At one point in 2008, I was face down in the mud with bullets sailing over my head, the sound of dogs and sirens echoing into the night.
This was the Army's Night Infiltration Course for Basic Combat Training, and I was in the thick of it. The scenario had set us up to crawl as if our lives depended on it, and so we did. It left our elbows and knees raw from constant grinding on the terrain, but the fear of embarrassment or worse punishments drove us onward.
Aside from scrapes and scratches, there was no chance of actual harm. Tracer rounds lit the sky, casting red streaks that proved they were well above us. Still, barbed wire kept our noses to the earth as we struggled for air, ensuring there was no chance we'd stand and run.
This training isn't meant to teach leadership. It's meant to put trainees under stress while they carry out a mission. But when I got to the end, tired and dirty, I was greeted by a line of instructors in their clean uniforms, laughing at our misfortune.
Well, that taught me loads about leadership.
And while no marketing team is staring at their leader, expecting them to crawl through mud or walk over hot coals, there are some leadership traits they expect. And if you can address those traits, you'll be a far better leader than you were.
7 Leadership Traits for Marketing Managers to Acquire and Develop
The biggest argument against leadership development is that leaders are born, not made.
Well, this couldn't be further from the truth. Why else would corporations invest millions every year to train their employees to better lead? Why would the military invest in a 22-year-old junior officer, when they could be scouring the nation, looking for the individuals that already have the right traits?
Leaders are made, not born.
Every seminar, retreat, lesson, and experience is a chance to strengthen your potential as a leader. And, if you put effort towards it, you're sure to see improvement.
Without humor, you're going to find it hard to lead. This is multi-faceted. For one, you're going to be miserable all the time. Leading any organization will cause stress, and if you can't offload that or take a break, it'll overwhelm you. You need to be prepared to laugh at your failures and find the positive of crummy situations, otherwise, you're playing a losing game.
Similarly, if you're not amusing, people are going to have a harder time listening to you. I've had some funny leaders and some that were more serious, but most had learned the right way to captivate an audience. Comparing some of the teams I've worked with, the leaders who were entertaining were the ones who were more successful. Their organizations paid more attention, resulting in fewer details slipping through the cracks. They were also able to motivate their team, getting members to become fully invested in the cause.
If you don't let your actions speak for themselves, you're going to find it challenging to lead. Many junior leaders will often brag about their accomplishments, even if the team already knows about the successes.
This becomes easier as you progress as a leader because, if you're doing it right, you're constantly raising the bar. Those simple successes don't matter as much to a senior leader. They care about the big wins, and when they earn those, everyone knows, whether they mention it or not.
While a leader is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do, the praise isn't theirs. When the team succeeds, the victory belongs to them. When the team fails, it's on the leader. If you can master this concept, you'll build cohesive teams in a fraction of the time it takes others.
There are four types of awareness a leader is responsible for:
- Situational awareness
- Environmental awareness
- Team Awareness
Each of these is essential to managing a strong organization and if you lack one, the entire team can crumble.
Self-awareness involves looking inward to understand what drives your goals and decisions, what you need to improve on, and how your actions affect others.
Situational awareness is knowledge of your team's current predicament. Is your business reporting higher quarterly numbers? Are you in need of a larger team?
Environmental awareness involves understanding the market and your competition. It requires you looking outward to see how you can affect others and how they can do the same to you.
Finally, team awareness means looking at individuals on your team and deciding how they work well together, where they can improve, or where they're the most valuable asset.
Again, all of these are vital to your success as a leader. Without one, you'll be hard pressed to keep your team afloat, and if you somehow manage to keep your head above water, you're not reaching your far off goals.
Quite possibly the easiest way to be successful in anything you do in life is to care. If your heart is truly in it, you're going to find a way to accomplish the task, and your team is going to thrive on your motivation.
When people see you're passionate, they want to follow you. It's the same with optimism. If you're someone who cares, you'll naturally bare these demeanors.
If you can show you care about your team, your job, the project—anything—you're going to set yourself apart from the competition. The hardest part about this is that you actually have to care. Faking it won't work.
Accountability is huge. If people see that you or others can get away with poor performance or bad decisions, they're more likely to follow suit. Then, not only will you have a dysfunctional team, but you'll also have no credibility to stand on.
Take ownership of your mistakes and those of your team. No matter what happens with your team, there is always something you could have done to alter the course.
Remember, if the team fails, it's on you. If the team succeeds, it's on them.
This doesn't mean you need to accept responsibility for everything. If a team member blatantly disregards the rules or operational parameters you've established, sometimes the only choice is to fire them. You need to encourage members to take ownership of their own actions, just as much as you are. And if you can do it, you'll build a more cohesive team for the long run.
If there's one trait you should never sacrifice, it's integrity. But here's where it gets a bit confusing: there are different levels of integrity.
You see, you have your personal integrity that involves living by a set of rules you've deemed necessary to a good life. There's cultural integrity that basically follows societal norms. For instance, it's not ok to murder someone or steal.
Finally, there's organizational integrity. This is based on your organization's values and can fluctuate as your mission changes or your brand pivots. Having this set of values is paramount to leading a strong team because it gives everyone a baseline expectation they can build trust on. If one of your ideals is "value over profit," you know everyone on the team believes the same thing so that you can make certain assumptions about work.
If you're in an organization where its values don't align with your personal ones, you need to find a new home. If you break your team's trust, that'll follow you no matter where you go, even if the values don't make sense to another organization. If you're on a team, you're expected to live by the code, and failure to do so is dangerous to your reputation.
Finally, the one that ties everything together: Courage.
You've probably heard the quote, "Courage is not the absence of fear. It's being afraid, but doing it anyway." If you're a leader who cares, you'll be faced with constant fear. There's a fear you let your team down, fear you make the wrong call, fear you don't succeed.
You may never conquer these fears, but they get easier the more you face them. Things like having the courage to tell people when they're wrong will always be difficult, but it's necessary to good leadership.
The biggest reason a leader needs courage, however, is to help make decisions. As a leader, your choices impact the lives of your team and their families, as well as your customers. But indecision can be just as bad as making the wrong decision. Courage will help you push through that fear.
Becoming The Leader Your Team Deserves
When I had finished that course and saw my instructors laughing at how miserable we trainees looked and felt, it left a bad taste in my mouth. I wasn't angry. I was disappointed.
Ten years later, as a Company Commander responsible for training Infantrymen before they joined their units, I found myself at the Night Infiltration Course. This time, though, it was different. I wasn't the trainee expected to crawl through mud. I was the senior leader of my organization.
I was the guy calling the shots.
And that's why when it came time to crawl, I was on my elbows and knees, chafing them raw as I pushed my trainees forward, under the gunfire and barbed wire.
But when I looked to my left and right, without having given a command, I saw the rest of my cadre, doing the same thing I was.
A good leader motivates a team, not through talk, but through actions. Whether you're on a battlefield, or planning a marketing strategy, if you want to be the leader your team deserves, prioritize these leadership traits and get to work, showing you have the knowledge and abilities to do it all, and the capacity to guide your team to do the same.