Maybe it’s because I grew up down the street from the largest GM plant in the country (at the time), or it could be because of my years as a Creative Director on the Volvo Business, but automobile performance is something we can all learn from. Especially now.
In the world of car racing, anyone can win in the straightaway. You simply “gun it”. You put the pedal to the metal and whoever invested in the best engine up to that point can win. Here’s what I also know: No race is ever won in the straightaway. Races are won in the corners.
When entering the corner, drivers have to slow down and focus on stabilizing the car. Once the car is stable, the driver must accelerate as much as possible, so the car comes out of the corner with as much momentum as possible. The earlier they accelerate, the greater the momentum they’ll have leaving the corner. They take the car from a state of chaos to a state of composure. But to ensure that the state of composure doesn’t become a state of complacency, they need to re-introduce chaos through acceleration. As Jackie Stewart said, “The exit from the corner is more important than the entry.”
We’re in the middle of a corner right now. It’s time to accelerate. Accelerate can mean investment. It can mean attention. It can mean experimentation. It can mean many things to many marketers. It’s up to you to decide what it means for you. But accelerate you must.
Ushering a brand and a team from chaos to composure and back to chaos again while the world’s economy is unstable doesn’t require a new entrant to the marketing tech stack. It needs leadership.
Why do you want to be a leader anyhow?
If you’re thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this”, you may see your promotion to a leadership position as a reward for past performance. That’s not leadership. That’s ego.
Leadership isn’t accomplished by a certain type of person leading in a certain type of way. Leadership, IMHO, is taking specific actions based on the information you have, to improve the lives of the people around you. This isn’t amateur hour. When chaos strikes, the pros appear. You have more than one skill. You have more than one way. More than that, C2C leadership is bound by purpose, defined by action, and adopted by communication.
C2C leadership is bound by purpose.
Great leaders need to believe in something that goes beyond what they do or what they sell. So do great brands. During times of crisis, people want to be bound by something that’s a little more important than the daily tasks associated with their job description.
As a leader, believing in and articulating a purpose is not only a responsibility, it’s an obligation. It will help you put the organization and your team in a position to succeed because it will help you protect margins, differentiate you from the competition, connect and inspire your people, and it will focus your pursuits for new opportunities.
Just remember what Nike told us, you should believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything. Your purpose also allows you to serve completely different stakeholders with the same core beliefs intact. After all, you do not have one constituent. You have five. Your purpose serves your employees, your customers, your suppliers, your shareholders, and your community. You are bound by your purpose. And so is your brand.
Leadership is defined by action.
The actions you take during a crisis will define you when you emerge from it. Intentional and specific actions that re-enforce your purpose will build your credibility and establish trust. During a crisis, leaders certainly must be composed so they instil trust and confidence at a time when employees may lack both.
But they also need to act quickly and get involved in the trenches so the team knows that nimble and flexible will win the day. Leaders must embrace limitations and avoid “partisan politics” between different functions to contribute to a unified front.
Remember when Doug Ford spoke glowingly about Chrystia Freeland? It was unexpected, like having sales speak glowingly about the yahoos over in marketing.
Most importantly, leaders must identify new opportunities that have emerged from the chaos by identifying and solving the new problems that didn’t exist before it started.
They have to launch an internal coup that takes down legacy thinking, legacy process, and legacy roles to pivot to new revenue, new efficiencies and new people.
Leadership is adopted by communication.
A leader cannot act alone. One person doesn’t scale well and they certainly don’t single-handedly solve a massive business disruption. Leaders need to get others on side by communicating the purpose and specifying the actions that others can take, while simultaneously leading with their own.
Communication is key. But if you’re going to show up as the stock photo version of what you think a leader is supposed to look, act and sound like, you won’t do well in C2C environments. With health in jeopardy and economic decay almost certain, your people simply won’t connect with a scripted, polished leader who isn’t as real as the situation we are in.
You can use stories to inspire repeatable behaviour, you should lead with full honesty and transparency, and you should communicate confidently about the process and plan you’ll follow instead of trying to predict the outcome. But, of greatest importance, is simply being your authentic self. While authenticity is being comfortable with your imperfections, it is not leading with them. Show up as your best self. Put on some pants, comb your hair, and be all that you can be while you juggle teaching grade 4 remote math and ordering from Door Dash.
Your roots are showing.
Many of us have joked that it has been pretty easy to see who the natural blondes are. I've personally used the line, "I'm so sorry but my roots are showing..." on a couple of virtual occasions. Our roots ARE showing. But they're not the roots you're thinking of.
With virtual meetings, our colleagues and clients get to see our homes, our spouses, our children, our pets…the very things that provide the greatest foundation to our lives. The very things that define us. The very things that anchor us. They get to see our roots.
Hopefully, we've seen sides of colleagues we've never seen before that help us truly understand the complete person. Hopefully, that helps us work better, collaborate faster, trust easier and judge slower. Your roots are showing. Don't cover them up.
Author: Ron Tite | Founder and Chief Creative Officer | Church+State