6 Strategies CMOs Can Use to Lead from the Front

Leading from the front is one of the key strategies CMOs should use to earn the respect of their team and their peers. Put this strategy to work today.

Of all the strategies CMOs should use, leading from the front is probably the least understood. All too many CMOs see themselves as a Napoleon, arms crossed imperiously for their LinkedIn portrait, barking orders from atop their digital white horse to the horseless troops in the rear.

Not at all. Leading from the front is putting yourself first in the line of fire. Like the great leaders throughout history, the CMOs that earn the respect of those who report to them “lead from the front lines,” modeling calculated risk-taking and a shared workload.

When a CMO commits herself to the company’s mission and gets in the trenches with the interns, the junior copywriters, and the mid-level managers to do the work it takes to accomplish that mission, she earns the respect of not only her direct reports but her peers as well.

When CMOs use front-line leadership strategies, they earn respect, inspire outside-the-box innovation, and take the lead in the industry. If you’re a CMO that finds it tough to earn the respect of your direct reports, put these strategies to work for better results.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Study effective leaders of the past and present.
  • Model the behavior you want your teams to emulate.
  • Work alongside and empower your teams.
  • See potential in impossible situations and be willing to take risks.

Study History’s Greatest Leaders

Battle-hardened CMOs have often come up through the ranks in a traditionally structured, top-down leadership model. After all, that was the norm in corporations all over the world for centuries.

Yet, if you look to truly battle-hardened leaders – wartime legends that eked out freedom one bloody battle at a time – you’ll see a pattern. The losers, like Napoleon, met their Waterloos all at the hands of their inflated egos.

Those winners, like World War II hero George Patton, never asked their men and women to take on tasks that they were unwilling to do themselves.

In fact, those who served under Patton’s leadership characterized the feisty general’s style thus: “No man served under Gen. Patton; he was always serving with us.” Though his tough exterior was legendary, Patton never asked his soldiers to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself.

Model the Qualities You Want your Team to Have

If you want your teams to take risks, be a risk-taker yourself. GE’s Jeffrey Immelt is a great example of leading from the front on innovation. His FastWorks program has transformed the legacy company into a global innovator by modeling – and then encouraging – innovative thought, a recognition that multiple failures are usually the only roads to success, and a mindset that puts the company’s customers at the forefront of product development and expansion.

Before Immelt implemented FastWorks, though, he modeled those innovative qualities himself, making bold moves in some cases, exercising caution in others. One thread ran through Immelt’s management strategy: doing things in a way that the century-plus-old company hadn’t seen since Thomas Edison founded it.

Work Alongside Your Team

In those “all-hands-on-deck” moments, be the leader that stays by your team’s side as you scramble to meet a deadline. Inspired campaigns come more often from teams whose leaders burn the midnight oil with them than those who head off for a weekend at the Hamptons (or wherever) and leave the team behind to hash out a winner.

As you work with your team, own your mistakes, recognize the contributions team members make, and teach your staff how to recognize and recover from errors. Celebrate successes and put your heads together to overcome challenges and disappointments.

If you don’t have an employee activation program, start one. It will empower your teams to take ownership of your brand and hone their own leadership skills.

Don’t Merely Manage – Lead!

When you focus only on the work that you need to get done, you can lose sight of the people who do that work, says British project management expert Susanne Madsen. Of course, CMOs and others in leadership need to keep one eye on the calendars and the task charts.

However, to not only get those tasks done – but to get your teams to do each of those tasks with excellence in every detail, CMOs need to inspire. To do so, though, means that you need to step back from the organizational chart and empower your team.

Although Madsen labels empowerment as “leading from behind,” I respectfully disagree. Those leaders who empower those employees underneath them are doing exactly what the great leaders of the past and present do: model timely completion of tasks and excellence in execution. That’s leading from the front, in my book – front-lines leadership.

Be a Visionary

Whether you label being a visionary “from the front” or ”from behind,” I would agree wholeheartedly with Madsen that great leaders are first and foremost visionaries.

In marketing, that quality is an even more critical indicator of great leadership. Marketing is all about having a vision, proclaiming that vision, and etching it upon the hearts of potential customers.

In the Battle of the Bulge, General Patton’s ability to see victory in a seemingly impossible march through vile weather conditions broke the back of the Nazi armies. His victory heralded the end of the European theater campaign in the Second World War.

Similarly, a visionary CMO can not only see those kinds of opportunities to capture a new share of the market but also teach others to do likewise. It’s all about leadership, whatever the arena.

Focus on the Mission

Though the battles to win a customer’s business are rarely bloody, they do take their toll on a company’s budget – if the CMO doesn’t focus on the mission. Scattershot ads, no matter how clever, that don’t hit the mark waste a company’s time and money.

A marketing team’s chief mission is always meeting the customer’s needs and publicizing their customers’ success. A CMO must, therefore, be a thought leader – both in her industry and within the company.

Without a thorough knowledge of her products as well as her customers and their needs, a CMO will never hit the target when it comes to meeting those needs. That’s real thought leadership.

It’s tapping into the talent of your teams, your knowledge of your field, and answering the questions that keep your customers up at night. It’s the secret ingredient you need to focus on your mission.

When you lead from the front by putting your own reputation on the line, you earn the respect of both your staff and your peers. That kind of bold leadership that puts the mission – meeting your customers’ needs – at the forefront of its priorities is exactly what is needed in the C-suite today.

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Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.

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