I started working at a 60-division, Fortune 500 conglomerate when I was 17. I learned as much as I could about business from real life, on-the-job training. For 8-1/2 years, I learned human resources & executive compensation, corporate accounting & finance, leasing, global trademarks, mergers & acquisitions and investor & stockholder relations. It wasn’t until the end of that time that I was introduced to corporate communications, public relations and advertising.

From there, I worked at a string of agencies from a 12-person ad agency to an in-house direct marketing firm, to a 100-person direct response shop, to a 350+ person ad agency and then another small marketing firm. In the middle of that, I had a short stint at a start-up marketing agency which then led me to opening my own social and digital boutique agency (in early 2009 of all times) and I ran that for 2-1/2 years before launching into non-profits. Now I’m back to having my own business, a brand marketing consultancy focusing solely on brand strategy, innovation and business expansion.

With the rapidly increasing speed of technology and consumer adoption habits, marketing will evolve and marketers will continually have to stay ahead of the game. The pace will move even faster with no let up in sight.

As I look back, however, I’ve learned a few lessons as a marketer that perhaps will be helpful to you. Feel free to share yours in the comments.

1. Yes, advertising and marketing are different.

Some ad agencies are really geared toward traditional or digital advertising no matter how much they say they believe in a more integrated marketing approach. I always felt a bit on the edge of ad agencies because I thought differently and more holistically about solving clients’ brand or product challenges. The answer was not always a TV campaign or whatever cool thing the creative teams had discovered which is now digital this or social that.

There is something about having a truer and more innovative business and marketing mindset that can help a client move forward fast. The same goes for whether you’re the business owner or you work inside a corporation. Marketers seem more naturally to be entrepreneurial creative problem solvers.

2. Joining local AMA chapter board was best thing I ever did.

It wasn’t until I was asked to join the board of our local American Marketing Association chapter that I saw the diversity of marketing agencies and depth of talent that existed right here in Richmond, Virginia. I joined the board in 2009, later accepted the three-year “Presidents” commitment path and am rolling off the board this month (bittersweet for sure).

During that time, I met so many marketing comrades that it was well worth the volunteer effort. I saw them in times of struggle, career transition and success. And we learned together, from each other and helped each other. We grew the chapter together and made it more sustainable every year, which was both a lot of work and fun. I wish all marketers could have this experience.

3. There are a lot of marketers but few really good ones.

When I joined a retail business association, I was invited to a new member mentoring session. Each attendee could ask one question and mine was along the lines of “Why do you need me if you already have several members who are marketers?” Ken Wayland, the chair of the board and an agency head himself, wisely told me that there are a lot of people who call themselves marketers but few really good ones. I took that as great advice and a way to know (in my heart, at least) that I had a definite purpose amongst my supposed competition.

There are a lot of people out there who call themselves marketers or say they’re “in marketing.” Sometimes they are in sales or provide a marketing service such as video production, graphic design, website development, signage, etc. The lesson is don’t just be a marketer, strive to be the best of the best.

4. Marketing’s value is in the eye of the beholder.

Marketing is a profession in which those of us who are practitioners often give too many things away and, therefore, as an industry, the work loses its value. Much of the work we do is in our heads: our ideas, thoughts, strategies, connections, ability to synthesize and plan. It’s often difficult for clients to value what it is we have painstakingly taken so much of our time to learn to do.

I attended a VCU Brandcenter Friday Forum in which the guest speaker, Jim Ferguson, told the audience that we should never give away our ideas for free. He said make a transaction happen, even if you’re helping friends. Charge them a dollar. “We give away too much,” he said. Agreed. Heck, people pay $4 for a Starbucks latte every day of the week and then expect marketing practitioners to give away their advice, their craft, for free. And we are our own worst enemy, sometimes, by not charging enough because we genuinely care about helping others. After years of experience, much of what we do becomes easier and faster for us to do which means it’s even more valuable, not less.

I often equate our marketing craft to Fred Couple’s golf swing. He makes those 300-yard drives look so easy, natural and comfortable – as if anyone can swing like him. Lots of people call themselves golfers as a result. Yet the golfing industry pays Freddie handsomely for his accuracy and consistency; his nice guy image doesn’t hurt either. Those of us who are really good at marketing make it look so easy, and therefore everyone says they’re a marketer. But we need to make sure experienced, value-delivering marketers are well compensated by educating people on what is required for us to be great marketers. For sure, it’s not as easy as it looks and there’s not a day that goes by that we’re not practicing.

5. Strategic business planning and agency account planning are not the same.

Eric Martin of 80amps generously granted me a meeting last week. One of the challenges of agencies, he said, was that they confuse strategic planning with account planning. And he’s right about that. Right or wrong, a fault of agencies is that they supply the services that give them more or better advertising work, and often stop there. Account planning has its place and value to both client and agency, but it is not the same thing as strategic business planning.

Strategic business planning separates marketing from advertising. To do a good job of marketing, and any subsequent advertising, one must look at (or develop) the overall business and product plans. The last thing you want to do is recommend a marketing or advertising plan that goes against the grain or doesn’t fully mesh with where the business is headed or needs to be down the road. I’m not saying that ad agencies or even marketers do this but there’s a myopic tendency for all of us to not look up and see the top of the trees. We need to do both.

6. The ability to truly synthesize big data is rare.

Making sense out of research and big data is a rare talent. There are Fortune 500 companies with tons of big data and market research and even they struggle with the ability to focus on what it means and how to use it. Synthesizing data and making sense of it in terms of drawing out possible concepts, making data connections, and proving out “what if” scenarios is a full time, collaborative process for which many companies aren’t willing to dedicate the resources or hire the right consultant to help them. The tendency is to get to the answers faster, to find the first consumer insight they can find, build a campaign and go.

While I like fast action as much or more than the next person, the part that often doesn’t work is that they don’t continue working to see what else is there, to further make connections, to marry data with future trends or other insights that can expand or take initial findings to a whole new level. This is hard, grinding and complex futurist work for which not many marketers are adept or have the patience or drive. But this is the work I love and what separates me from others because so many just won’t bother with it. “It’s too hard,” I hear them say.

But it’s how you find the diamonds of consumer truths, the novel ideas or the unique and differentiating campaigns. This is truly the best work as it’s a lot like being an investigator and finding money being left on the table. To me, this is sustainability marketing.

7. Questions are more valuable than answers.

This is nothing new for you if you hold a strategic planning role, but it is human nature to want to solve a problem quickly and move on. Or to look at a situation and take it for face value without diving deeper and exploring more to find out what is going on underneath the surface layers. The truth is, there are few people who are really interested and unafraid of going down the rabbit hole.

Some organizations look good on the surface but when they can no longer move forward or are stuck in some way in terms of growth, they don’t want to really tell you what’s going on underneath. Or maybe they don’t know. Companies often just want to look better with a new logo or a rebranding project and that’s an easy temptation for marketers. It’s often necessary to dig deeper with the right questions, and keep asking them until you can determine real answers.

8. Nothing is more valuable than experience, collaboration and action.

The only way in which you can figure out the right questions and then guide a company through to the best solutions is through depth and breadth of experience, your ability to collaborate and to get things done. There’s no shortcutting. Developing yourself as an IDEO t-shaped versus an i-shaped individual is always going to be more valuable to both you and your clients or the organization in which you work.

For example, my experience includes working with several financial service firms in varying capacities and teams. But I also have experience in a number of other sectors such as automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, non-profit and SMBs (small businesses) and that give me perspective and a different vantage point when I’m working with financial service firms. And my work with highly collaborative non-profit associations helps me work better on the for-profit side and vice versa. The more varied experience you can get, the better.

What real world experience teaches you is not only how to strategize but how to execute a concept or plan. It’s simply invaluable beyond anything you read in a textbook.

9. There’s great value in sharing what you know.

I’ve learned to share my knowledge because the act of sharing is what this economy is made up of today. Thankfully, it is more widely acceptable due to the ease of sharing with online tools and apps, the popularity of B2B content and inbound marketing, as well as the popularity of crowd sourcing or crowd funding. Yet the benefits of sharing what you know is not new either, and certainly not in the world of marketing and advertising.

Back in the late 60s and early 70s, father of advertising David Ogilvy shared his best copywriting and advertising tips in full page, long-copy newspaper ads. It was one of the best ways in which Ogilvy & Mather grew because they established their expert status and prospective companies would call them for advertising and copywriting advice and implementation. Today we fully utilize blogs, whitepapers, tweets, Facebook posts, photos on Instagram or Pinterest and a number of content sharing services like Hootsuite or Scoop.it.

There’s always been tremendous value in sharing because you help others and help yourself in the process.

These are just a few of the lessons I’ve learned as a marketer. I’d probably have to write a book to cover the rest and perhaps will someday.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Working on your leadership skills is never ending. Like many of you, I’ve had plenty of bosses and team leaders over the years. The mediocre ones are typically great people and mean well but sometimes just don’t take the extra steps necessary to truly lead. The great ones who do step up are the ones you’ll remember and learn from your whole career. And the not so good ones you try to forget yet, interestingly enough, you’ll learn from them, too.

You can be inspired in some way or another by all the leaders you work with and it’s something to remember as you take on a leadership position yourself – whether your leading a global company, a local non-profit or a team project. What’s important is that you set your intention for how you’d like to be remembered as a leader because people who report to you or work on your team will remember you, whether you believe that or not.

There are plenty of terrific leadership books available to help you develop your leadership skills no matter your age, position or title because it’s never too early or too late to learn. My favorites are any leadership or team book from John Maxwell, like his classic 21 Irrefutable Laws, or Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, or Give and Take by Adam Grant. I also enjoyed Clay Christensen’s book, The Innovator’s DNA, which talks about the difference between delivery and discovery people, for which I wrote about in my last post on leading innovation. Leaders tend to have the ability to deliver with a discovery attitude. I’m sure you have other favorite authors and personal leadership mentors – it’s important to check in with them no less than every three months or so.

In the meantime, the below comparison of leadership traits may provide a guide for you on what to observe in the leaders you follow and in your own leadership style. Like you, I’ve had some absolutely wonderful leaders in my life and I’m grateful that they took the time to help me along the way. They also showed me the difference in being a mediocre leader and a great leader, which summed up to having the courage to take a stand, to speak up, to question the status quo, to initiate or take action, or simply to help someone else move forward. “How can I help you?” is a terrific servant leadership question and it’s one worth asking of people again and again.

Here are a few not-so-good leadership traits:

  • Rarely shares what they’ve learned and can even be stingy with or purposely hold back information that would be of help to individual or team success (they’ll cite all sorts of reasons why you don’t need the information)
  • Takes credit for or are highly critical of ideas and initiatives of team members yet they contribute very few of their own; may even tell people that they’re good at a lot of things when they rarely take initiative in those areas
  • Manipulates situations or relationships, often behind the scenes, in order to manage to their desired outcome instead of creating the best outcome together
  • Typically more interested in their own success than the success of others; definitely erring too much on the side of narcissism (some are so far over the top that this behavior isn’t noticeable – they’re a pro at this)
  • Demands immediate respect usually based on their title or their perceived “power” level without a desire to earn it from their team
  • Acts like they can’t figure out why people don’t trust them and they are extra sensitive when others push back even slightly
  • Won’t encourage their direct reports, or give then permission or time off, to attend seminars, meetings or conferences in which they can grow, learn and meet new people; in addition to micro-managing, this is a sure sign of a control freak
  • Shows signs of insecurity in which they tend to live in the safer moment and are afraid to make mistakes or look bad; they often go to great lengths to protect their image
  • Often will ask people to work on projects and once the individual or team moves it along will ask them to stop working on it with no discussion about why
  • Often meets individually with each team member or requests that emails or documents are sent only to them; will often withhold feedback on projects or documents or even at annual review time – this can be especially true if the work or employee is exceptionally good
  • Surrounds themselves with junior staff members or “yes” people; rarely will they hire those who are smarter or have more experience than them, or who may question the system or challenge the status quo because that would rock their boat; if they make that mistake, they’ll find a way to rid themselves of that person by transferring them to a different department, making their lives miserable so that they leave or by finding some reason to fire them

Those traits don’t feel good, do they? That’s why it’s important to set your intention of the type of leader you’d like to be and work on more positive leadership traits. Good people can get caught up in the stress of the everyday workload and forget that others are looking to them to effectively lead the team.

So let’s talk about how to do that. Here are a few great leadership traits:

  • Comfortable with setting a vision and championing a cause within the organization or department because they truly care
  • Authentic, full of goodness; one who genuinely wants to help people, the team and the company succeed; believes 100% in the company’s vision
  • Confident and competent yet humble; highly in tune with both their own strengths and weaknesses; they’re okay with being vulnerable at times
  • Sets team up for success each day by instructing, coaching and forgiving when things go wrong; has a “correct and continue” attitude
  • Willingly and openly shares knowledge and experiences for individual and team success yet continually learns themselves; they typically hire coaches and mentors to help them with their own leadership growth
  • Continual and open learner, teacher or trainer; shares, facilitates discussion and collaborates well with others to create and develop ideas and solutions
  • Pushes boundaries; they’re okay with being uncomfortable and in taking some risks, especially when striving to lead the team forward into new territory for growth and innovation
  • Lets strength of individual team members shine through, being genuinely happy with other people’s successes
  • Celebrates every win, no matter how small; often thanks and congratulates team members’ contributions
  • Understands they have to earn people’s respect and trust over time; a title or promotion alone doesn’t automatically demand it
  • Continually challenges the team to grow both professionally and personally; giving advice or allocating resources accordingly, prioritizing the growth of their people
  • Typically gives their team members more responsibility than they might think they can handle while shepherding them in the process
  • Genuinely interested in their team members’ career growth by preparing them for promotions, having them lead their own projects or showing them how to be a community leader; always looking for opportunities in which their own people can learn and grow even if outside the organization

I think you can see the difference between a good, well-respected leader and a not-so-good leader. I hope you’ll choose to continue to practice and develop your own authentic leadershipstyle in order to help other people and your organization succeed and grow exponentially. Effective leadership requires the “wax on, wax off” type of mastery; it’s definitely not learned overnight or by reading a book or two on leadership.

You can and should be highly competent at your craft whether it’s marketing, technology, higher education, science, healthcare, the ministry or any one of a number of hot professions today. But if you’re not developing your leadership skills in the process, then you’ll be left to wonder (with frustration, I might add) as to why people resist following you or why your best talent chooses to leave your team or your company and work elsewhere. If they leave, nine times out of 10 it’s because they don’t enjoy working for their direct supervisor or the company leader. It’s up to you. You can be the leader that people learn from, gravitate toward and remember positively for their entire career. Just like early childhood teachers, you just never know when you’ll be the one who will make a significant difference in someone’s life.

I was talking with a small group of marketing colleagues this week and one of the topics on the table for discussion was innovation. The conversation ran the gambit with frustration stemming from how to:

  • get senior leaders to focus on innovation strategy
  • innovate across teams with fewer silos
  • infuse more brand marketing strategy in earlier stages of product development.

One colleague’s company that dealt in consumer products had implemented an annual, comprehensive strategic planning process that her product managers religiously abided by, likely because the plan completion was tied to individual goals and compensation.

Another colleague’s company, strictly global B2B sales with custom product formulations, didn’t have an annual process and primarily let customer demand dictate innovation. The challenge was that he had 100 customers spread over 9 product leaders who always put customer calls and needs first, and those leaders never seemed to prioritize strategic planning.

In the course of the conversation, those two colleagues learned several things from each other such as:

  • While their products are drastically different, their go-to-market timeframes are surprisingly similar, both in the 12-15 month window
  • Strategic planning and innovation, within product or marketing, go hand-in-hand
  • If strategic plans are done properly and regularly, they change more than they stay the same because considerable attention is being given to all aspects of the business.

Whether your company is a well-known consumer brand, a behind-the-scenes B2B supplier to major brands, a small business or a non-profit association, you can learn how to develop and improve innovation techniques within your company by simply ensuring there is continual focus and genuine interest in both the process and outcomes.

Here are three ways to encourage innovation at your company:

  1. Adopt an innovator’s mindset. One of the best books on this subject is The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the five skills of disruptive innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hall Gregersen and Clay Christensen. In the book, the authors point out the differences between “delivery” and “discovery” people. Delivery people tend to ensure the client gets what they need when they need it. Discovery people tend to have a more innovative mindset. While both are needed, many companies hire for and encourage delivery skills over discovery skills. The authors propose utilizing a model for generating innovative ideas that includes courage, behavior skills (questioning, observing, networking and experimenting), and cognitive skills to synthesize novel inputs for associational thinking.
  2. Foster collaboration. Sounds easy, but it often can be a challenge in large companies or small. In order to remove silos between product and marketing (many times there’s just a handoff from one to the other), or within any other groups within the company for that matter, you must foster a culture of collaboration. Harvard Business Review’s Spring 2014 OnPoint magazine issue covers the topic, “Collaboration That Works.” It’s a special newsstand issue that I found at my local Barnes & Noble. And a terrific collection of HBR articles that speak to both the pros and cons of collaboration, as well as how to be a collaborative leader, how to foster collective creativity, and how to accept and actively manage conflict which is needed for innovation.
  3. Understand strategic planning is an evolutionary process. Misconceptions still exist about strategic planning, and I know this because I’ve witnessed them. It is common to see companies struggle with the process because they think it requires gigantic effort and feel it is painful for all involved – when it can be just the opposite!I’m not saying it doesn’t take focus but it is now less about certainties and more about probabilities, as stated in a recent Forbes article by Greg Satell on The Evolution of Strategy. And, as early as 2003, Toastmasters International acknowledged this trend of always being “in a state of thinking strategically” and “incorporating the concept of nimbleness” into the organizations’ thinking. The bottom line here is that you don’t need to develop a gigantic strategic plan that people will shove on a shelf and never read or use once it’s complete. That doesn’t help in today’s fast-paced, digital world. A simple one-page plan that includes desired outcomes or opportunities with high-level strategies, tactics and KPIs may be all that is needed to get you started, no matter the organization’s size. Or, just forget all that and use Opportunity Statements instead, as John P. Kotter points out in this HBR article entitled Forget the Strategy PowerPoint.

Your company’s strategic planning frustrations may be similar to those of my colleagues or you just may want to know the best way to get started. Remembering these 3 techniques – adopting an innovator’s mindset, using effective collaboration and understanding that the strategic planning and innovation process is evolutionary and not static – will not only help reduce internal frustrations but encourage a healthy dose of enthusiasm about a participative and ongoing process for you to lead the organization forward in a sustainable way.