Oldspeake gathered around the breakfast table again for our second installment of the Ideas for Breakfast webinar series. This month Leanna Adeola, a senior marketing leader currently at Innovatemap in Indianapolis, joined Oldspeake CMO Despi Ross, to discuss what leadership looks like in the marketing space. Leaning into their own experiences, Leanna & Despi shared specific, tactical ways to lead teams with humility & strength.
No one is born a perfect leader, but sometimes it takes a little bit of experience to understand that. Both Leanna and Despi shared how their vision of what leadership means has changed as they’ve gained experience in the field. “For a long time I thought leadership was about accumulating power and control”, Despi said. Surprise! That’s not it. So much of leadership is about listening, and about humility.
For Leanna, leadership originally meant complete autonomy and the freedom to call the shots. Now, she sees that leadership is almost the exact opposite. Growing as a leader means an increased responsibility to your team: “It's less about ‘I can do what I want’ and more about helping people do what they’re great at.
So what does that look like practically? How can a great leader help their team to rise up to their full potential? First and foremost, be vocal in your encouragement. Tell folks on your team that you see their potential. “Oftentimes people will grow to the expectation that you set”, says Leanna, so set the bar high. That doesn’t mean you set the expectation and then walk away. Instead, be supportive by offering hard and honest feedback along the way to ensure your team reaches the finish line. The responsibility to give feedback doesn’t rest solely on the team leader. Despi encourages junior employees to openly ask for feedback, constructively from your leaders. That kind of reciprocation creates a deeper sense of connection across the whole team.
There is a large debate between the specialist and the generalist roles in marketing. There is apparent value in both roles, but the way you lead these types of employees requires two different approaches. The generalist’s biggest strength is being able to apply a pattern of success that they’ve experienced to your team’s strategic goals. As a leader, encourage generalists by recognizing their breadth of experience as a benefit, not a barrier.
On the other hand, it can be easy to assume a specialist only needs the specific information relevant to their skillset. In reality, Leanna reminds leaders that “to really solve a problem, context is key”, meaning that the specialists need to see the whole picture too.
Leadership isn’t a stagnant thing, and marketing is anything but a stagnant industry. As you keep growing into more senior roles, it's imperative to recognize that at some point, your experience will no longer be cutting edge. Rely and trust your team to guide you well with their own experience will help you to continue evolving as a leader with the changes of technology. Leading with humility is key, so be willing to admit when someone else knows more. Leanna speaks from personal experience: “I have team members who are fifteen years younger than me, and they’re going to know more than me, and that’s great”. The cliche of being a lifelong learner could not be more true for a marketing leader.
As much as you do need to continually learn, that shouldn’t create a lack of confidence for you to trust your own experience. Sometimes leaders still need to make a tough strategic call that might be unpopular or questioned. In order for those you’re leading to listen in those pivotal moments, there needs to be first a foundation of mutual respect and trust. Afterall, trust is used in two thirds of the criteria used to craft the 100 Best Companies to Work For list.
Tactically, build trust by answering your teammates with a “Yes and”. When a teammate comes to you to pitch an idea, they’ve probably put in a lot of effort into that idea. So make sure you create a safe space for them where it’s okay to share an idea. Then if needed, steer the ship towards the best strategy for the problem at hand, instead of shutting them down with a hard no.
Leanna and Despi were both transparent in the fact that they’ve made mistakes as leaders along the way. For Leanna, she’s found strength in being empathetic for other teammates. “People are full people when they come to work”, and that doesn’t mean they are the same person you are. Support your team in the way that they need to be supported, which might be different than how you are best supported. If you are intentional about regularly checking in with your teammates about what they need and what they are expecting, you’ll be able to see so much more collective progress. At the end of the day, “your team’s growth is limited by your individual limitation”. Play into the strengths of each team member, and watch how much growth can happen.
Despi suggests that the most important and impactful thing you can do to become a better leader is to, “deal with your own shit.” Which means to acknowledge your own challenges and limitations and make a plan for tackling them. This plan can include formal steps like mentorship, therapy or coaching networks or informal steps like research, goal-setting, and habit tracking. No matter how you begin, begin. Because every day that you delay is a missed opportunity to become the best version of you. And that version will be the epically-best leader.