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Leader vs. Boss: Give Your Best Self to Your Marketing Team

There are plenty of resources designed to help you lead in your organization. Googling “how to be a leader” yields 83,400,000 results, including everything from spendy online seminars to step-by-step guides by self-proclaimed leadership experts. While leadership certainly requires a fair amount of strategy, becoming a leader isn’t a one-and-done type of endeavor—you can’t simply flip a switch to change the culture in your company. Like all forms of growth, developing into a leader requires educating, training, and refining—all of which happen over time.

To bridge the gap between merely managing your team and leading it well will take time and effort, and it may mean disrupting the status quo in your company. But if you can focus on the big picture and long-term benefits of building new framework for leading your team toward success, you will make great strides toward reaching your potential and becoming an invaluable member of your organization. Think of cultivating leadership as an investment: you probably won’t receive instant gratification. Instead, over time, you will see return.

Cultivating a culture of leadership in your organization starts with mindfulness. Anyone can act like a leader, but becoming a leader happens from the inside out. When you develop a clearer understanding of what a leader actually is, your actions will change, and by extension, so will the culture of your workplace. Here are a few game-changing—er, culture-changing—insights to help you build a new framework on leadership, accompanied by practical steps you can take to become an effective leader in your organization.

Leaders Empower Their Teams

Marketing thought-leader Seth Godin says being a leader boils down to your core values. Bosses tend to want to assert their authority, and they push to get their employees to be more efficient and productive for the least amount of investment possible. Leaders, on the other hand, take responsibility; they empower their team with the tools needed to accomplish a vision.

Pro tips:

  • Instead of focusing on numbers like the bottom line, try to focus on developing your people. Shift your energy toward investing in your team to have a lasting effect on your bottom line.
  • Communicate your vision creatively and clearly. When your team is on the same page with your long-term goals, they’ll be more likely to work toward it strategically together.

Leaders Inspire and Motivate

While managers tend to focus on operations, projects, and tasks, leaders engage their teams on a deeper level, according to The Wall Street Journal Guide to Management. This means that while bosses tend to focus on the end goal, true leaders know how to zone in on the process, motivating and inspiring their employees each step of the way.

Pro tips:

  • Don’t just assign tasks to your team. Explain the “why” behind what you’re asking people to do. Your team will connect with their work on a deeper level when they understand how their projects connect with your clients.
  • While it may be tempting to strategize ways to grow in efficiency, that’s a quick fix. Try to think of ways you can nurture your team’s skills and talents, which will have a longer-lasting impact on their work.

Leaders Disrupt the Status Quo

Leaders must be willing to shake things up for the sake of continued growth—especially since the average lifespan of a company has decreased to just 15 years. “Leaders must be continuously ready to challenge everything that they’ve held dear,” writes Faisal Hoque in Fast Company.

Pro tips:

Leaders don’t wait for something to happen to respond; they are visionaries that keep their eyes on the horizon.

  • Involve your team in your decisions. Getting a perspective from different parts of your organization can help you implement changes to protect and grow your company.
  • Tell the truth, even if it might sting. If something isn’t working, don’t spend too much time trying to fix and tweak that strategy. Be willing to throw it out altogether and build a completely new, more effective strategy. The key is to fail fast, learn from it, and move on.

Leaders are Proactive

Leaders don’t wait for something to happen to respond; they are visionaries who keep their eyes on the horizon. “If you are a strong leader, you will anticipate changes and prepare in advance, steering your team to safety and ever-increasing profits,” says Bubba Page in Inc.

Pro tips:

  • Focus on building relationships with your employees that extend beyond the surface level of what they can accomplish. This way, you’ll be able to anticipate areas of frustration or struggle and answer questions before they’re asked.
  • Expect the best, but plan for the worst. Always have a Plan B in place, and communicate it to your team so everyone’s on the same page should a problem arise. Your employees will be more likely to take creative risks to connect with your clients when they know there’s a solid backup plan in place.

Leaders Leverage Their Strengths Uniquely

In his 1989 book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis lists a number of qualities that differentiate managers from leaders, one being, “The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.” To truly lead your team, focus on authenticity, even if that means you may have to break the mold of expectations on your role.

Pro tips:

  • To be your own person, you have to know your own person. Be honest with yourself. Take inventory of your skills, talents, and personality traits with a test like the Strengthsfinder, Myers-Briggs, or Enneagram and brainstorm ways you can uniquely leverage your specific “type” to lead your people well.
  • Don’t be afraid to capitalize on some of your strengths if they are “unconventional” for a leadership role. For example, if you have a good sense of humor, find ways to use it to connect with your team and your clients. Being yourself gives others permission to do the same, which could result in more creative, authentic, and emotionally engaging work.

Nurturing a Leadership Mindset

While culture typically provides quick fixes for issues, leaders are in it for the long haul, which is a good thing. Homing in on the slow-but-rewarding work of developing a new mindset around leadership could have drastic payoff in your organization. By shifting the focus from immediate results to internal growth, you are making a long-term investment in your team and your organization as a whole.

If you want to learn more about cultivating a people-focus and the importance of partnering with your team to meet goals, check out “Two Minds Are Better Than One: Collaboration in Marketing.

Ashley Abramson

Ashley Abramson is a freelance writer in Minneapolis. When she's not writing for clients, she's working on her online magazine or spending time with her husband and two young sons.