The leader behaviors of the best brand leaders

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

The leader behaviors of the best marketers include how to be accountable for results, use people leadership to build bench strength of your team, exhibit broad influence across the organization, bring an authentic style, so your decisions are clear, and run the business like an owner with decisions that drive the success of the business.

To achieve success, marketers should focus on the marketing skills, leadership behaviors, and on-the-job experiences you collect throughout your marketing career. While many will show up naturally in your career, you can end up with specific gaps due to specific jobs you have along your journey. At any point in your career, you can assess where you stand and which gaps you need to fill in. 

The leader behaviors you should focus on

  1. You must be accountable for results, holding everyone accountable, getting things done, while staying on strategy and learning to work the system with every functional group throughout the organization. 
  2. Take on the people leadership, managing your core team, and being genuinely interested in your people’s development. You must coach, teach, and guide the team with honest assessment and feedback.  
  3. Exert broad influence across the organization, being the one to make decisions and control the strategy when executing through others, casting your influence into other functions by think of what others need. 
  4. Bring a consistent and predictable style, aware of your impact beyond your team, exhibit leadership under pressure. Be flexible and accommodating to others.  
  5. Run the business like an owner, accountable to both the long-term outlook and show-term profit of the brand, not you personally. Make decisions that benefit the brand, consumers, customers, marketplace, and society. Live and breathe the culture of those who work behind the scenes of the brand.  

I have broken each of these five leader behavior areas into 20 overall brand leader behaviors you need to be a successful brand leader. As you move up in marketing roles, these leader behaviors become equal in importance to the skills you collect along the way. 

As a brand leader, embrace these 20 leader behaviors to achieve your full potential

1. Be accountable for results

The best brand leaders take complete responsibility for everything that happens on the brand and take responsibility for everyone who works on the brand. There are no excuses, just explanations with a plan to fix. Marketing is about knowing the right thing to do and then make it happen. The best brand leader does both, while those who fail, likely only do one. They either don’t know what to do, or they fail in working the system to make it happen. 


The four behaviors that make you accountable for results: 

  • Hold everyone accountable for the goals of their tasks. Every project is a collection of subject matter experts. You must learn the motivations and work styles of each team member and inspire them to deliver. 
  • Be the one who makes it happen, get things done; don’t let details or timeline slip. As the brand leader, you are the only point person expected to deliver. Everyone else must deliver it to you. Stay aware of the details, to manage any possible slip, and work with your team to take action and catch back up. 
  • Stay on strategy, eliminating the ideas not focused on the vision/strategy. Avoid any resource-draining projects that do not move you closer to your brand vision. Use the planning and execution process to ensure the work you agree to deliver stays on strategy. 
  • Work the system behind the brand. Inspire everyone on the team to deliver their greatest work while continually challenging them through questions to help you understand the issues they face. You have to know when to stay out of their way. And, you have to know when to roll up the sleeves to work alongside them to knockdown roadblocks.    


Own the solution

When you push for execution ideas that are different enough to stand out from the clutter of the marketplace, it brings a risk that it may or may not work. You have to own the results, and when it does not work, you need to own the next solution as much as you owned the first solution.
To start, you must make sure everything you do lines up to your recommended strategy that answers, “How can we get there?” You must be able to explain how your strategic choices depend on market opportunities; you see whether it is something happening with consumers, competitors, or situations. 
Your strategies must provide clear marching orders that define the strategic program you are investing in, the focused opportunity, the desired market impact, and the payback in a performance result that benefits the branded business. You must make sure your team is fully aware and bought in on every strategy, and then your role shifts to holding them accountable for staying on strategy. Whenever you see someone go off strategy, challenge them, and get them back. 

Own the execution but avoiding distractions

The tactics you choose must answer, “What do we need to do?” The tactics must be framed entirely by your strategy and stay on track to move you closer to your vision. The investments you make must deliver the highest return on investment and the highest return on effort for your branded business.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Just because it may work doesn’t make it the right thing to do. It is easy to get distracted by the shiny new toy, the loudest voice in the room, or the immediate problem you can see in front of you.  Yes, we reward action too much. Too many marketers think it is a choice between the best options, and many times forget the “don’t do it” option.f
When my team took on new projects, I used to say, “Is it a strategy or a hobby?” To me, a hobby takes the same resources as a strategy, but it does not move your brand an inch closer to your stated vision. After you finish your hobby project, take a look, and your vision will be as far away as it was before you started the project. Avoid the hobby. It is easy for marketers to be attracted to the shiny new toy, especially as we see new media tools or apps come out. 
The best brand leaders to recognize and eliminate any hobbies that waste resources without moving the brand forward, so the team can focus their limited resources on those projects that will provide the highest return.

Own the recovery

Not everything will go right. With many complex projects in marketing, whether new adverting or launch, there will be mistakes by your team, there will be missed milestones that impact others, and events that happen outside of your control. You have to run every project so you stay aware of the details and changes that force you to make adjustments. Hold regular checks to make sure everyone on the team is held accountable to deliver on the expectations of the organization. Stay on top of timelines, adjusting to changes and knocking down any bottlenecks that could impact the final delivery. 
If something does not work as planned, you must be able to explain the details of what went wrong, and what you are doing to fix it and get it back on track.  

2. Take on the people leadership role

You might feel glad you have a team who can do the day-to-day tasks, so it frees you up to do strategic thinking, or you might think your role is to fix your direct report’s weaknesses, so they never look bad, or even worse, never make you look bad as a manager. You might think your role is to conduct all the performance reviews or think your job is to get your direct report promoted. I have witnessed each of these management types, some I have worked for, and others have worked for me. These are not the people leadership styles you need to be one of the best brand leaders. Be better.

Yes, you have to coach your team on the day-to-day execution. While it is one thing for you to stay focused on your own to-do list, as the leader, you now have to keep your team focused on what matters, through regular communication to stay in touch with each team member, to ensure they are focused on solutions that drive business results. It is easy to create make-work projects or start spinning your team with too many ideas.

The best brand leaders are the ones who create other great brand leaders 

As we go through the skills, behaviors, and experiences for marketers throughout this book, you should be thinking about how you can use this with your people. You can use these tools to help your people achieve their career goals. Coach and teach on the core marketing skills they need. Challenge on the behaviors and set them up to learn from the on-the-job experiences.

As the team leader, tap into the pride of your people. When you get to know each person, try to observe what it is they are most proud of because you can use that pride to set challenges for them and then be able to positively reward them in ways that push them to achieve what they never thought they could.    

The four people leadership behaviors you need:

  • Manage your core team with a push for focus, communication, solutions, and results. Use each team member’s strengths to run your brand and achieve the business results. 
  • Be interested in your people’s development and career. Get to know your people and show genuine interest, or your people will quickly realize and disengage from you as a leader. Treat each person as an individual with a unique set of skills and gaps. You have to understand their career aspirations and build a realistic plan for how they can get there. If they know you are in their corner, they will deliver their best. 
  • Coach, teach, and guide your team to deliver their best performance. The better your people, the better your results. When you can inspire everyone to give their best to the brand, the collective achievements will help the brand over-deliver on their goals. Teach what you have learned, being patient with your people. Coach them to perform at their best, reward them when it works, and help them when they miss. 
  • Provide honest assessment and feedback to your people. Use your judgment on the right level of feedback, sometimes on the spot, to handle the specific situations. Other times, use quieter moments of reflection when you can build on their strengths and challenge each person on closing the gaps you observe. 

3. Broad influence throughout your organization

One of the hardest leader behaviors to learn is how to exert your influence across the organization, working directly with sales, operations, R&D, finance, outside agencies, and those within your company who deliver the customer experience. Many times, the people you deal with are conduits to others, so you need to ensure they carry your message and decisions forward to those beyond your direct contact. 

Your biggest challenge will be how you show up to each expert, and then what you expect from them won’t always match up to what inspires them in their jobs. The best brand leaders know how to control the strategy yet give freedom to the execution to the experts who surround them. 

The four behaviors that help you exhibit broad influence: 

  • With each meeting you go into, use active listening to seek out the opinions of experts to gather enough information to be able to make a decision.  
  • Control the brand strategy, yet stay flexible to allow highly creative ideas with the marketing execution.  
  • Be active in building many relationships to earn the trust of cross-functional experts that will allow you to exert your influence throughout the organization.
  • Think of others beyond themselves, with empathy for the pressure and challenges others face. Use questions to help you understand the issues, and with a clear view, provide an ideal solution.

Working with everyone across the organization

Salespeople are relationship-based. They are looking to balance the needs of the brand with the needs of their customers. The best salespeople will lay out the issues faced by their customers, and then will want to negotiate with you on behalf of their customers. Marketers are not naturally good at negotiating and dig their heels in too many times. When you listen to the concerns of your salespeople and be open to adjusting your program, they will be more willing to carry your brand message to their customers.

Supply chain managers want to dig into the performance data with you, so they can present their forecasting conclusions that make logical sense. Once all the numbers are on the table, supply chain managers want decisive answers from you, so they can carry your brand needs to manufacturing plant managers and suppliers. 

Agency account managers want you to be open to new marketing execution ideas, and they want you to provide clear direction and expectations to ensure they can run an efficient agency team on your business. They do not want spin. It makes your business inefficient, frustrating, and unprofitable for their agency. Their role is to represent your brand to experts at their agency, and they want you to provide inspiration that keeps their people motivated, so they are willing to give their best ideas to your brand.

The best finance manager will challenge your strategies, looking for proof that what you say will work actually will deliver. They are willing to invest in smart ideas that drive revenue growth but will be reluctant to invest in crazy, unproven ideas. They want “no surprises” from their marketing leaders because they are responsible for delivering the expected profit for the business. Whether it is good news or bad news, finance people need to know as soon as possible so they can manage the impact. To be a successful partner with finance, you need to show up as organized and on top of your business.  

Your product development team wants you to be willing to explore ideas. Similar to how you might view creative advertising, you need product innovation to be both smart and different when your natural bias is to find ideas that are smart and similar. While you need to make sure your R&D people stay on strategy, you also need to leave room for the invention that drives innovation beyond what you could come up with on your own.  

As you can see with these examples, you must be a chameleon brand leader. Yes, be true to who you are, but have to show up flexible enough to meet the needs of each of the experts you work with. You will fail if you show up with one style hoping everyone is aligned to your brand objectives.

4. Bring a consistent and predictable style

People all over the company want to know who you are. They want to know what motivates you, how you motivate others, how you handle conflict, and how you make decisions. The good behavior is easy, but there will be conflict, and they need to know when you are debating, negotiating, or resolving issues—each of those is a very fine line that can only be observed during the conflict.  

Once people know you, they want you to stay consistent, which allows people to approach and predictably engage you, so it is easier for them to do business with you, enabling them to deliver greatness on your brand’s behalf.

It is not whether you are nice, charming, or funny. Show up in a consistent style and predictable mood, who is aware of your impact beyond your team, exhibit leadership under pressure. Be flexible and accommodating to others.    

The four behaviors you need to build your consistent, predictable style: 

  • Be aware of your impact on others within your team and beyond. No matter your level, you will be seen as a leader, as you are the one who makes decisions based on each subject matter expert’s recommendation. 
  • Exhibit leadership under the four most significant pressure points, whether it is the pressure to deliver business results, the ambiguity of unknown situations or solutions, what happens when there is a dramatic change, and the pressure to meet deadlines. Each type of pressure impacts how you exhibit your leadership personality. It is easy to be a great leader when things are going great, but what happens when things don’t go well. Recognize what each type of pressure does to your style, take on that pressure, and work to show up in a consistent, predictable way. 
  • Strive to stay consistent in how you show up to others. Your experts will always present their views to you, and you will be expected to decide. How you show up to them will impact how honest they are with you, and how they will respect and support your decision.  
  • Be the flexible leader who admits mistakes and challenges yourself. While people want you to be predictable and consistent, they also want to see you grow as a leader and adjust to new ways. Never look like you are stuck in your ways, unwilling to adjust to people or situations. 

5. Run your business like an owner

No matter your level, you should run the business like you are the owner. You are accountable to both the long-term brand health and the show-term profit performance results of the brand. The worst marketers make decisions and engage in activities for selfish and personal reasons, designed to bolster their resume. 

When you bring the mindset of an owner, it forces you to think clearly, to balance everything and everyone, before you make your decision. Forget all the vanity metrics and awards. You have a business to run, and you need to keep your eye on the profit delivery.

The four behaviors you need that exhibits brand ownership: 

  • Act like the brand CEO, sitting at the center of the spoke of the company, surrounded by functional leadership who provide advice based on their expertise, with you inspiring, questioning, listening, and then serving as the ultimate decision-maker  
  • Make smart, selfless decisions that hold everyone and themselves accountable to balance the long-range and short-term health and profit, not for the pure benefit of your career or personal wealth. If you have purpose-driven reasons beyond profit, that’s great, but profit helps you deliver those purpose-driven reasons beyond your wildest expectations. 
  • Make the purposeful, smart choices that are good for the company, consumers, customers, market, and society at large.
  • Live and breathe the culture of those who work behind the scenes of the brand. Your people will be watching your every move, and to bring the values, beliefs, and behaviors to life, you serve as the ultimate role model.

Use our tool to find your purpose

Bring a purpose to your leadership to connect with both employees and consumers, as you help define your brand soul. Ikigai (生き甲斐) is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is an intersection of what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Translating this idea over to the brand leader, I want you to find the intersection of these four elements: 

  • Does it fit with what consumers need or want?
  • Does it deliver your passion for loving what you do? 
  • Does it fit the core values of your team?
  • Can you build a beloved and successful branded business?

Your brand purpose will come to life at the intersection that meets the consumer needs, fulfills your passion, stands behind your values, and yet still builds a successful branded business. The decisions you make should benefit the brand, consumers, customers, marketplace, and society. As the leader, live and breathe the culture of those who work behind the scenes of the brand.  

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Our playbooks will show you new ways for how to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  1. You will find new strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  2. To define the brand, I provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We show a step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  3. For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the marketing communications plan, innovation process, and sales plan. 
  4. To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution with chapters on how to write a creative brief, how to make decisions on creative advertising and how to lead the media choices. 
  5. When it comes time for analyzing the performance of your brand, I provide all the analytical tools you need to lead a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand.  

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand and be successful in your marketing career.

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