• THE LADDER
  • Posts
  • Leadership, without the self-loathing and becoming a beige robot

Leadership, without the self-loathing and becoming a beige robot

😱 Your four simple principles for success

👋 Hello and welcome,

I’ve been ruminating on leadership this week and as a result have cooked up what I think are some key principles to leadership success you can put to work, without hating yourself or becoming a beige bore-fest.

If you missed last week’s edition on Blue Ocean Strategy and how you can put the books principles to work immediately in your product and marketing, you can catch-up here

This week:

  • 🏆️ Being a great leader without the forgettable personality and self-loathing

  • 🔗 Hot stuff from the world hottest profesh social network

  • 🧰 Watch your back, that tool box is getting heavy.

  • 🗞️ Extra extra!

I hope you enjoy.

To infinity and beyond,

If you were sent The Ladder, click below to subscribe.

⏱️ ~ 8 minutes 47 seconds read

I’m not going to lie, almost every single one of my highschool teachers would be absolutely shocked to learn that my career over the last 15 years has seen me responsible for managing millions of dollars, complex technology projects, building brands and large teams with dozens of talented people.

Most of my highschool friends to this day, probably still don’t really believe it.

And this is down to the fact that during my teens I had absolutely no idea of what I was capable of.

If it wasn’t hanging with my mates, video games, music, art or girls, I was not particularly interested.

You Got This Oprah Winfrey GIF by Apple TV+

Not a conversation I ever had with my student career counsellor.

Only later, after bumbling my way into marketing and technology did I realise I also happen to have a few of the skills and characteristics that might be handy when it comes to leading a team and getting shit done.

WHY THIS MATTERS 👀 

It’s pretty simple, your career can happen to you - or you can happen to it.

Whilst it’s important as a leader to spot potential talent, you simply cannot expect that your own potential will be spotted and nurtured. 

No one owes it to you. You owe it to yourself.

In an era where anyone can become a data scientist, a software engineer or launch products into the world with nothing but YouTube and a couple of monthly subscriptions, waiting for external validation or direction will leave you lagging woefully behind.

Studying Matt Damon GIF by MIRAMAX

Weekends on YouTube =

Cultivating your leadership skills, particularly those that challenge conventional wisdom and build relationships, equips you with the agility and insight needed to navigate often very complex and sophisticated professional settings. 

It's about forging your path, learning from each encounter along the way, and continuously adapting. This self-reliance and growth mindset ensures that you remain relevant, effective, valuable and ahead in your career, making you an invaluable asset to your team or organisation or driving your own business forward.

So strap on your skates Gordie. Let’s take a look at my Top 4 leadership principles to avoid becoming a dull, soulless robot.

#1 GET CURIOUS 🧐 

As a leader you’re going to spend lots of time in the company of others, in rooms officially or unofficially “networking” 🫠 

This can be gruelling. I’m particularly bad at building relationships where the only interest for me revolves around a business outcome (yup, will never be in sales). 

However, it doesn’t mean it’s ok to lock up and avoid this networking stuff all together because it feels ‘manufactured’.

Scared Homer Simpson GIF by reactionseditor

Me at networking drinks

So how do you do it?

Firstly dispel the idea that you need to impress someone - in fact try to forget entirely about what they might think about you.

Instead focus your energy and mental efforts on becoming outrageously curious about them. 

I mean, keep it appropriate - no one wants to feel like they’re being interrogated, but a few simple models have helped me immensely over the years:

  1. SHR Model - Make people feel important

    1. Seen - make eye contact, notice something unique about them

    2. Heard - ask follow-up questions about the things they share about themselves or raise

    3. Remembered - use their name, follow-up with them later and include things discussed

  2. Everyone can play ‘softball’ - start light with easy (but not beige) open-ended openers

    1. “How are you finding XYZ?”

    2. “How does XYZ relate to your role?”

    3. “What do you think the future looks like for XYZ?”

    4. Ask about kids/ travelling/ out of town/ balancing work/ life etc.

Use these as a way to find something interesting in the person you’re speaking with - and importantly something you can connect on. Ideally not work related.

There’s always plenty of time to talk ‘shop’.

#2 BELLYACHING IS A VIRUS 🦠 

Gossiping and complaining is such a quintessential and fundamentally human thing to do.

Let’s face it, the allure of complaining about how slow Gary in accounts is, or whinging over a beer about how ass-backwards the strategy is can be strong—offering a momentary sense of camaraderie or relief—but it ultimately serves no constructive purpose.

All legit leaders know this.

Seth Meyers Crying GIF by Late Night with Seth Meyers

Here’s how you drive real change huh?

Leaders are, by their very nature, problem-solvers and visionaries who must rise above the fray of workplace politics to steer their teams toward solutions and success.

To embody this principle, it's crucial to set a clear example: demonstrate through your actions and words that you are not interested in participating in non-productive conversations.

When faced with complaints or gossip, tactfully redirect the discussion towards potential solutions or ask how the situation can be improved. Encourage your team to bring their concerns directly to you, allowing them the confidential space to voice their frustrations, where the focus swiftly moves from problem identification (the easy part) to problem-solving (the much harder part).

You don’t need to be Jesus here - nobody's perfect. You will succumb to this temptation yourself, it’s only human. But pick yourself up on it when it happens. Especially in front of your own team.

People see and respect that.

#3 TASTE ALL THE FRUIT 🍉 

At a certain point you realise that you’re not in the room to convince people that you’re a good marketer, or even what good marketing is - that’s what got you in the room.

You’re actually there to synthesise everything else that’s pertinent to the business, through everything you know as a marketer, and develop a unique perspective or strategy.

To be able to do this you must become a perennial learner. 

A perpetual willingness/ obsession to learn, coupled with the value of prioritising breadth over depth of knowledge, underscores the essence of agile leadership.

Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs their downtime - but when everyone else is chilling, your 3 hour YouTube rabbit hole on Gestalt principles of design, means you’re showing up to the next conversation with the design team with a whole new appreciation for not only their work, but how we could be rethinking bundles, journey design, creative sequencing and more.

joy books GIF

Learning is segsy.

A leader's ability to continuously absorb new information, especially from adjacent sectors and disciplines, becomes a powerful tool for innovation and problem-solving. 

Overtime, a big part of the success of your marketing efforts will be based on the combined skills of the experts in your team that are waaaaaay more technically competent in their one field than you could ever hope to (or have the time for).

Hire people extraordinary at their craft. Trust them.

Take regular deep-dives into their space. Challenge, discuss and provoke, but importantly, bring into their world the things that you observe from other spaces - this is where your breadth can spark innovative thinking.

#4 PRIDE AND PROGRESS 🤜 🤛 

Trust me, it’s a heck of a lot easier if people can motivate themselves. 

However, learning how to motivate and galvanise a team is key to not only hitting targets but also having a heck of a lot more fun at the office.

Unmotivated teams are a proper energy vampire.

When everyone is happy, enjoys their work, sees value in what they do and how they’re spending their day - the weight of the work gets lighter and easier. Things get unstuck and flow.

Sadly many executives still think that motivating a team is about some grand mission or vision for the company (even if for them it’s more about stock options). 

Tired Comedy GIF by Kissing Sisters

But when you’re stuck making the 48th variation of a facebook ad at 9:45pm on a Tuesday, that statement posted on the wall is not only alien and irrelevant - it’s starting to mock you and your life choices.

For me, motivating a team has two levels. On the macro, it’s about kindling the flames of the individual's personal ambitions. And on the micro it’s about personal pride in the quality of your work and the craft involved.

On the macro - It’s important to take the time to discover what drives each team member, what they aim to achieve in their careers, and how they envision their path of professional development. 

People want to feel heard and understood. They want to understand and see how what they’re doing in the long run works for them. Help them see that. You don’t have to map it out for them, but help them to see their success and the organisations as mutually beneficial.

But also be upfront with them - if they’re successful, they may simply outgrow their role in 2 or 3 years. That’s OK. They’ll leave your charge having achieved some extraordinary results and produced work that they can be deeply proud of.

Which bring us to the micro - Day to day, bring excitement, enthusiasm and verve for the craft into everything that you do with them in their space. Challenge and provoke how things could be better. Celebrate when the work is shit hot. Stand shoulder to shoulder with them when it’s not great - and work with them to identify ways to improve.

When things are clicking for your team on both the macro and micro level - motivation and momentum is the inevitable outcome.

YOUR PLAN TO ‘K’ SOME ‘A’ 🦵🍑 

OK, we’ve covered a lot here, so it’s time for some solid take-home actions.

Let’s get into it:

  • Attend Workshops Outside Your Field: Encourage yourself and your team to attend workshops that are not directly related to marketing to broaden your horizons and spark curiosity. Importantly, discuss the importance of connecting with others and some of the models we discussed as tips for networking.

  • Implement a 'Solution-Only' Rule: During team meetings, enforce a rule where discussions about problems must be accompanied by proposed solutions.

  • Create a 'Venting Booth': Allocate a specific time or space where team members can air grievances but must follow up with a brainstorming session on possible solutions.

  • Organize Cross-Training Opportunities: Set up sessions where team members can teach each other about their areas of expertise, promoting a culture of learning and appreciation for different skills.

  • Encourage Side Projects: Support team members in pursuing projects outside their primary job functions that align with their interests and contribute to their professional growth.

  • Curate a Learning Library: Build a resource library of books, articles, and courses on a variety of subjects for team members to explore.

  • Set Personal Development Meetings: Regularly schedule one-on-one meetings with team members to discuss their career ambitions and how they align with the team's goals.

  • Celebrate Small Wins: Recognize and celebrate achievements, no matter how small, to build a sense of pride and progress within the team.

  • Create a 'Craftsmanship Workshop': Host workshops or sessions focused on the quality and craft of the work being produced, where team members can share best practices and innovative techniques.

Things for yourself:

  • Lead by Example: Make a conscious effort to redirect conversations away from gossip and complaints towards constructive topics or problem-solving discussions.

  • Self-Reflection: Regularly set aside time for self-reflection on your leadership practices and areas for improvement.

  • Seek Feedback: Actively seek feedback from peers, mentors, and team members on your leadership style and areas where you can grow.

  • Join Leadership Forums or Groups: Participate in leadership forums or groups outside your organization to gain new perspectives and ideas.

Honestly, if you were to choose just three of the above, you’ll be light-years ahead of other leaders in your space.

  • Which of the above seems pretty easy to get started with?

  • Are you putting any of these principles into action already?

Hit reply, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you enjoyed this edition, please forward it to a friend who’s looking to level-up their leadership game - They’ll love you for it (and I will too) ⏭️ 💌 

🔗 Hot stuff from the world hottest profesh social network

🧰 Watch your back, that toolbox is getting heavy

  • SnappySnail: Use AI to write and send a snail mail letter in just seconds 🐌 📬️ 

  • LangLang: Effortlessly chat with anyone in any language on WhatsApp 💬 

  • SuperHuman.com: AI-powered email built for high-performing teams 🤖📧 

🗞️ Extra! Extra! In case you didn’t read about it

  • WK Kellogg CEO Gary Pilnick is facing a ton of backlash online after a suggestion that people should start eating cereal for dinner as a means to combat high grocery prices 🥣 

  • Finally we can stop with those stupid magic-mouse car illustrations - Apple’s car project is officially dead 🚗 

  • Reddit’s own r/WallStBets could be the biggest risk to their IPO 📈 

🙋 Got a question? I might just have some answers.

Each week I'm here to answer any question you might have in the space of marketing, strategy, leadership, digital and everything in between.

Just hit 'reply' and let me know what's on your mind, and I'll share my answer with the community the very next week, including a special shout out (if you're into that, otherwise we can keep it anon) 🥸 

How is this working for you?

Lying only makes it worse for both of us.

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

Join the conversation

or to participate.