How leading CMOs are fostering bravery across their teams

We ask our CMO50 for 2022 to share how they're encouraging bravery as a leader and across their teams

Stepping outside your comfort zone, embracing a learning mindset, constantly asking ‘why’ – these are just some of the ways our CMO50 alumni for 2022 are exhibiting bravery in a professional capacity.

As part of this year’s CMO50 program, we asked all our top 50 and Ones to Watch: How do you define and encourage bravery as a leader and across your team? There are plenty of consistent themes underpinning their responses. Here are a selection to provide CMO readers with some worthy food for thought.

RMIT University chief experience officer, Chaminda Ranasinghe

A simple but effective habit of asking the team, ‘What is the worst thing that can happen?’ in any given situation has helped me motivate and encourage bravery across teams I have led. Imagining the worst that could happen before any major undertaking allows you to prepare yourself for it and even prevent it. Taking a moment to think about the worst-case scenario can be liberating and helps me both personally and my teams to take the right risks and push for the best possible outcomes. 

Seven West Media CMO, Charlotte Valente

I see bravery as stepping outside one’s comfort zone. I strive to ensure we foster an environment and culture where people feel safe to share thoughts and ideas, challenge the status quo and contribute to change. Without bravery we cannot evolve.

Mars Wrigley marketing director, Ben Hill

For me, it’s all about strengths and standards. We work very hard to identify strengths in our associates and then to work out how best they can apply these more often at work. This leads to a team that grows in confidence, engagement and ultimately, results.

From a standards perspective, we always ask – is this amazing work? If it’s just ok, then it’s not ok. It is our job as growth architects and brand custodians to give our consumers and our company the best quality products and campaigns that we possibly can. We encourage bravery by actively recognising it every month with awards as well as at our year end function. Bravery is expected in everything we do, and I work hard to build belief and confidence in my team to have a go at things for the first time.

Collective Wellness group CMO, Caitlin Bancroft

Bravery is about pushing the envelope and disrupting the status quo. A great example is our new brand campaign ‘Any Body, Any Time’, which tackled head on the stereotypical notions of what exercise, healthy and beautiful ‘look like’ especially when we are confronted by body-beautiful images wherever we turn.

Encouraging bravery across a marketing team is fairly easy when the consumer - and/or member in our case - is put first. Understanding what makes them tick and using consumer insights around attitudes and behaviour helps to make what might otherwise seem like brave decisions around both creative and media choices.

Optus VP marketing, Mel Hopkins

Leading from the front, with authenticity and transparency. Walking the walk always. I am currently having to demonstrate this very thing daily as we are in the thick of the Optus cyberattack. But I am walking into the fire with a calm authority, confidence and assurance.

In crisis, how you lead is more important than ever. Too often in tough times marketers leave their post, concerned that the criticism will damage their career. I am having to have very broad shoulders at the moment, but the responsibility I have to our brand and our people at Optus along with our customers must come first.

ServiceNow senior director and head of marketing APJ, Caroline Raj

Bravery for my team is consistently innovating and testing. Our market and channels are evolving so fast we want to ensure we create an environment where we encourage trying new ideas. When things don’t go to plan, we use this as a learning. We have ongoing retrospective in our plans to ensure we always are collectively learning together. As a leader, I believe having the courage to actively ask for feedback is key for growth and should always be considered a gift.

REA Group GM audience and marketing, Sarah Myers

Creating a culture of confidence and influencing is important to me. We’ve established a monthly showcase allowing people at all levels to present on key initiatives highlighting what worked and what didn’t. Encouraging our people to share successes alongside challenges or learnings normalises that no matter how senior you are, there’s always something to navigate. I like to share my learnings with the team so it’s modelled we are all still learning.

As a leader, I try to support my team from the sidelines and coach them through development opportunities. I think it’s important they have the freedom to come up with creative ideas, turn them into robust business cases, and present to our leadership team directly to have the work endorsed. Learning how you can influence those around you to understand your viewpoint is a valuable skill in marketing.

Adore Beauty CMO, Dan Ferguson

Bravery in business is often linked with change – whether championing it, leading it, or being open to change personally. I encourage bravery in my team by showing willingness to acknowledge and fess up to mistakes and errors and rewarding meaningful change wherever I can.

Myer chief customer officer, Geoff Ikin

Bravery is about having the courage to speak up, ask questions, get context and have a point of view. How we challenge each other in the right way, to be better, will ensure we get a stronger outcome.    

Monash University CMO, Fabian Marrone

Bravery first starts with acceptance that you will fail at times. Before you can be brave, you have to define what level of risk and failure you will accept. To be brave requires two things. The first is failing smart – something I learned from a fellow CMO while at Cannes. It’s about allowing freedom in decision making where the impact will not be material on reputation, experience and revenue.

The second is that in order to foster a culture of bravery, you need to be a vulnerable leader. I try to demonstrate this to the team by sharing my failures, weaknesses, fears, and even some of my personal struggles.

The above two things can create trust and allow people to be brave within boundaries and without fear of judgement. I define bravery as being bold, creative and jumping into something without fear, but ensuring you’re not careless.

Michael Hill Jeweller CMO, Jo Feeney

Bravery is often misjudged or misconstrued as doing things that are at odds to the brand. But this doesn’t provide a good definition of the term in my min.  Bravery can be far simpler. In simple terms, it can be staying true to an idea even when it’s watered down with multiple layers of feedback, or multiple stakeholders, trusting your instinct is brave – speaking your mind is brave. 

I encourage my team to have a voice, a point of view and to not be afraid of mistakes – if we never try and fail, we haven’t pushed hard enough.  Fail fast, fail forward – that’s how we learn and get better.  Bravery can be as simple as not taking the easy path.

Moet Hennessy marketing and consumer engagement director, Scott Bowie

Being confident to challenge with positive intent, but equally, to provide an environment that encourages and supports your team to also do so. Establishing the time for cross-functional collaboration are one of the keys to business success.

Mondelez International VP marketing A/NZ, Paul Chatfield

Learning is critical for us to continue growing as a business and as professionals. The role bravery plays is in ‘having a go’ and taking a risk – but this needs to be an informed, intelligent risk, versus being reckless.

Great Southern Bank chief customer officer, Megan Keleher

Bravery is an essential part a having a growth mindset, allowing individuals, teams, and businesses to innovate, adapt and grow. Being brave is having the courage to constructively challenge others, but also being willing to be challenged yourself. That means having a shared vision and being bold in the pursuit of that. It also requires creating a safe culture where it’s okay to make mistakes, without the risk of blame or shame. Reframing our mistakes can often provide great opportunities to learn and develop.

Officeworks GM marketing and insights, Jessica Richmond

One of our values is about being bold. It sounds good, but it also means you need to get comfortable with things not always working. We often think of big decisions in terms of one-way or two-way doors. If once you’ve made a decision you can’t go back, then that’s a one-way door. This requires more deliberation before proceeding. With two-way doors, you can be free to act more quickly as the situation requires.

On the two-way doors, we try to free the team up to have more autonomy and move more quickly. Then we try to recognise them as much as possible for having a go; and if it doesn’t work, try to celebrate the fact that we’ve learned something along the way.

Guzman Y Gomez CMO, Lara Thom

We have always focused on GYG’s business strategy and vision rather than copying others so the brand is already quite a brave leader rather than follower. Our values have defined a lot of the bravery we have displayed to date and they are a great foundation to guide us through some incredibly brave decisions.

When I think about bravery in my team, trust plays a huge part in developing brave leaders. Trust must also be present on both sides. My team need to know I have their backs at all times, and I need to trust them to lead. This hasn’t always been easy to navigate but I think we’re in an exceptionally strongest position because we have such a big focus on leadership at the moment.  

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