React-Respond-Lead

It seems there a trajectory we marketing folks go through in our career development within the AEC industry.  (It may well be that this pattern crosses industries, but I can only speak from a certain kind of experience.) I believe how one moves through these phases determines, in no small part, whether one’s career advances or not; whether one is trusted by clients or not; whether one controls his or her destiny or not.  Here are the three phases as I see them:

React – At the outset of one’s career, I think there’s a lot of reacting going on.  When someone asked me what my average day was like, I used to say, “Well, I start by making a to-do list, then I work all day, then about 4:PM I pick up my to-do list and get started on that.”  I think this is because there’s a lot of urgency in our field, mostly driven by business development opportunities or publication/submission deadlines that must be met.  This is a boon for adrenaline junkies and a fine way to start developing a sense of competence in our field, because it’s about meeting and exceeding expectations.  But it only gets you so far.

Respond – Eventually I think we get weary of living at the mercy of externally-generated deadlines.  We know they come with the job and we accept that.  We’ve learned that some of them are predictable, and we recognize the need to approach predictable goals/needs with at least some semblance of strategy behind them.  We desire to establish and manage priorities and expectations, not just meet them.  We begin to ask not just what someone needs but why they need it.  Then we need to gauge where that person’s top priority fits among the eight or ten tasks that are the top priorities of each other person who has tasked us with something.  We learn the importance of asking questions, offering feedback, challenging logic and offering perspectives that lend additional expertise to decision making.  Finally, we start to get a better handle on the delicate balance between the urgent and the important.  I think most people who have earned the title “marketing manager” have done so because they know not only to react, but to respond.  They have the ability to make compelling arguments to support their approach to problem solving.  In this way they become not only trusted doers, but trusted advisors. 

Lead – Leading is the next level, and I believe it is more of a leap than a step. Leading suggests you’ve looked into your profession and your practice of it deeply enough and critically enough to create the marketing and business development path rather than just to traverse it well. It means you can both listen to what people tell you they want, and ask enough questions to know whether what a client, colleague or firm leaders says they want is actually what they need.  Where you find discrepancies, you also have to be able to help that person get to the same conclusion you have reached.  It involves sharing what marketing is up to at regular intervals rather than just waiting to be asked.  It means not only sharing what is happening, but why it is happening and to tie strategy and tactics to results.  It also involves being able to articulate how those results affect the bottom line.  Leading also involves having the ability to speak truth to leadership as a consultant does, while being as deeply invested in the outcome of one’s decisions and direction as any principal would be.  It also means understanding how your practice professionals do what they do well enough that you can tell whether they’re good at it. 

For my part, I like leading.  How about you?

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