Reinventing What It Means to Be a Great Leader and CMO in the Digital Age

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Today’s CMO is put under enormous amounts of pressure and charged with a wide range of responsibilities due to the pace of change in marketing and digital.

It’s clear that the modern CMO has to wear many different hats. As a CMO executive search firm, we recognize that today’s chief marketer is accountable for being a different type of leader than what was expected of them ten years ago. So, what can a CMO do to push the envelope forward and place their organization at the forefront of success?

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CMO Executive Search Firm Shares How CMOs Must Drive Change Through Better Leadership

As marketing tools and channels evolved over the years, so did the responsibilities and duties of the CMO. The CMO who was once responsible for traditional marketing functions is no longer enough. Good leaders know success is built with the support of excellent teams. This is particularly true in the space of marketing, where even the most agile CMOs cannot possibly execute everything on their own.

It has taken decades, but marketing has shifted from the “make things pretty department” to the leading growth engine for the enterprise. Today’s marketing leaders are tasked with being able to deliver seamless customer experience across all channels, use cutting-edge tactics to tackle business challenges, and use data to support decisions – all on top of recruiting, hiring, and training top marketing talent.

Many organizations are still far behind the times. In order to fill in the gap between digital transformation and the speed at which organizations are keeping up, the proper leadership must be in place.

Be a Role Model

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Teams desire to follow empowered leaders who may not necessarily possess every cutting-edge skill, but who show a fierce dedication and commitment to helping their team and organization grow.

CMOs often have their own mentors and leaders they’ve looked up to, who have helped them get to the place they’re in now. Being the type of leader you’d like to be led by is undeniably important.

Open up the lines of communication and foster an environment where your employees aren’t hesitant to approach you. An authentic leader who puts their team and organization above their own personal goals is easily identifiable through the way their team performs and produces results.

Adopt a Transformative Mindset

Brands must set themselves apart in a world that is over-crowded. And no one else is charged with being the “transformational” leader of an organization more than the CMO.

As top marketing executive headhunters, we know transformation in your marketing department will not happen without the right leadership in place. CMOs who adopt and embrace the changes and the learning curve will perform far better than those that remain oblivious to the impact of digital.

Marketing has reached the point where traditional marketing and digital marketing are all just marketing. We no longer speak of them separately, but as part of an integrated plan. Marketing leaders must acknowledge new channels and tools to push a company-wide digitally-adept mindset.

This means they must be able to navigate through the digital space to identify the marketing technology that is needed to drive change and ultimately impact the bottom line. It is up to the CMO to ultimately decide which technology and tools are the ones their teams needs in meeting the goals.

Encourage Continuous Collaboration

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Marketing is tasked with a lot. This leaves CMOs to wonder how to truly build teams capable of working together seamlessly in meeting customer needs efficiently and producing great work.

As a leader, it’s important to build a culture where people want to work together. CMOs must foster a team-oriented environment rather than the one that promotes individual goals and achievements.

Marketing teams cannot work in silos within their own department or external departments. From product development to sales to allocating the budget, CMOs who build a collaborative culture across the entire organization will reach their goals more efficiently.

Promote Crystal-Clear Transparency and Communication

Thanks to digital, we are seeing a change in brands’ understanding of the customer and how to successfully market to them. That, in turn, is changing everything from the type of talent companies need, to the modern org chart, to the way CMOs must communicate with employees.

In order to lead in a way that people want to follow, you have to be able to engage employees differently. The degree of transparency you demonstrate as a leader permeates down through every level of your team. Leaders who communicate authentically and honestly will receive the same type of consideration from their employees.

Become a Servant Leader

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CMOs must take a new and refreshed approach to how they manage their team to push meaningful changes. This involves demonstrating humility and recognizing that the best idea that wins may not always be yours. Simply put, if you’re going to do what’s right for the organization, you have to figure out how to lead people who know more than you in their specific area of expertise.

Most marketers don’t respond well to forceful leadership – especially if you’re working with millennials. They don’t want to be led by someone who demands respect but rather a leader who earns it.

As a CMO executive search firm, we encounter many leaders who don’t want to admit that they may not know something. For instance, you may not know more about paid search marketing than a paid search manager, or know more about the latest trends in social media than a social media marketer. Acknowledging and accepting that you may not know everything about marketing (which is quite impossible considering the pace of change) doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective leader.

Marketing has long evolved from the times where people only wanted to work for leaders who were masters of everything. Don’t hesitate to learn from peers who may have less experience than you. This is indeed a great way to grasp different perspectives and learn new skills that can benefit the entire organization.


As marketing executive headhunters, we see too many CMOs fail due to a lack of leadership. Being a Level 5 leader is a requirement of today’s successful CMO. CMOs are the leader who continually evolves marketing, which requires strong change management skills based on how fast marketing is changing. Leading in digital is about more than just the strategy; the organizational change that goes with it is significant and far too often done poorly. Marketing leaders must re-think their approach to leading and managing their teams if they want to drive improved results consistently going forward. Or else, they risk having an outdated marketing org chart, an outdated marketing team and outdated marketing results.

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