Teddy Cheek

Marketing Leadership: The 2 Essential Roles of a Marketing Leader

When news broke that Kyrie Irvine, Kevin Durant AND James Harden would be joining the Brooklyn Nets, it didn’t seem fair. 3 of the biggest stars in the NBA were joining forces. Giddy sports reporters predicted the Nets would dominate their competition. 

But… they were average. They finished the season 14th out of 30 teams and lost in the first round of the playoffs. USA Today called the team an “unequivocal failure.”

The lesson -> you can have all of the talent in the world, but without leadership, your team will suck. 

The problem with many marketing teams -> we’re so obsessed with having the right marketing strategy that marketing leadership has taken a back seat. 

And here’s the proof…There are over 2x the Google searches for “marketing” as there are for “leadership.” NUTS, right!?

Comparing Google searches for "marketing" and "leadership"

The result -> The best marketer on the team is promoted to lead. But the skills that make a great marketer are not the same skills that make a great marketing leader. It’s why there are so many ineffective marketing teams living a chaotic existence.

Sure, optimizing your website is important. But what about optimizing your team?

Leaders get people to stay, to care, to grow and to produce better work. Then the team wins, the team members win, and the cycle continues.

Good news – leadership is not something that you either have or don’t have. Luckily for me, it can be learned.

The 2 Essential Roles of a Marketing Leader

To level-up your marketing leadership, you must fulfill two primary roles for your team:

  1. Coach: A coach develops team members and teaches them how to win.
  1. Catalyst: A catalyst shares a vision and inspires action.

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ROLE 1: Become your marketing team’s Coach

A coach’s 1st responsibility: Make company culture your team’s foundation

When I talk about company culture, I’m not talking about team building events, happy hours, rituals, traditions or inside jokes. If a company’s culture were a cake, those would be the sprinkles. 

I’m talking about a shared mission, vision and values. They are the company’s foundation and compass. 

It’s similar to what our military calls “commander’s intent” – a concise statement of the purpose of an operation and the desired endstate. This ensures that a large, complex operation with lots of decision-makers can all pull in the same direction even if there are unexpected twists along the way. 

The mission, vision, and values are your commander’s intent. Once a team aligns around these elements, the outcome is chemistry. 

Alignment = Chemistry

Yes, chemistry… that intangible magic that some teams have. This is how you create it. 

But what if I can’t align with my company’s mission, vision and values?

This one is easy….leave. If you stay at a company you don’t align with, one of two things will happen.

  1. You’ll position yourself as your team’s savior. It’s you that protects them from the evil, ineffective, or stupid company.
  1. You’ll disconnect and create your own team culture.

Both are selfish and limit your team’s influence in the organization and your team members’ career trajectory. 

Now, expect your team to buy-in to the culture too

Here’s where to start

  • Have your team memorize the company’s mission, vision, and values.
  • Set clear expectations for how your team will operate in light of the mission, vision, and values
  • Talk about what the mission and values mean for your team on a regular basis.
  • When providing feedback and recognition, tie it back to a company value.

If there are team members that don’t fit, they’ll want out. This is a good thing. 

As your team embodies the company mission, vision, and values, you’ll begin to attract the right candidates and retain the right people.

But what about funny and silly team traditions?

Once you’ve built a strong foundation, then pour some sprinkles on your culture cake. Think of fun and silly ways to celebrate wins. Create team rituals and traditions. These can absolutely strengthen relational bonds and create a unique team personality.

A coach’s second responsibility: Develop team members

If you’re going to develop exceptional marketers, you’ll have to coach them. This will entail applying pressure, setting expectations, providing feedback, and upholding standards. 

Is this you right now? -> 🤢

And this is where many marketing leaders fail. They don’t want to micro-manage. They’d rather “hire great people and get out of their way.” 

That’s the fear talking. It stems from feelings of inadequacy. It’s a fear you’ll have to face to be a marketing leader.

Coach your team with Constant Gentle Pressure

Danny Meyers is the founder of Shake Shack. In his book, Setting the Table, Danny describes a coaching philosophy that he calls Constant Gentle Pressure or CGP.

Constant: Your expectations for team members don’t change. They are clear and consistent. So is your feedback. Feedback is not just for yearly performance reviews. Set an expectation that on your team, team members receive regular coaching and that being coachable is a requirement.

Gentle: Be gracious, kind, and empathetic when coaching. No one is perfect and coaching is meant to be constructive. Don’t tear people down. 

Pressure: On great teams, there’s pressure. There’s pressure to perform and to execute. The pressure you apply to team members is constant and it is gentle, but it is always there. 

Remove “constant” and your team will lack stability.

Remove “gentle” and become a jerk.

Remove “pressure” and lose urgency.

Practicing CGP will change your leadership and your team forever. When you coach your team, you are investing in team members’ career and growth. Coaching shows care. Neglecting to have hard conversations robs your team of the ability to learn, improve, and grow their careers.

Book recommendation for marketing leaders: Setting the Table

Team members must take responsibility for their professional development.

On a team, the best players don’t just practice when specifically instructed by their coach. They work on their craft on their own time.

Your team should be reading books, listening to podcasts, talking to others in their field and doing everything they can to level up. 

Require your team to invest time and energy into their own development. If the individual members of your team aren’t getting better, how can you expect the team to get better?

A coach’s third responsibility: Teach the team to execute

Winning is a skill as much as an outcome. It can be taught. It can be learned. And it starts with execution.

A coach teaches their team to execute.

I call the execution framework below The Execution Ladder. 

Marketing Leadership Execution Ladder

If you follow The Execution Ladder framework, you’ll turn your team into a lean, mean execution machine. You’ll build momentum. You’ll start winning. You’ll keep winning.

How The Execution Ladder works

Always start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up. If you start with tactics and strategies, you’ll live in a constant state of chaos, chasing shiny things.

  • Company Culture: There’s no room for debate on the bottom rung. Company culture is your team’s foundation. Embody it and expect your team to as well. 
  • Company Goals and Initiatives: It’s very likely that your company’s senior leadership has a set of goals and objectives for the next quarter, year or even years. Your marketing team should know how their work contributes to these goals. Don’t set goals for your team without knowing the company’s goals.
  • Team Goal and Initiatives: Now set 2-3 team goals that are aggressive but achievable. Set goals that if accomplished, will help the company achieve its goals. 
  • Individual Key Performance Indicators: KPI’s or Key Performance Indicators measure performance at an individual level. Each team member needs 2-3 that tie back to responsibilities outlined in their job description and that help the team achieve its goals.
  • Tactics and Strategies: It’s time for whiteboards and debate. Finally, your team can pick the strategies and tactics you’ll use to hit the team goals.

Be flexible at the top of the ladder. The top couple rungs may change often – that’s fine. The foundation of the ladder should provide stability and change less often.

Goal Setting Tips

Tip – when setting goals, make sure they aren’t all “lag” measures. 

Lead Measures: The actions you take to achieve a goal. If you are taking the right lead measures, you’ll achieve the lag measures. Basically – the actions you’ll take to win the game. 
Lag Measures: Tells you if you achieved a goal. The score of the game.

Lead measure: Calories consumed
Lag measure: Weight

If you only measure lag measures, your team won’t see momentum quickly enough and their pace will slow. Their passion will fade. Measure and celebrate hitting lead measure goals.

The alignment that the Execution Ladder creates improves the quality of the ideas that your team will pursue. It ensures that team members are contributing to team goals and team goals are contributing to company goals. 

Now, you’ve got Momentum.

For more on The Execution Ladder, read my full Marketing Execution Guide

Now go coach your marketing team

So we’ve defined the role of a coach. They make culture the foundation. They develop team members. They teach their team to execute.

The result – a great coach makes their team more than just the sum of its parts. 

Neil Paine is a sports analyst that can prove that statement.

Neil built an algorithm that identifies who should win or lose a professional basketball game based on the skill of the individual players. A “win above expectation” is when a less skilled team beats a more skilled team. 

From 1979 – 2018, the vast majority of coaches won roughly the number of games they were expected to, with one exception – Gregg Popovich. Popovich won 117 games over expectation – more than double the next closest coach.

That’s the power of a great coach. 

By the way – you can read more about Gregg Popovich in one of my favorite books, Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle

ROLE 2: Become your marketing team’s a Catalyst

Catalyst: An agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action 

A catalyst’s first responsibility: Share a big, bold vision

It was March 2020. The Escape Game had just closed all 18 of our retail locations and furloughed most of our 500+ employees.

As an escape room company, we weren’t well positioned to survive COVID-19. After all, we lock people in a room with strangers.

A few of us sat solemnly in a conference room when our CEO started to speak. “We’re not going to just survive, we’re going to thrive.” Mark said.

Mark went on to say that someone in the room would have an idea so big, that we’d soon be bringing our team back to work and celebrating a successful 2020. 

It’s important to note that Mark is not a hype man. He is calculated and methodical which made his determined never-say-die attitude particularly inspiring. 

Mark cast a vision that day: We were going to thrive in the face of adversity. We were going to save the company we love and bring our team members back to work. 

Within weeks we launched virtual versions of our escape rooms that could be played over Zoom. They were a smash hit. 

We thrived. 

As a catalyst for your team, you must share a big vision. Here’s how:

  • Make the stakes clear: When sharing a vision, paint a picture of what life will be like if the vision is achieved (triumph) and if it isn’t (defeat). The difference in the two – that’s what’s at stake. You can’t invite people into a story if there’s nothing at stake. 

    In the story above, there are clear stakes:

    Triumph: We survive a once-in-a-lifetime crisis and bring our team back to work. We grow our company, despite the obstacles. 

    Defeat: The company we love goes under. Everyone loses their job. We don’t get to work together anymore.

  • Be optimistic, not delusional: “Optimism is a prerequisite of creativity.” – Brian Mandel, Sr Director of Operations at The Escape Game

    Your vision must be dripping with optimism. Optimism inspires and attracts. It creates an environment where creativity flourishes.

    But don’t be delusional. Sharing a vision that is clearly impossible is not inspiring, it is crushing and demotivating. 

  • The vision must align with company goals: As a marketing leader, you and your team exist to help the company reach its loftiest objectives. Don’t cast a vision for the marketing team that doesn’t move the company closer to its goals. 

    How is a vision different than a goal? 
    A vision describes a triumphant state of being once it has been accomplished. A vision is not constrained by some of the limitations of proper goal-setting.

    – A vision may or may not have an exact timeframe.
    – Some elements may not be precisely measurable.

    As you describe the triumph of accomplishing your vision, lay out some conditions that must be met. If X, Y and Z happen, it’s likely that we’ve achieved our vision. 

    In the case of The Escape Game here, were the conditions to be met: 

    ✅ We bring our team members back to work
    ✅ We restore our full salaries
    ✅ We remain profitable in 2020
    ✅ We unlocked new revenue streams that will benefit us after the pandemic
    ✅ Our retail locations return to pre-pandemic levels of performance

A catalyst’s second responsibility: Inspire action by inviting team members into the vision

Now, you must inspire your team to take action. Here’s how to invite your team into the big, bold vision:

  • Acknowledge the challenge: There’s nothing quite as demotivating as being told that the big, exciting challenge will be easy. Some leaders believe this instills confidence. Instead it sucks the energy right out of the room. Telling someone they should definitely be able to hit the goals, removes the challenge. Instead, acknowledge the challenge. The words “this won’t be easy” are extremely motivating.
  • Show your team that their contribution matters: Make it very clear that the team will only accomplish the vision if everyone contributes. It’s going to take the entire team pulling together.  The vision is too big for a couple of all-stars to take on themselves. Try this – “it’s going to take all of us and it’s going to take our best.”
  • Tell them how to contribute: Be clear about how your team is to contribute. You don’t have to chart the full path from Point A to Victory, but you need to tell them the first 2-3 things they need to do to contribute.
  • Ask them if they’re in: Think back to every heist movie you’ve ever seen. There’s always a moment where the leader describes the nearly impossible mission to the rest of the team. They acknowledge the difficulties and the risk. They describe how each person is crucially important. They mention the life-changing prize if they are somehow successful. Then 99% of the time, the leader looks across the room and says… “So, whose in?” One by one, the team verbally expresses their intent to join the mission.

    Yes, your team needs to accept an invite to the vision. Ask the team to take a small action if they are in. They can come tell you after the meeting, send an email, sign a sticky note…anything. Even the smallest action will raise their commitment to the vision. 
Marketing Leadership is like leading a heist

A catalyst’s third responsibility: Execute alongside your team

Now is the time to dig in and help make it happen. When a leader executes alongside their team, two things will happen.

Your team will be inspired. Show your team that you aren’t all talk. You’re willing to do what you’ve asked them to do. Your willingness to roll up your sleeves and work will inspire your team.

You get to model how you want your team to work. Don’t just tell your team to work with urgency, set the pace and tone with your own work. If you expect excellence from yourself, your team won’t mind when you expect it of them too.

The Escape Game’s COO, James Murrell, has a concept he calls “Moonshots and Microscopes.” He believes the leader must cast an inspiring vision and take big, bold shots BUT they must also sweat the details. They should care deeply about executing ALL of the work with excellence. 

The difference in micro-managing and collaborating 

When you’re involved in the work, you’re a collaborator. When you descend from 30,000 feet only to provide criticism, you’re a micro-manager. As a collaborator, you’ll find that the team welcomes feedback and is open to direction. If you micromanage, expect a demotivating cycle of criticism and defensiveness. 

What about servant leadership? 

Everyone is talking about the concept of servant leadership. It’s the idea that the leader serves the team. It’s a beautiful model, but it is often misunderstood.

Here’s what servant leadership should mean for your marketing team

  1. You deflect credit: As soon as you are given credit, give it back to your team. Do it publicly.
  2. You remove boundaries: If things get bogged down, you remove boundaries. You may need to work with other department heads, work with legal, or petition company leadership. Knock down walls so that your team can be as effective and efficient as possible. 

Here’s what servant leadership shouldn’t mean for your team

  1. You’re the help desk for your team: If team members are asking you things that are easily Googleable, you’re doing something wrong. Servant leadership doesn’t mean that any time someone doesn’t know how to do something, they immediately ask you. Even worse is when they expect you to do it for them.
  2. You take on 100% of the pressure and stress: If the full pressure of success or failure is on you, your team has no reason to buy-in. They’ve got no skin in the game. Let your team share in the stakes and the stress.

Celebrate little wins along the way

As you work towards the big vision, you’ll never make it without smaller victories along the way. 

If you’ve even been on a hike, you probably remember seeing trail markers. Trail Markers are little indicators along the path that let you know that you are going the right way. 

“Trail Marker” by CarbonNYC [in SF!] is licensed under CC BY 2.0. View a copy of this license

As you work towards your vision, what are the trail markers that indicate you are on the right path? Each of these are worth celebrating and enjoying as a team.

Hitting trail markers makes the entire journey fun and exciting and keeps your team interested and engaged. 

Appreciation, Recognition, and Encouragement

Lee Cockerell, Former EVP of Operations for Walt Disney World, believes that appreciation, recognition, and encouragement are the free fuel that drive human performance. 

Recommended reading – Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell

Book recommendation for marketing leaders: Creating Magic

Appreciation, recognition, and encouragement are completely free. And when given they create passion, engagement, and loyalty. So why aren’t we giving them out more frequently?

Have you heard of the Recognition Gap? Research reports that “while 80% of supervisors claim they frequently express appreciation to their subordinates, less than 20% of the employees report that their supervisors express appreciation more than occasionally”. – Carolyn Wiley

This means that even if you and I feel like we’re giving out plenty of recognition, we aren’t giving nearly enough. 

While recognition can be as simple as telling someone that they’ve done great work, here are a few other ways you can recognize your team.

  • Handwritten note
  • Shoutout in front of the entire team
  • Shoutout in front of a high-level leader
  • Creative gift that memorializes the achievement
Example of a marketing leader recognizing a team member for epic work

Only recognize behaviors that you want replicated. If you recognize something, you’ll get more of it. Be strategic in what you recognize.

Leading a marketing team won’t be easy…

I wish leading a marketing team was as easy as the fortune cookie-esque advice on LinkedIn -> trust your team, get out of their way, shower them with fun benefits….

It’s actually going to demand a lot more from you than that.

A marketing team that is led by a coach and catalyst is committed to seeing their organization succeed – not just themselves or their team. They love their teammates and work with passion and pace. They know how to execute and have learned how to win. They live out their company’s values and help it achieve its vision.

This only happens when the team is led by a coach and catalyst

Good luck.

Have questions or want to talk about marketing leadership? Email me at Teddy@TeddyCheek.com.

About Teddy Cheek

Hi, I’m Teddy

I’ve led marketing teams since 2013. I believe that good leadership is marketing’s only cheat code. More important than tactics or talent, it can send a team into hyperdrive. Fortunately for me, it’s a skill that can be developed. I hope my blog helps you build a dominant team and career you love.

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