Attributes of an effective marketing leader, part 1: vision

Recently I sent out a poll asking the question,“What are the top three attributes of an effective marketing leader?” The response was overwhelming and indicated to me that the issue of marketing and leadership is one for which there is a great deal of interest and passion. Over the next several weeks I will share my summary of the findings. Today we’ll start with the most mentioned attribute: vision.

What is “vision?” According to The American Heritage Dictionary, vision is “unusual competence in discernment or perception; intelligent foresight.” This jibes well with what we heard from respondents. Why is it so important for a marketing leader?

Let’s start with the context within which marketing leaders operate. Author Bob Johansen asserts in his highly acclaimed book, Get There Early: Sensing the Future to Compete in the Present, that we live in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Members of an organization can get overwhelmed in this world and are not sure how to act. A good leader has the ability to discern what is important from what is noise, to find clarity in the complex and to derive understanding from the uncertain. People will follow a leader who can describe a clear path forward, who can articulate a winning game plan and who provides the confidence that their efforts are well directed.

In a marketing context, a leader’s power to discern has a specific purpose when it comes to answering key questions such as:

  • Which market segments can we serve effectively ?
  • What are the customer needs that we can solve in unique ways?
  • On which of our company’s capabilities should we stake our future?
  • Of all the things we can do, which ones should we do?

Foresight also has specific meaning for marketers:

  • How will technology change buyer behavior?
  • What new methods of solving problems will be possible tomorrow that do not exist today?
  • What future competitive threat will disrupt our industry?

For any organization to succeed in the short- and long-term, these questions must be answered. Marketing leaders are well positioned to offer discernment and foresight to their companies, whether they realize it or not. Providing vision that leads to effective strategy may not be a marketer’s official charter, but it should be. And if you are not empowered to be a visionary in your current situation, what should you do? I’d suggest taking a lesson from the new ABC television show FlashForward. The story line of the show is based on a simultaneous worldwide blackout during which people have a vision of what they will be doing during a specific time six months into the future. The lead character is an FBI agent whose flash forward vision shows him leading the charge to solve the mystery of the blackout. As he begins to take action and assert himself in leading a case beyond his specific charter, others ask the question, “Who put you in charge?” They wonder if a vision is enough of a reason to follow his lead. It turns out that it is.

In a volatile world full of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, a leader with a powerful vision based on discernment and foresight will attract eager followers. Do you know anyone like that? If so, please send me their names. I’d like to talk with them and then share their insights.