Marketing Professionals Should Be Leaders

If you didn’t guess by now, I love quotes.  I’m also a fan of books, and frequently mark pages to pull quotes/excerpts from my favorite authors to comment on.  Today I wanted to reference one from Seth Godin’s latest book, Tribes:

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them.  You listen to your manager or you lose your job.  A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job.  His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for.  They use passion and ideas to lead people as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them.  Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

Are you leading your marketing team or managing them?  There’s a big difference, and in fact the best marketing professionals around aren’t just managing projects, they’re leading change – both internally for their company and externally.


The way society communicates has forever been and will always be in a state of flux.  Advances in technology, shifts in society, changes in media – none of these things sit still, and the Internet has accelerated the pace of all three.

If you want to forever reinforce the way things are done today, being a communications professional is not for you.  Tomorrow is always different.  But if you’re leading a team instead of just managing you’ll naturally be open to new opportunities, ideas, experiments and actually making the changes in your industry instead of adjusting to them.  And that’s a far better place to be.

It actually takes more work, is more stressful and far riskier to always play catch-up and adjust last minute than to be the innovator.  Need an example?  Look no further than the newspaper industry.  Imagine if they had been innovating from the beginning – they might not have given away all the free meals they have, as Robert Scoble notes:

Free meal #1. Giving away classified advertising to Craig’s List.
Free meal #2. Giving away photography to Flickr (look at the photos from the Chinese Earthquake, why didn’t this happen on a newspaper branded site?).
Free meal #3. Giving away front page news to blogs like Huffington Post.
Free meal #4. Giving away “small” community news like births, deaths, birthdays, etc to Facebook.
Free meal #5. Giving away real-time news to Twitter.
Free meal #6. Giving away news distribution to Google News and Amazon Kindle, among others. With new sites like Kosmix coming on strong (hundreds of percent of growth month over month).
Free meal #7. Giving away restaurant reviews to Yelp.
Free meal #8. Giving away traffic information to Google Maps.
Free meal #9. Giving away celebrity news to Facebook and Twitter. (Why is Oprah on both of those, and why didn’t the newspaper industry lock up Oprah and keep her on a newspaper brand?)
Free meal #10. Giving away local news to Topix (at least that was funded by a newspaper brand).
Free meal #11. Giving away business news to Yahoo Finance and Google Finance (and something new that will get announced tomorrow).
Free meal #12. Giving away news ranking to Memeorandum.
Free meal #13. Giving away astrology to
Free meal #14. Giving away comics to

If  newspaper industry executives had been leading instead of managing, they would have been the catalyst of change instead of late to the party.

By leading instead of managing, your team will be excited about the path you’re blazing and embrace communications for what it should be:  a forward-thinking, creative profession.  Do this in a way where everyone knows their voice is not just heard, but valued, and you’ll foster an environment lush with ideas and interested in staying at the edge.  Great ideas do not simply come from the top, in well-functioning teams they come from all directions.  Managing simply does not foster this type of environment in the way that leading does.


To be a truly great marketer it is now necessary to lead a tribe yourself externally of your organization.  The web provides tools that make this simple – the real skill set has always been and will always be marketing ability.  Combine that with dedication, patience and passion and you can’t lose.  There are not many good excuses to not be doing this, and so many real benefits:

  • Building a following shows you are genuinely interested in sharing ideas/helping people and speaks to your character.
  • Creating a valuable and trusted network from scratch using the web is such an incredible learning process involving the use of many different skill sets, why would savvy organizations hire those who have not done this personally (while their clients and/or stakeholders seek it)?
  • The old processes are becoming less and less effective, while those who continually experiment are learning and gaining a real advantage in the marketplace.  If you have your own network personally, it’s the perfect place to test ideas and take what you learn there to help others.  The web is the ultimate scratchpad for passionate communications professionals.
  • The process is one of the most fulfilling you’ll experience as a marketer, and you’ll get to concurrently help others while changing your industry for the better.  That’s win-win.

Now and even more into the future, marketing teams that manage but don’t lead will be made irrelevant by those with strong leaders who inspire both internally and externally.  As more possibilities open up every day and the business digital divide grows, strong leadership which encourages their team to stay at the edge (while producing results) becomes the key to winning in any economy.