Learn to be ‘in the game’ as a leader

I have just spent an exciting week visiting Brand Learning’s new office in Singapore. During my trip, I ran a leadership seminar with a group of senior local marketers from companies including AkzoNobel, Friesland Campina, HSBC, Microsoft, Nike and Shell. During our conversations, an interesting insight emerged about the challenge of becoming a successful marketing leader.

As people progress through their career, they get promoted for being good operators and managers. At a certain point though, when they move into a leadership role, a different set of skills and behaviours is called for. In addition to focusing on more strategic activities, their time and attention needs to be re-orientated towards less tangible tasks such as nurturing the organisational culture, building relationships across the business and strengthening the capabilities of their team.

The risk is that people can sometimes fail to step up to this higher level, remaining rooted in their established operational mindsets and activities. Sanjay Gangopadhyay, Nike’s Senior Marketing Director for South East Asia, explained that “you have to learn to be in the game without playing the game”. Characteristically, he used a sporting analogy by likening the challenge to the shift from playing in a football team to managing one.

There are many reasons why this can be a difficult move in practice. Shifting into a leadership role can sometimes take people out of their comfort zone, with performance being driven by different criteria which are often poorly defined or understood. Sometimes there may be weaknesses in the calibre or capability of one’s team which undermine the confidence and trust you have in them to handle things without your direct involvement. There’s also the problem that you might have actually enjoyed being an operator and don’t want to leave parts of the role behind!

Helping senior marketers understand what it really means to be ‘in the game’ as a leader, rather than ‘playing the game’ as an operator, is one of the key objectives of the International Marketing Leaders Programme. Run by The Marketing Society and Brand Learning for over 10 years in the UK, the programme is being launched for the first time in Singapore in April this year.

Another of my key tasks last week was to brief the business leaders who will be helping us run the programme in Asia. We have a fantastic line up of senior contributors from businesses including Banyan Tree, Diageo, Google, McDonald’s, Nike, OCBC, Shell, Twitter and Unilever. The programme provides a unique opportunity to learn from the personal experiences of established leaders and to find one’s own leadership purpose and development roadmap.  If you’re based in Asia and interested in finding out more, click here for the details about the new Singapore-based programme and how to apply.

Originally published in The Marketing Society blog.

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