Customer-centred leadership: tips from the top

As 2014 gathers pace, I’m delighted to say that this year’s Marketing Leaders Programme kicked off in March. Launched 11 years ago, the programme is run by The Marketing Society in association with Brand Learning and sponsored by Shell. Its purpose is to help high potential marketers prepare themselves as they step into top management roles.

The spirit of the programme is unique in that it provides an opportunity for up-and-coming marketers to learn, first hand, from a fantastic range of senior leaders who have already been there and done it themselves. To our already impressive team of contributors we’re welcoming this year Sarah Warby (Sainsbury’s), Martin Glenn (United Biscuits), David Wheldon (Barclays), Cilla Snowball (AMV), Andy Duncan (Camelot), Elizabeth Fagan (Boots), Bernadette Kennedy (Shell) and James Brett (Plant for Peace).

A particular focus in this year’s programme will be to explore the ideas and practices of what we at Brand Learning term ‘Customer-Centred Leadership’.

There are some leadership principles that apply to any leadership role

Whether that be in business, politics or life in general, a strong leader has a passionate commitment to creating something new and exciting in the future. They seek to engage those involved by inspiring and enabling them to contribute towards the fulfilment of this vision in a spirit of partnership and collaboration. And they drive through the delivery of the vision in practice, demonstrating an imaginative and resilient action-orientation along the way.

What is interesting is that the role of a marketing leader differs from this general picture in one crucial respect. Rather than creating their leadership agenda in isolation, marketing leaders have to centre their leadership on the customer. The responsibility they face in commercial terms is to find ways to drive profitable and sustainable growth by identifying and realising ways to create better, more valuable experiences for customers. And their right to lead an organisation is grounded in the authority that comes from being able to represent the customer’s voice within the organisation.

This means that there are two important dimensions to marketing leadership

On the one hand, there is the technical side of the role, the things they need to do as marketers – generating compelling customer and market insight, creating inspiring and purposeful brand ideas, building bigger relationships with customers and delivering profitable top line growth. On the other, there is the behavioural side of the role, the way they need to be as leaders – lifting people’s spirits, making people feel valued and focusing people’s attention on what really matters.

The true art of customer-centred leadership involves bringing these two dimensions - the doing and the being – together in ways which inspire, engage and enable an organisation to reach new levels of performance. And it is this challenge that we will be exploring with the delegates and contributors on this year’s Marketing Leaders Programme. I look forward to sharing some of the lessons we learn on this blog in the coming months.

In the meantime here are a few tips from last year’s speakers:

  • 'Set an outrageous goal and go public on it' (Andy Fennell, president and chief operating officer, Diageo Africa)
  • 'You can do anything - but you can’t do everything. Make choices in your business and in your personal life.' (Roisin Donnelly, corporate marketing director, P&G UK and Ireland)
  • 'Invest in partners and relationships.' (Kerris Bright, CMO, Ideal Standard)
  • 'Understand how to react to stress.' (Jill McDonald, president and CEO, McDonald’s)
  • 'Make decisions. It’s better to do something than nothing,’ (Ian Crook, ex-marketing director, Tesco)
  • 'Adopt an attitude where you are relentlessly restless.' (Craig Inglis, director of marketing, John Lewis)
Originally posted on the Marketing Society blog.


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 @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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