The Leadership Challenge

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Rishad Tobaccowala, chief growth officer at Publicis Groupe.

Today, leaders are more challenged than they have ever been, with many of the next generations skeptical of our capabilities, integrity and intent.

This questioning of leadership is not limited to the highest political or business leaders but also to marketing and media leadership, whether it be a client, agency, publisher or ad-tech platform.

This is worrisome because the opportunities and challenges buffeting our industries have never been greater as a combination of technological, demographic and behavioral changes combine to create tsunamis that are shaking the business models of all players.

Strong, principled, capable and trusted leaders are key to navigating these turbulent times and attracting, retaining and growing the talent we all so desperately need.

I see three factors that are challenging leaders.

1. Irrelevant organizational design or lack of relevant skills

The speed of change over the last decade has resulted in leaders in many companies lacking the knowledge and skills required to navigate their businesses in this era.

Less than a decade ago, mobile, social, search, ecommerce, influencer marketing and algorithms that drive modern marketing were emerging and scaling up. As a result, many of today’s leaders’ skill sets of mass marketing, retail distribution channels and annual planning cycles just don’t compute in today’s twitchy, fragmented, omnichannel landscape.

Today many companies are reinventing feverishly, with some brands doing away with CMOs and major media companies reorganizing every year. The future does not fit the containers of the past, so one has to get the structure right.

But now organizational redesign may be going too far, causing re-org fatigue. As they say in Chicago, if you don’t like the weather, wait a while and it will change in a few hours. Similarly, when employees listen to the latest organizational change they say, let’s wait and this too will pass.

2. Old-school and hierarchical command-and-control management styles

Today companies work for talent, and not the other way around. People follow people, and not titles.

Talent may genuflect to senior titles, but look carefully and you will see that their behaviors and emotions tend to align with people they believe are capable, trustworthy and can help them grow versus some titled boss schooled in the ways of narcissism, micromanagement or Oscar-worthy melodramatic outbursts.

The next generation swaps pay stubs, reads Glassdoor and demands to be respected irrespective of color, creed or sexual preference.

3. Questionable intent

Two words drip from many senior managers’ lips: “purpose” and “relationships.”

They say things like, “Our company and team have a higher purpose. We are authentic and want to do good by community, customer, environment and employees, and we want to build long-term trusted relationships.”

But what largely happens is neither purpose-driven or relationship-oriented, as short-term results and cost-cutting are the driving forces across a majority of companies. This leads to a level of such amazingly twisted behavior that some marketers are scared of the platforms that they fund and platforms wax poetic and sing songs of peace and harmony, but their algorithms, optimized for speed, engagement and virality, allow bad actors to weaponize them to hurt society. At the same time, agencies speak of how their special culture and unique talent differentiates them, but they do little to retain talent, and if you wait a year or two that talent is at another agency and the culture has been reinvented. All companies say that loyalty is prized, but in today’s pressured environment careers crash and flail, and long-term relationships are dependent on how the latest meeting went.

The young and talented in all our companies watch this and wonder about the contradiction of “authentic” statements and “inauthentic” behavior. Just when marketing should be in a renaissance since people are empowered and meeting their requirements matters, we all manage as if we are in a dying profession. Marketing is the disrupter and should not behave like the disrupted.

A way forward

The future of all our firms is more reliant on talent than ever before because history shows that each advancement in technology places a premium on superior talent. Much of the new skills will marry the left-brain math with the right-brain magic so we can leverage and work alongside algorithms and machines. People will matter, but they must be well-trained, confident and collaborative people.

As leaders all of us should invest in upgrading our own skills through study and practice of new tools and technologies, while pushing back on ourselves and partners rather than reflexively making the cheaper or more expedient decision. We must also get continuous feedback from young talent vs. the people we work for. And if want our companies to be truly agile, how about delegating so that not every decision must percolate up and down to centralized management in this espresso age?

Our future, our reputations and our companies depend on us doing the right thing.

Follow Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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