Focus on Leadership to Rise in Marketing Hierarchy

You’re a senior marketing manager at a major Midwestern catalog company that’s a prestige brand. You enjoy being with the people you work with, you have a connection with the product and the money’s pretty good. Many with experience similar to yours would trade places with you in a heartbeat.

Yet you’ve been in the job for four years, and there are no signs of an impending promotion. You feel stuck in the mud. As with e-mail clutter, you must find a way to stand out.

You know a leader when you meet one. They exude confidence and can be just a little cocky. They can be found coaching football teams – or running list companies. Few leaders are born. Most are made. With that in mind, here’s a surefire eight-step program that will have you viewed in a new light by senior management and key industry figures.

Think broadly. It’s fine to excel in all the components of your job description, but showing interest in related areas demonstrates your commitment like little else. Look for ways to be more than a person who’s simply done what’s asked of them; instead, do everything you can to broaden your skill set. “I like people who think beyond their little part of the world,” said Tom Masterson, worldwide circulation director at BusinessWeek. “If you’re an insert card manager, think about the broader context. Figure out a way to offer ideas.”

Communicate clearly and strongly. Admire their tactics or not, leaders like Jack Welch and Bill Belichick articulate their thoughts clearly and without equivocation. That’s what makes them leaders. They write and speak forcefully. It’s easier to follow a person who appears certain of what he or she is saying than one who doesn’t. Whether in weekly departmental meetings or on memos to senior management, write in the active voice and get to the point. Don’t ramble. Treat your e-mails with the diligence they deserve.

Work hard, put the organization first. In interviews, candidates lament to me that they have workaholic bosses who unfairly expect them to work longer hours than they do. But making the sacrifice to do so can net results. “I look for people who lead by example, do more than what their boss and their company ask for and really make a sacrifice,” said Guy Crossley, former CEO of Institutional Investor’s newsletter business. “Of course, having a positive culture helps.”

Show creativity with ideas. Though new paradigms of action scare most senior managers, suggest sweeping ideas to not only control the costs of your channel or save money by outsourcing, but also to become a more efficient department, business unit or company. It may not be the right suggestion at the right time, but you may score points for resourcefulness.

Establish visibility in your industry. By getting your face and name out there, you automatically become known as an expert in your field, and that goes a long way toward conferring leadership status. Attend industry events, even if it’s on your dime. Increasing your industry involvement may yield the type of ROI that every direct marketer seeks. Gaining visibility in your own organization, especially in the eyes of senior management, can lead to upward mobility as well.

Mentor a lower-level staff member. Bond with a junior person who recently joined your company. Take the person under your wing, even if the person doesn’t report to you. Those around you will see that it’s your nature to share your wisdom with a less-experienced person, and you’ll be regarded as someone who’s comfortable in the role of a more senior person.

Stay positive. As a midlevel manager, you’re expected to manage up, down and sideways – and find time to get your work done. And in the case of selecting the right CRM package or doing cost-per-click calculations, much of that work tends to be barely visible to people outside your organization. All the more reason to stay focused. While your peers may show signs of stress, looking unfazed to the outside world will increase the chance that you’ll be perceived as senior management material by those in power.

Find the right home to grow in. Not all companies possess a culture that fosters leadership. Those that do may be entrepreneurial or more formalized, matrixed or hierarchical, large or small. Reviewing businesses that are DM-driven – magazine publishing companies, Internet companies and agencies – certain companies have earned a reputation for striving for excellence and creatively rewarding high performers. The challenge for you is to identify these companies and learn when the opportunities exist to make them your home.

You’ve received your instructions. Now comes the hard part. Converting ideas into actions is often difficult, requiring discipline and commitment. But if you already have solid technical expertise, these suggestions will enhance your chance of being perceived as senior-management timber.

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