- Executive coaching is perhaps more important for C-level execs than ever, especially for CMOs. It’s basically therapy, but for professional development, and it allows you to recognize your blind spots and learn how to better lead your team.
- “I often find that marketing leaders will lead with something they see in their minds, and too quickly their team of people… immediately support the idea,” says Julie Zadow. She works with clients to help vet their ideas and encourage their team to challenge them.
- Too many CMOs and marketing leaders are reactive in their own careers. Julie encourages you to be your own mapmaker. Think about what you really want and how you can get there.
At many companies, there’s an emphasis on employee professional development, but oftentimes the C-suite gets left out of the mix. After all, if you’re a CMO, you definitely know what you’re doing and you’re the expert at, well, everything, right?
That’s why there’s executive coaching. Working with an executive coach is a great way to continue to level up your skills and also focus on any of your blindspots. This benefits you, your employees, and the company you’re helping lead.
Executive coaching vs. mentoring — what’s the big diff?
Executive coaching can sometimes get confused with mentoring, but here’s a good way to differentiate the two: Seeking advice from a mentor is like confiding in a trusted friend whereas seeking insight from an executive coach is more like talking to a therapist.
A mentor tends to talk more — dish out advice based on their own experiences — whereas an executive coach listens more and asks you questions to help you find your own way to success.
“I’d say an executive coach is a little bit more about listening and shaping and responding and challenging to help the client figure things out for themselves,” Julie explains.
She continues: “Executive coaching is really about working with a client to call out their blind spots as you start seeing them based on what you hear from them so that you can help them fix them.”
Typically, you can really benefit from a mentor earlier in your career. Executive coaching, on the other hand, is more beneficial when you’re in a C-level role.
It’s also important to mention: When you get to a certain level in a company, it’s not exactly the best move to confide your frustrations or vulnerabilities in a coworker as tempting as it may be.
“Some of learning to be a really successful marketing leader is understanding other people’s vision of who you are to the strength of the organization,” Julie says. “I think in order to really lead with that strength, you need to have an outlet for your vulnerability when you’re not actually sure what to do.”
Talking with your coworkers can easily backfire and devolve into office politics or gossip or cause your employees to lose confidence in you as a leader.
Top insights for CMOs — from an executive coach
Julie, a CMO herself, works with a lot of CMOs and marketing leaders as an executive coach, so it’s no surprise she has a lot of really great insight to share from her experiences.
1. Get comfortable with not knowing what comes next
We’ve all heard the phrase “a new normal” way too many times at this point. But it’s true. This past year, we haven’t exactly been operating under “normal” circumstances.
This, Julie says, oftentimes leaves marketing pros feeling like they’re operating “without a net.” (Even more so than they normally do.)
“For any kind of leader in business, that is an especially exposed feeling,” she says. “Most leaders don’t like to rumble with feeling exposed. But that’s exactly what leaders need to integrate into their truth, to lead successfully at a time like this.”
Julie would venture to say of all C-suite leaders, marketing leaders are probably feeling the most vulnerable right now, just because marketing is so front and center to a business. However, you just have to get OK with not knowing everything and every next step.
And executive coaching is sort of a partnership with CMOs — they can help CMOs keep their ship straight even in choppy waters.
2. Encourage your team to challenge you
Julie says she often observes leaders turning their team into “yes men” and “yes women.” Sure, as a leader your goal is to foster collaboration, but sometimes this can go too far.
“I often find that marketing leaders will lead with something they see in their minds, and too quickly their team of people… immediately support the idea,” she says — even if it’s not a good idea.
“Why? It’s coming from the boss, and then they’ll sidetrack their way around trying to figure out what the boss really meant and whether that was really the right direction to go.”
To avoid this, Julie coaches her clients to share their ideas with her first. That way they can get those ideas — the good, the bad, and the ugly — out of their heads and give them some room to breathe and potentially reshape before the idea is shared with the team.
“It’s about, I would say, taking an idea and framing it from both the perspective of communication and impact,” Julie says. “That’s a step that too many executives, in their busy days, especially in marketing, often otherwise rush past.”
An executive coach acts a little speed bump that allows you to slow down and really shape your ideas. Then, when you share those ideas with your team, they’re more whole.
3. Be your own career mapmaker
Julie says she sees a surprising amount of CMOs who are fairly reactive in their careers.
“I have worked with way too many CMOS who are so good at seeing the goals they are trying to get their teams to achieve internally, but they’re somehow paradoxically way less focused and less clear when it comes to sort of defining the scope of where they are trying to go as leader,” Julie says.
She sees a lot of people who, yes, have really impressive career paths but who haven’t really been in complete control of that path. They’ve responded to calls from headhunters, they have a connection at another company, or they jumped at an opening at their own company.
While that’s all fair, Julie wants CMOs and marketing leaders to “ensure they are the mapmaker of their own career map and that they are taking more accountability and responsibility for mapping their career vision into an actual plan to achieve it,” she says.
Rather than sitting back and waiting for the next move to come to you, take action and really think about your goals and where you want to go.
4. Show up to your team as a human
We’ve already talked about this new normal. That’s why it’s more important now than ever to show empathy. Julie encourages her clients to lead by example here. If you’re having an “off” day, be open with your team.
“Let’s figure out how we really infuse some honest and raw humanity back into how we figure out what we as individuals and as a team are going to accomplish in these crazy, unprecedented times,” she says.
Let your team know you’re there to talk. If they need to take an hour, half a day, or even a day to step back and decompress, encourage them to come talk to you.
This is important advice for leaders, too.
“A lot of leaders get so focused on the path forward that they lose sight of their own emotional state,” Julie explains. “That’s a problem because the team around them is constantly looking at them and trying to glean their emotional state to help them get a sense of what to expect next.”
At the end of the day, we are all human, so it’s important leaders can be authentically empathetic to the state of the world.
As Julie likes to tell her clients: “It’s OK to show up with their whole human self at work every day because that’s where we are as a human race right now, and that’s the way you need to lead.”
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