Characteristics Of A Strong Marketing Thought Leadership

Characteristics Of A Strong Marketing Thought Leadership

As part of our Just Three Things podcast series, MarketPro is sharing three marketing thought leadership pieces of advice from a marketing leader who is willing to share their experience to encourage the next generation of marketing leaders.

In this post from our series, Bill Koleszar, Chief Marketing Officer at National Spine & Pain Centers sat down with MarketPro’s Rob Collins to share three characteristics he feels make a strong marketing leader within an organization.

Koleszar gleaned these tips from a long marketing career combined with insights during his second stint in grad school when he delved into the role and leadership challenges of the Chief Marketing Officer.

MarketPro Gains Insight Into What Makes A Strong Marketing Thought Leadership:

Video Transcript: JUST THREE THINGS: Characteristics Of A Marketing Leader (Episode 103)

Welcome to just three things a podcast series from MarketPro, the leader in high-end marketing executive search. As a team of former marketers, we are uniquely qualified to spot top performers. We created this series to help give back to the next generation of marketing leaders. Today’s insights come from Bill Koleszar, Chief Marketing Officer at the National Spine and Pain Centers. Bill shares three characteristics of a marketing leader.

Bill, thanks so much for joining us, really excited to learn about really three key things if someone wants to become a marketing leader in an organization and what are those insights you can share with us today?

Well, thanks for having me, Rob. I’m going to share three insights that I’ve garnered throughout my career and in particular early on my second stint in graduate school. I did a lot of research around chief marketing officers, what their role entails, what their leadership challenges are and some of these insights I garnered from that effort as well as my own experience. First and foremost, number one I would say go the extra mile in human relationships particularly, intra organizational relationships as a marketer. So, whether it’s the technology team, the sales team, particularly the finance team. Get to understand their roles, understand the challenges they face and practice emotional. If you haven’t read Daniel Goldman’s book on emotional intelligence, at least get the cliff notes and understand the concept. Assume positive intent when you deal with these people. It’s easy to read into an email and get all fired up and not really understand what the intent of the email was so, you know assume positive intent and at the end of the day, rely on the data as you interact with people across departments. So, that’s number one.

And do you find, assuming positive intent and I think that’s a great point about emails, to build those relationships, that’s face to face as much as you can. It’s down the hall, it’s down a different floor, it’s not to your point an email response. It’s face to face, don’t you think?

Absolutely, you don’t build relationships thru email, phone or even video frankly. I think you need to get face to face with people. There’s a company that I know well, it’s a large company in the utility space and they have as part of their culture a concept called GTK. If somebody sends you an email , the subject line is GTK, Get To Know, they want to get to know and so the practice is you email someone, you go have coffee, you go have lunch and you get to know them and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anything like that but it is exactly the concept I’m talking about but embodied in the way you’re saying. It’s face to face.

I like that a lot, it breaks down barriers doesn’t it and it’s hard, it’s a discipline to assume positive intent. I love that you said that. It is a real discipline to do that.
I agree and it’s sometimes against our human nature.

Right, right so what’s your second point?

The second one, I alluded to the research I did, I interviewed dozens of chief marketing officers as part of a research project to understand the role and leadership challenges of Chief Marketing Officers and one of the things that really stood out in that research was that 88% of the Chief Marketing Officers, I interviewed had had a mentor or role model that was significant in their life.


And so interestingly the research I did was with one of my mentors. He literally changed my life and so I’ll break that down in a little bit but mentors are people that you build a personal relationship with. They invest time in you and ultimately what I think those mentors are doing is they’re paying it forward. They are investing in you because somebody invested in them and they have no way of ever paying that favor back. They’re investing in you to open doors and share knowledge and that’s I think, again the data proves it out, 88% of people that had achieved the role of Chief Marketing Officer that I spoke with had important mentors or role model’s people you look up to. You might not know them, you might not have a personal relationship but you might read about them, you might study them, you might just observe them. So, both of those having someone pushing you forward and opening doors and someone that’s a guiding light that you can emulate are really important aspects.

Boy, I can relate to that. My first job out of school, I was a radio announcer and I was promoted to promotion director. I was 22, 23 years old with zero experience. My boss, the station manager was probably 35 and he gave me responsibility that I did not have skills for but he helped me get there and when I left the company about four years later, I thanked him and I said why did you do that John, he said because the head of the broadcast group had given him an opportunity to run the stations and he said now you have to go pay it forward and wow, what a great lesson. I mean I’m just sitting here listening to you say that, I’m like yeah that’s me, that’s me. John Garbo invested in my life and I’ve been able to do that for other people. I love that point, so so so true.

Well for me it was actually there in Atlanta not too far from you, Dr Kent Bernhardt at Georgia State University, Ray Fisk out in Texas so Dr Ray Fisk in Texas and Dr Ken Bernhardt, they changed my life and I’ll never be able to repay them except pay it forward.

Right, that’s awesome and what’s your third point?

Third point is this, you go get a degree in marketing, you go get an MBA, you’ve got work experience but the knowledge you have today, the knowledge that got you here is not the knowledge that’s going to get you where you want to go. You have to be a lifelong learner and particularly in marketing. The rate of change of change is so rapid. The technology is evolving so quickly that if you stop for a minute, you’re going to fall behind. You’re going to get behind so you have to be a lifelong learner. You know Grad school is great, I’ve been through grad school a couple of times. I’ve been through executive education and there’s no finish line. I read books. I listen to podcasts. When you stop learning, you will die and your career will certainly die and I don’t mean to be so blunt about it but I feel it’s really a passion of mine and people need to understand that that’s the way in a knowledge economy, that is the way the world works.

And it is constant, it’s a constant learning process. When I have talked to college age kids or people earlier in their career, especially college age and they said what should I study, I said what you’re there to learn is how to learn. How to face a challenge that you don’t know the answer to but you have to dig and dig and dig. Rember there are people that grew up without the internet, before digital, with analog and when internet came out, many people said it’s a fad, it will go away. So, the things that you learned in school, I learned, I’m going to date myself, I learned computer programming linkage, Cobol, Fortran, basic and they don’t exist you know. But there are things that are concepts that you have to kind of plow through right and learn.

Exactly right, I couldn’t agree more.

And I love the constant learning, again podcasts, books, I try to read all the time. We had on our first episode, Grahm Robertson from Beloved Brands, great book and just things that you can learn. Bill, I’m so great for your time today. Great nuggets and great principles that we can all learn from. Thanks for joining us.
The pleasures mine Rob. The team at MarketPro, I’ve been a fan for a really long time and I’ll do anything to help you all at any time. So, this was easy.

Very good, thank you so much.

My pleasure Rob.

Special thanks to Bill Koleszar, CMO of the National Spine and Pain Centers, one of the most trusted brands in healthcare. You can learn more at Thanks for joining us on this edition of Just Three Things, part of MarketPro’s leadership podcast series. MarketPro is the leading high-end executive search firm delivering top performing innovative marketers. Find out more at

Go The Extra Mile In Human Relationships

Nothing beats going the extra mile to build strong human relationships, says Koleszar. This is especially important in intra-organizational relationships. It’s critical to understand the roles and challenges of your peers from the finance, IT, operations teams, and others.

Practicing emotional intelligence helps you flex your style to how others learn and listen. When interacting with these peers, always assume positive intent, which is hard to do and takes time to fully grasp a strong marketing thought leadership.

This will require discipline when you receive an email that gets you fired up, but assuming positive intent also means you need to be proactive and talk to these peers face-to-face to ensure that there is alignment. Using data, where appropriate, can help support ideas in a non-emotional way.

Koleszar also says that true relationships need human interaction. So get out of your office, away from email and phone, and build the relationships face to face if at all possible.

Find A Mentor Or Role Model

Another nugget from Koleszar’s research project was finding out that 88% of the CMOs he interviewed had a mentor or role model that was significant in their life. This is something that he’s adopted as well, to not only find a mentor but also to be a mentor for someone else.

It’s important to identify a mentor that is willing to invest their time and energy in you…someone with who you can build a close relationship with and learn from. If you are struggling to find someone to invest the time in you, you can find inspiration from public leaders as well. Identify someone that you feel has that marketing thought leadership mentality and you can learn, read, study, and observe them.

Be A Life-Long Learner

“The knowledge you have to get you here is not the knowledge that will take you where you want to go,” says Koleszar. You have to be a lifelong learner…especially in marketing. Marketing and technology are changing so rapidly that you may have to learn another tool or revisit your strategy every month. If you stop for a minute, you’re going to fall behind.

Some of Koleszar’s recommendations to continue your learning are to attend graduate school, sign up for executive training, read books, or listen to podcasts. There are countless ways you can gain more insight into your industry, position, and leadership style. If there is anything Koleszar feels strongly about is how crucial being a lifelong learner is to your success.

We live in a knowledge economy. The best advice we can give is to always be open to learning new ideas, concepts, and methods. With time, you will soon gain a stronger marketing thought leadership mentality.

If you’ve been following Just Three Things, you know that this is a common theme among most of our executive interviewees.

Author: Rob Collins