Becoming indispensable

Not everyone can be in charge but, more importantly, not everyone should want to be. As marketers contributing to our firms, we have to combine technical skills, insights and project management. A similar agenda is relevant for our leaders: superlative technical skills delivered to clients; a clear set of priorities communicated across the firm; and effective implementation of the strategy.

Leadership is an essential ingredient of commercial success. However, is there an optimal leadership style? The Hollywood notion of the charismatic leader winning hearts and minds with a blue sky vision is very different to the quarterly-numbers-driven task master, or the consigliere leader who exercises power from the shadows.

The desired level of innovation is an important factor when considering the extent to which leaders should be context-driven. Harvard research indicates a surprisingly consistent view over the leader’s role in innovation: Instead of trying to come up with a vision and make innovation happen themselves, a leader of innovation creates a place – a context, an environment – where people are willing and able to do the hard work that innovative problem solving requires. The leader’s job is to set the stage, not to perform on it. This is nigh impossible for a highly-paid prima donna!

Supremacy comes with drawbacks – one of which is that nearly everyone wants the job. Influence, authority and power can be found in much more interesting places than behind the CEO’s desk. So reflect on how you can become indispensable to your leader:
• Adopt a creative and positive attitude at all times
• Remember that you will often act as an ambassador
• Share the load when times are tough
• Remind them of agreed priorities when they deviate
• Track their emotional state and mix tough questions with reassurance
• Anticipate problems and devise alternative solutions
• Make them the star even when others are responsible
• Shadow their diary and to do list to prevent burnout
• Introduce them to useful contacts while keeping idiots at bay
• Be aware of office politics and the grapevine to reduce surprises.

Leaders need followers. The best way for leaders to gain their trust is to keep promises, and track things that used to annoy people but are now tolerated. Too many frustrations, and people start to disengage or look for a new leader. Which makes your role much harder.

Richard Chaplin, Founder and Chief Executive, PM Forum