How to foster positive leadership amid disruption

Marketing scholars discuss how to lead in an uncertain world

Adopting the ‘power of positive thinking’ is vital if marketers are to become successful leaders and survive in today’s super demanding work environment.

Speaking at the second annual Marketing Academy Lecture Series, UM group director, Mike Kay, said being a leader “starts and ends with attitude”. He told the packed crowd that positive leadership is an integral topic for future leaders to consider, given a recent survey revealed 91 per cent of people feel stressed and overwhelmed at work.

“All of the leaders we have met have really inspired us and have definitely embodied an overwhelming positive attitude, but even more importantly positive behaviours and positive leadership in their organisations,” Kay said of his time participating in the nine-month leadership course through Marketing Academy.

“It is up to us to lead from the front positively and create a culture that not only drives productivity, but most importantly, staff happiness.”

With all of us working longer hours, the entire notion of our work routine has been completely overhauled and disrupted, Kay said, citing a Microsoft/Ipsos study. “We are working so much more now out of the office. We are taking our work onto our commute, we are working from home, we are working on the weekends - and we are even working more in the bedroom, apparently. Twenty-seven per cent of us spend more time on our smartphones than talking to our partners.”

Andrew Howie, group marketing manager Meat and Livestock Australia, said companies can’t forget their key asset is their people.

“People are the soul of what happens; we are the engine room. And companies are under pressure,” he said. “The average lifespan of a Fortune 500 company 50 years ago was 60 years. The average lifespan today is 16 years. The speed of change is driving and disruption is everywhere. Often, disruption happens and you don’t know it’s coming.”

Foxtel head of acquisition and customer marketing strategy, Polly Blenkinship, agreed people are the lifeblood of any organisation, but said the current work environment makes it incredibly hard to maintain a positive attitude.

“This is not just relevant for people that have massive teams or really senior roles, I think positive leading is relevant for everyone,” she said. “The definition of leadership is where you exist in an environment where you have influence over other people and so I really encourage everyone to think about the influence they have over their teams.”

Blenkinship flagged several ways to foster a positive environment in the workplace. The first is owning your own attitude. “It does sound simple, but it is something we forget. We have a choice to how we respond to things,” she said. “We have a choice to how we respond to a problem or a mistake in a frustrated or angry way, or we can see it as an opportunity. The way we respond has such an impact on those around us.”

Be a context shaper, Blenkinship continued. “We need to think about how we impact climate. Climate is the situation that everyone comes to work to everyday day, and we definitely have an impact over that. Are we welcoming, thoughtful and social or are we distracted and unobservant? That ultimately affects everyone around you and how they come to work on a daily basis.”

Lastly, she said be appreciative. “Every CMO, every mentor, everyone that came to talk to us, talked about the importance of gratitude. It is giving thanks,” she said. “It is acknowledging a job well done. It is celebrating people's birthdays and life’s milestones.”

Authentic leadership

The 2016 Marketing Academy scholars also discussed how to lead with authenticity, and how leaders who demonstrate vulnerability can create connections.

Channel T executive creative director and partner, Peter Cerny, shared his private family history in a bid to show the audience how the power of vulnerability can translate into meaningful connections.

“Vulnerability is actually a great word. It is a strong word. And it is something that great leaders really embrace in order to build meaningful relationships with their team,” he said.

“We have so many of these transactional conversations at work - they don’t do a great job of getting people to understand who you are. And so I encourage everyone with your team to be open and honest and really do it in your own way. Make sure you are authentic in the way you do it and you will form much more meaningful, trusting relationships.”

But Presentation Studio client services director, Terri Martin, identified three things to consider when being able to show vulnerability as a leader: Accountability (taking ownership); confrontation (having an uncomfortable conversation as opposed to an aggressive one); and delegation.

“Regardless of where you are on your leadership journey, whether you are at the start or at maturity, vulnerability has such an incredible role to play. It is such a powerful tool.”

Lastly, a panel discussed how to be authentic in an industry that is inherently not. They asked: How do we show authenticity in modern leadership in what is inherently a fake world? National head of strategy for PHD Australia, Stewart Gurney, said the idea of ‘personas and characters’ needs to be investigated when talking about authenticity.

“We work in an industry where we’re playing different roles. I might have to sell an idea over here, I might have to client service over here. I have to be a multitude of different people and different personas,” he said. “It is really hard to lead from a place where you don’t quite know who you are and wearing different masks.

“Leaders have to be really cognisant of that persona and be focused on their true character. Character, for me, is about tapping into vulnerability - bringing your whole self to work.”

Bring your good self to work, added Holly Jonas, advertising campaign and channel manager, IAG. “Authenticity for me is about showing your best version of yourself… That is difficult and uncomfortable at times,” she said, explaining how we have our shadow side - a dark side - as well as the bright side.

“If we were to bring our shadow side to work, that is not our brightest self and we are not going to be bringing the absolute positive version of us for our people and our teams.”

The complete list of the 2016 Marketing Academy scholars:

Andrew Howie, group marketing manager, Meat & Livestock Australia

Brooke Chilcott, head of account management, Naked Communications

Burcak Sezer, marketing manager, Kimberly-Clark Australia

Claire Salvetti, managing director, One Green Bean

Claire Tenzer, group business director, Whybin\TBWA Melbourne

Gabriella Conlon, head of consumer marketing, Google A/NZ

Gemma Hunter, executive creative director and head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising MediaCom

Holly Jonas, advertising campaign and channel manager, IAG

Jay Sellick, head of strategy, Sportsbet

Jeci David, portfolio marketing manager, Kellogg Australia

Jeff Miller, executive manager, credit cards, personal loans and foreign exchange marketing, CommBank

Lauren Cain, marketing manager, Bingle - Suncorp

Katie Finney, Melbourne sales manager, Seven Network

Kate O'Ryan-Roeder, chief client officer, Mindshare

Liz Kaelin, founder and CEO, You Chews

Louise Davis, head of retention and loyalty, News Corp Australia

Michael Kay, group director, UM

Nora-Kate O'Connell, marketing manager, Group Meals KFC Australia

Peter Cerny, executive creative director and partner, Channel T

Polly Blenkinship, head of acquisition and customer marketing strategy, Foxtel

Rachel Pullicino, marketing director Oceania, Edgewell Personal Care

Renee Garner, head of marketing, planning and segments, Energy Australia

Sergio Brodsky, strategy director, Starcom Mediavest Group

Simon Davenport, national advertising manager, Officeworks

Stewart Gurney, national head of strategy, PHD Australia

Terri Martin, client services director, Presentation Studio

Tina Walsberger, head of marketing and customer services, Sydney Festival

Todd Pironis, marketing manager, Orthopaedics Stryker

Tracy Hall, head of brand and marketing communications, eBay

Zoey Saunders, head of customer category, Coles - Carlton United Breweries

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