Sherilyn Shackell: founder of The Marketing Academy
Sherilyn Shackell: founder of The Marketing Academy
A view from Sherilyn Shackell

You don't need to be a superhero to be an exceptional marketing leader

Exactly what will it take to be the CMO of the future? Sherilyn Shackell explore the traits and potential that marketers must demonstrate.

During the past five years of running The Marketing Academy I’ve had the privilege of seeing scholarship applications from a few thousand emerging leaders from the world of marketing, media and communications. The criteria and selection process have been described as tough – but, as we’re looking for the CMOs of the future, they need to be.

Competition gets tougher as the emerging leader’s career path is travelled. After all, marketing leaders of today are expected to be commercial animals, with creative superpowers and the ability to analyse data. They’re required to be highly strategic, pragmatic, right- and left-brain thinkers, multitaskers, tech geniuses, communication gurus and social-media experts… oh, and in their spare time they’re expected to lead, develop and inspire people, too. Is it any wonder that people find it tough to get to the top?

While skills and work experience are important – great marketers need both breadth and depth of experience and expertise – in the current era of meaningful and authentic leadership we look for far more than a few work-based achievements and accolades.

Influencing people

For example, leadership potential can be demonstrated in many ways: you don’t have to be in a role directly managing a team of people – it’s more about influencing people, such as leading a workshop or facilitating a meeting, writing a blog or captaining a sports team, getting involved in a charity project or bringing people together in support of a cause. These are all good ways to flex the leadership muscle.

True leadership is about listening loudly, appreciating often and empowering more.

When we’re selecting scholars, we’re not just looking for "what you do", but more "who you are" in order to identify and then develop those with the potential to make a significant positive impact in the future. We like to look beneath the skill set and into the intrinsic character of the talented marketer.

Some of the characteristics and qualities that we tend to admire in high-potential leaders are curiosity, resilience, tenacity, high levels of emotional intelligence, honesty, positive energy, self-confidence, natural optimism, patience and adaptability. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, in a big or small company, client-side organisation or agency, if you can build on these characteristics, then obtaining the skills will be so much easier and can be learned as your career develops and branches.

We encourage emerging leaders to learn that you don’t have to be someone you’re not. That true leadership is about listening loudly, appreciating often and empowering more. That great leaders need to focus on others, not themselves, and "give" much more than they "get". That respect is a reward, not a right, and that trust is built on openness and authenticity. That to be the next CMO, you need to be the best you can be right now.

So, no, you don’t need to be a superhero to be an exceptional marketing leader… but it helps if you believe that you could be.