As marketing leaders, we should make a concentrated effort to train the next generation of leaders, helping them prepare for a career in an ever-changing marketing landscape. In this two-part series, I’ll suggest strategies to help grow future leaders and what those professionals should be aware of when preparing for a leadership role.
By investing in the leadership development of our marketing teams, we strengthen both our organizations and our profession. As these individuals develop needed skills, they are exposed to new ideas, and they learn to finesse their leadership style. This helps them to be better leaders on our campuses, even if they’re not in a primary leadership role.
Second, growing these leaders helps our profession. The current generation of marketing leaders has worked diligently to gain a seat at the table, but it will be up to the next generation to continue this work of showcasing the value marketing brings to these conversations. The more we can do now to help develop core skills, the better they’ll be equipped for that work.
Here are five strategies to help grow the next generation of marketing leaders.
- Enlist them to run meetings. If there are regular meetings in your department, invite the future marketing leader to lead these on occasion. If you can’t make the staff meeting, letting a future leader run the meeting and report back helps them build important skills. They’ll practice setting an agenda, running a meeting, managing the meeting time, taking notes, assigning action items and reporting back. These are valuable skills the rising leader will need to lead a division, so this is a way to help teach in a low-risk environment. Additionally, it also helps strengthen your department’s leadership bench because it signifies to the team that you trust this person to lead when you are not around.
- Require committee service. Oftentimes as a marketing leader, I’m asked to serve on campus committees for RFPs, hiring or specific working groups. These are great opportunities for the future leader to gain experience. Many of these committees have specific legal processes to follow. It is also a good lesson in building collaboration with other divisions to achieve results. While the specific processes associated with these committees vary by institution, a general working awareness of the steps will help them avoid mistakes in the future.
- Provide budget training. As a new marketing leader, I did not do a good job taking the budget seriously. I’d always heard that creatives weren’t numbers people, and that observation almost cost me. Some of the specific process rising leaders need to understand include developing a budget, managing spend for different strategies, tracking spending and the specific procurement processes. Because of the breadth of work, I suggest meeting monthly to spend time talking through the various parts to build a foundational understanding. Once the rising leader understands the basics, they can sit in on meetings related to budget planning, setting the budget with an agency or discussing spend with a department. Investing time in the leader in this way will help them prepare for these specific tasks but understand how the division’s budget fits into the university system.
- Instill a learning culture. As higher education leaders, our work constantly changes. The tools and strategy today look very different from five years ago, and the same will be true in 10 years. We must be continually innovating to stay ahead. A major way that happens is through learning. It’s easy to tell people to keep learning, but showing them how and what to focus on is where we can best support future leaders. Some ways to do this could involve showing them how to schedule time for learning, providing the right blogs and companies to follow, or teaching them how to ask for mentorship from thought leaders. These are all ways we can encourage future leaders to learn about our industry. Another way I encourage learning is through goals. Each member of my team has three goals for the year. Two of the goals are related to tasks or specific work, but one goal is aligned with where they hope to be in the industry. This allows me a mechanism to check in regularly and have intentional conversations about the goal and what they’re learning about a possible next step in their career.
- Hold intentional debriefs. Frequently as higher education leaders, we can see the connections between disparate decisions because we understand the systemic environment. For example, we see a housing decision and understand how it will impact another division. That understanding happens automatically because we have systemic awareness. However, future leaders often see these as disconnected items. As we are able, we can help future leaders by showing the connections and building their systemic awareness of how our campuses are interconnected. Doing this will help these leaders make better decisions, understand political implications and better think through consequences of actions they may take. A strategy to implement this is after major meetings, take time to debrief with them and walk through context they might not pick up on. After doing this for several months, start pushing the rising leader to go beyond listening. Ask the future leader what context they see and have them lead the debrief conversation. This takes time and intentional effort, because it’s much easier to run to the next meeting, but doing this can help our rising leaders build their understanding of our organizations and how systems are connected.
To help prepare the next generation of leaders, we should be continually focused on strategies to help them prepare. The more that we can champion the development of future leaders, the more they’ll be prepared to support our institutions, both now and in the future.
In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss some of the topics that would be helpful for up-and-coming marketing leaders to understand before stepping into a primary leadership role.