Leading Out of Chaos: A Marketer’s Defining Role

By Tony Gallo and Kathleen Witter

As Dr. Richard Joelson writes, “transitions are challenging because they force us to let go of the familiar and face the future with a feeling of vulnerability.”

Whenever and however we come out of this chaotic period, two things are clear: it will be different from before, and it will be a transition for you and your team. Regardless of whether you are a Chief Marketing Officer, brand manager, group leader or marketing team lead, this presents an opportunity to reimagine your leadership by recognizing things are indeed different from before, and by treating your role as if it is your first day on the job – that magical first 100 days where early successes (or failures) can determine your ultimate efficacy.

Your organization needs you to be present, to bring clarity and purpose, and to know what your vision is for moving forward.

So, how can you make the most of this opportunity to establish and achieve a new vision of success?

BRING EMPATHY: Recognize the feelings of vulnerability people are facing.

Your team members have been whipsawed in the last few months by working from home, furloughs, homeschooling, sickness, social distancing and anxiety. Your priority is empathy. Assure others that you recognize their lives may have been turned upside down over the past several weeks and make clear that you are committed to helping them find their way forward.

In the near term, some days will feel like a huge success as the team is dialed-in and focused. Others may feel like a drag as people continue to experience the turmoil these weeks have brought. Practicing “compassionate empathy” will help you to navigate your team through these uncertain waters. In the words of emotional researcher Paul Eckman, compassionate empathy is “using the knowledge and feeling to take action that will help reinforce the crucial notion that we are all connected to one another.” Let your team know you are all in this together.

The power of empathy as a balm for tension and a facilitator of organizational success and employee engagement is well established. Get ready now to be your most caring self by reminding yourself to seek first to understand, then to be understood, then to act.

SEEK CLARITY: Prepare as if you are new to the role.

Know that what worked before may simply not be right for right now. Different times demand different ways of thinking.

  • Leverage the wisdom of colleagues. Solicit the input of your team for ideas and suggestions around near-term priorities and potential watch-outs as you develop your strategy for moving forward.
  • Be open-minded. Recognize that what may have worked before has no guarantee of success now. Embrace the excitement of building on what you know with fresh eyes and a clean slate.
  • Revisit strategic goals and priorities. Recognize strategic priorities may have shifted in the last few weeks and take the time to redefine and clarify these changes for the whole team so that all team members are aligned as you move forward.

VALUE YOUR TIME: Treat your time as a precious resource.

Use your time now to prepare for the eventual return to normalcy as best you can.

  • Protect your time as we re-emerge to our “new normal.” Delegate what you can and do not let yourself get sucked into fighting operational fires before you can create and implement your agenda.
  • A couple of quick successes will provide you and your team with confidence, build organizational credibility and buy you more time to focus on more complex issues later down the line. What could those wins look like?
  • Prepare for the inevitable deluge of all sorts of requests for your time. Be judicious, focused, and empathetic as you prioritize.

Your organization needs you to be present, to bring clarity and purpose, and to know what your vision is for moving forward. An empathetic presence, careful preparation, and deliberate management of your time will help you to move forward as a successful leader during these uncertain times.