The power of simplicity in leadership

"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity" 

Oliver Wendell Holmes

At this year's International Marketing Leader's Programme (2013), an important insight has emerged about the way in which successful leaders bring simplicity to bear on the world around them.

This year's programme included impressive contributions from Andy Fennell (CMO, Diageo), Jill McDonald (UK CEO, McDonalds), Nick Allen (VP Strategy & Portfolio, Shell) and Craig Inglis (CMO, John Lewis). We heard stories of brand and business success, and in some cases of failure too. But one common thread was the importance of leaders focusing on what really matters and helping to make life feel less complicated for everyone involved.

Andy Fennell told of how he had galvanised people in Diageo's organisation at different stages in his career with simple, bold ideas such as 10/10/10 for Guinness (a drive to achieve 10% growth over 10 years to achieve a 10% market share). Nick Allen provided a clear and crisp explanation of the commercial structure of Shell's complex business and the role marketing plays in driving performance. Jill MacDonald summarised her key leadership insights, highlighting the importance of behaviours such as intellectual curiosity, keeping calm and assuming accountability. And Craig Inglis shared examples of the recent, multi-channel communication for John Lewis – each execution beautifully crafted and grounded in the same consistent drive to build love and trust in John Lewis's single-minded product and service proposition.

The over-riding impression of these inputs was that whilst they were simple, both in the nature of their content and the style of their delivery, they were far from simplistic. Searching for powerful simplicity is not easy – it is not about leaping straight to obvious, easy conclusions. It often requires deep thought and creative exploration.

But having gone into the detail, great leaders are able to lift out and raise things to a higher level. They focus on the core questions, the key issues and the big ideas.

The path to great marketing leadership is not to complicate people's lives by losing them in overly-intellectual analysis and debate. Instead we must engage people's hearts by getting to the heart of the matters that concern them and raise their spirits by championing ideas that will inspire them.

Originally posted on the Marketing Society blog.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @AndyBird_BL. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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