Authentic leadership: a call to marketers

Many eminent commentators continue to dissect the ongoing News Corp/Murdoch debacle, not least the FT’s management writer, Andrew Hill, in his wonderful satire, “Enrolment open for an MBA in Murdoch”.

Details are emerging of the prevailing leadership style at NoTW, and even at times, the apparent lack of any obvious leadership. The astounding insights we are getting into the practical realities underpinning the sourcing of our news, comes at a time when there are increasing expectations of leaders, focus on the values of leadership and in particular the role of authenticity.

I have worked with many senior marketing leaders at Brand Learning and in my role as part of the Marketing Leaders Programme. Each year we have seen the need for authentic leadership become more and more important, and it’s not because it’s the latest buzz phrase. It’s because in a world where the cultures of media empires like Murdoch’s and Berlusconi’s are being laid bare by the incredible impact of digital technology and the power of social media - transparency is inevitable.

Consumers expect to be able to trust in their brands' integrity, employees expect to trust their employers, people need motivation to act - they need to be able to trust, to believe and to be inspired. And the responsibility to meet those consumer led needs falls heavily on the shoulders of marketers - to identify a higher, common purpose, to engage the whole business with it and to lead with integrity and authenticity.

5 traits of authentic marketing leadership

  1. Stand for something and tell the world! Marketers need to be able to inspire the whole organisation to work together and focus on a common goal. But vision is nothing if it does not have passion and an authentic story behind it; something people can believe in. Being able to paint an inspiring picture of what the future looks like and how you can work together to reach it, sits at the heart of the leadership agenda.
  2. Underpin everything you do with integrity. Being true to yourself is a key ingredient of authenticity. If you do not believe in what you do, no one else will. Marketing leaders often have a tough job getting the business to appreciate marketing’s role and the value of it. Having integrity and believing in what you are doing will give you the resilience, determination and integrity to reach others, and draw others to you.
  3. Recognise the importance of building strong relationships. Consumer-centric organisations have marketing at their heart, yet marketing is reliant on the wider business to deliver the strategies. It is no longer authority, but influence that is key, and that is reliant largely on the strength of your relationships. With other departments focused on their own objectives, marketing leaders need to have relationships across the business so that they can reach out to, understand and then share the customer agenda in a way that inspires those individuals into action.
  4. Know it’s all about the people. Marketing leaders are increasingly being tasked with identifying and driving organisations’ future growth agendas as seen in the CMO Council's Marketing Outlook 2011 Report. To be able to step up to this business leading role means stepping back from the day to day marketing agenda. Hence leaders need a strong team of senior marketers they can trust to deliver the day job and to keep them connected with the wider teams. They also need teams full of people to drive them on by constructively questioning and challenging their decisions.
  5. Be brave and be bold! It could be argued that inspiration and fundamental change never came from meek and mild leadership. Brave and bold leaders are those that put their neck on the line. It is not based on arrogance, but on a belief in what they and their teams are doing; back to the core element running through all of these - authenticity. With many organisations increasingly recognising the importance of marketing and the consumer at the heart of the business, the leader has a key role in representing all that can be good about marketing - the energy, the passion, the creativity, the growth opportunity it offers any organisation.

The future role of authentic leadership

Quite clearly the past, current and future actions of the Murdoch empire will become a classic business case history for future students to pore over. Yet there are other powerful currents and trends at play that mean that authenticity will and must continue its rise up the corporate agenda.

A decreasing loyalty in the workforce, particularly in developing markets where there is a skills scarcity, is a growing trend. Moreover we have all read about Generation Y and how they are far less loyal and have higher expectations about work/life balance than previous generations as well as apparently having highly idealistic, civic and world views.

So marketing leaders need to understand how they, their teams and the business as a whole can be truly authentic. Asking your peers and colleagues how authentic a leader they honestly think you are being is no bad place to start.


For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly on LinkedIn. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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