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Posted by Mark Davies 15 August 2017 Innovation Consultancy

We all claim to possess leadership skills, but what does it really take to be a leader?


This week marketing commentators Marketing Week published the results of an ‘in-depth study to discover the key attributes, responsibilities and skills of a modern marketer to determine the Anatomy of a Leader.’ The series of articles produced many insights which explored different aspects of what it means to have strong leadership skills.

Among the key takeaways were:

- According to Marketing Week contributor Colin Lewis, ‘a commonly held view is that leaders possess a special set of qualities such as vision, energy, dynamism, inspiration, courage, charisma and so on. Yet, he argues, in actual fact the ‘born leader’ theory is myth, and leadership skills can of course be learned and honed rather than being a natural skill you possess or do not. 

Lewis claims that the biggest challenge facing future marketing leaders is ‘working out what the world is going to look like and how marketing leadership will fit into that world,’ with navigating technological change one of the biggest challenges of the future.

Another article in the series written by Charlotte Rogers argues that currently ‘leaders are focusing on driving strategy and using their skills to champion the next wave of talent, rather than attempting to be brilliant at everything.’

Arguing that there has never been more pressure on leaders to have a wide array of skills and deliver strong results, Rogers notes that when it comes to the ‘essential attributes of a modern leader, it is strategic thinking that most marketers (86%) believe is imperative.’ Followed by relationship building, people management, vision, and problem solving, essential skills are focused on the ability to think long-term while also managing the day to day situations that working with people can bring. 


Far from being limited to marketing leaders, the above insights can be applied to all sectors. Importantly, all leaders can improve their tools and techniques by looking to others performing the same role as themselves in a different field.

This element of learning is of great importance, and according to Harvard Business Review (HBR) is something that needs to be continually applied in order to be effective. Arguing that ‘although organisations spend more than $24 billion annually on leadership development, many leaders who have attended leadership programs struggle to implement what they’ve learned’ by not cementing this knowledge through experiences.

HBR points out that ‘our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in “learning mode” develop stronger leadership skills than their peers,’ and that by working through the three phases of the experiential learning cycle, leaders can better exhibit a growth mindset.  

These three phases include setting learning goals, whether in the form of new project or role swaps, finding ways to deliberately experiment with strategy and actively create learning opportunities from such experiments, and finally conducting ‘fearless after-action reviews, determined to glean useful insights from the results of their experimentation.’ By consciously adopting a learning mentality leaders can build a better focus on constant improvement, rather than self-affirmation and reliance on accepted methods. 


Another important element of being a leader is knowing when to step outside your own role and take a look at the world outside. Although the responsibility of being a leader and the constant demands on your time and attention can mean that the role becomes all-consuming, bringing a little perspective can prove useful not only for your personal well-being but also for your performance in your leadership role.

Huffington Post contributor Naphtali Hoff argues that ‘one of the most difficult things for leaders to achieve is proper balance between their demanding work schedule and their home life.’ Hoff suggests that it is sometimes not until personal life demands more energy, time and attention, perhaps when a personal difficulty comes along, that we are able to gain a little perspective that brings a new attitude into the professional realm.

Seeing the role of leader as being far more than strategic-minded, Hoff emphasises the pastoral element of what it means to be a leader. Highlighting key skills such as the ability to ‘provide internal coaching and mentoring support to help people shine and excel’ and ‘looking for mentors who will give of themselves freely to nurture and support less-experienced or skilled employees,’ Hoff argues that fostering a sense of community can help to rally a team around a common goal and increase responsiveness to leadership initiatives.

With so many facets on the table, assuming a leadership role will never be easy, but it can be simplified by following in the footsteps of those who do it well and adopting a positive mindset and approach to the task.

Do you have what it takes to be a leader? Take Marketing Week’s Anatomy of a Leader quiz and find out.  

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