The difference between managers and leaders has been subject to much debate amongst business writers and academics over the years. One of my favourites distinctions comes from the management guru, Warren Bennis, who said, “Managers manage tasks. Leaders lead people”.

Bennis goes on to emphasise the visionary role of the leader as someone who provides direction and inspiration to followers.True leaders are emotionally intelligent, people-centred and empowering. 

You may prefer to be a follower. There’s no shame in being a reliable member of the team that the leader comes to rely on. Or perhaps you’re a born leader to whom all this comes easily.

But if you’re like many marketers, you’ll develop leadership skills throughout your career through personal experience and development and may find yourself in a position where you are expected to be a leader. Whatever position you hold, you can always adopt a leadership mindset to some degree.

Here are a few of the characteristics of leaders you might want to work on. 

Marketing leaders do the right things

Another of Warren Bennis’ distinctions, building on the work of Peter Drucker, says that managers do things right, whilst leaders do the right things. Focus your efforts on completing high priority activities that will produce the greatest return on the effort and resources invested. 

There is little more frustrating than seeing someone perform an unnecessary or unproductive task very well! 

Marketing leaders do things differently

If you simply do the same things every other marketing manager does - attending the same courses, reading the same books, applying the same ideas - you can hardly claim to be a leader. Leaders are able to take a calculated risk in diverting from the standard path, developing skills and approaches that mark them out from the crowd. 

This can be essential in marketing, where the ability to think creatively is particularly important. Just make sure the creativity is applied in a pragmatic way that delivers business results. 

Once you’ve established your approach and demonstrated its success you’ll be able to set a vision that others will be happy to follow. 

Marketing leaders don’t (just) delegate

Good marketing managers tend assign tasks to their team, with clear instructions on how to do the task, expected delivery times and budgets. The ability to delegate well is important, but this is another management skill leaders do differently. 

Good leaders will, of course, offer guidance and consider the relative capabilities of the team, but they don’t try to take control. They will give their team the autonomy to do the job in the way which they think is best. Instead of delegating tasks, a leader will allow their team to come up with new ways to address old challenges. 

Marketing leaders give credit where it’s due

Back in the eighties, US President Ronald Reagan famously had a sign on his desk that said:

There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.

Good leaders make sure their followers get the credit for the good ideas, knowing that they will in turn be recognised for leading the team to the overall goal. 

Marketing leaders think long term

Some marketing managers are driven by short term goals, often because that’s what bonus cultures and performance management systems are built to encourage. Leaders will be looking at the big picture and how to get more from the business. They will strive to help the organisation achieve greater things in the future, as well as looking at the here and now. A leader has a long term vision combined with an understanding that shareholders can be impatient for results!

Marketing leaders embrace change - and make it happen

It takes confidence (and political clout) to challenge the status quo. While marketing managers will often do their best to manage and minimise risk for the business, leaders will introduce new ideas - challenging preconceptions, their peers and themselves. They recognise the importance of keeping their skills and those of their followers up to date, and they understand the importance of surrounding themselves with good people.

Marketing leaders are unafraid of the next generation

Some marketing managers can sometimes feel threatened by up and coming talent, and may even try to constrain it. Leaders see the next generation of leaders as stimulating, exciting and the people who will help them move to even greater levels of achievement. They will mentor and encourage the potential leaders of the future.

In fact, the best way to become a great leader, is to work with one. 

With this in mind, ask yourself, do you consider yourself a manager or a leader? If you still feel like a manager, what can you do to close the gap? 
Here at Regan & Dean, having worked within the marketing recruitment sector for over 20 years now, we pride ourselves on nurturing talent right through their career.  There is nothing that gives us greater satisfaction from supporting a candidate throughout their career journey from Marketing Assistant to Marketing Director.  It’s our job to partner our candidates and help them secure the right positions at the right time to build their marketing experience to enable them to develop and move up the career ladder.

And we’re delighted that many of our candidates return to us time and time again when they feel they’re ready for the next career challenge.