4 Qualities of Great Marketing Leaders

by Katie Bergmann | August 15, 2017

I’ve been fortunate to work as a marketer in a variety of industries, cultures, and settings. Over the years, if I’ve realized one thing, it’s that a lot of organizational issues are commonplace.

But great marketing leaders—not so much.

I think the same could be said of great leaders in general: they’re few and far between. But they’re essential if you want your company to get beyond solvable, commonplace problems and grow.

After working with a few great leaders, I’ve noticed a few consistencies. Let’s go over four qualities to look for in a great marketing leader, should you be looking to hire one (or perhaps be hired by one).

Great marketing leaders love to learn.

The best leaders are curious and voracious sorts. I think there are two elements of their approach to learning that are important to consider:

  1. Great marketing leaders don’t shy from new information or technologies. Instead, they absorb it, forcing themselves beyond initial discomfort. They recognize that on the other side of discomfort is truth, potential, and/or improvement. They’re excited by the opportunity to expand their comfort zones.
  2. I wouldn’t equate education with a love of learning, as advanced degrees don’t guarantee a continued desire to gain and contextualize new information. The contextualization part is the key: Good leaders love to learn and apply that learning.

Because they like to learn, great marketing leaders have more tools in their professional toolkits. That means they don’t always approach solutions the same way. And since they have a broader range of knowledge, they can even adjust and apply new tactics on the fly.

They’re collaborative and trustworthy.

While great marketing leaders love to learn, they don’t consider themselves the smartest people in every room. They understand that everyone brings their own strengths and weaknesses to the table, and they know the goal is to combine the team’s efforts to achieve revenue growth.

Great leaders have an inherent ability to encourage their team members to vocalize opinions, showcase talents, and support each other. They know strong teams are built on trust. Collaborative environments help team members learn to trust in the abilities of each other. And if they know their leader always has their best interests at heart, marketing departments can work without distractions like internal politics or fear.

Great marketing leaders know how to manage top-down and bottom-up expectations.

In dysfunctional cultures, marketing leaders sit at the fulcrum of C-suite impulsivity and ground-level reality. Great leaders understand their role in that seat is to manage expectations and translate them into actionable tasks for their team members.

While that can seem like an inherent understanding, I’ve found it to be uncommon. Often a marketing leader will kneel to present leadership pressures at the detriment of longer-term results. Or they’ll commit to unrealistic strategic outcomes and place all the responsibility on the tactician on the ground floor.

In a dysfunctional culture, it’s easiest to spot a great leader after they leave. They leave such a surprising chasm in the day-to-day operations that it’s impossible to miss. Suddenly there’s no translator between the C-suite and the ground floor, and the ground floor starts scrambling for the exits.

And they focus on long-term results.

Lastly, good leaders always consider actions in a strategic, long-term context. They don’t get discouraged in the absence of a straight-line path to a goal. They know that success depends on whether they can make good decisions over time. They see every choice as an opportunity to advance the revenue team closer to the goal.

The ability of good strategic marketers to put choices into context can benefit less-experienced marketers, who may fixate on present tactics and metrics more than longer-term concerns. Good marketing leaders know that some of their bright young marketers can grow by thinking of their impact on a broader strategy. They can become better marketers if they can learn to see in longer terms—in years, campaigns, and even careers.

Great marketing leaders share such things because that’s who they are. They’re not concerned with protecting their current place as much as creating a lasting impact. They may even hope that one day, those bright young marketers will become bright marketing leaders themselves.

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