I am returning to my blog series on The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Chief Marketing Officers. I have already covered the first seven habits, over the past few months. Read Habit #7 here. On to Habit #8: Do a Few Symbolic Things.
Great leaders simplify things. They focus on the few things that really matter. They are typically remembered for a few symbolic actions in the areas that matter.
One of my favorite leaders is the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who was a politician, farmer, inventor, architect, archaeologist, to name a few of his roles … but his two largest symbolic actions defined the man’s legacy. He wrote the Declaration of Independence and founded the University of Virginia.
Yes, even as 21st century CMOs we can learn a lot from Thomas Jefferson’s life, but I would like to focus on this “habit” of doing a few symbolic things that reinforce your impact, your legacy.
Many of us go through assignments busier than we could ever imagine, only to realize, after a few years have gone by, that we cannot point to what is better because we were there. That is not a good feeling.
My Habit #8 suggests to you to PROACTIVELY plan a few dramatic, symbolic actions that people will remember. These actions are not random, they must be strategically reinforcing what your brand/business needs to win, to stand out, to make a difference. And you must be choiceful — remember Jefferson only had two.
Steve Jobs at Apple is a master of this, and his story is often told so i will not belabor it. His symbolic actions: the iPod and the iPhone. Maybe the iPad.
A few other examples that I like from CEOs and CMOs:
—Jim Farley at Ford introducing the Ford Focus as a new business model for Ford and maybe the industry. His launch of the “My Ford” system at the recent consumer electronics show in Las Vegas is another good example of a strategic, symbolic action.
—Indra Nooyi and team reframing Pepsi as a positive force with the “Refresh” initiative. Also from Indra and team, the Sun Chips renewed purpose of “Healthier You, Healthier Planet” is showing the way for a new approach in snacks.
–Patrick Doyle at Domino’s Pizza with the very dramatic action of “coming clean” on the taste and quality of their pizzas, and promising that his new pizzas will exceed raised expectations. No doubt that is what Patrick will be remembered for in his tenure at Dominos.
—David Zaslav and team at Discovery Communications launching the new series “Life“, which took four years to film, in fifty countries, with more than 70 cameramen and women. Dramatically and symbolically showing that the Discovery Network will be in a class of its own in exploring the curiosities of our planet.
–The actions can also be organizational changes or acquisitions; witness Publicis‘ Maurice Levy’s acquisition of Digitas to dramatically move his Groupe into digital competence.
At P&G, during my 7-year tenure as global CMO, I focused on two bold actions. In 2003, I led a small P&G entourage to the Cannes Advertising Festival, forever changing the standards for P&G and it agencies in consumer-inspired creativity. Later in the decade I led a movement to elevate the role P&G brands play with their consumers, more closely connecting the brands’ purposes with the company’s purpose. This I am happy to say has only gained momentum under Bob McDonald and Marc Pritchard‘s leadership.
What few symbolic things, or actions, will you be remembered for? Are they big enough? Are they reinforcing what your brand/business needs? Are you proactively and deliberately planning them? Final thought: while you should be planning your symbolic actions, be open to serendipity. Bob Isherwood from Saatchi & Saatchi and a few senior Creative Leaders at P&G’s agencies suggested I go to Cannes in 2003; I was smart enough to listen to them and then make it a very symbolic action internally and externally. And you know the story of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of independence … he was a reluctant author.
Read Next: Habit #9