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Counselling, coaching and cultivating: Unlocking the next generation of B2B marketing leadership talent | B2B Marketing

How do you identify, encourage and cultivate the next generation of B2B marketing leaders? Here are 10 key tactics for optimising your leadership development programme, as identified by CMOs and marketing directors at our recent roundtable

CMOs and marketing directors in B2B companies are always looking for the next generation of leaders in order to get the best out of individuals and power onward growth of the company. But how exactly do you identify and nurture these high potential individuals? This was the subject of a fascinating B2B Leaders Roundtable that I had the privilege of hosting this month, with participants from a wide variety of B2B sectors and consequently a diverse range of experiences and opinions.

Here are 10 key points to optimise your B2B leadership skills:

1. Great leaders are often careers counsellors

In practice, this means shifting the discussion on personal development from the role and the company, and refocusing the agenda back towards the individual. What is it that they want to achieve? How we help them to do that? This might involve a conversation about them potentially leaving the business, but frankness and honesty pays dividends. The good faith that this engenders will allow you to get the best out of them, build trust and loyalty.

2. Excellence in leadership is less about skills, more about aspirations

Some people actively aspire to be a leader and/or a manager, some may be open to it, and others may have no interest at all. But people’s aspirations change over time, in response to circumstances and experiences, so you need to constantly work with people to understand them, and unlock emerging interests and potential. 

3. Understand both the ‘what ‘and the ‘why’ of aspiring leaders

As well as understanding ‘what’ individuals want to achieve by becoming a leader, CMOs also need to understand ‘why’ they want it. For example, do they want to be a leader within the business simply to allow them to fuel their ego? Or do they want promotion in order to buy a house? Understanding these motivators will allow team leaders to help them on their journey.

4. You can be a leader but not a manager

Increasingly in today’s agile-orientated working environments, marketers can become leaders of multi-function teams without necessarily having to formally manage anyone. In organisations that have embraced this, it’s likely that they will have more leaders than managers. Not everyone wants to be a manager. There are different skillsets involved: managing people requires a certain set of behaviours, and a degree of rigour; being a leader allows you to be more scatty, and requires is less responsibility. These different roles may suit different individuals.

5. Business coaching can unlock potential

This is only if leaders have the patience to add this to their skillsets, but it requires them to act with the positive intention that everyone coached has the inner resourcefulness to move onwards. You’re trying to direct them, not mentor them. You’re working with them to find the answer. This can be a little uncomfortable as it changes the relationship between individuals, but it can also be highly effective.

6. There is a growing diversity and multi-cultural dimension to leadership

This is


given the increasingly international nature of the workforce and of global organisations. That requires leaders to have an increasingly nuanced approach to managing not just the team, but individuals within it, and to ‘man-manage’ them based on their own unique circumstances. It may also require leaders to effectively translate instructions that come down the chain of command to make them more resonant – but it’s a matter of judgement as to when and how much.

7. Leadership requires emotional intelligence


ome aspiring candidates just don’t have enough of it. In such instances, it’s the team leader’s job to help them cultivate it. This can be done, for example, by encouraging them to understand what people around them do that shows aspirational leadership behaviours that they should emulate.

8. Be wary of unconscious bias

Sometimes leaders hold back people under them through unconscious bias – leaders need to question whether they are denying progression to ambitious individuals for the right or the wrong reasons. Could these individuals progress faster elsewhere? Mentors can help with this, in a way that line managers or departmental leaders cannot. They can help unlock potential and provide strategies for addressing bottlenecks.

9. Understand the difference between progression and promotion

One definitely doesn’t require the other! A fatal error of leadership is to promote people to prevent them from leaving. Whilst that addresses a short term issue, it creates a long term problem which can be significantly more problematic to resolve.

10. Trial by fire

One of the best ways that you learn as a leader is to put into practice something that you don’t actually believe in, something that’s ‘ugly’. Leaders need to get onboard with the decision, and bring everyone else with them, convincing the doubters and the naysayers that this is the only way forward.

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