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April 8, 2008
Leadership: The Pursuit of Continuous Improvement
 

In 1999, Peter F. Drucker wrote a “classic” piece for Harvard Business Review entitled, Managing Oneself … his thesis being that in the emerging knowledge economy, success comes to those who know their strengths, their values and under what circumstances they best perform. In today’s era of convergence and integration, Mr. Drucker’s thesis is lacking one important component: collaboration. Now that the knowledge economy has emerged, and the virtual business model is firmly in place, a critical factor for personal and organizational success - whether you’re new to the workforce or a senior manager with years of experience under your belt - is being able to effectively influence, without all trappings of politics and the blinding use of “I”, a number of individuals who may not necessarily report to you...work in the same marketing services discipline as you...or even the same company as you. And influence may in fact be the wrong word in this context. It’s really more about your ability to lead and foster collaboration in an ever increasing interdependent world.

And while there is still that raging philosophical question – are leaders born or made? – there are certain irrefutable truths: everyone enters the world with characteristics that reside deep within - drive, grit, courage, determination, and the ability to motivate and influence others. But how you go about developing and improving these characteristics through actual inter-disciplinary group leadership and contribution experiences is what makes the difference. And the good news is that the ability to lead, motivate and foster collaboration is not tied to one’s age, tenure, title or discipline – it’s tied to one’s own practice in the pursuit of continuous improvement. However, there is a pre-requisite: you need to know your true field of competence and expertise. Bill Bradley, the former New York Knicks star and former U.S. Senator from New Jersey summed this up so succinctly with his “you always have to know where you are” answer to a reporter’s question on making the most of one’s God-given talent. There are opportunities for you to lead everyday, as well being the catalyst for bringing forward the best ideas of the group. The key is to do this without the “I”.

They say that “knowledge is power”...and in today’s world almost every customer your client has is a search, click, text, IM, Podcast, RSS, MySpace, You Tube or viral marketing opportunity away. So in this rapidly changing marketing services landscape, it is incumbent on you to have in-depth comprehension of the traditional, nontraditional and emerging marketing disciplines and trends. You need to get outside your comfort zone, develop your own industry SNS cadre and seek out every opportunity to further your understanding of the ever-changing business world. The personal knowledge investments you make now will enable you to lead, motivate and foster true marketing change in the future. The more you prepare now, the more you will have the confidence, understanding and support of your peers and colleagues for building the momentum necessary to move one of your ideas forward. And to quote the late Kurt Vonnegut, “new knowledge is the most valuable commodity on earth so long as you do something with it”.

OK, back to reality...the blindspot for most out-of-the-box initiatives is lack of due diligence on the commercial side. This is the giant killer. In today’s business you always have to remember the commercial side of the equation – people will not respond well to new ideas, thinking and perspective if they (a) do not fully understand the concept to begin with, and (b) you have not developed and presented a solid business case to back it all up. You need to be totally steeped in the ins, outs, ups and downs of the collective business models and requirements within which you are working, and incorporate this perspective into your thinking, planning and execution. Talk about influencing others, make sure you have the “ops guys” (legal, finance, sales, procurement, logistics, retail, HR etc.) fully on board and in complete agreement with the strategy, structure and execution initiative on an upfront basis. Go on You Tube and pull up Steven Jobs introducing the latest Apple product...pay attention to his presence, confidence, encyclopedic knowledge of consumer insights, his business model, and supply chain logistics, etc.

Show signs of intellectual curiosity, wanting to learn more about other marketing communications disciplines and not settling for the status quo. Be an innovator. Pull in customer ideas and make them into marketplace realities. Don’t be afraid to fail. And remember, guys like Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein and Bill Gates all started out by asking a “why?” question. These behavior traits are contagious and help set you apart from the “pack”. And in the end, it will be your leadership style (not your management style) that will inspire those around you to develop stronger results oriented partnerships. It all starts with you getting out of your comfort zone.


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Greg Taucher became DDB’s Chief People Officer in February of 2007. Prior to joining DDB, he was Senior Vice President/Group Account Director at Dallas' Tracy-Locke agency. He received his master’s in advertising from Northwestern University and has a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing and advertising from the University of Utah.

As Director of Talent Management, Stacey Prenner has more than 15 years of experience is centered on people and organizational development. Before joining DDB, Stacey created the “Career Management Series” at NYU’s Stern School of Business. Her education includes an undergraduate degree in Political Science, an MA in Human Resources and Industrial Relations, and an Adult Career Development certificate from NYU.

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