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Marketing leadership

Modern Marketers lead with Compassion and Strength

It’s becoming clear that keeping people motivated, excited and encouraged is being reset. The ability to remain creative, collaborative and foster the best marketing will evolve as leading with compassion and strength emerges as the new paradigm for us to adopt.

Episode 034 TOPICS:

  • Inspirational leadership from Jacinda Aherne, Mandy Ginsberg and Valerie Granoff

  • What companies on "best places to work" lists do well

  • The key needs that employees have right now

  • How to lead with compassion and strength 

  • New tools and techniques that inspire marketing and creativity

Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed

34. Modern Marketers Lead with Compassion and Strength



Our current show format means our audience is hearing from two guys, which we’ll acknowledge now, we can’t change that, the research for this show is through a broad lens and not just our own experiences. So, I’ll start off this show with a quote from Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, she said:

One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow because I’m empathetic it means I’m weak. I rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong. 

Right now, we see the Norway Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Germany’s Angela Merkel, leader from Sint Maarten Silveria Jacobs and the Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen. They’re all demonstrating leadership traits we should absolutely emulate and advocate. They are role models in line for this week’s show. 

In this show we’re going to talk about the future of leadership and how to collaborate and work in the future, especially amongst marketing and creative audiences as we lead into this transformation. It’s becoming clear that keeping people motivated, excited and encouraged is being reset, and the ability to remain creative, to be able to collaborate and foster the best marketing has changed. Employees are having completely different experiences, some for the better and some for the worse. 

For the better it’s the immediacy, the flexibility, many the reduction of the long commute for example, no longer two hours each way or variations of that and more proximity to being at home and with your family and familiarity. The downsides then, have been the online nature of every interaction. There’s this expression now of being zoomed out. People are just fatigued from back to back to back video conferences and video experiences and the alerts that are showing up and alarms coming from multiple platforms, logging in here and logging in there to stay in touch - it’s getting a bit tiresome. 

The fact is that we know the majority of human communication comes from body language and through tone so, only ten percent I believe is through the words that we use. So, the irony of being online if you’re on a video conference and half the participants don’t have cameras on because maybe they’re unable or unwilling to, it’s actually not that great an experience, you’re basically back on a conference call. It limits the quality of communication. Just to sum up then why I believe this is so important, there’s some great advice from Paul Estes, he’s from, the move to remote work does not mean you stay at work. Just remember, just because you’re working remotely, doesn’t mean you can afford to stay there all the time. You’ve got to block out time for yourself. 

Secondly, we need to learn how to use the technology and really embrace how to do that well. Thirdly, some things are here to stay. Tally medicine, I find, is actually faster, better and more efficient and can lead to better engagement and better results. If you think of that from a customer’s perspective then think of it as a marketer, how are people engaging and using your products? Maybe it’s actually better, easier and faster in the new way, in the current climate than it was before, and we need to embrace that and factor it into what we do next. 


Putting the Work in Teamwork


Yeah, absolutely, Sam. There’s some services that are definitely lending themselves to the new way of working, as we ‘ve already covered and I think, you raised a whole lot of points there, we’ll come back to all of them throughout the session. And we wanted to focus this episode on teams, this episode. 

So how easy is it for product management to work with marketing in this situation? How do you conduct a brainstorm through the airways? How do you sketch out a critical part? And most importantly, how do you lead? We wanted to reflect on what we’re seeing with some of those leaders in handling a crisis and what this will mean for business as a whole. 

Forbes wrote a good article, although I’m not entirely sure about the title, Why Women Make Great Leaders During Covid19. I’ll imagine there’s a number of female leaders out there bristling, saying that they’re just perceived as a crisis where they’re great leaders, when the examples that you’ve given are much broader than that. It’s not just about crisis management. But, the points still remain the same, that actually there’s an element of having a more diverse reputile, leadership strategies. Obviously, in a male dominated senior C-suite that’s been documented and therefore having to find different strategies that clearly serves you well leading through a crisis. 

There’s a Mckinsey study that shows that women in leadership are much more focused on building communities and teams and Mckinsey pinpointed that the essential characteristics of leadership and what determines the differences between how men and women may well lead. Not just in normal circumstances but in a crisis is that women will be a bit more people orientated and spend time developing and coaching other leaders in their organisation as well, and that sense of community minded leadership, that focus on the people rather than the business, or as well as the business, I think is probably more accurate. 

That proves very effective in situations that we see ourselves in at the moment, whether you’re leading a country, a society or a business, it’s about how do you focus on the employees and how do you drive that through? I can only think that this is going to become more and more important in a post pandemic world.


Absolutely. When I think about what’s going on, it's often driven by the need now to ensure that you put people first. There’s more proof that this was actually happening pre-Covid as much as during and post-Covid. There was a report from Mandy Ginsberg, who was the CEO of a twenty billion company - The Match Group, and she opened up to the magazine Fast Company which is an innovation publication, about how health concerns over a family’s history of cancer and the misfortune of having her home destroyed by a tornado. And that she just realised that she had a backlog of missed calls from a doctor about some serious health issues that she had, that led her to actually quit and give up the hard, one job of being a CEO. And for me, what was powerful about this story was that she was one of many leaders that were starting to put on record and share their struggles and share that it’s ok to not fall into the trap of being stoic but actually just be transparent and just being honest. And she got a lot of applause internally and externally for doing that. 

So, being people first is also about thinking of people when they’re well as well as when they’re sick. And we can all relate to how hard it is to separate personal issues from work issues. They both co-habitat and we’ve got to think about how we accept that and our power to just live into that. We’ve got to help workers to focus on their passion. So, if you’re working with people who are innovative and coming up with new innovations, even if you invest and support them so that they leave, then maybe you can even invest in them now and as a company you could perhaps invest in that new company they set up. Think about how you bring people together and doing that in a purposeful way, empower people to own their work. And then just creating spaces for people to be themselves and to do that well. Some other leadership I’m seeing from senior marketers was from an organisation called We Are Rosie, which is a consultancy, an agency supporting freelance marketers and creative and advertising people and Stephanie Nadi Olsen recently said that ‘not only are we not furloughing or laying people off, we’re actually floating a massive amount of money to holding companies right now’. I just think that’s awesome to see that the marketers and leaders of this space are remodelling internally and externally how to lead and support and build that community and that ecosystem that they’re a part of. 

Another piece I was seeing from Alison Baum, who wrote a great piece on Medium about the future of work becomes work. So check that out from Alison Bowyer. Amongst several things that she shared, she’s said, look, the psychological impact of what’s going on means that this whole space of mental health care is pretty important, and we see the plethora of brands in the direct to consumer and employee channels actually doing that. So, we have to think about new innovations that can come in terms of tracking and helping with habits that improve our mental health, how we support employees with their mental health benefits, and the platforms that really do focus on communication and human micro connections between communities. All those things are going to become more and more important as we move forward. 



Yeah. A start-up I’ve mentioned before is one called Sanctus and they have an ambition to set up mental health gyms with employers and send coaches around to do that. I think we will see more and more of that as we’ve seen a rise in the health start-ups, I think we’ll see a rise in that sub-sector of mental health start-ups as well. And that example of Amanda Ginsberg, from a leadership point of view it really sums it up that you need to be honest about your struggles and encourage others to come forward, build that trusting community and that’s all necessary characteristics of leading a winning team; by opening up about your personal struggles and reasons to leave it, it creates that sense of community, I think, no doubt standing with employees and future investors or whatever she chooses to do, I think we’ll be there. 

But look, let’s play devil’s advocate here, Sam. There’s a number of start-ups, past and present as well as successful companies and all of the VC and private equity industries, it’s based around that companies should be seen as pressure cookers in their hyper growth stage. Apple wasn’t seen as a nice place to work from many different perspectives and we’ve all felt it, Sam. We’ve all seen that stress is an essential part of jobs that we do. And it will be interesting to see whether there’s a reset rethink moment but a certain tension surely is necessary, a bit of rub there. There’s a professor I believe called Heifetz, he’s from Stanford, I believe, and he identified five strategic principles of leadership that those in authority can apply. The first one was about identifying the adaptor change or challenge. Pretty straight forward that one. The second one, less so. Keep the levels as high enough to encourage action, but not so high that the top blows off. The third one was to focus the tension on issues rather than stress reducing distractions, and I think that is an interesting point.

Whether you get distracted by initiatives to help well-being rather than focus on the issues. Distribute the work at a rate people can handle, expose voices of leadership without authority. Now, again, over the podcasts that we’ve done, that last point about making sure that leaders are throughout the whole organisation, we’re not going to disagree with that but I think, the point about subjecting that stress is necessary to implement action is interesting, and I think there will be a large number of people listening to this or within an industry who would say, we don’t want this to become too touchy feely, we want this still to be about the numbers. So, what will be fascinating is whether this method of work will work going forward, and whether management must try to reduce stress and employees are likely to come out in a more vulnerable state and we have to address it. 

There’s various studies already happening. Two thirds of employers are saying they’re feeling more anxious in their current environment, sixty-four percent are saying they’re feeling more stressed, however, a third are actually saying they’ve reported that their mental health has actually improved over the last few weeks and many put that down to home working, which is great news. 

And when people are looking at the decline in health, they’re quoting stress, anxiety, being worried about their job, feeling fatigued, working from home is only six percent of that. So, you would hope that actually what we’ve learnt over the last period of time is actually, working from home can be seen as a positive, however, we will need to keep an eye on the stress levels and the impact it can have on long term work.


There’s No ‘I’ in Leader


Yeah, and research shows, I listened to a great podcast episode, which really just helped me focus on what do employees really need from the leaders? Where do they actually want help? And where the most help is going to actually improve the situation? It was a podcast by Michael Gale, Forbes futures podcast, and he had a guest Valerie Granoff on the show, who’s a psychotherapist, and she just laid out some basic things that leaders could put into practice, just being patient and flexible and thinking more about their own self-care as much as their employees, it’s about role modelling.

So, think about what kind of metrics matter? And how do you move? Perhaps just move a bit slower. A bit slower and lower expectations of people, to help them get into the groove. The work status has kind of shifted, so the power structures and the hierarchies are not really in place, no one has their big office anymore and people are adapting to this new world and just show compassion. And really help your people just be the best versions of themselves. So, one way you could do that is to just communicate. Focus on what you do know versus what you don’t know so that people have a bit more control. 

A lot of time when motivating teams, you’ve got to invest in doing that so, often it’s about communication. Communication, communication, communication. Be more mindful about it and think about the style and approach and how you do that in a group or individually. Be kind, be generous. Prepare before you communicate. Give people space and time for listening. On a video call, one thing I see people could do more of is just look into the lens. Because looking into the lens gives you that sense of eye contact versus looking elsewhere or looking at yourself on the screen. Looking into the lens is probably something you need to practice, to show that you’re listening to other people. And you can just meet up and do things in a more creative way. 

So, you could have virtual coffees, or virtual breakfasts or virtual lunches or virtual dinners, where you literally get your own coffee from your kitchen and then come back and sit and just drink it, Without an agenda, just like you would do with colleagues in a physical office. 

So, those types of things are just simple ways to share that connection and role model the way that we can better support our employees but also be more productive, more collaborative and creative.



Yeah, that’s good. And if I was just to critique one of those I think, the video conference call, I’m still seeing a lot of people that are really reluctant to turn their cameras on, and there’s a bad wi-fi issue and in fact, I suffer from that sometimes but I think it’s more a case of not engaging fully. So, at least put them on at the start or the end of the conference call, at least so that. And here’s an action plan, Sam, just to follow on from those points. 

I think the first one is about being real, don’t sugar-coat it, be real with employees. That links back to how honesty can make workers feel and how empowering it can be. And avoid that paternalistic approach as well where you're almost shielding them from bad news. I just think, you know, as with kids, most of the time they’ve already got there before you have anyway, so treat them as adults and they will respect you more. 

Second point: show compassion. The impact that your words can have can be immense as a leader. Have a viewpoint, have an opinion and also, if you leave stuff unsaid - it gets noticed. In a crisis, you have to empathise, recognise the impact that will be felt, not just the business and at home.  I think another one of those action points, work out a way to store collective pride. Again, if we look from a country perspective or society we’re seeing that the clap for the care workers on a Thursday night, it’s an absolute way of installing collective pride. You know, sort of a Colonel Tom, Captain Tom, the ex-veteran who’s raised thirty million pounds, poster boy for the Covid19 crisis, absolutely. 



Yeah, he’s made it onto the news over in the US as well. So, it’s great to have this hundred-year-old icon being lorded and also, it’s a story that travels the world, and everyone can get something out of it. If you can do it at one hundred, we can all find a way to support ourselves but also support the community.



Yeah, and there’s other societal examples of that. After 9/11 that sense of collective pride in New York City as to how they were dealing with that very, very personal tragedy. But from a company perspective the same applies. There’s many experiences I’ve had now where people are becoming prouder of the decisions that their organisations are taking, and I can only imagine that staff satisfaction surveys are going to be a very different picture to what they would have been last year.

And finally, don’t forget, when we find ourselves on the other side of a business challenge or a crisis, we have to continue and understand how it made us feel and what the fallout is. I mean, obviously, from a pandemic there’s the grief that many people have, it will affect people's lives and we need the leader to project compassion and understanding and it’s a difficult balancing act. But it can be achieved, and they are seen to be there and if compassionate and heard, it can be incredibly powerful. So, that’s just a quick action plan there, Sam.



Great, I love those steps, Chris, and we’ll make sure we share those again later. As you talk there, there’s a lot of things you’ve put into the plan but listen, let’s be realistic. It's not easy. So, don’t expect it just to happen. It’s actually work, you need to work at it. Even for Apple, they’ve recently released their results and Tim Cook, the CEO is saying actually, it’s been a bit of a mixed picture for their shift to remote work and some divisions, it’s actually improved productivity. So, for example, software division had it easier than perhaps the hardware group and they continue to need new products as their life plug, but they’re struggling a bit. So, again, it’s not just going to happen, you have to really plan and work at it.


Marketing Techniques and Creativity


Yeah, good point. I think that equally this applies to Apple as it does to every company, we’ve talked about in the last session whether you have an adequate disaster recovery program in place and whether your CMOs are on top of their game as well as the CIOs, and I think we should also reflect onto this in our day to day jobs as well. 

If we relate it to marketing, Sam, some jobs, I think, within the marketing teams I’m working with are currently easier to do at the moment, and some being little difference while others are clearly struggling. I’ve been tapping into friends and colleagues over the last week over different areas and seeing what they are finding on their work and looking at it from a technical perspective rather than from a business perspective. And I know you’ve been doing the same, so, I’ll kick off there. 

Marketing analysis, a lot of insight going ‘wow, this is brilliant, this is the same if not easier’. The opportunity to deep think without distraction is being seen as a good opportunity, working from home is helping that through. VPNs getting their data has been notoriously slow, it always is. And I’ve mentioned before Bruce Daisley, a good friend of mine, has written a book about the joy of work and there’s an interesting part in it about the need to create an environment to deep think which modern offices just don’t have, or open spaces actually can work against that, and I think we’ll come back to that in the next episode, Sam.


Taking another view, looking at publishing. The ability to get a publication out. Two editors I’ve spoken to, two schools of thought here, one already operates remotely, has a bank of freelancers to flat plan and all that they do and actually, it’s business as usual for them. The second one, used to work in the office, a war room, everything up on the walls, finding it absolutely awful. Finding that collaboration isn’t working. And maybe just number two wasn’t as prepared as number one there, that’s an interesting point in itself. Product management, some of the feedback I think is clear, it’s hard to get close to the customers at times like this but they have been making it work by collaborating around prototypes like Slack. What about you, Sam, what have you seen? 



Yeah, as you’re talking there Chris, I’m realising that you have to be open to new ways of working better than you had before and maybe compromising or shifting your perspectives to get more out of it. 

One of the things that I’ve been doing that seems to work for me now is that being open to a new bunch of tools, there’s a new product from Prezi, Prezi you’re probably more familiar with them with their presentation tools, they’ve got Prezi Video which launched in November 2019, and it helps you put you and your graphics on screen together. So, imagine when we watch TV, we see a presenter and there’s stuff going on beside or below them. Well, you actually have that capability in Prezi Video, and it then means that you can have a more natural and a zooming conversational video. 

Remember, you’re still looking at the presenter, so we’re still looking at each other, not focused on the slide and the slide is no longer the focal point for everything that we do and collaborate. And it just makes things so much more dynamic and more engaging and just a bit more real. 

So, that’s one tool that I’m really excited about, shifting how we think. And another one is Mural, another platform that I’ve been playing around with, which is a visual collaboration tool. It allows you to share artefacts, similar to a whiteboard. And it gives you the opportunity to use lists, flowcharts, methods and you’re drawing stuff and moving stuff around and actually when you’re on that platform, things actually look like a post it note. So, you move basically a virtual Post-it note around or you can leave messages which look similar to that tool, and it really helps you align and coordinate in a collective collaborative way. 

And the other one, no surprise here, it’s called Zoom. Now, here’s one that if you go for the paid versus the basic one, you get a lot more functionality and you get a lot more capability, and one of the tools I’ve been using a lot is the annotate function which allows you to poll or to write or to comment on screen when people are talking and sharing. Again, they have the white board functionality, but it just makes it a lot more interactive and a lot more dynamic and so, those are three examples of things you’re doing differently, where it helps make it feel more real and more personal. 

My three tips when I think about this, before you start any interaction be clear, crystal clear of your desired outcomes of that meeting or that session and how you’re going to measure that you’ve met those outcomes. Secondly, be focused on the audience, on the people you are collaborating with. So, it’s less about spreadsheets and more about other ways that you are communicating and collaborating. And the third thing is, you’ve got to have a really good facilitator. You can’t have someone with a monotone voice, speaking very quietly and sending you to sleep. So, how do you facilitate? That role is ever more important as we see a more remote, electronic way of working.



Yeah. I really like that one. I could talk a lot more about that last point but I’m a bit conscious of time. Just one thing though, those Pressie Video, Mural I’ve played around with and my experience I thought it was pretty good, I suggested it in an organisation that I was working in and the response was, we don’t need that, we’ve got Microsoft Teams, and I think that completely misses the point to be honest. But hey, that’s a story for another time.



Well, I’ll just build on that because one of the things with teams, especially if you’re collaborating with people currently the limitation is to only have four people on screen at a time. If you have twenty, thirty people just imagine how they feel if you’re meeting in the real world, you don’t just look at four or five people, you look at the whole room. So, shifting how we think to what helps us deliver the real face to face experience, which is the human connection which ultimately, will be important and continue to do so, is critical to consider, so, no, I won't agree with you on that one Chris.



Well, why don’t you wrap it up for us today? 


Today’s Three Key Takeaways


Great. Thanks for that, Chris, 

  1. This is crystal clear in terms of leadership, from Jacinda Ardern, she says, I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong. 

  2. Ensure you have an action plan and don’t just expect this to work out. 

  3. Marketers and entrepreneurs and creative people, they need that creativity and collaboration that unleashes them versus constraining them. It’s about building a community and not about imposing control. 



Great. Nice and simple, nice and clear. So, next episode, it's going to be a build on this. We’re going to look at leadership tools, clearly they’re going to have to evolve over time, and we’re also going to be looking at the working environment and how that will have to change, and how that will have to change in order to facilitate the modern marketeer. We’ll be covering that and more in the next episode.  


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