I had the chance to sit with Henderson Engineers’ Robin Broder and MMC Corp’s Erica Jones, Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President of their respective firms. We were program presenters at a recent conference for B2B marketing professionals in architecture, engineering and construction (SMPS Southwest Regional Conference). Sitting in the lobby of the beautiful Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs, we discussed why aspiring leaders need to get out of doer-mode and why office politics is not a dirty phrase.
Q: You both started as marketing tacticians, so you come from a “doer” background. What has been the biggest change from being a “doer” to a leader and a manager?
(Robin) You have to want to be at the leadership table because once you’re there you have a totally different job. We were talking about this the other day. When you get elevated you have to want to be there because you might not be doing the hands-on things anymore. I don’t actually do a lot of marketing activities. Most of my focus is on strategic planning, leadership decisions and people management.
We just had this conversation with some people following our presentation. When you’re production oriented and you’re really good at your job, it’s easy to just keep “doing.” If you want to be elevated, you have to get out of the doer role. You need to be coaching people up so that you have the opportunity to get beyond your area of expertise. If you want to transition into leadership, you have to get into a strategic mindset and start trusting other people to execute and implement.
Q: Erica, you provide marketing leadership for multiple brands. What is that like?
(Erica) MMC Corp is a holding company that owns multiple brands. I operate from our corporate level/corporate office which provides all of the business services (accounting, marketing, HR, legal) to our subsidiary offices. We have four brands within our family of companies that we market for, plus we do a ton of marketing for our talent teams.
I joke that in my role we have to be influencers instead of dictators because we aren’t able to dictate anything to our subsidiary brands. Each subsidiary company has their own marketing and business development teams. They need to buy into what we’re doing and utilize the tools we’re creating at the corporate level.
I have five direct reports, but I feel like [the subsidiary marketers] are a big dotted line to our team; we’re all on the same team together.
Q: What areas can doers start working on to strengthen their leadership potential?
(Robin) I’d say building relationships with people. So many doers are task-focused. They want to check the box off and they want to feel productive. They want to get it all done. But if you want to influence people you have to get people on board first and that starts with relationship building.
For example, if you’re introducing a new concept, you need to get a group of people in the firm to introduce that idea to first. As a leader you have to think “how can I get their buy-in?” so when you announce it company-wide you have advocates that are already on board with you. I think it’s really important for leaders to think this way.
There are a lot of people who joke that they hate “office politics” but we say you have to look at it as part of your role. It’s the only way you will get elevated - if people see you as an influencer.
(Maisha) So often when people think about office politics they think of it like the show, Survivor. They think office politics means I have to be manipulative, or assume a persona where it’s me or you - and that’s not true. I say it’s about leveraging influence and understanding how the organization works. It’s about being really clear on your messaging so that when people carry your message or mission forward, they are very clear. These are things I try to coach people into.
(Erica) And it’s adapting your communication style to the people you’re communicating with, too. Someone said to me once, “You’re manipulating them.” I told her, “No, I am adjusting my communication style to the way that they receive information and it might be different than the way you receive information.”
When I’m communicating I might be more visual in nature with this particular person. Or, realizing what’s important to them, I might hone in on that in order to help them understand where I’m coming from. It’s all about that.
And then about your “doer” question, we recently had someone join our team who wants to be seen as a leader but is stuck in doer-mode. She comes in, walks straight to her office, and sits at her computer all day. Then when she’s done she walks out and there are a lot of people who didn’t even know she was there that day. I told her “Don’t underestimate the value of being visible in the office. Walk around, get to know people. Make them feel invested in you, even on a personal level.”
Q: One of the things that I feel very strongly about is women advocating for better pay. How do you encourage women to think higher about their salary expectations or prepare themselves to have that conversation?
(Robin) There are studies that say women just don’t ask and don’t negotiate. And part of the reason we’re still making eighty cents on the dollar is because when faced with the same offer, we take what’s offered and a man will ask for more.
I always encourage people to just ask. And to know what you’re asking for. Build your case. I’ve had several women on my team come to me and say “I feel like I need a promotion or raise or want to do different tasks and here are the reasons why.” And I almost start smiling! Most managers get defensive but it makes me so proud of them that they’re simply asking! That’s part of the battle - having the confidence to start the conversation.
(Erica) I always say make sure it’s not just about the money. Make sure what you’re selling is your value to the firm. Don’t ask too often or too early. Make sure that you’ve earned enough credibility that you can reference the contributions that you’ve made to the firm. Then be able to say “I am of this value and when I look around at my peers, I want to make sure I am elevated to that same place.” Whether it’s compensation or a perk or whatever it is. Make the conversation about the value that you are bringing to the table, and not just the money.
Maisha Hagan is the owner and head coach at Beauty & the Boss - a professional development and career coaching service for women in male-dominated industries.