Leading Your Organization through Uncharted Waters


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Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.

** Sir Ernest Shackleton’s recruitment notice for the 1915 Endurance Antarctic expedition (some 5,000 applicants were rejected. For the record … the entire crew did return!)

I welcome each of my new marketing classes with the Endurance help-wanted advertisement. It’s always an attention grabber and a thought provoking way to get the class started. Marketing as a business discipline requires endurance; it’s also a functional area that often faces hazardous conditions in relation to various business environments. In years past you could count on at least one speaker in all marketing related conferences to quote the statistics from the most recent Spencer Stuart CMO survey. The 2008 numbers state that the average tenure for a Chief Marketing Officer is 28.4 months. Compared to previous years the CMO’s tenure is now actually on the rise:

• 28.4 months in 2008
• 26.8 months in 2007
• 23.2 months in 2006
• 23.5 months in 2005
• 23.6 months in 2004

Does increasing tenure suggest that the danger of leading a marketing organization is starting to fade? Probably not, in fact this year’s hostile economic climate will throw all marketing leaders into uncharted waters. Are you prepared to lead amid uncertainty and doubt? Sir Ernst Shackleton distinguished himself as a hero, not only among the masses, but also among the 27 officers, scientists and crew members on his expedition. How did he do it?

1. Trust: While Shackleton was called “The Boss” by his men, he did not differentiate himself from them. When the crew had to move off the ship and camp on the ice Shackleton ensured that neither he nor his officers received preferential treatment. Trust is the foundation of leadership and Shackleton’s crew trusted him during their journey because of his consistent and fair management and communication style.

2. Service: In order to help his crew get over the trauma of abandoning the Endurance, Shackleton literally served his men: “Rising early in the morning, he made hot milk and hand-delivered it to every tent in the camp.” Unlike top-down leadership approaches, servant leadership emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. Servant leadership is designed to help enhance the growth of individuals in the organization, and increase teamwork and personal involvement. Shackleton’s servant leadership style helped pull his crew together and secure their rescue.

3. Vision: After selecting five of the toughest and best crew members, Shackleton announced that this select group would seek help by sailing a lifeboat over 800 miles across the most dangerous ocean on the planet in order to reach a whaling station on South Georgia. The plan worked and the rest of the expedition party was eventually rescued. True vision goes beyond what one individual can accomplish. It pulls the entire team forward.

Of course there are additional factors that could be added to the list above; but amid your current challenges what leadership characteristics are you counting on to help position your team for “honor and recognition?”

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Alan See
Alan See is Principal and Chief Marketing Officer of CMO Temps, LLC. He is the American Marketing Association Marketer of the Year for Content Marketing and recognized as one of the "Top 50 Most Influential CMO's on Social Media" by Forbes. Alan is an active blogger and frequent presenter on topics that help organizations develop marketing strategies and sales initiatives to power profitable growth. Alan holds BBA and MBA degrees from Abilene Christian University.


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