The Marketing Society.

was the big idea of this year’s Marketing Society conference. It proved an inspirational platform. A great conference theme- credit must go to new CEO Gemma Greaves and her team.

This being an individualistic culture (and age) stories were often told as personal triumphs over fear, especially in extreme sports (a big theme of the conference which I suspect made most of us feel distinctively queasy and meek.)

Bravery is enabled by encouragement

Yet , for me, a sub text kept surfacing: brave people (often) could not have acted without both support and encouragement. (Encouragement literally means being given courage by others)

Syl Saller refused to be drawn into the “I” word and insisted on “we”- on the collective corporate bravery that built by internal champions and consensus builders ( like her)  Extreme Surfer Garrett McNamarra said he could not have recovered from injury and found the monster wave that broke the record without his wife. Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to scale Everest, was initially told “no” by her father, when she announced her climbing ambitions, yet received his blessing shortly after. Hassan Akkad, a refugee from war torn Syria, had bravery forced on him by circumstances and has subsequently received support from (amongst others) The BBC in telling his story. His bravery was the most humbling – causing me to reflect on how very fortunate and selfish we are. 

Bravery as solidarity

Francis O’Grady, general secretary of TUC, framed bravery as sticking up for others rather than individual triumph. TUC as a brand has been stuck with dated associations of the “big men” of trades unionism. They seemed to be in denial about the opportunities of a globalised, technologically driven, individualistic world. That’s why Thatcher set out to weaken them.  Yet that promise has turned sour. Economic growth did not “float all boats” but has resulted in gross inequality. So Francis’s call for solidarity, mutuality is timely. She even suggested that a union for the gig economy should be launched – now that would be “a big idea” and perhaps “a symbol re-evaluation” (in Adam Morgan’s phrase) for TUC      

There was another theme that kept surfacing. Not a new one. A  theme of many a conference of old. But always valuable to companies. It is the stuff that actually builds brands and businesses ( not chasing people round the internet with programmatic ads). It was:-

The power of big ideas.

To galvanise everyone, especially your own people

To make teams braver and more focussed

To inspire designers and agency creatives to do their best work

Here are my three favourites from the day:

NEW YORK TIMES. THE TRUTH IS HARD: a clarion call for investigative journalism in the face of mendacious attacks from Donald Trump.

BABYLON APP. Brilliant new AI powered app that enables more accurate self diagnosis of illness and triages people in the right direction. Sure to be a hit with hypochondriacs everywhere – and (hopefully) save time and labour

Pedigree’s insight that it is the innocence of dogs that breaks down barriers and brings people together. This inspired a great social experiment in getting Trump and Clinton supporters to be nice to be each other.

As for my act of bravery from the day:

I think I am off to join a union and buy a dog

 

 

Was the theme exposed and discussed in a new style seminar (called Bad leader) that has been launched by the Marketing Society’ new CEO, Gemma Greaves.

50 or so society members sat in the round in a session moderated by leadership expert and coach Steve Radcliffe. Two people shared stories of being on the receiving of painfully bad leadership. Observations were invited from the floor. And former leaders felt compelled to ‘fess up having been bad leaders. Glasses of wine loosened tongues.

The stats are dispiriting.

In a large survey only 38% of people said that their organisation was well lead. That leaves 62% that are underperforming because they are not getting the best out of their people. The impact of leadership is well attested. Schools, for example, with the similar resources and socio-demographic profiles, can deliver good or bad education depending on the quality of the head teacher. Getting more from the same (or less resources) is the drum beat of our times and particularly of the education debate so there can surely be no more important investment than leadership training.

Behind the bald stats lies much human heartache.

Millions waking up in the morning with a sense of dread after a sleepless night. And worse- bullying, depression and sickness.

Once bright eyed and motivated workers start to think more about how they can leave their organisation than doing a great job. Bad leadership has huge economic and personal costs.

The tragedy of leadership is that we live our lives forwards and learn what we should have done by looking backwards later. Leaders (mostly) get the job first time round by having been great operators and managers, which does not prepare them for how leadership is different. An investment on training and mentorship at the point of promotion can deliver both better performance as well as human flourishing for both leaders and lead.

The seminar gave a taster for the experience of attending a full training session with Steve Radcliffe. There were useful insights on offer such as

-Leaders need to know who their support team is – their sounding board and support

-Leaders need to communicate their vision and (very important this) keep communicating it (even when v busy and under pressure)

-leaders need to create a safe space where the views of others in the company can be heard

-People want consistency – when leaders veer dramatically from one mood or point view to another it can cause confusion and anxiety.

-Leaders need to be able to stand back and evaluate their own behaviour – why are they behaving aggressively or steamrolling their team when they are in “get things done” mode.

Another side to the story was also revealed. Often working for a really bad leader can be the making of you. Observing one in action can make you determined not to repeat his or her errors when you get the top job. It can also force you to re-evaluate what you really want and go for it, get out and start something new. Bad leaders can trigger resilience and determination in their subordinates.

Bad leadership, then, is bad, but can have benign un-intended consequences.