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A Marketing Leader is Made of Life's Experiences

by Alf Nucifora

The bookstore aisles are crammed with analyses and "how to" Covey knock-offs aimed at deciphering the secrets of effective leadership for budding captains of industry. However, rarely do we read about what it takes to be an effective marketing head. It's almost as if marketing and leadership are oxymoronic terms. What follows are one man's list of the fundamental traits of what makes for marketing's best.

Crave Learning: Live to learn. Soak up experience. And consider both to part of a constant lifelong journey. When the learning ceases, your marketing days are numbered. It's one of the reasons I write this column and give speeches. It forces me to remain in a learning mode.

Learn to Listen: It's an acquired art and one that most Americans have failed to master. Successful consultants understand that in the listening lies the answer. Ditto for marketing. Consumers will gladly provide the answers if accorded the basic privilege of being heard.

Seek the Wisdom of the Initiated: Marketing may be a young person's game, but its elder statesmen still know more about strategy and tactical success than the under-30, kids-in-black. There will never be a substitute for experience, in marketing, as in life itself. Therefore, seek the wisdom of seniors who have done it before. They're more than willing to share. They just don't get asked.

Get the Best: Surround yourself with the best people, difficult and disruptive as that may sometimes be. It's more than a cliché. Be ruthless in acquiring the best minds and the most inquiring mindsets. Trawl for the renegades and the mavericks. Great marketing can't survive on anything less.

Speak Well, Write Well: Most great leaders are great communicators. How do they do it? Through the power of the written or spoken word. George W. Bush is probably a nice guy and may end up being a decent President. Great leader? Not likely. Why? Limited charisma. And an inability to summon up "presence" as a means of forging a following. Who would you prefer to buy political salvation from, Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan? Ironically, most great marketing ideas end up in either the trashcan or the filing cabinet. Why? Inability to articulate the vision and/or sell the promise and the grandeur of the idea.

Conquer Time Management: Let's face it, there will always be too much to do in too little time with reaction speeds measured by the nanosecond. How to survive? Grow comfortable with multi-tasking (balancing many balls in the air without dropping any). Be a compulsive list taker. Be obsessive about detail. It's where God resides. Prioritize and focus. Do fewer things well. It's the one element common to the most effective leaders. Always get an early start to the day and the assignment. And use down time effectively. Ever wonder where those prolific business writers get time to write all those books? On airplanes, while the rest of us are watching movies and playing computer Solitaire.

Embrace Change: Marketing thrives on it. It should be welcomed for the opportunity it provides and accepted as an operating norm. Without burning platforms to confront, the marketing response grows stale.

It's a Chess Game: The great Wayne Gretzky tells about his very rare ability to always know where the puck will be in addition to where it is at the given moment. Call it "peripheral vision plus." Marketing leaders need to develop the same instinct or cultivate the skill. But it demands exceptional focus, a true appreciation and application of strategy and the desire to think ahead.

Think Global: There is no escaping the fact that the marketing leader will be forced to play in the global arena. The homogenization of communities, the media they watch and the products they buy, demands an understanding that the marketplace is now as much the globe as the local strip shopping center.

Learn a Language: Sure, English is the big Kahunna, but how do we handle the billion plus Chinese entering the marketplace? Or the growing influx of buyers and residents from Latin America? By speaking to them in their own language and being sensitive to the nuances of their culture. Beware the arrogance of the English-speaking mindset. It's something we Americans are so oblivious to.

Take Risks: Better still, make risk a habit. Force yourself into situations where considered risk (not the stupid kind) becomes an evitable part of the job. Remember, nothing should ever be done to excess... including moderation.

Honesty Please! In the words of Janis Joplin, "Never compromise yourself, it's all ya got." Abhor hypocrisy. Remember, your word and your handshake are your bond. Operate with dignity and always practice courtesy in your dealings with others, particularly business others. For example, return phone calls promptly; send thank-you notes; keep promises and always follow up. In short, do unto others…By the way, honesty is more than church on Sunday. It's applying the Sunday principles to the rest of the week. Don't see a lot of that nowadays.

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