called Gortex. I think it was a great way to begin my career because I was completely forging my own path and discovering a new market, creating a new segment, bringing a new product to consumers that they'd never seen before. I was a complete outsider. I didn't know what the customs were or how people thought about allergies in France. I really had to study it without any preconceived notions. And doing that all by myself when I was still a real newbie right out of business school created an amazing foundation. I think that experience is what formed my whole approach to marketing.” - Listen to Deborah Wahl, CMO of Cadillac

Swing for the fences

“Retail is obsessed with incrementality and it's a very hard cycle to break. Year over year comps. Every time you receive a daily report that says you made $4 last year and you made $3 this year and then your boss and everybody's like, 'dude, what's going on?' This is a really systemic problem because ultimately, it’s how are most people compensated, on a salary and a bonus. And what's the bonus based on?  The previous year's revenue, right? So that ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy that you're going to do what's right on a year over year basis, but as you and I both know, big breakthroughs mean huge swings and huge misses.”  - Listen to Charlie Cole, Chief eCommerce Officer for Samsonite and Chief Digital Officer for Tumi

 

TRUST AND INVEST IN YOURSELF

 

Have confidence in what you believe

“When I got here [to The Recording Academy], there had never been a marketing department before so we started by doing research to figure out who we wanted to be. We had to figure out what we wanted our messaging to be. We had to redefine who our audience was. Was our audience just who Nielsen was telling us was watching the show or was there a deeper psychographic series of segments that we had to address? Internally there were some people on the board that had some crossed arms in the beginning. And I'm certainly not here to tell you that we did everything right and I'm not here to say that we didn't make some mistakes. We probably ruffled a few feathers along the way. But I'm a big believer in the idea that there's a quiet confidence that comes from knowing you're doing the right thing for the right reason. And now when I look back fourteen years to when we started the science experiment called ‘the marketing department’ to where we are now, I think the change has been quite extraordinary.” - Listen to Evan Greene, CMO at The Recording Academy

Be aware of how others perceive you

“I remember this woman sitting in my office who was a key presenter at a table of six people. She became so uncomfortable in the meeting that she began to retreat into the wall. There was a plant behind her that was actually in her hair. And, at the time, all I could think was, “She's camouflage. She's literally so uncomfortable presenting to me that she's become camouflage in this plant.” So, I think it’s so important to be aware that your body language, how you sit, how you present yourself affects the way that others perceive you. People will say to me, ‘That was an amazing speech.’ But I’ll tell you… it sounded natural because I spent an hour and a half making it seem that way and looking in a mirror and practicing. It doesn't come easy.”  - Listen to Denise Karkos, CMO of TD Ameritrade

Prioritize what’s most important to you

“When I had my kids in 2004 and 2006, it was a shock. I thought I had it together, but I definitely didn't. I was putting either the kids or work first (but frequently work) and then my husband was sort of, ‘I'll get to you when the kids go to college.’ I don't know that I ever said that out loud, but that was definitely the attitude I had. And I realized, ‘You know what? This isn't what I want. I actually love this man. I want to spend the rest of my life with him. I love my kids and I love my job and I have to figure this out.’ So, we worked very hard on it and I recast my priorities and said, ‘I'm going to be wife number one because you have to put on your own oxygen mask first on the airplane. Then I'm going to make sure that my kids know that they are incredibly important, and third, I’m still going to be a great executive because I love what I do. I'm a better wife and a better mother because of the hours I spend here at the office and the work that I do. Since that time, things have been a lot more stable. We've been able to figure it out. Not without bumps… but we've definitely been able to figure it out.” - Listen to Mary Beech, CMO of Kate Spade