The art of reframing marketing leadership

Debbie Qaqish, chief strategy officer, The Pedowitz Group, takes a look at four types of revenue marketing leaders

A major benefit of being in a PhD program is constant exposure to iconic books by world-class authors on the topic of leadership. In a recent class, I read “How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing” by Bolman and Deal and I immediately began to apply this leadership model to the difficult journey of today’s B2B marketing leader. This person is tasked with transforming marketing from being a cost center to a customer-centric, revenue center. Some do it very well while others struggle. What makes a leader effective at driving change? Simply: The art of reframing.

Revenue marketing leadership: The 4 stages of reframing

Reframing is a methodology to examine the same situation from multiple vantage points. A frame is a set of beliefs and assumptions to help you understand and negotiate aspects of your world. It is your mental bias. Frames act as scripts that guide your action in critical situations. By changing your script, you change how you appear, what you do, and how your stakeholders perceive you. You have the power to transform everyday situations. 

“Great leadership begins when a leader's world view and personal story, honed over years of experience, meet a situation that presents both challenges and opportunities.”

-Bolman and Deal, 2014

Successful leaders think in terms of multiple frames (reframing) to create better solutions. These frames are structural, human resource, political and symbolic. I recently took a quick assessment offered by Lee Bolman and discovered that I intuitively use symbolic and political frames. The assessment showed I am weakest in structural and HR frames.

As we consider the four frames in context of being a revenue marketing leader, which one or ones are most important and why? The simple answer is all of them are equally important depending on the stage of your journey. Let‘s look at each frame in context as you progress on your journey. As you read through the descriptions, ask yourself: Which frame are you most like, least like, and what is the impact on your leadership?

Social architects

Leaders with a structural frame seek to ensure clarity in goals, roles and responsibilities, and in relationships. They ensure the structure of the entire marketing organizations is appropriate to the environment and the technology. They are often called social architects as they take an analyst perspective to architect the physical and social structure. These leaders are attuned to aligning structure, tasks and technology to the environment.    

Social architects come into play once it is time to fully operationalize the new role of marketing. This leadership frame is best applied later in the journey.

Catalysts and servants

Leaders with an HR frame see the organization as an extended family and are attuned to individuals with needs, feelings, prejudices, skills and limitations. Their key challenge is to tailor the organization to people and find a way for individuals to get the job done while feeling good about what they are doing. These leaders are both catalysts and servants with a strong need to align organizational needs with human needs. 

Catalysts and servants are required to build individual commitment and motivation critical to success. This should occur quite early and then continuously throughout the journey.

Advocates and negotiators

Leaders with a political frame act as advocates and negotiators in environments where different interests are competing for power and resources. Leaders in this atmosphere work with rampant conflict, many different needs, perspectives and lifestyles. They are most challenged when power is too concentrated or too widely dispersed and they combat this by developing an agenda and a power base. 

Advocates and negotiators are very useful in guiding marketing transformation in environments with high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty and with a scarcity of resources. This typically happens early in the journey and is a milestone for success in many companies.

Profit and poet

Leaders with a symbolic frame believe in establishing rituals, ceremonies, stories, heroes and myths. Referred to as a profit and a poet, they create faith and meaning. Problems arise when symbols lose meaning and when ceremonies and rituals lose their potency. 

Profits and poets get the journey started and then help build rabid advocates for the journey. This is the hallmark of a truly transformational leader.

Today’s most successful marketing leaders are able to use all four frames and focus in and out depending on the situation and their current environment. During turbulent times such as transforming marketing, a marketing leader may have to reframe the mission and vision of the marketing organization and effectively communicate it with the internal stakeholders. The challenge for many marketing leaders is developing the proper reframing mechanism that will reverberate with the population.

I hope you find this model useful as you guide your own transformation – I’d love to hear from you: